These are a few of my favorite things…

My favorite things about parenthood (thus far):

  1. I love the moments where memories are being made for my kids.  It is that moment when your kids walk into Disney’s Magic Kingdom and see the castle or Mickey for the first time.  It is when your daughter learns to ride a bike after days of practice.  It is that moment when your son realizes he can climb up the bounce house and slide down all by himself and wants to do it over and over again.  It is when your child is upset because they feel bullied at school and you role-play how to handle this situation the next time.  It is all those times (however few and far between they may be) where you sit down to dinner as a family and talk about the best part of your day.  I believe you can feel these moments in a visceral way.  It is as if I can see and feel the snapshot or memory being made in all of these instances.  These moments often bring me to tears because I am so full of joy, love, and gratitude.  These are the moments where I truly think there is no greater gift than being a parent.DSC_0328
  2. I love the comedy.  I have laughed (and cried) more as a parent than I ever did before kids.  Sometimes I have even found myself laughing through the frustrating, challenging, and messy moments of parenthood – laughter can be a very healthy and necessary coping mechanism.  Kids say and do some pretty funny things.  My kids literally make me laugh every single day – intentionally or most often unintentionally.  I love the way my kids talk, their questions (even if they can sometimes get a little repetitive), and observations on the world.  I wish I wrote more of these funny things down because I have forgotten as they get older.  One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is sit down with Les and share funny stories or things that the kids said or did during the day.  The rest of the world may not be as amused, but they always make us smile and giggle.                                                                          DSC_0903
  3. I love to watch them learn and find their way in the world.  It really does seem like they grow up so fast.  Isabella recently learned to read and it was a truly remarkable thing to watch.  I mean one day she was my cute little toddler that knew her alphabet and a few sight words, and now she is reading to me and writing stories at school.  How did that happen?  I can’t even really say that we “taught” her how to read.  I mean we read to her every night and we had her practice sounding out words and trying to read sentences and she just got it.  It seems like she learns so much every week – from school, from us, from her friends, and just her surroundings.  Kids really are like sponges, and I love watching each of mine soak up the world around them.     DSC_0255
  4. Parenthood makes me want to be a better person.  I have always been pretty self-motivated and tried to lead a good life, but now there are three little people watching my every move and counting on me.  That can be a lot of pressure, but also a moral compass like none other.  I am always thinking about the example I am setting for my kids.  For instance, I am a screamer.  I yell at my kids way more than I would like to.  I know that when I get frustrated, am trying to juggle too many things, or am in a hurry – I tend to yell louder and more often than I should.  I don’t want them to think of me as a mom that is always raising her voice or losing her cool.  I want to set an example for how to remain calm and graceful under pressure.  I want to show them how to manage those frustrated and angry feelings in a constructive way.  I will not be perfect.  I would never want to put that kind of pressure on my kids anyway, since no one can be perfect.  I want them to see that I try to do the right thing and the kind thing as often as I can.  I want to show them how to handle mistakes when they inevitably happen.  I want to show them how to live their best life and be the best person that they can be.  In doing this, I am trying to do the best that I can and live the best life possible for myself and for my family.  DSC_0712
  5. Parenthood has brought me closer to my family.  I appreciate my parents so much more now that I am a parent.  I understand them and can relate to them on this entirely new level.  I can finally appreciate the sacrifices that they made for our family growing up.  If I ever blamed them for anything, I have long forgiven and forgotten those things as I have come to understand that they did the best they could with what they had (time, money, energy, patience, etc.).  Watching my parents as grandparents is one of the most unexpected joys I have experienced since becoming a parent.  My parents give their time and their love so freely, and I am immensely appreciative of all they do for my kids and our family.  I appreciate my mother-in-law and father-in-law on an entirely new level too.  I already knew that they were wonderful grandparents because I had seen them in action with my nieces, but it is still so special to see the way my kids light up when they get to spend time with Grammy and Pop.  I feel lucky to have three wonderful sisters, an amazing sister-in-law, and an awesome brother-in-law that are the best Aunts and Uncle my kids could possibly ask for.  I have three beautiful nieces and an adorable nephew who will be their forever friends and playmates on the road of life.  I value family so much and am so thankful that parenthood has allowed me to appreciate my family on another level.  DSC_0358
  6. We are in this together.  No matter what happens, no matter what kind of crap comes our way in life, we will face it together.  We have each other’s back.  We are not alone.  There is great comfort in this knowledge.  There is a love and a connection that will forever bind us together because we are family.  I am yours and you are mine.  I took my vows seriously when I got married over 10 years ago, but that sense of forever means more now that we are not just Les and Jess.  We are Les, Jess, Isabella, Jacob, and Noah – Levin party of five.  I know that nothing in life is 100% certain, but there is certainty in family – that we are connected to someone else, that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves, that there is a love there that is binding and forever.  IMG_0760

Slow Down Time

I am a little surprised by my reaction to tonight’s events. I mean, I have not been able to get out a blog post (started many, never have enough time to finish – maybe I’ll finally get out my summer summary or back to school posts by December) in months. I certainly do not have the time to be writing this one, especially considering that it is after midnight on a work night (my normal bedtime). I just had to write more than a quick Facebook message about this one. We took down the crib tonight – our last crib – ever. Noah has been using his crib as a toddler bed for the past 6 months or so, with the front rail removed to allow him to get in and out on his own. He has basically been “out of the crib” for a while now, but physically taking apart the crib symbolized something bigger. I just can’t believe that my babies are growing up so fast.

Time has moved especially quickly this year. I don’t know if it is being back at work full-time and being busy and overwhelmed all the time, or if it is that the kids are really just growing by leaps and bounds, but it has been an eventful year. Isabella lost her first tooth a few months ago, and has lost another one since then. I remember losing my first tooth like it was yesterday, so it is hard for me to believe that I have a kid old enough to lose her first tooth. She is growing into a smart, talented young lady. She joined the swim team and is taking piano lessons – such big girl activities. Jacob is talking so much better now. He no longer takes naps and is about 80% potty trained (yep, that is right, not all the way there yet – 9 months later). He looks and acts like such a big boy, and I just glow with pride when I think about how far he has come in such a relatively short amount of time. Noah, our baby, is talking up a storm and recently got potty trained. He no longer cries when we drop him off at preschool, and learns many new things so quickly. Now that the crib is out of his room, he’ll be moving into a big boy bed. Getting rid of the diapers, the crib, and much of my baby stuff really drives home the message that we no longer have babies in our house.

It is not that I want any more babies or that I want to hold my kids back from growth and development, but I just wish I could slow the pace down a bit – savor every minute of this time with my little ones. I have been trying to savor the little moments with my kids more. Sometimes I find myself almost drinking them in, memorizing their smiles, their laughter, the expressions, and the way they feel and smell in my arms. Every night when I rock Noah in his chair – when he asks for one more book, or song, or story – I am just trying to not get frustrated or derailed by the to-do list in my head and just savor the precious time I have with my last baby. My nature is to look forward, plan for tomorrow, get through each day the best that I can. I certainly can’t change the actual speed of time or the number of hours in a day or days in a week (trust me, I have tried and wished hard for this). I can’t change that part of who I am and how I operate, but I can try to control my pace with the kids. I need to remember to slow down when I walk in the door after work (easier said than done). I need to play when I am asked to play and snuggle when snuggling is requested. There may come a time when playing and snuggling aren’t the main two requests I get when I come home to my kids. I know I need to enjoy it while it lasts, because much like diapers and cribs, the snuggles and child’s play are eventually outgrown too.

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Love letter to Jacob

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To my son Jacob on his 4th birthday…

I love your beautiful big brown eyes and long eyelashes (thanks to daddy’s genes on those).

I love your smile, even though it does not show up in pictures as much as I would like.  Your smile lights up a room.

I love our snuggle time.  You love to lay your entire body on top of me before bed and cuddle your head right under my chin. I wait for the moment when your breathing slows and your body goes limp in peaceful slumber, to roll you over and kiss your forehead goodnight.  This is always one of my favorite parts of the day.

I love your questions.  Really, I just love anything you say, especially since it took so long to really hear your voice.  Your questions are like a window into your mind, and I love what I see and hear.

I love taking you to the store with me.  You are such a good shopper – patient, curious, and great at helping me remember the items on my list.

I love your natural way with animals.  You have such a gentle way about you.  I think animals can sense that and are comfortable around you.  I never thought I would want to live on a farm until I saw you around horses and cows.  That is almost enough to make me leave the suburbs, but not quite – I love Target too much (and so do you!).

I love your appetite and hunger for healthy foods.  Thank goodness you are a good eater, especially with all of your allergies/food sensitivities.  You are happy with a plate of grilled chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato.  If not for your brother and sister, I would pat myself on the back and think I did something special to raise such a great eater.

I love your need for routine and structure.  You like to know the plan and you check-in to make sure we are on schedule and everyone is accounted for.  You have an amazing sense of direction and question me if I change course or make any unexpected moves.

I love taking you on trips.  Even though you like your typical schedule, you also love an adventure.  The other kids are happy to watch a movie in the car or on the plane, but you would rather look out the window and take it all in.  You say, “weeee” when we exit on an off-ramp, you applaud when the airplane takes off and lands, and you point out all the wondrous things in the world around us.

I love your love of water – baths, pools, oceans – you are a natural in the water.  Swim team in your future?

I love the way you light up when you are around your family.  You love having Grandma and Grandpa, Grammy and Pop, your Aunts, Uncle Scott, and your cousins over.  You love to show off when there is an audience – yelling from the top of the second floor, dancing, forward rolls, or singing.  You are happiest when you are around your loving family.

I love the special relationship you have with your brother.  You and Isabella will grow closer as you get older, but you and Noah are practically twins.  You complete each other and make each other better.  I hope and pray that you remain this close as you grow up.

I love your determination and strength.  You have had to overcome more obstacles than many other four-year-old boys, and you have met those challenges with grace, maturity, and fortitude.  I have seen how milestones like sitting, standing, crawling, walking, jumping, playing, talking, and pedaling a bike come without much difficulty for some children.  You have had to work harder and longer more often than not, but you eventually get there.  I am so proud of you for not giving up, for pushing yourself when it is hard, and for having a good attitude even in the struggle.  This will take you far in life.

I love your laugh.  Your playful giggles bring a smile to my face (except when they mean you are up to mischief).  Your laughter is contagious, frequently sending your brother and sister into a contest of silliness.

I love you as my middle child, my oldest son, and my sweet 4-year-old boy.  I love you Jacob!  Happy 4th birthday!

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I hate potty training!

Potty Time

Potty Time

I really thought I would be celebrating the end of an era by now – an era of $50 boxes of diapers, jumbo packages of wipes, Costco size tubes of Desitin, and lots of time spent wiping butts.  I was ready to be done.  We have been managing the costs and challenges of having 2 kids in diapers for 2 years.  I have been doing the diaper thing for 5+ years, and I think it is time to move on.  The only problem is, the boys are not so ready.

I have learned a few things about over the past few months.  I can’t say I have any real answers on potty training, but hopefully I can use these lessons to help potty train Noah when the time comes – even if that lesson is to just have patience and a sense of humor about the whole endeavor.  Here are just a few of the reasons why I hate potty training:

  1. All the potty training books tell you to look for signs of readiness, but what if your kid never seems ready?  I know… there are not many elementary students still in diapers, but at what age do you give up on looking for signs and just force the issue?  For us, the tipping point came at three and a half for Jacob.  We regularly tried asking Jacob and Noah if they needed to go potty, and Jacob never would show interest or willingness to use the potty.  Noah, on the other hand, was always eager to sit on the potty and showed lots of interest, but was quick to give up and get distracted.  I intended to potty train both boys at the same time, but after one day of accidents and dirty Toy Story underwear x 2, I decided to just focus on Jacob.  Noah was just barely 2 and had a little more time until he was truly ready.  Jacob might not have been ready, but the time had come for him to get ready.  As a family with two working parents, summer camp is necessary for us to meet our childcare needs during the time school is not in session.  In order for Jacob to go to the summer camp where we are sending the other children, he would need to be potty trained to go in the camp for his age group.  All of these factors, combined with the fact that he had a week off from school in January that we could devote to potty training, meant it was time.
  2. Some kids can be potty trained in a weekend – like my daughter Isabella – and other kids can take six months or more to be fully potty trained.  We decided to potty train Isabella at around two and a half.  It wasn’t because she was showing any particular signs of readiness, but she was also not opposed to the idea.  She was motivated by the opportunity to wear princess panties and getting to be a big girl.  We were motivated by not wanting to have two kids in diapers and knowing that she needed to be potty trained by the time she started Montessori school.  We took away diapers and after a few accidents it seemed like she had mastered it.  I think it literally took a weekend to master.  She still used pull-ups for naps and bedtime for a few more months, but overall she was pretty easy.  Of course, I remember the occasional accident, like the time we had been in line at Carter’s at the outlet mall for 15 minutes and I asked her to hold it until we were checked out.  Of course, she peed all over herself and the floor at Carter’s – making me feel terrible for making her wait and frustrated that I had to get out of line after all, on top of cleaning up a big mess and a sad toddler.  We have been seriously potty training Jacob for almost 3 months.  Some days he will go all day with no accidents and only a pull up at night.  Other days he will have 5-6 accidents – basically making us feel like we have made zero progress in the potty training department.
  3. Boys are different from girls when it comes to potty training.  I have heard this from a number of friends and read it all over the internet (so it must be true, right?).   Girls really have one option for using the potty.  A girl sits down no matter what is coming out.  Boys can sit on the small potty or the big potty – facing forward or backwards.  They can stand at the toilet or the urinal or even outside.  I feel like this difference alone makes potty training boys a little more confusing.  I am still trying to figure out which way Jacob prefers, whereas Isabella never had a choice.  I also think boys are ready a little later than girls and tend to care a bit less about using the potty and having accidents.  Isabella would cry and seem very bothered if she had an accident.  Jacob could continue playing for a half an hour unfazed by pee soaked pants or a load in his Thomas underwear.  WTF?!?!
  4. I never knew that I could get so frustrated and angry over a little pee and poop.  I never batted an eyelash at the disgusting blowout baby diapers, getting peed on by a newborn, or wiping my kid’s sweet little cheeks during diaper changes.   For some reason I get the worst mommy rage when sweet little Jacob is playing and suddenly pees all over himself, and the rug/couch/bed/floor/stroller/car seat, when he just as easily could have gone to the bathroom or called for me to help him.  I have seriously wanted to shake him just a little when I walk into the playroom to the smell of poop in his brand new Mickey underwear.  I ask him every 30 minutes or so if he has to go to the bathroom.  I look for the signs, and sometimes catch him before he has an accident.  My frustration really peaks when he has an accident within minutes of asking him if he has to go or after just trying to go.  I don’t get it!  At least 50% of the time, most days of the week, he tells me or another adult when he has to go and can make it to the bathroom successfully.  So, why does he pee all over himself while standing right in front of me the other times?  Is he acting out?  Is he too busy or preoccupied to bother with the potty?  Is it his hypotonia and motor planning problems that impact his ability to consistently control his bowels?  I think it is the randomness that gets me the most.  I am trying really hard to not get angry, yell, or shame him when he has accidents, but it is something I am really struggling with.  I practice lots of deep breathing, using my quiet voice, and praising the successes.  I am working on an entire new post about mommy anger and frustration, as this is something new and unexpected for me as a parent.
  5. Potty training is a little like having a newborn again.  I have to pack extra wipes and changes of clothes, socks, and underwear in the diaper bag in case of accidents.  I feel like I am constantly counting pees and poops, except with a potty training toddler, it is to anticipate the need to go and avoid accidents.  I used to spend a lot of time with my babies on their changing tables, “bonding” over peek-a-boo or just chatting.  Now I spend a significant part of my days in the bathroom, and it is not so I can escape and catch up on People magazine.  I am usually on the cold tile floor reading an Elmo book, looking at kid videos on my iphone, or just talking or singing with Jacob.  I guess I just need to think of this as good bonding time with my busy toddler.

I know that Jacob will eventually figure this out.  It feels like I have been potty training forever, but 3 months is not even that long.  I have talked to plenty of other moms with similar challenges, and I know it can take many months for it all to click for some kids.  I remember when Jacob was taking a long time to learn how to walk and I felt like he would never master that important milestone.  His therapists would tell me most kids eventually walk – I just needed to be patient.  We used walkers and we practiced and waited for it to click and it eventually did.  I know it is the same with potty training.  Most kids eventually use the toilet on their own – I just need to be patient.  In the meantime, I need to stock up on plenty of good carpet cleaning products, stain remover, extra underwear, and my favorite bottle of wine.

Winter Break Fun

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The holidays are officially over and we are back to our regular routines again.  Gone are the days of sleeping in until 8 AM,  figuring out which museum to explore each day, what wonderful friend or family to visit with, and how many yummy treats to indulge in after each meal.  The kids are back to school, I am back at work (full-time at that), chocolates and cookies have been replaced with fruits and veggies, and we are back to the hustle and bustle of our busy life.  The holidays are busy too, don’t get me wrong, but it is a different kind of busy.  There is gift buying and wrapping, a busy social schedule of holiday parties, and long days of no school to fill for three little kids, but that is certainly a fun kind of busy.

In our house, the “holiday season” seems to run from November 15th – January 8th.  During that time we have Isabella’s birthday, Thanksgiving (which we host every year), Hanukkah (what we celebrate in our house and with the Levins and Stevahns), Christmas (which we celebrate at my parents), the New Year, and Les’ birthday.  It is two months of nonstop eating, spending money, socializing, and fun.  It can be a little exhausting and overwhelming, but I love it.  This winter break seemed especially great – for the kids, for us, and for me personally.

As the kids get older, they seem to get more into the holiday spirit and understand more of what is going on.  Isabella really got into Hanukkah this year.  She has always enjoyed getting presents, but she was much more interested in some of the culture and tradition that comes along with the holiday.  By the 5th or 6th night of Hanukkah she could almost say the entire prayer over the menorah, making Les and I very proud.  She loved having her Grammy and Pop as special guests at her school to teach her classmates about Hanukkah.  She lead dreidel games and even tried her first potato latke – a big deal for our very picky eater.  Jacob and Noah both got into the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas, relishing the unwrapping of the gifts as much, if not more, than the gifts themselves.  We all got a kick out of Jacob’s squeals of delight and laughter as he unwrapped a gift or Noah’s exclamations of “Whoa” or “cool this” each time he opened a new toy or book.  The kids had a blast on Christmas day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, opening their stockings and presents, and playing with all their new toys.  I love experiencing any holiday through my children’s eyes, especially Hanukkah and Christmas.  There is just something magical about that look in your child’s eyes as they open that special gift they have been wanting all year.  I don’t think there is any gift I could receive that would equal the excitement and joy I get from giving my kids gifts.  I know that the holidays are not all about the gifts, and I want my kids to know that too, but when you are three or five – it kind of is all about the gifts.

This winter break was really great for Les and I because we got to have some pretty awesome dates.  We had an overnight trip to Richmond for a delicious dinner with friends and a day of holiday shopping and time alone in the car and at lunch with just the two of us.  We try to go out on dates regularly, but there is just something different about being away overnight that feels more luxurious and special.  We also got to see our close friends John and Corynne for a dinner date.  These are friends that we don’t see nearly enough of, and it was great to catch up on the exciting things coming up in the new year.  Les and I have also been on three movie dates in the last month – pretty amazing considering that we probably had not made it to three movies in the theater in the past five years total.  Although Les always works a lot around the holidays, I had a lot of time off as I transitioned to my new job.  The overall pace in our house was slower, more relaxed, and less stressful – making for a happier marriage.

I was thrilled to spend quality time with my sister Emily.  We don’t get to see her nearly enough since she is in California, so we try to spend as much time as possible with her when she is in town.  We even got to go out for sushi and a movie date to see Les Mis (a fantastic movie, but glad I spared Les on that one).  I was able to tackle some home organization products (freezer, refrigerator, pantry, and only a small part of the office).  I completed home study for my new job and went away to San Antonio for a week of training for the new job.  I am very happy with the job change and very impressed with the new company so far.  I really enjoyed being home for a few weeks.  Of course, getting paid while being at home probably made the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable than if I were not employed.  Now if I could only find a way to stay at home for work AND still get paid – that would be the ticket.

We rang in the New Year with our neighbors and friends at a fantastic grown-up party.  We got all fancied up and danced the night away.  I look forward to this party every year and am so appreciative of the Hempecks for throwing such a wonderful bash.  We got together with the Reuter family for a fun play date and gift exchange.  Even though we only live 30 miles from each other, it seems impossible to get our 6 kids and crazy work schedules aligned for more frequent family fun.  We’ll have to do better at this in 2013.   We did our annual trip to the Great Wolf Lodge with our dear friends Zach and Parul and their adorable daughter Madeline.  That place gets better and better as the kids get older and more independent in the water.  This is one of our favorite ways to kick off a new year and celebrate Les’ birthday with some of our best friends.

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All in all – we have had a blast these past couple of months.  As I have been able to sit back and reflect on the past year, I feel so fortunate to have the life that I have.  We feel so blessed to have our health, our amazing family and friends, jobs, and a wonderful life.  I know how quickly life can change and the good times can turn to bad in just the blink of an eye.  In 2013, I am trying to cherish each moment  and be grateful for the many gifts that I have in my life.  Now if only I can remember this resolution during the crazy, stressful times that will inevitably occur in my world of five spinning plates!

“I just want you to comfort me”

Sometimes Isabella is four-and-a-half going on fourteen and sometimes she acts exactly her age. Tonight we had a little of both. Isabella is my oldest child, my daughter, and probably the one I worry about the least. We had a rough start with a difficult delivery, lots of trouble nursing, and three to four months of colic, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing. She is sweet, smart, generous, imaginative, playful, and sometimes sassy. She hit all of her developmental milestones early or right on schedule and has blossomed over the past two years in Montessori school. She is starting to read already and has wonderful critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Isabella is polite and a fairly good listener. Although she looks just like my husband, she inherited quite a few of my personality traits including being a good negotiator and debater. She can be very convincing in arguing her side and trying to get what she wants. Les is in trouble when the two of us team up and try to get what we want (new shoes, a vacation, a pool or new car one day????). She can also be sensitive and emotional. This could be inherited, since I can be emotional and overly sensitive at times, or it could just be a girl thing.

With two mischievous, and very needy, young boys constantly demanding my attention, Isabella, unfortunately. is the one that often has to fend for herself. I count on her, as the oldest and as my most responsible child, to make safe and smart choices. I rely on her to speak up if something is amiss or if she needs something. Isabella is very good about playing on her own or with friends, requiring the least amount of my hands-on time between my three children. She is so outgoing and eager to make a friend wherever we go. We were at the park the other day and she did not hesitate to run over to a young girl that was swinging on the swing set and ask her to play. She is young and innocent enough to not know the sting of rejection or the arbitrary social constraints that prevent so many older kids and adults from going up to a stranger and inviting them to join us in play or engage in conversation. We are lucky to have some great kids in the neighborhood with whom Isabella loves to play, especially two of her best friends that live next door. The three of them enjoy playing outside, dressing up, doing arts and crafts, and playing with Barbies and American Girl dolls. They get along very well, with only the occasional hurt feeling or disagreement thrown in for good measure.

After a busy four-day family trip to Philadelphia, Isabella could not wait to play with her friends. She got to go to Gymnastics camp with a school friend this morning and got to play with her neighbor friends all afternoon. By the time I got home from work today, dinner needed to be made and I had to go next door to pick her up from her playdate fun. After little sleep the night before (due to our long drive home from Philly) and a very busy day of activity, Isabella was tearful and exhausted. She started crying about a seemingly trivial issue of whether she had missed her American Girl doll’s birthday. I am not sure if she thought of this or if the birthday question came up while she was playing dolls with her friends, but she was inconsolable.

I tried the rational approach, telling her that she could choose any date for her American Girl doll’s birthday. I tried to reassure her that we had not missed her doll’s birthday. I even got out the computer and tried to look up the actual birthday of her doll. I tried to ask questions to see if she had been in a disagreement with her friends and attempted to coach her on standing up for herself if she did not like what her friends were telling her. The more I talked and tried to reason with her, the more she cried. I did not know what else to say. Frankly, I could not believe I was even going to these lengths over such a silly issue. As I tried another approach of reasoning with my very unreasonable and overtired 4-year-old, Isabella threw her hands up and said, “Mommy, I just want you to comfort me. You keep talking and making me more sad.” Wow! She was right. I was so busy trying to make dinner and give advice and offer solutions, I had not stopped to simply wrap my little girl in my arms and smother her with hugs and kisses. I stopped what I was doing and sat her on my lap and just held her. I rubbed her head, held her like the child that she still is, and just let her cry for a few minutes. I waited until the tears stopped and she was feeling better – maybe five or ten minutes. Bedtime followed shortly thereafter.

Tonight reminded me of a couple of important lessons. Four-year-old girls are not that different from thirty-four year-old women. I know when I am tired, sad, and frustrated and just need a good cry, I don’t want my husband to offer advice or solutions. I usually am just looking for an understanding shoulder to cry on or a sympathetic ear to listen to my woes. Once I finish my good cry, I am usually fine. Although I have never said the words “I just want you to comfort me”, that is exactly what I have thought on numerous occasions. Isabella is growing up, sometimes faster than I would like. As she gets older, the problems and disagreements she will encounter will only multiply and become more complex. I have so many things I want to teach her, and my initial instinct is always going to be to try to help her navigate the world and find solutions to the challenges she faces. I need to remember that she is still my little girl, and I always need to give hugs and just listen before I start doling out advice. Parental guidance and problem-solving usually goes down better with a healthy dose of comfort and empathy mixed in.

Apologies

This is the start of what may become a regular series on the blog entitled Apologies.  I feel the need to apologize a lot lately – to the kids, my husband, my friends, my boss, my coworkers, and complete strangers.  I am usually either failing to live up to expectations, doing too much of something (usually yelling), or not doing enough (work, time with my husband, attention to the kids).  Sometimes I am apologizing for my own shortcomings and other times for the shortcomings of my children.  Today I have to apologize for both.

I apologize to Moe’s for the awful tantrum my 17-month old threw in your dining establishment today.  We were just coming in to pick-up a big to-go order and this 5-minute trip turned into a 15-minute nightmare.  I know I tried to say that he never acts like that, as if that would excuse  the scene he was making, but that was not a total lie.  He has never acted that way in a restaurant.  He usually only throws those tantrums at home.  What was I supposed to say – “Sorry, my kid is acting like an out-of-control little monster, and I am a terrible parent for not knowing how to get him under control”?  I guess that would have been more accurate at that moment.

I apologize to the hard-working employees, especially those that helped clean up the messes we made along the way.  Sorry about the entire snack container of pretzels Noah threw all over the floor.  I did my best to clean up, but I am sure that we left some pretzels under tables.  I am sorry about all the napkins my 3-year old pulled out and left all over a table as I ignored him, while trying to gain control over my flailing 17-month old.  I apologize for leaving a very messy, stinky diaper in the bathroom trash can.  I usually try to take those outside in a special bag, but it was all I could do to just escape the bathroom with my tearful, poop stained baby and very restless toddler.

I apologize to the other patrons that were witnessing the screaming, flailing, crying, and hitting debacle in front of them with a mix of disgust and pity.  Noah threw himself on the floor kicking and crying for no good reason at least 3 times.  To keep him from hurting himself and to get him off the dirty floor, I thought it would be slightly better to let him lose it in my arms and hurt me instead.  Of course, I tried to soothe him, distract him, and calm him down to no avail.  I was well aware that all eyes were on me, wondering why I could not gain control over this tiny, emotional person.  I especially apologize to the little boy who put his hands over his ears and did not take them away until we left the restaurant.  I know that we were interrupting your nice, peaceful lunch out on a Sunday.  Sorry!

I apologize to the two nice ladies who approached me asking if I needed any help.  I know it is hard to watch a miserable little baby and be so helpless to quiet him down.  Unfortunately, there was not much you could really do to help, other than putting the lids on my salsa cups and helping me out to the car with my bags so I could contain my miserable child.  I especially apologize to the second kind woman who saw me burst in to tears as she was helping me at the salsa bar.  I hope you don’t think I am crazy.  Your innocent question was just the final straw that sent me over the edge.  My tears were a result of a long, frustrating morning with a grumpy baby and an even more frustrating and embarrassing 15 minutes at the restaurant.  I know you were judging me, at least a little, but just know that we were simply having a bad moment – both of us.  I am usually much more calm, composed, and in control.  Noah is usually not such a terror, at least not to that degree.

Lastly, I apologize to Noah.  I know you are still a baby – barely able to handle your emotions, especially on command.  You are usually a sweet, happy guy and love to run errands like this with me.  Maybe you’re not feeling well today (hence the awful diapers) or maybe you just did not want to be on this particular errand.  Either way, tantrums are never acceptable, especially in public.  At home I can employ my usual defusing strategies like ignoring, time-out, or redirecting you with a toy or food.  Those strategies are much more difficult when waiting in line to pay at a crowded restaurant.  I am sorry for losing my patience with you and for putting you in that situation in the first place.  That still does not excuse the tantrum, especially the hitting (we are working hard to discourage this particular behavior).  Even when I don’t like your behavior, I still love you and always will.

Enough apologizing for now.  Noah calmed down once we were in the car driving home from Moe’s.  He went down for nap and slept for three hours.  Despite the public humiliation earlier in the day, I braved another outing to the mall with all three kids after nap.  I am proud to say that everyone behaved.  I maintained control of myself and them, and we had a good time playing at the mall playground and shopping at Gymboree.  I know this won’t be the last time I feel the need to apologize for a bad tantrum or less-than-ideal behavior from one of my kids, but hopefully this won’t be a regular occurrence.

Hang My Art

What do I do with all the art and the crafts that my kids make?  This is a question that I have often asked myself.  I had piles of stuff throughout my house that the kids would make at school or at home.  You hate to throw that stuff away, even though I do throw lots of it away.  I try to save the good stuff, the cute stuff that only a 3 or 4 year-old could come up with, and the stuff that makes me laugh or reminds me of something.  The rest of it goes in the garbage, and I pray that it does not get discovered there.  I have a storage bin for each child that I keep in the attic and some of their stuff goes there.  After 2 years in pre-school for Bella and 1 year for Jacob, their bins were filling up fast and I knew I needed another solution.

We are fortunate to have a playroom in our house – a 1st floor room filled with toys, books, a train table, and even a television.  The playroom is painted bright green and has white cube shelving with wicker baskets for storage.  The planets of the solar system are hanging from the ceiling (in inflatable form), reminding us of Isabella’s obsession with all things space from the age of two and a half to just after her third birthday.  The kids love playing in this room, and I love having a place to throw all the toys and kid related stuff that we have.  The playroom features a large wall, perfect for this idea I saw  on Pinterest.

                            

The only problem is that I am not especially handy.  I also did not want to spend a lot of money on wires and I could not get Ikea to ship me the cool looking metal and wire hanging system in the picture on the left.  I went to the garage and gathered some heavy-duty string, nails, and thumb tacks.  I hung the string horizontally using nails to secure the ends and thumb tacks evenly spaced across.  The goal was to make sure the string stayed secure and taut, but to also leave space for clothes pin hooks to hold the actual art.  I could fit three strings of hanging art on the wall.  I have since added a fourth string and I plan to alternate the art on this fourth string the most frequently.  This solution worked for us.  It was cheap, easy to put up, did not take very long, and works.  I love the bright colors and variety of pictures featured along this wall, and my kids love seeing their own art work on display for friends and relatives.  I have another friend who takes pictures of the preschool art work and projects and saves them that way, saving memories and storage space.  This picture below shows a creative and adorable way to display these photos of artwork in a way that does not take up very much room on a wall.

There are a lot of great ways to achieve the same end result – preserving and showing off your child’s masterpieces.  I am thankful to Pinterest for exposing me to a few of these awesome ideas.  I am proud of my makeshift version of  a gallery and look forward to hanging many more new creations from summer camp and school in the future.

This post may make you itch

 I am suffering from PTSD.  We are finally done with the four letter word parents dread – LICE.  There, I have admitted this simple, yet ugly reality that we were facing almost two weeks ago.  I know – Yuck!  I was almost too disgusted and embarrassed to write about it, but there really is nothing to be embarrassed about.  Head lice can strike anyone, regardless of how “clean” you are, regardless of socioeconomic status, and no matter how careful you are to avoid getting lice.  We suffered through lice several times as kids.  When one of us would get lice, the rest of us would get it.  My mom would line us up for the hours long process of shampoo and combing out the hair.  Unbeknownst to me, she was also suffering through the endless laundry and bagging up stuff as well, usually on her own while my dad was away at sea.  I had also watched my sister-in-law, a working single mom of three beautiful girls with long flowing hair, go through the awful lice drill.  My sister-in-law is one of the cleanest, most protective, and vigilant moms I know and seeing her girls get it really showed me that anyone can become a victim of these nasty little bugs.  When she was going through the first, or even the second bout of head lice, I remember thinking that she was overreacting or going to extremes to get rid of it.  As with many things you think or say before kids – I get it now.  She knew exactly what she was doing and had every right in the world to be upset and a little traumatized, in addition to being extremely cautious to make certain that they never have to deal with lice again.

We had just returned from a wonderful vacation in the Outer Banks complete with great friends, lots of cute kids (9 kids under the age of 7), an abundance of beach and pool time, terrific food and drinks, and plenty of relaxation and fun.  When we finally arrived home from our trip and put the boys to bed, I was tired and felt like I needed a good shower.  As I combed my hair before the shower, I saw it – a tiny, disgusting, live white bug on the teeth of my comb.  The panic set in and I began to furiously comb my hair searching for others.  I found three little suckers in all, but it was more than enough to make me itch from head to toe and imagine nothing but hundreds of these gross things crawling all over my head.  I interrupted story time with Les and Isabella to inspect her head, thinking that she must have it too.  I did not find anything on her head that night so I let her go to sleep.  Les was clean too.  It appeared that I was the only one with a bug problem, for now.

The next six hours involved an expensive trip to Walgreens for lice killing supplies, lots of laundry and bagging of anything that could not be laundered, cleaning. vacuuming, and hair washing and combing for me.  Les was going back to work at 6:00 AM the next day so he was somewhat limited in his ability to help.  I called my mom and asked her to come over the next day.  She thoroughly inspected my head and found no more live bugs.  I treated my head a second time and let her comb through my hair.  We decided to check Isabella’s head again and lo and behold, we found several eggs and a few live bugs.  We spent all of the boys nap time shampooing and combing out her hair – trying to remain calm and not totally freak out (which is what we were really doing).  I had completed 5 loads of laundry (on hot cycle that takes 1.5 hours and hot dryer setting) and had another 8 loads on deck.  I sprayed and cleaned furniture, carpets, and cars.  I stripped everyone’s beds and bagged up all pillows and stuffed animals.  My mom was a lifesaver that day in helping me go through hair, clean, and most importantly trying to help me not lose my mind.

I was close to losing it.  You become paranoid about getting all the eggs out and making sure that they are all dead.  I followed my sister-in-law’s advice and treated Isabella and myself with something every day for a week.  The harsh chemical shampoos are too strong to use daily, but I tried tea tree oil, LiceMD (non-pesticide shampoo), Cetaphil, and olive oil.  We used over-the-counter pesticide shampoo and one of the very expensive new prescription shampoos.  Even though we did not find anything on the boys, we treated them with Cetaphil and with LiceMD for a few days in a row.  Jacob, my hyper-sensitive kid, is now probably forever afraid of combs and won’t let me near him for even the nightly brushing after bath.  I slept apart from Les for the past week to make sure that he did not get anything.  I have never done so much laundry in my life – every day washing all clothes, towels, and sheets. We had no pillows on the couch, no stuffed toys, no Barbies or American Girl dolls.  I threw out all brushes, combs, and probably $100 worth of bows, headbands, and hair ties for Isabella and myself.  That hurt.  I could have probably bagged them up for a few weeks or washed what I could, but I was taking no chances.

I think we are finally through the worst of it.  I am sleeping in the same bed as my husband again.  We now only have to do laundry every few days, the typical amount for a family of 5.  We aren’t boiling the brushes and combs for now.  We will begin taking stuff out of bags soon and again have pillows, stuffed animals, and Barbies to play with.  The PTSD may linger for a little while.  We are still not doing story time in the kid’s beds with them, doing it on the floor instead.  We still put Isabella’s hair in two braids for camp and on weekends.  We continue to look through everyone’s hair at the end of the day during bath or shower time.  Right now, I am debating on whether to Let Isabella go on the camp field trip to a bounce house on Friday.  One of the kids in the neighborhood thinks they got lice from the bounce house last year, and that is stuck in my head, feeding the paranoia and fear about going through this again.  I hate to make her miss her first field trip, but I just don’t think I can handle that right now.  I might just have to take her somewhere better, maybe Busch Gardens or Water Country instead to make up for not being able to go on the field trip.

I know I’ll have to get over this and eventually return to normalcy.  I mean, I was a pretty careful mom because of my history with lice as a kid and my sister-in-law’s experience.  I never let Isabella share brushes, hair things, crowns, hats, or anything.  She knew these rules from a very young age and even independently told a little friend at a dress-up birthday party that she could not put anything on her head that was not hers.  What a good, responsible kid.  It doesn’t matter though.  I still don’t know how Isabella and I got lice.  No one else staying in the beach house, 16 other people, had any lice or even any sign of eggs.  The only thing we did that was different is that Isabella and I went to a movie theater the day before we left the Outer Banks.  It is completely possible that someone who sat in those movie theater seats before us, even days before us, had lice and an egg or a bug transferred from the seat to my head and then to Isabella’s as we snuggled.  I know that movie theaters were one of the popular ways that bedbugs spread throughout major cities and maybe lice can be the same way.  Who knows?  We will never know, and that is part of what can drive you insane with lice.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last time we have to confront this dreaded pest.  The kids will go to school with other kids, sleepovers and birthday parties will happen, a bounce house or gym will happen again (maybe just not this Friday), and we will go to a movie theater again.  We might just have to bring a towel to put on the seat at the movie theater, and I’ll know to have plenty of wine on hand to get me through if there is a next time.