It’s Okay to Blink.

Earlier this week, a post appeared in my Facebook newsfeed that said something along the lines of "Thanks, now I know what each of your children look like and what grade they are in." As if I needed a reminder that I'm smack dab in the middle of "Club 30", the prevalance of back to school photos are proof – I'm a parent, and so are most of the rest of you.

I like the back to school photos, and I'm entertained by the range of effort from "this is my kid on the first day of school" to "this is my child's full name, age, teacher, likes, dislikes and career aspirations as of this very moment."

What pains me are the "don't blink! It really DOES go by too fast!" posts that go along with it. It's not that I don't have moments where I feel exactly the same way. But "don't blink" is a sentiment that, for me, is often riddled with guilt and thoughts of coulda shoulda woulda. It's unfair to feel that way – unfair to me, and to the tiny humans.

I am here. For the important things, the semi-important things, and also the mind-numbingly mundane things. My kids will grow up knowing they were loved and well cared for.

But it has to be okay to blink. It has to be okay to take my eyes off of them. Time is going to pass, regardless. If I spend all eighteen of my years with them under my roof "not blinking", what happens to me? What happens to my marriage, my friendships, and me without them, when they are gone?

Blink. Look away. Then refocus. You will be amazed by what happened when you looked away, and what you're able to notice that's new because you blinked.

What Kind of Party is Five?

When I found out I was unexpectedly expecting Baby #3, part of me began mourning the loss of the family of four. We had just reached "the sweet spot" with the big kids – everyone was using the toilet on their own, everyone was sleeping through the night, R and I were beginning to remember what we were like as people independent of "Mumma" and "Dadda." It was finally getting easier.

And then, just like that, we were starting over.

It goes without saying that we love the "bonus baby" and I am willing to bet that my biggest regret as a family of four would have been that we never had a third baby. We were meant to be a party of five, although I'm going to go ahead and put "party" in air quotes until further notice.

Because the stage we are in now is decidedly NOT the sweet spot. Whatever the opposite of the sweet spot is, that is where you will find us. I'm going to go ahead and set up camp here, because we may be here awhile. And this is what it looks like:

No One Gets Along with Everyone. Oldest and youngest are in a semi-permanent state of mutual admiration. Middle is sometimes granted a temporary pass, but rarely from both at the same time. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do of all three of my children getting along.

No One is on the Same Page. At the amusement park, the oldest can ride adult rides but not kiddie rides. The middle can ride kiddie rides only. The youngest cannot ride any of the rides, but rather than sitting in her stroller she'd prefer to push it into the back of my legs repeatedly while she waits, athankyouverymuch. Even if oldest and middle could hypothetically ride the same ride, the oldest refuses to ride with the middle. This is one example. I could give you six dozen more, but I won't. You get the idea. It's like those horrible word problems I vaguely remember from math class, except then at least I always had the option to leave it blank and go on to the next.

No One Hears My Voice Until it Reaches THIS VOLUME. Sometimes I look at R and say, "can you hear me? You can? Am I speaking English? Oh, I am? You're sure? Just checking. BECAUSE THE KIDS ONLY HEAR ME WHEN I'M THIS LOUD." And then it's "geez Mum, why are you always yelling at us?"

No One Gets What They Want When They Want It. My catch phrase is "give me a minute." (Spoiler alert! It's actually somewhere between five minutes and never.) If one child is getting something, it is most likely because one or more someone elses is going without. I've never worked in the medical profession but I imagine this is what triage is like – no one gets what they want but hopefully everyone gets what they need. Eventually.

This is why, if you'd asked me, I would have talked myself into the family of four and out of the party of five. Because I like to feel like I'm in control and I do not like to be outnumbered and overwhelmed. But here I am – with one big, one middle and one little – learning to let go of the little things and trying to keep track of the big things.

The day will come where we are once again in "the sweet spot." And it will be even sweeter, because now we have a whole extra person to love.

I’m Not Ready

ASunset

My biggest little girl is starting kindergarten this week. All summer, people have been asking if we're ready, and all summer we have answered the same way. A says "I'm so excited!", and I say "She's so ready." What I do not say is "I'm not ready." I was not ready to send T, but I thought it would be different – I thought I would be different – with A. It is not. 

What will be easier is sending her to a teacher I know, in a class filled with children we know the majority of. I know so much more now than I knew two years ago. It should be easier. It is not.

A is my sweet, sensitive one. She does everything big – high highs and low lows, often within moments of each other, all day long. I worry about A being stuck in the middle, always tagging along with the older or the younger, rarely getting her own thing. As a result, she is the easy one in many ways but she's also the one who ends up just going along. I sometimes tease that she is the one who would go with a stranger who offered her a lollipop – because A is sweet, and trusting, and used to going along. I fear that in school A may not listen to herself because the voices of others are so often louder.

Mostly I am afraid of sending my girl out into a world I have not prepared her for. I have her things ready to go – her supplies are in her classroom, her backpack and coordinating lunchbox hanging on her hook, her new clothes washed and put away and I even sewed her a new dress. I think I am hoping that if I do these things – if she has all the things she needs – she will feel how much I love her and how I am probably thinking of her at that very moment.

But those are just things. I am scared of the things she cannot see but will certainly feel. What if I have not done enough, said enough, taught her enough to prepare her for the hard things that are surely coming her way?

BeautyI said to my sister once that having a daughter ruins you, even if in the best possible way. I fear for my girls in ways that I do not fear for their brother. The responsibility of raising women weighs heavy on my heart and mind. I spent so much time choosing her things for school because it will matter. I have spent five years explaining what it means to be brave and kind, and how sometimes other people will not be either of those things but she will have to be anyway. I have spent five years telling her she can so that maybe she will not believe it when she starts hearing she cannot. I have spent five years – her whole entire life – building her up in anticipation of a world that will try to tear her down in ways that her brother will never experience.

I hope kindergarten will not ruin my daughter. I hope she is as brave and as kind as she knows how to be. I hope that when kids are mean, when she feels sad or when someone says she can't, it is my voice she hears louder than anyone – "you are brave, you are kind, you can do and be anything. You are perfect just the way you are."

ASunset

 

The House That Built Me

9 Sand Point Road

My parents are selling their house – my childhood home – after 40+ years of living there. My dad purchased what was then a cottage on Goose Rocks Beach in the mid-70's from an estate attorney. The majority of the transaction happened through the mail – certified letters and contracts going back and forth. Can you even imagine?

Since then, so many things have changed. My entire life has happened, the majority of it within the walls of that house. The house has been remodeled, has weathered more than a few storms, but has largely stood tall and proud throughout the years. It is like a beacon that calls to me the second the beach is in sight from the road – "you're almost home."

"The one with the triangle window," we always said. "Oh yes, I know the one!" people would reply.

Next week, the house will not be ours anymore. It remains to be seen whether it will be remodeled or torn down to make way for something bigger (and not, in my opinion, better). I am not sure which I would prefer, but it does not really matter, does it? At the end of the day, it will not belong to us anymore.

It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to 9 Sand Point Road, but at the same time, my heart is filled with gratitude. A property like that is one of a kind – with 200 feet of private beach front and an unobstructed view of Timber Island – and in a way I think I always felt like it was lent to us for safe keeping. Because you cannot truly own the beach, the sunrise over the Island, the sand under foot or the crashing surf. I am grateful that our family was entrusted with that piece of property for nearly half a century, and a piece of me will remain there always.

But greater than my gratitude for having called that amazing spot "home" is my gratitude for what it has afforded my family over the years. Tied up in that little investment my dad made all those years ago are so many things.

That house was fourteen drugstores called Freedom Drug plus two more called Economy Drug.
That house was my mom staying home with my sister and I when we were little and needed her most.
That house was two daycare centers where a bunch of other kiddos grew up with a whole lot of TLC.
That house was family vacations near and far.
That house was two little girls who grew up hearing "yes" far more than "no."
That house was a BA from Simmons College and a BS from the University of New England.
That house was the wedding of my dreams in Kennebunkport with the people I love most in the world.
That house was my sister staying home with her son when he was really little and needed her most.
That house was medical bills from that time my mom beat cancer.
That house has been the safety net that has caught us all and has never failed.
That house is our past, but it will also provide my parents with the very best future.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the amazing home you built for our family. I think it is safe to say that it was the best investment of your life.

And thank you, 9 Sand Point Road – you were so, so good to us.
 

9 Sand Point Road

When You Think They Aren’t Listening

Be You

Oh look, I still have a blog. Imagine that!

Over the past year while I wasn't writing I had another baby. (Yes, an entirely new human.) And my mom was diagnosed with cancer. (She is now cancer-free, athankyouverymuch.) Neither of those are reasons not to write; in fact, those events might have been catalysts for amazing writing.

But they weren't, not for me. Mostly I felt tired, and anxious, and like there is a whole lot of excess noise out there. And I didn't much feel like adding to it unless I had something to say that felt worth it. So I was very quiet, and I waited for something to happen that I wanted to tell you about. 

And let's be honest. "You", after a year of not writing, is probably my mom, my sister, a few cousins and a handful of good friends. Which is totally okay with me. I love you people and I'm glad you're still here. 

Today was A's last Star Student day. I have been operating under the assumption that sending my now-middle child to Kindergarten next fall will be easier than sending the oldest or the youngest. As I was handing over the Star Student bag and goodies to A's teacher "for the last time", I realized this is not likely to be the case. Luckily, before I could dwell too much on this "last", the teacher said she just had to tell me something about A.

Apparently during lunch yesterday, two little boys were discussing how they love chocolate so much they want to marry it. (Amen, little guys, amen.) Then they decided they should just marry each other instead. At which point another child pointed out that they could not, in fact, get married because they are both boys. So A interjected, "yes they can. Boys can marry boys, and girls can marry girls. You can marry whoever you love." 

Whoa.

Then I got into my car and I cried and cried. Because apparently, my children do hear me when I talk. Maybe not about the little things – flushing the toilet, picking up their toys, interrupting me incessantly, and so on and so on ad nauseum. But the big things? The "it is my responsibility to teach you to believe these things to the core of your being before I send you out into the world to be a contributing member of society" things? Turns out they are listening. They get it. 

A is only four, and when I cry at things that don't appear outwardly upsetting she gets confused and asks "Mommy, why does your voice sound like that? Why are you sad?" So I can't explain this to her. Instead, I will write it here and perhaps some day she will read it and know how important today is to me.

Thank you, my biggest little girl, for giving me a much-needed sign that I'm doing an okay job raising you. Thank you for being so brave. Don't ever let people tell you what you can and cannot do. (Unless it is me or your dad and you are doing something dangerous or illegal.) And thank you for being the thing I waited all year for – for giving me a reason to write again.

You are my little star. All the days.

Be You

What I Have Already Learned From Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big milestone for T, yes. That I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting was for it – already, on the very first day – to be a big milestone for me as well. 

I have been agonizing over T's first day of kindergarten for longer than I would care to admit. I have been going through the "what-if's" and "not ready's" and the "if-only's" ad nauseum. I barely slept last night, and when I did I had nightmares about T's first day and all the things that could go wrong. I said I was "hoping for the best and preparing for the worst." I am a liar. I was totally expecting the worst. FOR NOTHING. Because today went fine.

We were out the door on time. I got pictures of my children with actual smiles on their faces at the same time in the same photo. We walked to school, and miraculously the rain held off. T was excited about all of it.

I didn't even cry. I DIDN'T EVEN CRY!

Multiple voicemails and text messages flooded in over the course of the morning. "How did he do? How did YOU do? Is everyone okay?" And I replied, "Great! Okay. YES!" (With a cat emoticon smiley face sometimes, because I have a little problem with overusing the cat emoticon.)

As the day wore on, I felt a little silly. Because I was totally okay. A little sad, a lot nostalgic, but really okay. I spent the better part of this summer dreading something that never ended up happening. No tears, no separation anxiety, nothing. What a waste of my time.

Kindergarten Lesson for the Mama #1: Stop worrying. It might just be fine. (And even if it's not fine, did worrying ever change an outcome?)

Now I want to back up a bit to last year at this time. T got invited to his first ever "friend birthday party" for a kid who I did not know. We went because he was so excited, and I spent the entire time feeling completely awkward and out of place. Everyone was very nice, but it felt like they all knew each other and I was the odd mom out. Yuck.

That was just one example. I have spent the better part of parenthood feeling like "the odd mom out." I had plenty of excuses for why this was – "We just don't know many people here, we're not "from" here, my best friends don't live near us and they're really more my people" – when in reality I was socially awkward and afraid of trying to make new friends.

I complained constantly about not having "people" locally. I envied my friends from away who managed to find their "people" in spite of also being new in town. I accepted the fact that I just wasn't going to have new friends.

Okay, now we can fast forward back to today. Remember that flood of text messages and voicemails I referenced? Some of them were from my friends. New friends that I've made in the past year. And not only that – I knew moms at school! Moms to say hello to, and chat with at drop off and pickup. It was amazing.

I came home and realized, "Ohmygosh all of a sudden I have people here! Yessssss!" And then I wondered, "when did that happen?" I realized it happened at pickup from preschool. And when I discovered that another mom from preschool had a little in A's music class. New neighbors moved in who have become wonderful friends. Through ballet and music and t-ball and soccer we suddenly know people. There are birthday parties and play dates and coffee and "mom's nights out" and new friends – for the kids and for me. (Except the coffee and mom's nights out. Those are just for me.)

Kindergarten Lesson for the Mama #2: You Are Finding Your "People."

So as I sit here, sipping my celebratory glass of wine and reflecting on the day, I am feeling unbelievably grateful. And almost excited for what else this kindergarten adventure might have in store – for T and for his mama.

Don’t Open Pandora’s Box…And Other Dont’s

As previously discussed, this week T begins kindergarten. I am preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. And I am learning A LOT about what not to do with our last days together. For example…

DO NOT open the hope chest that contains mementos of everything from your own high school graduation to your child's preschool graduation. I don't care what you are looking for. If it is really that important, ask your husband for help. 

If you open aforementioned hope chest – which from this day forward will be known as Pandora's box in our house – DO NOT take out the baby books, old photos and Christmas cards. Or go through them with your children, marveling over how little they once were and how big they now are. (Note to self: fill in more information in A's baby book before a. you forget anything else or b. she notices that she is CLEARLY the second child.)

DO NOT take you children to Target on a last minute errand at 6 pm. (This is pretty much a good rule any day of the week.) Because they will behave poorly, but when they beg you for toys you won't even put up a fight because the trainwreck that is the voice in your head will say "it's your last time before kindergarten. It is the end of an ERA." And then you will spend 5x as much as usual due to your fragile emotional state.

DO NOT let them dictate their own bedtimes or have "sleepovers" in each other's rooms. It's not June. We don't have time to get "back on track." School starts in TWO DAYS and my kid is going to be an exhausted mess.

Finally, DO NOT drink more than one glass of wine on any given night. Otherwise, you may end up creepily staring at your sleeping almost kindergartener humming "You Are My Sunshine" while your mind plays a memory montage of your last 5+ years together. (As a side note, I think saving all those extra glasses of wine for the post-first day celebration is totally okay. Cheers!)

The Reasons I’m Not Writing

Because work feels crazy. Because I have carpal tunnel in both wrists. Because there is always someone who is hungry, or thirsty, or wanting something from me. Because would rather watch TV. Because I do not have make time. Because I am not ready to say what comes next, but I know I am running out of time.

My kid is going to kindergarten. He is ready. I am not ready. 

Since the day T was born, I have been counting down in my head the days until he begins kindergarten. It feels, by far, like the biggest and scariest milestone out there – I knew it even then. While it is a beginning of many things, it feels like an end. And I am not ready.

I am not ready for school bus rides and field trips where strangers take T and show him parts of the world that we haven't gotten to yet. 

I am not ready for hurt feelings and mean kids and T being left out on the playground. 

I am not ready for homework instead of playing outside after school.

I am not ready to abide by school vacations as the only weeks of the year when we are supposed to travel.

I am not ready to concede the fact that this part – the part where we are unequivocally in charge, and the world is largely what we have built it to be for T – is over.

Most of all, I am not ready to walk him to school, to wave goodbye and see my little boy disappear inside what seems like an awfully big school. And to realize that with each passing day, he will seem a little bigger and the school will seem a little smaller. Because he will be, and it will be.

And that is the way it is supposed to go. 

He is ready. I am not ready. 

 

Please Excuse the Mess

You know that sign that some people have in their homes that says, "Please excuse the mess, but we live here."? I have always loved that sign. Not only because I read it when I enter a home for the first time and breathe a little sigh of relief – "ah, you are just like me" – but also because I just like what it says. We are busy making memories, living a life, and it gets a little messy. Cleaning is boring, and also pointless when you have tiny humans who are particularly skilled in mess making.

I was thinking about this today, and wishing I had a similar sign that I could wear outside the house. "Please excuse my appearance, but I am living in this body." I know my hair is in the same braid I slept in last night and that I have no make up on. I am aware that yoga pants are more appropriate for people who have been to the gym more than once in the past six months.

I also know that it would only take an extra fifteen or so minutes to look more "put together" in the morning. But I am living in this body. And with those fifteen extra minutes, I can…

…sleep a little longer and hope that it translates into a little more patience and grace with my family.

…make sure that the kids look somewhat presentable (do as I say, not as I do).

…help T get to the next level on his video game.

…say "okay" when A asks me for a cuddle.

…pack snacks and lunches carefully rather than frantically, making sure they have their favorite things for school.

It is only fifteen minutes, but I hope that the little things that I do with them – the things that say "I love you" over and over and over – make a difference to them. Enough so they don't remember how I looked when I dropped them off in the morning because they are too busy remembering how I made them feel – loved.

 

Trust Me, I Am an Expert (But I Wish I Wasn’t)

There are a lot of things I know a lot about, and even more things I know a little about and pretend to know a lot about. But in the past year, there is one thing that I, sadly, would consider myself an expert on. It is not a thing I openly talk about – especially with new people – but since you people are my people, here goes. 

It's head lice. Yep. HEAD LICE. I know all about how to treat head lice. (I am killing it with hair emergencies.)

Because one lovely morning when I was cuddling A on the couch, I discovered a bug in her hair. And then more than one. And then…well, let's just say it turned out I also had it and it was gross. (Is your head itching yet?!)

So after my initial tearful "butimthirtysomethingandiveneverhadliceuntilnow" fit – which my mom promptly ended by saying "of course you've had lice, you just don't remember" – I set about solving the problem. So here's the deal, in case the lice fairy ever visits your house: 

Step 1: Quarantine and Treatment – Kid with lice is separated from kid without lice, temporarily, to apply lice treatment. Because I was scared out of my mind, I immediately treated both A and I with Rid or something equally toxic, but if I had it to do over, here is what I would recommend for treatment:

  • how to treat head liceOlive Oil: The theory is that it suffocates the lice. I think mayonaise is supposed to accomplish the same goal. Ditto baby oil or Vaseline. But if you heat the olive oil up before application, it's like a ghetto hot oil treatment.
  • Lice Free Spray: There are a couple of natural lice sprays on the market that are relatively non-toxic. My favorite part about this product is that you can use it as many times as you want, unlike Rid, which is so toxic that you can only use it once every 7-10 days. I have since used it as a preventative method before t-ball and when there was a lice scare at the kids school a month or so ago.
  • Styling Tools: I used the blow drier and flat iron on both A and I repeatedly. I got this tip from my friend Deanna, who also saved the day during the red hair debacle. She is like my hair savior, I swear. Apparently the heat kills the nits. (Ew, it's even a gross word.)
  • Coconut Oil & Shampoo: I immediately purchased the Organix brand of coconut milk shampoo, conditioner and coconut oil to wash A's hair. I continue to wash her hair with it. Apparently lice do not like essential oils like coconut, mint, or tea tree. 

Step 2: Cleaning – While A and I were having our "hot oil treatments", I was frantically stripping beds, vacuuming furniture and putting everything else into trash bags for the recommended two week incubation period. Everything that could be dried went into the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes: pillows, stuffed animals, hats, clothes, bedding…you get the idea. My washer/dryer has never worked so hard. Also – don't forget about carseats and strollers. Vaccum them. Repeatedly.

Step 3: Combing – This is the nastiest and most tedious step. It is the step that I would imagine most people either do inadequately or skip over entirely, which is why lice are often recurring. It almost makes you wish the lice would just eat your brain, because that would likely be easier. It involves sectioning off the hair and going through it, literally, with a fine tooth comb. And the stuff that comes off the comb…well…yuck. But it has to be done. More than once. I recommend a show that you never let your kid watch normally and an unhealthy amount of fruit snacks while they sit, captive, in a chair. Note: if you are unlucky enough to also have lice, do not ask your husband to do this for you. Call your mother or your best friend. Promise that you will leave wine, rubber gloves and a shower cap on the doorstep if they come. Trust me on this. 

Step 4: Full Disclosure – I was not thrilled that we had lice, but I would not wish lice on my worst enemy. Well…okay, maybe my worst enemy. But that's it. So I had to get on the phone and notify school, the gym, music class, story time (you get the picture) that we had lice. Which is awesome, in case you were wondering. 

Step 5: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat – I think this is the most important step. You have to continue everything ad nauseum. Particularly the vacuuming and the cleaning. Of everything their heads touch in the course of a day. And the combing. Ad nauseum. I think it was an entire month before I stopped vacuuming daily, drying our pillows and A's buddies each morning after sleeping on them, and picking through her hair like a monkey does to its offspring. I still haven't gotten over my head itching or stopped examining each flake of dandruff carefully to make sure that is what it is.

Step 6: Recovery and Prevention – A is no longer allowed to go to school or activities with her hair down. I continue to wash her hair with the coconut shampoo and spray both kids with Lice Free in high-risk lice situations. (No, I am not joking. Have you not seen a public indoor play space?) Am I crazy? Possibly. But I want to do everything I can to avoid becoming any more of an expert on this particular topic.