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

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

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

Unexpected Perfection

Things have felt difficult lately. The kids are out of school and Camp Mommy is not going very well. I haven't been getting as much work done as I need to; Ry has had to do more than his share. Because we all do everything together – especially this summer – it has just been too much. It feels too hard. No one is having fun. 

"I need a break. We need a break." Every day, the same sentences.

And then came the holiday. Usually one of my favorites, but this year I just couldn't get excited about it. We let our plans go until the very last minute. "What do you want to do?" I would ask Ry and get the same question in response. Endlessly. 

But once in awhile, when I most need it and least expect it, something perfect happens. This time, perfection was made up of dozens of tiny moments, strung together into just what we needed.

It was taking the kids to the drive-in, hoping they would fall asleep before the second half of the double feature so that Ry and I could watch it – and they actually did.

It was the way that a day at the lake stretched into four days and three nights, because we just couldn't leave. 

It was watching T jump off the dock "all by himself" and not cry when he went under water.

It was hearing A say "Auntie La-la, can I feel the baby kick again?" 

It was sitting on the deck with four generations laughing, talking and remembering. (I won't mention the hair braiding and the ice cream truck, because then you will just think it was too perfect. And it almost was.)

It was sunset cruises on the pontoon boat, watching fireworks displays from all sides of the lake.

It was grandparents listening for little feet first thing in the morning, so they could wisk tiny humans away for breakfast before they woke up Mama and Dada. 

It was having no service on cell phones, being happily disconnected and unplugged.

It was seeing Ry relax and unwind, playing with the kids until their stomachs hurt from laughing so hard.

It was the way A tried to kiss the frog that Uncle Nick caught for her, and the way she proudly carried it around until it finally hopped away from her. 

It was watching the tiny humans play together, nicely, for most of the time.

It was completely disregarding bedtime, and being rewarded when they slept late the next morning.

It was being in the company of people with whom you can say anything or nothing at all and having both things be equally comfortable.

It was going to leave and having no idea where my shoes were, because I hadn't needed them for four days.

It was all those moments, and so many more. It was perfection. It was our much needed break. 

Tomorrow, we will go back to normal. I know there will be fall out of so many days with lax rules and nights with late bedtimes. But tonight – as I get ready to tuck them in for what I expect will the the easiest bedtime in recent history – it feels like it was worth whatever price they decide I will have to pay tomorrow.

 

Remembering the Baby Days

Maybe it is because they are not with me today. Maybe it is because I printed out T's kindergarten registration packet this morning. More likely it is because I am more confident than ever that we were meant to have just these two, and there will not be another baby in this house. 

Regardless, realizing just how big these two littles are is taking my breath away and making my heart ache. I want to pause them, or put them into slow motion. And because I am an emotional cutter, I went through an album of old photos – baby photos – instead. Because it's the closest thing I have to a rewind button. 

Long days and short years, for the past five trips around the sun. I was here, really here, the whole time. I did not miss much, as lucky as I was to be able to work from home and be with them the majority of the time. 

So why am I so sad? Why do I miss those days so much? 

I hated being pregnant. Postpartum stuff made me a special kind of crazy that I doubt I ever fully recovered from. I struggled with not being able to sleep through the night until the tiny humans did (both at thirteen freaking months, yes, MONTHS). I missed jeans that fit, wearing makeup and showering every day.

The terrible twos were awful but have nothing on the terrible-r threes and f-you fours. I cried. I complained. I probably wished away entire days with thoughts of "when will you finally…?" If I'm being completely honest, I still do sometimes.

Now, looking back through my rose-colored glasses and the knowledge of how everything has turned out fine so far, I miss those baby days.

Walking around in a daze because you are working off a couple of hours sleep but not really minding that much. Learning how much you can do with one arm because you have a baby in the other. Wearing yoga pants all the time because they are the only pants that fit and that doesn't bother you even a little bit. Eating everything in sight because, hey, you're breastfeeding and you need  the extra calories. Knowing that your tiny human is finally, blissfully asleep in your arms because of the way their bodies go completely limp. And you still hold them a little longer anyway. The way they need you, just you, all the time.

Yeah, that. All of that. And so, so much more. 

Going Back to Work: When is it Time?

We have been away for a little over 24 hours on a little "staycation" in the mountains. After five years of being a mama, I know this is usually how long it takes to clear out the fog of mommy-brain and just be. After eight years of being a wife, I also know this is usually how long it takes for us to decompress, unplug and get a little clarity.

And because we work together, we spend a lot of time talking about work even when we are "on vacation." Where is our company headed, and what role do I want to play in the company as the kids get older and need me less? Is the status quo working for either or both of us? Then, inevitably, the big question –

Is it time for me to go back to work full time?

I work now. But not full time, and not outside of the house. There are action figures on the window-sill of my office and Barbie dolls under my desk. I don't communicate via telephone because I can't trust the tiny humans to stay quiet long enough to complete a phone call.

This is the way I wanted it. It has worked for us for a long time. But I wonder how much longer it will work for. Lately, every time I am on the computer, a tiny human pops up with big, sad eyes and says "Mama, stop working, I want to play with you." I feel horrible about it. I can buy a little time by giving them the iPad or turning on a show outside of "screen time" limits but I still feel bad about it.

On the flip side, our little company is having a few growing pains. R could certainly use more help, but we both know when I say I can – even though my intentions are good – I really can't do much more than I already do. And I feel bad about that.

How will I know for sure when it's time to go back full time?

I've been thinking about it all day, and I still don't know. I know these years with my kids seem long but in retrospect they will be incredibly short. And I may wish I could go back and make different choices. T will start kindergarten in the fall, and A will pick up more days at preschool. And here are the things I know for sure:

  • No Daycare: There is a huge difference between preschool and full time daycare; I want A to experience the former but not the latter. T never had to and I want them to be even. (Note: if your kid is in daycare, I am not judging you. This is about me.)
  • Dream Job: I've got a good thing going right now. And if I choose to leave it, it will need to be for the perfect opportunity. Which in this economy may be as likely as winning Powerball. But still.
  • It's About Me: Kids are resilient. What they think is normal is still largely determined by R and I. My mom loves to remind me that she stayed home with us for the first years of our lives and we don't even remember. My kids are not going to be ruined because I went back to work.
  • And a Little Bit About Them: My mom is right, we don't really remember. But that doesn't mean that we don't know that she stayed home with us as long as that was the right choice for our family. What I do remember is how hard my mom worked when it was time for her to go back to work, and all the other things she did at the same time. And because she did both things it never occurred to me that I couldn't do anything I wanted when the time came for me to choose.

I guess I must not be 100% ready; it is not time yet. But it may be time to start doing more networking, catching up with old colleagues and seeing what else is out there. Because even in a down economy, job opportunities will come up. Maybe when I see the perfect one, I will know I am ready.

Past Please and Thank You

R and I were talking the other night about how, because of how "connected" we are as a society, we are losing touch with certain things. Like handwritten thank you notes and holiday cards. So maybe we aren't more connected at all; we are more plugged in but probably more disconnected as humans. 

I have been thinking about this in lots of ways – how people communicate via Facebook, how many more of us would rather send a text than make a phone call, how most of us connect with our people via technology rather than face to face – the old fashioned way. I think important things are getting lost.

When my in-laws were dating, my father-in-law wrote letters to my mother-in-law in this amazing script penmanship. (Do they even teach cursive in schools anymore?) She still has them, tucked away in an album somewhere. When R and I began dating, we emailed and texted but we talked on the phone more than anything. The first time he told me he loved me he wrote it in a greeting card (which got lost in the mail, then ultimately returned to him which created a bit of an awkward situation) that I have tucked away in an album somewhere.

I wonder what the kids are going to have to tuck in their own albums some day. A text transcript that they emailed to themselves and printed out? Not if I have anything to say about it. I mean, I did just have Theo help me send out dozens of holiday cards and we talked about each person as we addressed them and how we know them. And this year they will be sending out their own thank you notes after their birthdays instead of me writing them. The handwritten kind. 

Because I want them to have old-school manners. Beyond saying please and thank you. Teaching good manners feels really important, especially as we are raising a son. I want him to be the guy that impresses his date's parents, the one who is "so polite", who opens doors and pulls out chairs and picks up tabs and gives up his seat on the subway. And I want Ana to look at that and to know that she deserves a guy who acts like that. I want to raise a girl who expects to be treated well. 

I read something today that said "Your children will become who you are. So be who you want them to be." It is a lot of pressure, being responsible for someone else and helping making them into contributing members of society. But I don't want my kids to become who I am – I want them to become better than I am. 

 

Being Here (Gratitude, Final Days)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I took a break from writing. It was unintentional, at first, then I realized that any time I took over the weekend to write the blog would be taking time away from something that I wanted to do more. So I didn't write; instead I focused on being here. Not just physically being present but really being here with the kids. Less iPhone and iPad time, less tv, more playing and laughing and talking and being. Okay, and a little online holiday shopping. Because I am still me.

Holiday Traditions

Now that we are past Thanksgiving, we are well into "the holidays." Some years I love this time, others I find it stressful and can't wait for it to be over already. This year I am loving it. 90% of my holiday shopping is done, the tree is up, the house is decorated, and I feel like for the next few weeks I can just sit back with the kids and focus on being here with them. 

T is closer to five than four now, and this age is the most fun we have seen for the holidays. He is really starting to "get" stuff like the Elf on the Shelf and other holiday traditions. For the first time ever, he sat with me while I addressed all of our holiday cards. We cranked up the Michael Buble holiday station on Pandora and T stamped and stickered every card while I addressed and return addressed them. It was like a holiday assembly line. And even though he was tired, T stuck it out and stamped and stickered every single card. We were both so proud of his handiwork. 

So for my final gratitude post, I am grateful for all the writing in did in November. I think it got me back on track. I look forward to writing more in the coming weeks, but not feeling like I have to write every day. I bet the next posts will be more genuine and representative of my real voice.

I am also grateful for the coming weeks and all the things we have to look foward to with our holiday traditions. Hopefully I can remind myself to focus on being here, creating holiday traditions for our little family and letting the other stuff go. 

 

Grandparents, In-Laws (Gratitude: Day 17)

Today I am grateful for my in-laws, the kids' grandparents. My mother-in-law has a special gift for recognizing the importance of R and I taking a break from the kids from time to time. So this weekend, she offered to pick the kids up on Friday afternoon and keep them for us until Sunday afternoon when we come up for an early Thanksgiving dinner.

I appreciate taking a break, but what makes it really feel like a break is that my kids adore their grandparents. They love staying at the lake and eating blueberry pancakes for every meal and wearing pajamas all day while they watch Spongebob Squarepants (Nina's house, Nina's rules). They love having their grandparents' undivided attention and rarely, if ever, hearing the word "no." 

From the time the kids leave to the time we pick them up, I don't have to worry whether they are having a good time or if they are missing me. I already know the answers – yes and no, respectively. No mommy guilt over taking a break, because they are on their own break from me. 

I could write thousands and thousands of words about my in-laws and the things they do for us and how grateful we are and it still would not scratch the surface. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, like this picture of A when her Nina arrived at the house to pick her up one day – 

That pure joy, love and adoration? That is how we all feel about the kids' grandparents. Sometimes two year olds are just so much better at expressing things than the rest of us.

Play Rooms (Gratitude – Day Ten)

On the 10th day, I am grateful for play rooms – and that our basement playroom is finally finished! I am not sure who is more excited – the tiny humans or me. 

I think play rooms are important for kids, and important for moms and dads, too. Here's why: 

  • Organized Disorder: When I was little, my parents rarely made me clean my room. They were great that way. But if they were trying to use reverse psychology or use immersion therapy or something, figuring "eventually she will gross herself out and clean her room already," they were so wrong. My room was a pit. I think my kids deserve the same freedom somewhere in their world.
  • Be Creative: I think the kids need a space where they can play with all their toys at once if they want to. Building block castles while dressed as superheroes and taking breaks to play musical instruments or whip up something in the play kitchen? Play room perfection. 
  • Teeny Tiny Library: Long ago, my kids lost privileges to having access to all their books at the same time. Usually because they ended up in a giant pile that resembled what I imagine a book-burning looks like. So we put them in a book shelf – a "novel" idea, I know – and put them in a different room. When they want to read a book, they ask to visit the "library" and take out a book. Until now. Now that they have a play room, there will be a "book nook" with baskets of their favorite books and comfy chairs to read in. Stay tuned for how well that works out. But I do think it is worth a try. Kids need to read. 
  • Keep it Contained: Play rooms need doors. To keep parents out and toys in. The end.

I appreciate the hard work my husband put in the finishing the basement and helping me create a play room for the tiny humans. Here's hoping the play room makes the tiny humans a little less stir crazy this winter – which is supposed to be on the long and snowy side this year.