5 Ways Kindergarten Info Night Was Like the First Day of Middle School (Mine)

Earlier in the week, I had to go to T's kindergarten information night. I was a little nervous, as I always am what I don't know what to expect. But one thing I did not expect at all  is the overwhelming sense of deja vu that came over me when I walked in. It was like my first day of middle school – which was not great, thankyouverymuch – all over again. Here's why: 

  • Little Fish, Big Pond: The town where I grew up doesn't have its own middle and high schools, which meant the friendly familiar elementary school faces on that first day of middle school were few and far between. Twentysomeodd years later, same deal with familiar preschool parent faces. Only much, much fewer. 
  • The Cool Kids: On the first day, there is always that group – that one group – that just exudes "cool." Whether as students in middle school or as parents at info night, they are the ones who effortlessly know exactly what to wear, exactly where to sit, and exactly what to do when. They are also sooo popular that instead of sitting at one of the designated tables, they take chairs out of a chair rack to put around their own, larger table near back of the room. Both so they have enough room for all their friends and so they can be closest to the room's prime real estate – like the exit and the sign up sheet for screening day. 
  • The Unfortunate Medical Condition: My first day of middle school, it was that I had just had oral surgery and could not eat, drink anything except water or brush my teeth for two weeks. Which pretty much meant that I was "that weird girl that didn't talk or eat", at least for awhile. This time around, I have some kind of respiratory infection and no voice. Again, "the weird girl that doesn't talk." Ah, timing is everything. 
  • Navigating the Social Scene: A couple of groups make presentations on first days, convincing you of both the benefits their club or organization provides and how swell it would be if you joined. This is a trick. Choose a club, choose a label. So choose carefully.
  • Anxiety: I have serious anxiety and am socially awkward. Once you know me, I am actually quite funny and we can joke about it. Until then, you either think I'm weird, standoffish, and/or have an obscure skin condition that causes me to spontaneously break out in hives. 

The good news is that I survived, both times. The even better news is that this time around it is not about me. T has made some great friends in preschool who will be going to kindergarten with him. He has an energy and exuberance that seem to endear him to other boys his age. And as most mamas do, I know I will put myself out there and rise to the occasion in ways that I didn't have the courage to the first time around. Because this time, it's for my kid. 

And there is not much I will not do for that kid.

Yelling Hangover

This morning could have – and should have – gone better. Everyone was up, dressed and ready to leave for school early. Everyone got enough sleep and no one is sick. We were set up, it seemed, for a brilliant start to the week.

Until I was halfway out the door. Literally – one foot on each side of the threshold. 

T: "I want to bring my iPad." (Which is not an iPad, but a VTech VReader, FYI.)
Me: "No. Put it down please." 
T: "But I want it."
Me: "Put it down."
T: "No."
Me: "Put it DOWN. NOW."
T: "NO!"
(Repeat previous exchange fourteen times. Because that's not insanity.)
Me: "PUT. IT. DOWN. NOW!" (Yelling. Super loud yelling. Meanest, loudest mommy voice.)
T: Now crying.

There was more yelling, followed by more crying, followed by door slamming. A text from R asking if I had lost my mind screaming that loud when he was on a work call. A profanity-laced return text. Deep breath. Sip of coffee. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The rest of the way to school, the kids and I discussed using their listening ears and mommy not yelling so much. Apologies and promises to do better all around. But still. 

I am at a loss. I do not want to be a mom who screams at her kids all the time. I do not want us to start our days like that. But I don't know how else to express my frustration or get my point across sometimes. We are not people who spank our kids – I am not judging you if you do, but it is not for us. T has been spanked maybe twice in his life and it made me feel so horrible, particularly the last time, that I never did it again. I also know myself – I have a nasty temper. And if I give myself license to hit my children when I am angry, it is possible that I will hurt them. Slippery slope. No thanks.

So I yell. Loudly. With the intent to scare them. Cue the yelling hangover that I am going through now.

Tomorrow is another day. I will do better. Breathe deeper. Count to 10…20…125… Walk away. Other things. There have got to be other things. Right? Because this doesn't work for any of us.

 

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. 

Young As I’ll Ever Be

I grew up hearing about how my mom didn't get an engagement ring from my dad, per se. Instead, she received the gorgeous emerald cut diamond that I coveted most of my childhood as a "holyshitimthirtyandhavetwokidsunder18months" present (peace offering?). Apparently, she had a meltdown on par with Britney shaving her head and attacking the paparazzi with an umbrella over the big 3-0. Which I never really understood. I mean, it's just another year, right?

WRONG. As soon as I turned thirty, I started saying, "I'm too old to…" about just about everything. I'm too old to…have long hair, wear makeup with "shimmer", go to certain bars (I'm looking at you, "Pearl" which is really just a fancy way of saying "Liquid Blue"). I mean, I'm thirty now. That's, like, at least halfway to being dead. (Which is actually not true, except in my head.)

I stare at myself in the mirror constantly. "Is that an age spot? Fine lines and wrinkles; there is nothing fine about those lines. How long have I looked like this? Why isn't Ry aging AT ALL?" I buy products that I'm pretty sure are formulated for women twice my age. Whatever, I am stopping the aging process. 

Except for the fact that I am not. It is not stopping, or reversing as some of these things claim. I am as young today as I will ever be. 

Here's the thing – I am over thirty. I have two children under the age of six (but, thankfully, over the age of three!). I think maybe my stomach is supposed to be a little round, my laugh lines are supposed to be starting to show, and I am not supposed to be able to walk around without a bra. Those things mean I incubated and nursed two tiny humans, and that I somehow managed to laugh while I was doing it. 

And, contrary to popular belief, I will probably never look younger than I do today. So I have two choices: continue to obsess over something I cannot change or age gracefully. I choose aging gracefully.

Which does not mean I will stop working out, or putting on wrinkle cream, or wearing my hair halfway down my back. I'm not going to let myself go; I am going to give myself a little leeway. To look and act good for my age, or even just my age. Because given the alternative – not aging – this is what I choose.

Last Children – More Bitter Than Sweet?

Last night when it was bedtime, the kids were watching a show. I told them they could either come upstairs with me now and read books or go right to bed at the end of the show with no books. T opted to watch the show. A looked up at me with wide eyes and said, "Mama, I wanna read books with you. Let's go." Then she grabbed my hand and we began climbing the stairs together.

I let her choose several books and we read them together. It was nice having a little one on one time with my girl without her brother, who to date had never passed up storytime before bed. It melted my heart that she chose me over the television. 

Later on, I fell asleep wondering if this is the beginning of something new with T. He is totally into the Wii, iPad and television. He always has been, as much as we let him, but it feels different lately. He is a little boy now, and storytime with mom isn't as cool as television with dad. A preview of things to come, I suppose.

Today we're getting a ton of snow, so we've been knocking little things off the to-do list around the house. Hang that picture. Tidy up the top of the dresser. Fold and put away laundry. Everything found its place today.

As I was tidying up A's room, I realized the top of her dresser is still a changing table in spite of the fact that she has been potty trained for months. I dismantled it and put some books and stuffed animals on it so it wouldn't look so empty.

While I was dismantling things, I decided to take the front of her crib off and convert it into a toddler bed. Another thing we are long overdue for, especially since I have a hard time lifting her in and out of her crib. 

When I called her into her room to show her what I had done, she said "Mama, it's just perfect. I love it. Thank you so much." Which was exactly what I needed to hear. Then T came running into the room and gave his approval of the changes. (Mostly, I think, because now it will be less work for him to climb into bed with her in the morning.) 

But for some reason, when Ry made his way into the room I got choked up and started to cry a little bit. "If you weren't ready, why did you change everything?" he asked. 

"Because she is more than ready, and it's not about me, it's about her," I said.

And I meant it. But still – I am glad that she and I read stories just the two of us last night and that I took a little longer than usual before I lifted her into her crib. And that I stayed in her room for a few extra minutes finding her blankies and kitties hidden under piles of Barbies and princess dresses. Because in a way, I feel like that was the last time I put my baby to bed, even if I didn't know it yet.

Tonight, she will put herself in her bed and get herself up tomorrow morning. And because she is my last child, it is the end of something. It feels incredibly bitter, more bitter than sweet. 

I wonder if this is the way it will be for me with her. Which will be nice, in a way, the symmetry of it. With your oldest child, you focus on the "firsts", rather than the "lasts." I can tell you at what age T reached almost all of his milestones. With A, I am more likely to give you a range or tell you if she did something before or after her brother. 

Conversely, I haven't noticed a lot of T's "lasts." We moved him into a double bed without a second thought – mostly because he was even more overdue for a bed than A is now. I didn't cry over it once. 

It makes me glad there are two of them, a boy and a girl, to balance each other out. Okay, to balance me out. 

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.

For A, On Her Third Birthday

A,

In spite of what you keep telling people, you are three today. Not five. I know T is five, and you want to be just like T, but you are my littlest one and I don't want you to rush anything.

You are the one who made all my dreams come true, little girl. You were the last piece of our puzzle, and when you arrived you made everything fit. I always wanted a little girl; I never expected you to be so…perfectly imperfect, just like me.

You are only three – three years, is that all – yet I feel like you have taught us so much already. You know things at three that most people struggle to figure out their entire lives. For example, 

  • You are a really big deal. I love your confidence and I promise to do everything I can to help you hold onto it.
  • Life is a special occasion. You wake up in the morning and insist to be changed out of pajamas and into a princess dress. With a tiara. At 7 am. Because anything worth doing – or wearing – is worth doing BIG. 
  • If at first you don't succeed… You are the most stubborn and tenacious person I know. At three. You can hold a grudge like no toddler I have ever seen. You even know when to pout and when to stomp your foot for emphasis. I think you can change the world if you set your mind to it. I think you are capable of anything once you set your mind to it.
  • You can't say "I love you" enough. Or, "I love you and like you." It makes me smile. Every time. Because no one ever looks back at the end of a life and says "I wish I said less 'I love yous'." 

From the second I knew you existed, I was convinced you were a girl. And from the second I met you, I knew you were meant to be mine. Thank you for turning our lives upside down and making us look at things an entirely different way than T prepared us for. Because there is only one you, and you do things your very own way.

I promise to do everything I can to encourage you to keep singing, dancing and imagining your way through this life the way you want it to be. I will always think you are the biggest deal. I love you and like you, little girl, more than anything.

xoxo, Mom

For T, As He Turns Five

T,

Wow, five years old. FIVE years old. No more baby. No more toddler. No more preschooler, even. You are a kid now, a little boy. You have been for awhile, but this makes it official. You are five years old. 

Even on the day you were born, as I held you in my arms and marveled at your perfect little features and inhaled your baby smell, I knew – our time together is short. "You will think the world revolves around me for a little while, and then you won't. But I will have you to myself, little one, until you are at least five," I thought.

So here we are. And these are the things I know, after five years of being your mama – 

  • I could not have held you any more than I did. I didn't miss one moment, not one milestone. I was there, and so was your dad, for every single thing. And it was a huge deal – every single thing you did was a huge deal. It still is.
  • You were an easy baby. I know this because of your little sister, who was not.
  • You were the one who made us a family. People get married; sometimes they get divorced. We will not, but still – you are the tie that binds your dad and I forever
  • You are sweet and thoughtful in a way I didn't think a little boy could be. You are also full of energy, more than I ever dreamed a little boy could be.
  • You are so, so smart. I will continue to be amazed by what you know and what you can do. Always. At the same time, I will believe you are capable of anything. Always.

My timing was off, five year old boy. You know the world is out there, beyond my arms, but you still like me an awful lot. You still cry for mama when you are really hurt, and you don't mind when I hold your hand or kiss you goodbye at school. You tell me you don't want to go to college because you don't want to stay overnight anywhere but here. I get to keep you to myself for a little longer.

Thank you, T, for being the most patient child while your dad and I figured out how to be your parents. We already knew how to love you, and the rest came pretty naturally after that. But still – it was our first time around, and you were so, so good to us. 

I hope you always want to take things apart to figure out how they work and get down on their level for a better look. I hope you are always sweet to your sister (even if only when you think no one is looking). I hope you never get too old to like us or to need us. And I hope you always remember, no matter what, that we love you to the moon and back. We will always remember that perfect baby, that five year old boy, and every age between and beyond who made our lives truly worth living. For some things there are no more words, so just know – we more than love you, T.

xoxo, Mom

What-If : Getting Control of Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person. As I child I was most afraid – in no particular order – of bridges, heights, my parents dying in a car crash and nuclear war. As I grew into my teenaged years and early 20's, I was less anxious and afraid but certainly not fearless.

Then I became a mom. And my old friend anxiety came back and hit me like a Mack truck. Because here's the thing, the thing no one tells you before you decide to have a child – being a mom will make you a little bit (or a lot) crazy. Some people liken it to walking around with your heart outside your body. I think it's more like walking around with an extremely painful open wound that someone constantly pours salt into. Too much? Maybe to you. But not to me; not when I'm struggling so much with getting control of anxiety.

I've become the queen of the "what ifs." This has been building for awhile. "What if it had been my kid who went missing? What if this plane crashes and my children are orphaned? What if a creepy weirdo shoots up this movie theater?" 

But over the past few weeks, I have hit a new low. I have been strangely sick, and I am never sick. And googling my multitude of symptoms – such a nasty habit, googling medical symptoms – continued to feed one great big what if. 

"What if there is something so wrong with me that it cannot be fixed? What if I die?"

I couldn't stop it, the downward spiral toward my hypothetical terminal diagnosis. Even though I knew it was unlikely, I could not let it go. I could not get control of my anxiety. Every second, in some part of my brain, I was working out what I would do and how I would tell people and what I would ask them to do for me and how I could leave the tiny humans behind and whether Ryan would meet someone right away. Every second. 

Until this morning, when a very big test came back normal. And I am breathing again. I am smiling, and laughing, and living my life. I am not playing the "what if" game. Not tonight. 

Meanwhile, I wasted six weeks of my life. I worried away the holidays, not entirely present because my mind was too busy wondering "what if this is the last one I get?" It means that it is past time to focus on getting control of my anxiety. Because one of these days will be the last one. And I don't want to be looking back, knowing how many days I wasted waiting for the last one to show up. 

2013 is the year I work on getting control of the anxiety. Because, again, "your children will become who you are. So be who you want them to be." I want these tiny humans to grow up to be fearless and go on every adventure that I was too scared for. I do not want them to be this version of me. 

What It Feels Like In Here…In My Head

The anxiety. Again. Why do I feel like this? Oh, right.

Breathe. Breathe. You aren't breathing again. You have to breathe. 

I can't breathe in here. All those babies…all those mommas…all those families…

STOP. You have to stop. It didn't happen to us.

No, it didn't happen to us, per se. But out of such a senseless act comes fear and anxiety and grief. Grief for those children, grief for those families, grief for that place. And although it didn't happen here, it will change things here. It will change things everywhere.

But for today, I am going to try to remember to breathe. I will not read accounts of those children's final moments or debate gun control laws via social media or try to understand what makes one person changes so many lives in such a horrible way. I will unplug from all of it, eternally grateful that I can. That for today, within these four walls, I can keep things the same and keep the world out. 

In the coming days and months, I hope there will be opportunities to help and enact change. But for today, while things are still so new and so scary, I'm going to shut it all out. I implore you, if you can, to do the same. We are infinitely lucky, those of us who have a choice.