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

 

When You Think They Aren’t Listening

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!)

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.

 

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. 

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.