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Written by Mama Monday

Blog posts written by mamas on cloth diapering, green living, natural parenting.

 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The kids have been out of school since December 19th. Up until Christmas afternoon, the weather was mild, in the 40s and even 50s and we were all hoping for snow to help us get in the “spirit” of the holiday season. In my opinion, the snow waited too long to arrive and now has me seriously stressed out.

I grew up in Vermont and until a few years ago, my parents lived there most of the year but “wintered” in Florida. They rented their house in Vermont to skiers and they rented a place in Key Largo. But like all of us, they’re getting older every day. They no longer want to be shoveling three feet of snow off the walk or braving frigid temperatures every time they need a gallon of milk. And winters in Vermont are long and grey. None of their grown children live close by….we’re all in different states, and without the help of their middle-aged (yet still healthy and strong!) off-spring to help them with winter chores, nor grandchildren nearby who they would miss, it made sense for them to move somewhere warmer and more pleasant year-round.

Until I had children of my own, I don’t think I could have anticipated how important the “village” factor is in raising children. What I am saying is: I miss my Mom and Dad! I miss them because they adore my children and my children adore them. I miss the free help they would offer if I needed to drop everything and bring one kid to the doctor for an earache…instead, I have to bring all three. I miss the date nights my husband and I could have if we didn’t have to pay (not to mention track down) a babysitter and the sleep-overs the kids would be able to have at Grandma and Papa’s house. I hate that my parents have to miss every birthday party, every preschool performance and Lauren playing a harp solo at church on Christmas Eve. I hate that we see them two to three times a year and that it’s so darn expensive and complicated to make that happen.

The world is so different than it was fifty years ago. It is both bigger and smaller at the same time. Family units tended to stay closer geographically. But now it’s commonplace to live thousands of miles from where we grew up and have kids who only see their grandparents a few times a year. I had one grandmother who lived until after I had graduated from college, who lived in the same town I did for my entire childhood. The rest passed away when I was very young. I have so many fond memories of baking cookies, sleeping at her house, having her with us for every single Christmas. And I didn’t even realize how lucky I was. My other family members weren’t all in Vermont–but spread through out New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They weren’t right around the corner but at least within a reasonable drive.

Why am I missing my parents so much right now and pondering the changing family dynamics in the US? Because the mild weather and green Christmas we had…have changed to snow, snow, freezing temps and more snow–and the kids and I are supposed to fly to Florida on a 6:25 a.m. flight tomorrow. As an admittedly nervous flyer, who has already experienced the misery of being stranded in an airport alone with children, I’m torn. Do we try it and risk being stuck in the airport or do we cancel our trip and try to reschedule at another time. We haven’t seen my parents since June. That’s too long in my opinion. And we’re limited to when and how long we can travel by Lauren and Kate’s school schedule. I can’t bear the idea of staying at home alone with all three kids, bored, incredibly disappointed and missing Grandma and Papa…and yet, I’m not sure I’m a fan of driving an hour to the airport in a snowstorm in the middle of the night to try to get on a plane that may or may not take off.

 Update: We made it! Hurray!

 

Happy New Year and Safe Travels!

 

 

 

Me and the People Who Keep Me Sane and Drive Me Crazy at the Very Same Time--in front of a Tiny House

Me and the People Who Keep Me Sane and Drive Me Crazy at the Very Same Time–in front of a Tiny House

There’s truly nothing like actually having your first child to help change your perspective on all of things you thought you knew, advice you were given or marketing that was targeted at your “Newbie” status as a parent of your first child. Here are five things that I can tell you, after having three children, are nonsense, though you’ll hear these bits of advice, rude comments or well-meaning old wives tales over and over.

1) Use a soft cloth or a clean finger (or the fancy rubber-nubber finger cot we’re trying to sell you) to rub your child’s gum and new baby teeth. This will get your child “used to having his or her teeth brushed” so that they won’t mind having it done later when they actually have teeth. False. Now, there is nothing wrong with wiping down baby teeth or using a soft brush–in fact, it may be beneficial. But, don’t think that doing this will prevent that very same baby-turned-toddler from screaming, thrashing or otherwise refusing to have his teeth brushed. It’s not a matter of “being used to it.” It’s a matter of not wanting to do it. Why? Because you asked him to. This will apply to every single thing your child should be used to and yet refuses to do when they are a two and three year old–including having diapers changed, getting dressed, having hair washed and brushed and sometimes, something as simple as holding your hand in a parking lot.

2) You can control your child. False. Before being parents ourselves, most of us have thought it at one point or another. Many of us have heard it. “She needs to learn how to control that child!” Really, no “advice” was ever less helpful. Babies and kids cannot be controlled. We can swaddle, we can bounce, we can hum. We can threaten, we can bribe, we can set good examples and model good behavior. We can yell, give time outs and we can take away screen time. The truth is: some kids are genetically programmed to be calmer, handle frustration better and cry more quietly. I’ll never forget our friend’s daughter falling and getting a boo boo. Her parents (our friends) were talking about how upset/hurt she was while she whimpered and wept quietly into her mother’s shoulder. “THAT is how she sounds when she is crying?” my husband and I asked, in shock. “THAT is IT?” Our kids react in a much louder, angrier (did I say louder?) way, whether reacting to a skinned knee or a “No, you may not eat cookies for breakfast.” They were born that way. When we ask them to do something, they often do not get up and do it immediately like good little robots. They procrastinate, they whine, they refuse (not ALWAYS) and they might “accidentally” kick a sibling when they do finally get up. I wish they would act like meek, little robots sometimes–like if they had an “Off Switch” as they were tantrumming toddlers at the grocery store–that would have been AWESOME. Or a “Mute Button.” Are they this way because we are too easy-going? Because we don’t do this or that or have consequences? No. It’s because they are little people, who are genetically pre-determined to be loud, stubborn, frustrating and overly-opinionated–just like their parents! Sometimes easy-going people accidentally give birth to children like mine–probably the obstinate genes were recessive and skipped a generation. And sometimes, bull-headed parents accidentally give birth to mellow, easy-going children–Not fair!  But, if you have a child who reacts to any “parenting advice, behavior charts, who enjoy earning a sticker for putting away the dishes,” consider yourself lucky. You have what is called a “People Pleaser,” so please don’t judge those of us who don’t have “People Pleasers” too harshly. We often wish we did!

3) Parenting gets easier as your children get older. False! Or maybe true. But like every other Parenting Myth…it depends on your kids. If you are struggling with a newborn and a toddler and multiple night wakings, and you’re covered in spit up and boogers from head to toe, if you have bags under your eyes and crumbs in your bra…and a friend looks at you and says “Don’t worry. It does get easier,” you should realize what she really means is this: Don’t worry. Some day your children will sleep through the night, they won’t throw up on you on a daily basis and you won’t be changing diapers forever. All of this is true. Easier however, is a relative term. As your children grow and enter school, you will be dealt a new set of challenges and tasks, though quite different from the mind-numbing exhaustion of parenting infants–but often still overwhelming. You will suddenly find the social lives of all of your children are completely dependent on you and your willingness to socialize. Easy for extroverts, painful for introverts. You will have approximately 18 birthdays a year to attend and to buy gifts for, in addition to deciding how to either invite your child’s whole class to a party or how to NOT invite your child’s whole class to a party. You will have to attend three different holiday parties, all held in the same week and bake two dozen cookies for each class (or contribute something else). You will have homework to help with…easy if your child is self-motivated, can stay on task and enjoys doing common core math at the kitchen table while you cook dinner OR a nightly disaster if you have a high-needs toddler, a fussy infant and a school-aged child who needs your complete attention to stay focused on schoolwork…while you burn dinner.

4) Exposing your child to a variety of foods will help you avoid The Dreaded Super-Picky Eater: False No matter what I have tried to feed my children, I cannot figure out why they like what they like or, when they will like it. After having two girls, I thought “Oh, good! I’ve heard boys will eat anything!” As it turns out, Cooper is the pickiest of my three children. He won’t even try most foods based on how they look. And as for the girls, they’ll gobble down something I serve one day and then claim that they hate it the very next day. Instead of genetically modifying our food, I’d be in favor of genetically modifying children. Wouldn’t it be convenient if all siblings were genetically programmed to like and dislike the same foods? Or at least, to consistently like and dislike and the same foods? There is nothing more frustrating than stocking up on something that was a huge hit on Thursday to have them refuse to eat it the next time it three days later.

5) The number of years you carefully plan to have between your children matters. False. To start with the obvious, whether you are adopting or trying to get pregnant, you cannot plan to the day or the month when your child will be born or when his or her subsequent siblings will follow. While debating the timing of Baby # 2, many parents make comments like, “Won’t it be nice if they are close in age? They’ll be best friends,” or “They’ll have each other as playmates.” In ideal situations, and in families with more than one child who is an Easy-Going, People-Pleaser, your children, no matter how close in age or how far, will be playmates and best friends, thus making parenting them actually easier. OR you might find that your children have incredibly competitive personalities, like to “push each other’s buttons,” and have a relationship more like wrestling puppies except with tattle tale-ing and whining. While putting four to six years or more, between children, might seem less than ideal to some families, often the older the first child, the less competition and sibling rivalry occurs. Each child has the chance to “be the baby” and the older child often enjoys, rather than resents, having a new baby to help take care of. Or maybe not.

So, as we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s this year, my gift to you is this: Peace of Mind. You can be doing everything right and still be living in complete and utter chaos and wondering how to achieve Parental Zen–which to me would look something like a Waldorf school run by an organic chef and children who rarely have tantrums and are “quiet weepers” when they’re upset. Are your children happy and healthy and well-fed? Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. The thing is, there are no right answers–only different ways of approaching the complex process process of raising amazing, intelligent, complicated little people. Cheers to you for however you choose to parent!

 

This past Saturday we had rehearsal for the Christmas pageant, followed by a birthday party for a friend of Kate’s who has a December 26th birthday. At some point, I realized that I hadn’t ordered our picture Christmas cards yet so I frantically searched for a “virtual coupon” that would cut enough off of the price that I would feel less guilty  paying extra for the “rush shipping.” We hurried home so I could get the girls asleep before my sister came over to be there while I ran to the airport to pick up Cooper and my husband who had taken a boys’ trip to Tennessee to visit family. We got home at ten.

The next morning we were up bright and early for the Christmas pageant. Between the early arrival and costume donning, followed by dropping off our obligatory edible contribution to the “Pageant Party,” and the obligatory eating of goodies that other tired parents had whipped together at the last minute, we were at church from 9 a.m. to noon. On the way home, we picked up a Christmas tree, came home and decorated it by a warm fire while giant snowflakes floated down from the sky. It was picturesque. Then we fed the kids a quick healthy snack and headed to a four p.m. Christmas party. We were home by 7:30, got the kids to bed and by that time, I was ready to fall over. I hadn’t done one bit of Christmas shopping, nor had I helped Kate work on the shirt she is supposed to decorate for the Secret Snowflake exchange her first grade class is having on Friday.

This morning, third grade Lauren was panicking because she had forgotten that she needed to write a little note for her Secret Snowflake exchange (notes or poems every day this week, with clues as to who their Secret Snowflake is, ending with a very small gift on Friday). There were no pens to be found–not one.  (And why does every piece of white paper in this house have an unfinished piece of kid-art on it and more importantly, why I am looking for a pen when I am trying to pack lunches, get kids dressed, hair brushed and fed breakfast??) Suddenly Kate asked “Mommy, how many more days until Christmas break starts?” “Two weeks,” I told her.

As I continued to multi-task, silently cursing the extra holiday projects parents are given just before school lets out–thus leaving them with very little free-time not either filled with holiday-school-related-busy-work or worse, actual kids at home, it occurred to me that if winter break wasn’t for two more weeks, the Secret Snowflake projects were either A) not due this week or B) my brain had completely melted and I didn’t even know what week it was. Unfortunately, the answer was B. I looked at the calendar and literally gasped like someone had stuck me with the needle I apparently should have been using right that minute, to sew buttons on Kate’s t-shirt project.

“What’s wrong?” Lauren asked, obviously thinking I had sliced my thumb instead of the sandwich I had been making for her lunch. “Winter break starts on Friday! Christmas is next week!” I wanted to cry.

I love the holidays. I really do. As a kid, I started feeling the “Christmas spirit” as soon as the leaves started to change. I couldn’t get enough. I don’t mean that I was only looking forward to all of the gifts either. I really and truly loved the “feeling” I had—the coziness, the family time and the all of the extra fun activities that were going on. As a mother, though I still love the holiday season, I often feel like I am so busy trying to get everything done, I don’t ever have time to sit and “feel” the magic. This week, having three kids in school, I have three different holiday parties for which I need to bring in food, school related-holiday party crafts to finish, I have to send out the Christmas cards, and teacher gifts? I haven’t even given them a thought.  I have a lot of Christmas shopping that still needs to be done. Next week, the kids will be out of school and I haven’t quite figured out how I am going to do Christmas shopping with them around. My sister, having perhaps wisely decided to skip out on the holiday madness, is going to Mexico with her husband and three boys. They’ve decided to make the time about “family’ and opt of out of the consumerism. I admit, I would hate to be “skipping Christmas” and yet, trying to find time to actually enjoy it is challenging.

So here’s to all the moms, who didn’t realize until they read this blog, that yes, winter break starts FRIDAY, and that you still need to bake 6 dozen cookies, attend multiple class parties, put money towards the teacher gifts and most of all, feel Merry while you are doing it! Break out your dreidles and your jingle bells because the countdown has begun–both Christmas and Hanukkah are here!

 

Unwashed dishes in a sink; an authentic situation.

Unwashed dishes in a sink; an authentic situation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Between my new nonprofit, Big Hearts Big Soles, and the four to five short blogs I write for Thirsties each month, I wouldn’t even say I qualify as working very part-time, but I am a stay-at-home mom full-time. Given that I barely have five minutes in a row to sit down and write during the day without Cooper wanting to show me something, requesting food, stubbing his toe or a whole myriad of other possible events that require Mommy’s attention, I really can’t comprehend how some parents work real jobs, from home, with their infants and toddlers at home too.

Today for instance, I had a list of things I needed to get done–including to get a blog written and uploaded for Thirsties, to go to the bank to deal with a fraud issue on my account, tracking down new shoes for three teenage foster boys for Christmas (and trying to get some Denver Nuggets or Broncos gear donated to them as well) when I got a call at eleven this morning from Kate’s school saying that she had a bad earache and needed to be picked up. Now I find myself with two children at home (so now Cooper has someone to fight with–I mean, play with) and instead of doing anything else I need to do, I am waiting for the doctor’s office to call me back so that I can drop everything and bring Kate in whenever they can see her. I am only able to sit and write this because I have the trusty “TV aka Nanny” keeping the children occupied momentarily. This hasn’t however, stopped Cooper from calling out “Mommy!” every few minutes, even if it’s just to tell me something funny he’s just seen on Scooby Doo.

Children aside, there are so many other things that distract me while I am trying to work at home–namely housework. It’s very hard for me to sit and focus on anything else when I have dishes sitting in the sink, crumbs on the counter or a pile of laundry that needs to be folded and put away. I find myself hopping up to help Cooper with (insert anything here) and then thinking “I just heard the washing machine stop–I really should just go throw those clothes in the dryer and get another load going.” While I am in the laundry room, I notice the cat litter has to be scooped, the trash needs to be taken out and before I know it, I’ve left “my work” and have done random, non-urgent tasks for 30 minutes. I have a very hard with time management because it seems that nothing, and yet everything, needs to be done first.

I found myself thinking the other day, how lucky parents are who get to leave housework behind and go give 100% of their attention to their paying jobs without trying to do everything all at once. And then of course, I thought about it from a work-out-of-the-home parent’s point of view and realized those parents might be thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could throw in a load of laundry right now since I am sitting here waiting for X and then I would have less to do when I got home.” Sigh. I guess, the answer is, there is no such thing as “easier” when it comes to being a working parent. The old adage, “The grass is always greener” seems to apply. Working parents wish they could spend more time at home and stay-at-home parents wonder why they never realized how hard staying at home can be. I’ve come to the conclusion, yet again, that being a parent, whether working at home, out of the home, or just doing housework and parenting at the same time, is really, really challenging and a lot of us feel like we’ve always got to neglect one thing to give our attention to another. We’re doing the best we can. Now you’ll have to excuse me…Cooper is heading up to “poop” which means I’ll hear “Mom, I need you to wipe my butt!” in three minutes, Kate needs some more Tylenol for her earache and I think I hear my phone ringing. It’s probably the doctor’s office. Proofreading this blog will have to wait.

My plan seems to be improvise, wing it, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But it always feels like chaos and I end up feeling like I am doing everything at once and yet doing nothing well. How do you balance your time between working, parenting and doing dishes? Do you clean the house first or ignore the dishes and do your paying job first?  How do you stay organized and how do you manage the kids and everything else–all at once?

 

 

Cover of "Elf on the Shelf"

Cover of Elf on the Shelf

 

The first day of the Advent,
The first day of December.
Our Elf should be arriving
But I can’t seem to remember

Where in this house I stuffed him
Over eleven long months ago.
But the kids did not forget,
Looking high and low.

I hid him somewhere very safe
I knew the kids would never look
I put him somewhere in a bag
Or behind a boring book.

I’ve ripped apart the whole garage
My storage bins and shelves
And I’m wondering where other parents
Stash their blasted Elves?

I stuffed him in a closet
Or with the camping gear,
Yet still I cannot find him
And school pick up time is near.

I hope that when I find you,
You little handsome little knave,
That you will work your magic
And help my children to behave

Because while you sit and grin,
You silly little Elf,
My sanity is sitting
Right beside you on that shelf.