bruised and blessed

A few weeks ago, my family went on vacation to the beach.  We brought all three generations, from the youngest, my son, at 3 months to the oldest, my father, who suffers from Parkinson’s, at 84 years old.  In between all the sandcastles and boardwalk ice cream, was a melding of family, with all the blessings and bruises family brings.  It’s these times that remain etched in our memories when all of us are gone.  The fragments of time, of the very young and the very old doing the ordinary things, are what stay.

That week, I watched my father walk downstairs and quietly ask my 15 year old niece, who pulled her attention away from her i-phone, to help him put on his watch.  I watched her fiddle with it for a while, as he stood there patiently.  He wavered a bit, standing unsteadily, as her nimble young fingers clasped the watch around his slight wrist.

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I listened to the daily giggles in the house from children running, laughing and singing; and I listened more intently when my father spoke quietly about the joy of hearing all the grandchildren in one place.

I watched my nieces race my daughters down the miles of sandy beaches.  I watched older cousins throw the younger ones into the air, and the little ones fall into fits of giggles.   I watched as my daughters clung fearlessly and devotedly to my nieces.  In my nieces, I saw my daughters.  Loving, gentle and kind sisters.

I practiced yoga with my 2 year old daughter and my sister-in-law-turned-yoga instructor.  My 2 year old climbed under my downward dogs and stretched her fingers to the sun.  We glanced at each other upside down, and we sat like frogs.

I struggled to find the words as my 5 year old daughter asked me the most difficult of questions.  “Mama, if we all leave the beach house to go to the beach, who will be here to help grandpa walk around?” and “Mama, why is grandpa old?” Her rawness and simple truth was uncomfortable for me, as I stumbled to find uncomfortable answers.

We provided arms and legs for my father to lean on when he needed it.  My mother walked with him to see the beach.  My brother and sister-in-law walked with him around the block.  And I walked with him to lunch.   We walked and walked and walked.    We helped, we laughed and we rallied.  We are bruised and we are blessed.  We are family, and these are the patchworks of our memories.

on how to raise the mysterious middle child

When we welcomed our third baby into the world two months ago, we finally became outnumbered by our children.  But probably more importantly, C. went from our baby to our middle child.   And I’ve spent the last two months trying to decide which event has rocked our house more.

Man, oh man. Middle children are no joke, and I can’t seem to find a good parenting blueprint for how to help her and me.  So here is mine, for anyone who is trying to parent a middle child, or deciding to have one.

The paradox of the middle child is that they are so influenced by their older sibling.   In our case, our first-born patrols the whole house like a military trooper.  A. regularly tells C. to go into “time out” for straying from the rules;  unloads the dishwasher and cleans up her play space, and routinely breastfeeds, dresses and bathes her dolls.

In all honesty, our first-born is a better version of her mother.  Yes, me.

So our mysterious middle child is naturally the opposite of our first-born: funny, mischievous, sweet and wholly disobedient.   In one hour, she will ask thirty or more times if she can have a snack, or watch TV, or wear her favorite dress – completely ignoring my “no”, or any variation thereof.    She doesn’t like rules, or being told what to do.   C. will have us laughing one minute and the next minute cutting her sister’s hair with kitchen sheers.   C. is mix of personalities, because of the simple fact she is very influenced by her older sister.

According to most experts, middle children get (sadly) less attention – in both life and research.   This is partially due to the fact that of all the birth order positions, “middlessness” is the most difficult to define.   Middle children were born too late to get the special treatment of first borns, but too early to have the benefit that last borns enjoy – having parents lighten up on discipline.  Middles’ temperament is also highly influenced by their gender, and their siblings gender, as well as how many years separate them.

Middle children can – quite simply – can get lost in the fray.

middle child mischief

middle child mischief

So, if you are thinking of turning your baby into a middle child, I have some advice.

1) Spend quality one-on-one time.  Middle children will rarely ask for it, but they need quality individual attention.  C. thrives when I spend time with her alone.  Her tantrums subside and she listens to my rules.  In return for my undivided (and technology free) time, she gives me her happy, funny personality.

2) Take pictures.  A few weeks ago my mother told me that she had hundreds of pictures of A, a bunch of pictures of C. and no pictures of the new baby.  It’s hard. I get it. But snap a few of just the younger kids alone.  It will be worth it at their wedding for the embarrassing slide-shows.

3) Not everything is for sharing.  This past winter we went to Disneyworld.  We bought each girl a present, and C. picked out a big stuffed animal “Lady”.  She loves this thing.  She drags this thing everywhere.  So “Lady” is for C. alone – no sibling sharing.   Similarly, while hand-me-downs are a beautiful thing, C. deserves some new clothes, too.   Not everything is for sharing.

4) Notice them amongst the chaos.  At least a few times a day, C. yells at the top of her lungs, “LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!”  I resist the urge to say “Inside voice!” and instead say, “Yes, C. what a nice dress!”  Middle children often go to the extreme to get attention, which in our case is why C. often yells inside.  So put the baby down, and find the positive in what they are doing.

And if nothing else, consider this.  Perhaps the grit and determination of the middle child leads to great success later in life.  After all the tantrums, the chaos, and the sibling rivalries, the middle-children are the best children at finding their voice and individuality.

After all, Donald Trump is a middle child.

 

On life choices

Three times in the last month I’ve had similar conversations with three different women.  Two times it went like this:

I’m quitting my job.  I can’t stand it anymore. I hate being away from my kid and I don’t love my job.  Am I crazy? Am I going to be bored as hell? Should I do it?  

One time it went like this:

I feel like I’m only doing things half way.  Half time at my job. Half time with my daughter.  And I don’t feel like I get the respect I deserve from my job. What do I do? 

And all three times, my answer went something like this:

I don’t know.  I’m not you.  What do you feel like you should do?  The one thing I can offer is this: life is not a long perpetual linear line.  Life is more like a series of steps – some are really high – some are really low.  But the thing about steps is they all have a beginning and an end.   And right now – at this very moment in time – what does your step look like?

Do you have small kids? Do you want to care for them all the time? Can you afford to live on one salary? Will you miss going to the bathroom by yourself?  Do you love your job?  Will you miss the thrill of a career?

Because – bottom line – 90% of us mamas have some sort of guilt.  Guilt that the job isn’t good enough.  Or that we are good enough mothers.  That there isn’t enough time in the day.  That someone else is raising our children.  Or that we went to graduate school for international economics and are now reading library books to inattentive 2 year olds.  That life can and will be better if we take a different step.  And maybe it will.   And maybe it will just be different.

But remember. The thing about steps is that they are finite.  You take one. And then another. And then another.  You can make one decision (and it may be a big one) and then decide if it’s a good one or not.  And then make another one to change course.  Take a different step.  And re-evaluate.  THAT is a beautiful thing.  There is peace and goodness in that knowledge.  That one choice doesn’t define YOUR life.

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I remind myself the transience of life’s choices daily.  When the kids are acting up and I wish I could go back to my career.  Or when they are wonderful and I know when they are older, I’m going to miss these days of summer childhood bliss.   Or when I spend time with our extended family close to home, where we chose to live, not where we need to live.  Or when the kids are tucked into bed and my husband and I dream about life after …

So if you are contemplating taking that step, take heart in the knowledge that no matter what it looks like, it’s not forever.  The kids won’t be little forever, and that job won’t last forever.  For better or worse, nothing is.

Dear Mickey Mouse: I’m sorry, but I’m just not that into you

Dear Mickey Mouse,

Sometime about a year and a half ago, around the time of a C-section/hormone induced haze, I promised my then two year old that we would come and see you.  The two year old would have to be four years old, and the infant would have to be two years old.  It seemed so far off then.  Lightyears.  Time goes so fast.  And kids have memories; really freaking good ones.  Especially when it comes to you, Mickey.

So my precious children who adore you, and my husband who also is openly and enthusiastically into you, forced me to keep my promise and come see you in Orlando, Florida.  32 weeks pregnant with a preschooler and toddler in tow.

I’ll let you down easy, Mickey.  Let’s start at what I like about you.  I really like the fact my kids (and husband) love you.  They way they glow when they look you (especially the 4 year old), and all your princesses, and characters.  Your magic, dancing and singing.  I gotta hand it to you, with the parades and the dress-up; the castles and the rides.  I definitely find myself even humming along to your songs.  You run a fine tuned machine.  I even think the way we can now plan our vacations whizzing straight through your parks with this “fast pass” in advance is pretty ingenious.  If only I could fast pass it through the parking lot, across the lake and straight into Cinderella’s castle for a nice glass of wine and a good book, and a pool.

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But see, there is the rub, Mickey.  For a mere $15 I can get a keepsake photo of my daughter with Elsa that I stood in line for 90 minutes next to 250 of my closest friends with two small children to take.  Let’s think about this.

Let’s start at the $15 for one photo part.  Mickey, you are really freaking expensive (and you just raised ticket prices).   Plus, you aren’t in one place, you are in four! So you want me to take my kids to four different theme parks to see you and all your friends?  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were taking over all over Orlando.  And let’s be honest with ourselves; if my daughter really loves Elsa, I can ask Elsa pretty politely to come to my house for her birthday. I know people who know people.

And then there are the lines.  Lines for the bathroom.  Lines for the rides.  Lines for food.  Lines for character experiences.  There are lines because there are lots of lots of people.  Mickey, I’m sorry, but I just don’t like being around lots of people.  Like most women, this is exacerbated when I’m pregnant.  Plus, my kids aren’t so patient.  Shocking, I know.

Finally, and most sincerely, while I love the fact my kids adore you and all your friends, I want them to have organic experiences.  Mickey, you construct British cottages and pubs; but let’s face it, Mickey, you live in Orlando, not England.  I want my daughter to go back to England to see where she was born.  Cinderella’s castle is beautiful, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, where I have memories of trekking up when our daughter was one years old.  And maybe, fundamentally, that’s why I’m just not that into you.

So thanks for making us smile and laugh.  That’s the most important thing to me.  But I don’t think you are the happiest place on earth (sorry in advance to all the Mickey Mouse fans out there).  I’m pretty sure we will laugh and smile at the beach this summer too (maybe with an Elsa doll or two in tow).

Most sincerely,

K

finding gratitude in the gritty

This week, my wonderful, lovely, compliant and helpful 4-year old has been overtaken by a whiney, sassy, determined and ungrateful pre-teenager.   I don’t know where she came from.  She just walked down the stairs on Tuesday and decided to stay for a while.  Unfortunately for me, her visit also happens to coincide with one of my single-parenting weeks, and right in the midst of potty training C.

I’m trying positive parenting.  I’ve never taken a class, but I’ve seen the phrase and I think it sounds really inspirational.  After all, it’s got to be better than the alternative, right?  Let’s be positive!  So, I’ve taken it to mean that I try to stay positive while my daughter tells me “no” – constantly and unyieldingly.  I bite my tongue when she tells me that she hates what I prepare for dinner, and she swims away from her swim teacher at her private swim class.   I can go on, but I’m guessing you get my drift.   What parent hasn’t had power struggles with their kids?

And then my other daughter literally poops in her pants.

It’s been an awesome week.  And I can’t even have a glass of wine at the end – you know – being 25 weeks pregnant and all.

So in the grittiness of parenting young children, often solo, I’ve been trying to reflect on one of my new years resolutions.  Being intentionally grateful.  And Lordy, sometimes, it’s really hard.

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A friend recently asked me to close my eyes and try and embrace gratitude.  Just sit with it.  Try and feel it.  Open your hearts and hands to it, and in the new year try and find one thing to be grateful for.

Well, if you ever have tried to intentionally sit with gratitude for a few minutes, it’s not so simple.  It’s like meditation.  Your mind wanders.  You think of all the things that are good in your life, and then probably (if you are like me) all the things you would like to change.  It’s very difficult to sit quietly and embrace this one idea of total thankfulness.  After all, we are human.  How many times a day are we totally and completely thankful?

Um, a few?  Once?  Not at all?  Overwhelmingly and embarrassingly, I think about what I’d like to change over what I’m really thankful for.  So today – I’m grateful for very healthy children, including a 25 week baby boy, the sun that shined today and no snow.  And I’m super grateful that in 30 minutes, my house will be totally quiet and I can read a book, or stand on my head, or whatever I darn well please. 

What are you grateful for today?