There have been many lessons over the years as my kids have gotten older. Oh, yes, they have taught me well! And if I had to share with a new mom what I have learned, I would start with Lesson #1: If you want to maintain your sanity, let go of your expectations for yourself. When you enlist as a mom, there are many things you can’t expect to have anymore: sleep, time, energy, brain cells, freedom, shaved legs, etc. Those are the obvious ones. But there are less obvious ones. And for me, I’ve learned that I need to let go of crazy expectations - like being able to go to the bathroom in peace. Oh, yes! Those days are gone!
Friday, October 26, 2012
COM Ch 7: Lessons From the Battlefront
Chapter 7: Lessons From the Battlefront
Alright now! So, here I am - a mother of three little boys. I never did go back to work. (Yet, I have done nothing but work since they arrived.) Instead, I enlisted. I enlisted in the ranks of the sleep-deprived; the worn, ragged souls serving at the front lines of the battle. God bless them! I was neck deep in Motherhood. And the battle raged on, as it does in many homes around the world, between mother and child. Who would dominate? Who would rule? Sometimes the battle is too close to tell.
There have been many lessons over the years as my kids have gotten older. Oh, yes, they have taught me well! And if I had to share with a new mom what I have learned, I would start with Lesson #1: If you want to maintain your sanity, let go of your expectations for yourself. When you enlist as a mom, there are many things you can’t expect to have anymore: sleep, time, energy, brain cells, freedom, shaved legs, etc. Those are the obvious ones. But there are less obvious ones. And for me, I’ve learned that I need to let go of crazy expectations - like being able to go to the bathroom in peace. Oh, yes! Those days are gone!
The other day, I decided to take twenty seconds to run - literally run - to the bathroom while the kids played out in the front of the house. (I’m not kidding. Literally, twenty seconds. Twice the length typically allowed for moms.) Now, I never leave them out front unsupervised. But I had been with them for about an hour-and-a-half, and everything was going smoothly. Twenty seconds, though. I could manage that!
Within five seconds of my being in the bathroom, wouldn’t you know it, I heard screaming from outside. Kody fell and hurt his knee. Worst part was that I knew that it would happen, too. As I ran to the bathroom, jumping over toys along the way, I mumbled to myself something about how someone will get hurt . . . just watch and see. (I think it is worse when you predict something is going to happen and then it actually does. It just makes you mad.)
It wasn’t a bad hurt, just a scraped knee. But it never ceases to amaze me how things can go wonky the minute I do something for myself. And most moms I know will agree. I think it’s to keep a mom from getting too comfortable and falling asleep on the job. You know the saying: “Expect the Unexpected.”
I cause more problems for myself by expecting that something will go the way that I think it should. If I expect the baby to sleep for thirty minutes so I can do dishes, I get angry when he wakes up after ten. If I expect to be able to sit down and rest my eyes while the kids play outside, I get really frustrated that they pop their heads in every three minutes to complain about something.
I’ve learned (and my husband continues to advise me) to lower my expectations so that I won’t get so bothered when it doesn’t go as I had hoped. That’s a hard thing to do, though, especially when you don’t feel that you are asking for that much to begin with. Who can fault you for just wanting to eat one meal without something getting spilled? Or for wanting to get dressed in private and maintain a sense of dignity? Something I desire, but never seem to get to do.
The other day, I told myself (out loud), “Yippee, I get to go upstairs and change my clothes by myself. No kids hanging around and jumping on the bed because they are all downstairs playing!” (I think I really did say yippee, too.) And call me crazy, but I like to get dressed in private. It was going to take me seconds to pull off my shirt and put another one on. So I didn’t bother to lock the door when I shut it. As soon as I took my shirt off, though, Hunter saunters in and says, “I really wish I could have some yogurt and blueberries!” How do they do that?
And then another time, I decided to take a shower. The kids were busy watching TV or playing games. And on the way up the stairs, I told my husband, “I get to go take a shower by myself. No kids barging in because they are all busy.” (The house we rent is really old and the bathroom door won’t stay shut unless we wedge a towel in it.) And so, of course, as I am standing there in the bathroom - naked - waiting for the water to warm up, the door flies open and Kody jumps out and yells, “BOO! I bet you didn’t see me coming up the stairs!” YA THINK!?!
Why does it always seem to be when I’m in the bathroom or naked? I think I should just stop saying things out loud. I have to wonder if there are bored demons floating around just waiting for people to say “Oh, look! I get to . . .” So then they know how they can stir up a little mischief.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself saying something like this from time to time: “Is it too much to ask to just be left alone for two minutes so I can change my clothes or close my eyes and rest? I mean, I cooked dinner and you got dessert. And all I ask is for one minute without someone coming in here and looking for me?”
And speaking of irrational expectations! I’ve also had to let go of the ridiculous notion that I’ll ever get to eat a snack in private again . . . ever! At least, not till I’m old and gray and have to find my teeth before I can chew. Ok, I am already gray . . . uh-hmm . . . silver. But at least I still have my teeth. (Oh, and according to Proverbs 16:31, “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life.” I’m not bragging or anything; I’m just sayin’.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love being with my children and providing for them. But, truthfully, sometimes I just want nothing more than to eat a treat by myself without little, gaping, baby-bird mouths on anxious bobble-heads clamoring for a bite.
There is just something about a clandestine bowl of ice cream or a brownie that draws kids in from another room for no particular reason, where they have been happily playing for thirty minutes. The minute the coveted food hits your lips, they sense it. And they wander in merely to check on you because (as my husband paraphrases a line from Star Wars) “They sense a disturbance in the force.” (He also says that they can sense fear, and so they can tell when I’m afraid that they’re going to ruin my snack or my peaceful moment.)
The minute you are unseen for a few seconds, their little brains send up a red flag: Uh, oh! Mom is about to enjoy something that she is hiding from us. I have spent many moments ducking behind a cereal box on the kitchen table, jamming otherwise-enjoyable bites of food into my face, and smiling as though there was no chocolate of any kind in my mouth when my children popped into the kitchen “just because.” I have even tried to hide grapefruit (if you can believe it) and have been caught, and then had to share because their incessant begging or big doe-eyes and tears would ruin my nice, quiet moment anyway.
This happens with other things, too. Just try picking up a book and looking content. It really doesn’t matter what it is. Getting on the phone, doing bills, resting your eyes. As long as you are doing something for yourself or your attention is removed momentarily from the children, they will gather the troops and retaliate.
That is why I give in sometimes. Not so much because I am a pushover (Um, ok . . . Yes, I am!), but because I value the quiet and peace so much that I grudgingly let go of my expectations. I give in so that they won’t start whining and crying. That way, it will, at the very least, still be relatively quiet. One of us has to give in, and kids have far more stamina than parents.
And I can’t take the noise. The loud, incessant noise. I want to literally crawl out of my skin when there are too many noises at once: the radio, my husband talking, the kids fighting, and one child climbing up my leg, calling, “Mom . . . Mom . . . Mom!” (How funny, then, that God would give me three boys. Girls seem so much more dainty and quiet. I’ve seen their little tea parties and heard their tiny, little conversations.) And so, I give in . . . or give up . . . or whatever.
Plus, I’m learning to save my energy for the battles that matter most. Case in point, about snacking in private: Just after typing this, I was in the kitchen while the boys were wrestling with Daddy in the living room. The very second that I scooped a bit of chocolate pudding into a bowl, Hunter came walking in completely unexpected, looking for a drink of water. There was no time to hide it. Thankfully, he had already had a treat, so I could deny him without guilt.
And a few days later (the day after a birthday party for one of the boys), I woke up, the sun was shining, and the kids were quiet and restful. And I decided to get myself a nice, quiet breakfast and enjoy the peaceful morning. There was one piece of homemade chocolate cake with chocolate frosting left. One piece! And I was going to have it with my coffee and savor every bite. Oh, what a great way to start the day! (We really don’t eat that many sweets, which is probably why I try to savor them so much.)
Ahhh! I really needed this moment for myself. It had been a busy weekend. But, of course, as I began to take the first few bites, my two-year-old walks in “just to check on me.” He had been completely zombied out on a movie in the other room, but he sensed chocolate-energy coming from the kitchen. Or maybe he has a really keen sense of smell. I tried to shield it with my hands, hoping he wouldn’t notice it. But even a toddler knows what that means, and the begging began.
My moment was slipping away . . . fast! But I was determined! So I did what any reasonable mother would do. I smiled at him, shared a few tiny bites with him. And then I said, “Hey, what’s that over there?” The second he turned his head, I shoved the whole piece of cake into my mouth. When he looked back at me, I mumbled, “All gone!” through a mouthful of chocolate. I didn’t get to savor it with my coffee as I choked on it, trying to chew it all at once. But no way was I gonna share it all!
Maybe you’ve had to give up on the dream that you’ll read a book under a tree on a nice sunny day. Instead, you’ve learned that your job now is to dress the kids in their swimsuits, turn on the sprinkler, get them a towel, get them a drink of water, turn off the sprinkler, and get them some dry clothes when they decide - after three minutes - that the sprinkler is too cold and they don’t really want to play in it, after all.
Or maybe you wanted to cook that humblest (and cheapest) of meals – spaghetti - in what little time you had. But in that time, the kids spilled a glass of juice, they needed to be separated because they were fighting like ravenous wolves, the baby needed to be nursed, the phone rang (stinkin’ telemarketers), and you dropped the dry spaghetti out the wrong end of the box all over the floor. Ever happen to you? Or is it just me?
Or maybe you’ve had a day like this . . .
This day wasn’t particularly rough or anything. It was the day after Thanksgiving and we were still cleaning up after company. We had decided to do our grocery shopping and ended up going to two stores and, of course, spending more than we should have. Even though we bought nothing frivolous, except for a carton of egg-nog.
I got home, put away the groceries and quickly threw in a frozen pizza that we bought for dinner. (The kids’ favorite meal! I usually make ours from scratch. Not their favorite! But it was getting late and we were hungry.) And then we all kinda loafed around a bit. My husband played video games and the boys were watching TV or playing with their toys, while I tried to sit and read.
Mark my words, it is the law of nature that the minute a mom sits down and looks comfortable or dares to close her eyes, the children must begin an endless litany of requests. “Mom, look at this.” “Mom, wipe my butt.” “Mom, look what I built . . . can I have a snack . . . he won’t give it back . . . I can’t get up from the side of the couch where I fell head-first trying to hang off the edge, even though I’m not supposed to hang off the arm of the couch.”
The funny thing is, though, they never ask Dad. (Can you tell who the softie is in my house?) If Mom and Dad are in the same room, I’m the one who ends up answering the little requests. It’s like being on-call all the time for little things. And that can be more exhausting than cooking the meal and doing the dishes afterward. Being called to do something little every minute when you are trying to take a mere moment to rest is exasperating. And this was one of those nights.
Between cooking the Thanksgiving dinner the day before (for his family), putting groceries away, changing diapers, wiping noses, looking up every few moments to look at the newest, cool thing that the kids wanted to show me, and then finally getting up to do the rest of the holiday dishes, I was eager to just sit and read. Uninterrupted. (Ha-ha-ha-ha. That’s a good joke! Wait, let me wipe my tears!)
Anyway, I just finished the Thanksgiving dishes and flopped down in our hand-me-down reclining chair when Ryder came over and asked for yogurt and blueberries. Now, he did not eat a lot for dinner, but just munched on some veggies. (Veggies over pizza!?! Unnatural, but true!) We were going to bed soon, so I figured that he should have this last healthy snack before bed or he would really be hungry. He’s only two, after all . . . and extremely persistent, so I wouldn’t win this one peacefully anyway. May as well just get it for him.
“Honnneeeyyyy?” I whined to my hubby, who was lying on the floor where he had been for hours now, playing video games while I was putting away groceries and doing dishes. “You wouldn’t want to give Ryder some yogurt and blueberries, would you?” (Men, when your wives ask you something like this, it’s really NOT a question!) He looked up with that Are-you-kidding-me? look. And I could hear him thinking, Look how comfortable I am here on the floor.
“Just tell him ‘no’,” he said.
I give up!!!! I’ll do it myself!!!! Especially since it wouldn’t be Dad that Ryder would pester until he gets what he wants. It would be me!
Boy, did that one get to me! I slammed a few things around the kitchen (hoping Jason would hear) while muttering under my breath about how I wish I could take up video games and veg in the other room for hours. And I gave Ryder his snack which he happily began inhaling.
When he finished, I told him to go in the other room. Then I decided to make myself the same snack and enjoy it in peace in the kitchen by myself, since reading was out of the question. Sometimes, if you just stay out of the room where the kids are, they don’t seem to ask for things as much.
As I returned the blueberries to the freezer and picked up my spoon, in walked Hunter. “What did Ryder just have for a snack?”
I couldn’t fight it. I was too tired and discouraged to answer. I walked over by him, dropped my snack on the table in front of him, and walked out. And he happily began devouring my snack in peace in the kitchen by himself, while I went back to the couch and glared at the back of my husband’s head, who was now laying on the floor with his eyes closed in restful slumber.
Like I said, let go of the expectations that you have for yourself and just go with it sometimes. Do the work that needs to get done as it comes up, one step at a time, knowing that it’s where God has you now. And it will be a little emotionally easier to handle. (I said “a little!”)
And this relates to Lesson #2: Look no further into the future than the here-and-now, because it never goes the way you expect it will, either. That’s actually quite Biblical. Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
If I wake up and the sun is shining and I feel rested, I make all sorts of plans in my head about what I’m going to accomplish that day. I’m going to open the windows, let all the fresh air in, clean the whole kitchen, make some breakfast cake, organize our clothes, and take the kids for a long walk. And then, when all I get done is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and helping the kids with their school-work, I feel like I failed for the day.
Life with children never really goes as you plan in your head. This is the motto that I try to go into each day with: Just do my job and let God do His! Take the day as it comes and do the moment’s job to the best of my ability and with as much gracefulness and gentleness as possible, even if I don’t really feel like it. And I should only expect that things will come up that I didn’t expect and that I’ll have to adjust my plans. It will make things go smoother. (Once again, at least emotionally. And a little.) I need to remind myself of this sometimes.
I can either get upset that I’m not getting my peaceful break or my grand plans accomplished, or I can deal with the interruptions and the daily, menial tasks with gracefulness and a servant’s heart, doing what’s required of me at the moment with a godly attitude. Just do my current job as well as I can and let Later worry about itself!
For me, it also helps to shift my focus. Lesson #3: Instead of looking at all the things that I can’t expect to do anymore, I try to find the little, unexpected gifts that are hidden in each day. This takes effort sometimes, an alertness and desire to find the blessings in each day. Maybe it’s that wonderful first smell of coffee when you wake up. Or the sound of your kids laughing together. Or the flower that your two-year-old picked from your neighbor’s carefully-tended garden and presented to you with his great big eyes full of love. (My sweet, sweet Ryder! And I just have to brag: the other day, he looked up at me, smiled and put his arm around me and said, “You my sweet girl!” What a doll!)
I had one of those blessed moments the other day. It has been a long, long winter here in the Midwest. But I discovered a little gift in the midst of this endless string of difficult, frozen days stuck indoors. And I needed to email Jen to tell her about it. I was afraid that if I didn’t tell someone about it, it would fade away, and then it would be like it never happened.
Jen, I just had to tell you about a moment I had this morning. If I don’t tell it, I’ll forget it. And it was a good moment . . . maybe 120 seconds. This morning, I woke up before all the kids got up. I slept rather well and felt rested. And it was quiet! The only sound I could hear was a bird or two and a few distant cars. Nothing else. And there was a crisp, coolness in the air.
I know it’s like 10 degrees outside. But as I laid there with my eyes closed, I could easily imagine that it was early spring. And that the air outside was lukewarm cool and moist, and filled with the smell of freshness and mud and life. And I just soaked it in. It was so refreshing and invigorating.
I didn’t want to open my eyes and see the cold, frozen earth. I didn’t want to see all the chores that needed to get done and the piles of stuff to put away. So I laid there for about 2 minutes and imagined that I was camping in the springtime and that there was nothing to do but enjoy the moment. It was a good 120 seconds. And then I got up and did a load of laundry. Ah, back to the daily grind.
It’s the little things. Notice and remember the blessings in each day. It’s just a fact that your feelings follow your thoughts. If you focus on what you didn’t do, can’t do, didn’t get, and don’t have, you’ll get depressed and frustrated. But if you look for and focus on the blessings that God has poured out on you, big and small, you’ll find that your attitude is more thankful and peaceful. And you’ll feel like, I can do this, even if it’s difficult. Because God is with me and there are so many good things to be thankful for. James 1: 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above. . .”
Anyhow, enough of my nostalgic reminiscing. Let go of your expectations, do the job that needs to get done, and learn to enjoy the little things. Oh, and one other big lesson. Lesson #4: Learn some humility. As a parent, I have learned (and continue to learn) that there is no place for pride (unless you want to take a giant fall).
When I had my first child, parenthood seemed easy and clear-cut. It was something I could handle with ease because I was so well-read and educated. I remember thinking that my children were going to be innately smarter. After all, I had attended graduate school and read all the parenting books. They would talk early, walk early, and toilet train early.
Oh, yes, God has ways of keeping us humble! Not only did my children not do these things early, one of them was still barely understandable at four years old. Only his older brother could understand him. Jason and I would often have to say, “Kody, come here and tell us what Hunter is trying to say!” And he would get it right nearly every time, while we couldn’t understand a word of it. And my first two waited until they were over three to graduate to big boy pants. We have to see what happens with my third son. But I’m not holding my breath this time. And I’m certainly not feeling smug anymore. If only humble pie tasted like chocolate!
And the rules of the game keep changing with every new phase a child enters. Just as you figure out the best way to discipline at one age and begin to look like you have it all under control, they grow up a little and require a different tactic. I can’t very well scoop up a six-year-old and remove him from a store the way I could a temper-tantrum-throwing eighteen-month-old. And to keep it interesting, what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the next. It keeps us on our toes. And maybe it’s God’s way of keeping us humble and on our knees, too.
With my first child, disciplining wasn’t much of a challenge. I was prepared. I had read all the books and had all the time in the world to watch him carefully and to swoop in to correct him, if need be. And since he was such an easy child, he didn’t seem to challenge the rules too much. He was pretty content to be the subordinate and let me be in charge. I can only remember a few times when he really surprised me.
Once, when he was about eighteen months old, I was getting ready in the bathroom and had a clear view to the living room where he was playing. He had been trying to get Daddy’s Transformers which were up on a shelf, and I yelled to him to leave the toys alone. Kody very sweetly walked over to the bathroom door, smiled, and shut the door on me.
That’s odd, I thought. I opened the door a bit to peek on him, and there he was, using a long roll of wrapping paper to try to knock the toys off the shelf. How industrious! It was like watching a monkey stack boxes to get to the bananas. I had really underestimated him. Not only was he smart enough to find a way to do what he wanted, but he was sneaky enough to try and hide it from me. (Oh, how many times I try to do that same thing with God. It’s as if I forget that He is peeking down from Heaven and watching it all.)
While that one was amusing, there were a few times when he did really try to fight the rules. And, as you would expect, it always seemed to happen in front of other people. Another way God keeps us humble.
We were out to eat at the mall once when he was about two or three years old. I had told him, “No more fries until you eat some chicken.” Well, he didn’t want the chicken and he started to fight me on it. As any good parent, I put my foot down and insisted that he eat some chicken. Well, like any good toddler, he resisted and refused to eat the chicken. We were locked in a battle of the wills. And I was determined to win this one. (I still had the energy for that back then.) I knew that his respect for my parental authority was at stake.
I scooped him up, took him out into the hallway in the mall, and set him down on the floor. I said, “When you are ready to eat your chicken, we can go back to the table.” He pitched a fit like I had never seen him do before. He screamed and kicked and thrashed around all over the floor. (Yes, my gentle, calm Kody had a wild side, after all.) And I just sat there next to him and blithely smiled at the gawkers who walked by and probably thought that I was a heartless, cruel mother.
Five minutes, six minutes, who-knows-how-many minutes went by before he finally stopped and sat up and said he wanted his chicken. (“Yes, YES! I win one for a change. Take that, toddlers of the world!”) So we went back to the table, where he happily ate his chicken and then got his fries. Hey, I guess I’m pretty good at this parenting thing, after all.
Kody made it easy to feel like a parenting success. But I believe it’s because he let me be in charge, most of the time. (Does that mean he’s really the one in charge after all, albeit passively? Hmm?)
Then, as I said, feisty little Hunter came along. He wasn’t that much more difficult, but he did like to test the limits a lot more than his brother. Kody’s pretty quick to give up the fight, whereas Hunter will make many different cunning attempts to get what he wants. He has a stronger need to push the limits and test parental authority.
At first, he will outright try to defy me. He’ll continue to do what I’ve asked him to stop doing until he feels that I am REALLY serious. Then he’ll back off a little. And after a little break, he’ll try to go back to doing it again. He’ll smile at me as if to say, “See how cute I am. You can’t possibly be mad at me.” And then if that doesn’t work, he’ll start to ask permission again to do what he knows he can’t do. So I’ll give him “the look” and say, “Don’t you dare ask me if you can do that again!”
He’ll then switch in mid-sentence and say, “I wasn’t going to ask. I just wanted to say . . . ‘I love you, Mom.’” Yeah, he’s a sneaky, smart one. (But I’m onto you, kid!)
Or he words it like this, “I can’t play video games, right!?!” Perfectly on the border between a question and a statement. So when I tell him “no,” he can say, “That’s what I just said. I wasn’t asking to do it! I just said I can’t play video games!” Those kinds of mental games can be exhausting, requiring a bit more mental energy than I am always capable of.
And as if it doesn’t keep it interesting enough having two very different children, God gave us a third. Our wonderful, wonderful, challenging, busy, busy Ryder. Now, just as I truly believed that I was doing a great job parenting because my first two were so well behaved, I also truly believe that God gave me my third to break me of my parenting pride. To humble me even more and to make me realize that I wasn’t some great prodigy of motherhood.
Whereas Hunter tries to bend the rules as much as he can, without breaking them; Ryder pretty much believes that our rules should never have been rules in the first place, so it’s our fault that they were there to break. He’ll do something he’s not supposed to do, and then when I scold him, he’ll give me that “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see who I am!?!” look.
[As I’m working right now on all the corrections for this book, I am remembering a time once when he was nearly four years old. And we were staying at my mom’s house for a week where she has horses. Well, I’m in the kitchen washing dishes, and I look out the window to see Ryder several hundred feet away, walking toward the horses with a pitchfork. So I drop what I’m doing and I go running full speed across the yard. And when I get to him, all out of breath, I’m like, “Ryder, what are you doing out here with a pitchfork?”
He looks at me with a completely innocent, What-are-you-talking-about look, and he’s like, “I’m feeding the horses.” He may as well have added on, “Duh!” That is typical Ryder, with his “Who are you to question me?” attitude.]
He was a challenge from the beginning. And he broke me. He broke me bad! And now I can never look smugly at other mothers. Because I’ve been there! (You know, there’s a thing called Every Mother’s Special Blessing. Actually, it’s Every Mother’s Curse, but I prefer the sound of “Special Blessing.” And that’s “May you have a child just like you.” That’s the “special blessing” that I am going to give at his wedding! Is that wrong?)
In our house, he is fondly known as “Darth Tater,” “TyRydersaurus Rex,” or “The DicTater,” (Tater is a nickname, from Tater Tot. All our kids seemed to have a food nickname at some point.). He has a methodical way of going about wreaking havoc. He is as amusing as anything and can be incredibly sweet. But, boy, is he busy!
When I only had two children, I read about someone who said how her child could get into mischief faster than the mom could keep up. And I remember thinking, Oh, yeah, sure I know what she means. Children are just busy. But I had no idea what she really meant until my third.
I walked into the kitchen once, when he was just over a year old, to find him standing in the middle of the kitchen table. My other two really weren’t climbers, so I wasn’t expecting that. I pulled him off and set him on the floor, telling him not to climb the furniture. He was only gone a few moments when I heard Hunter yell, “Mom, Ryder broke the computer desk.” I ran into the next room to see him sitting on the pull-out shelf that holds the keyboard. And, sure enough, it broke under his weight. If any of my kids could knock me off the King-of-the-Hill position, it’s Ryder. He has more stamina and determination than my other two combined.
After I had Kody, Jason and I ran into one of his old friends who had three children.
“Life doesn’t really get interesting until you have three kids,” he said.
Boy, I tell ya, I was miffed! I thought, How dare he downplay my status as a parent because I only have one child. I still qualify for being a parent. But I smiled and nodded my head, letting him feel like he was superior to me. I felt like he was putting himself in a different class of parents - a better class - because he “has three kids.”
But after having three, I can now understand what he means. He was not making a value judgment about what kind of parent I was. He was simply stating a fact. And he was not bragging; he was sending out a distress signal. A warning. Life gets much more interesting (read: busy, challenging, demanding) when the kids outnumber the adults. At least, it did for me.
Child Number One gets all the attention and time that you have available. I could be there to catch every infraction of the rules. Therefore, he got disciplined much more by the book. (I still had time to read books back then.)
Having two was still manageable because my eyes could be on one while my hands were busy with the other. It was only a bit harder because then there was the “Who’s really to blame?” dilemma. But at least there were only two possible culprits, as well as only one possible match-up for sibling fights.
But it increases exponentially with three. Now, there are three different personalities, three different directions they could run, and seven different fighting combinations: child #1 against child #2, #2 against #3, #3 against #1, #1 and #2 against #3, #1 and #3 against#2, #2 and #3 against #1, or all of them against all the others at the same time. (I know several families with seven or more children each. I can’t even begin to figure out the possibilities for that!) If I am not in the room to see who did what, when, and to whom first, then it can be quite a headache trying to sort it all out, especially if they are all talking at once. That makes disciplining harder and my head want to explode.
With three, you are also that much busier with food and cleaning. After our “crisis” (still working on getting to that story), I have made it a point to cook as much as I can from scratch. This means a lot of time with meal preparation. That, in turn, means that there is less mental and physical energy to be on top of every infraction of the rules like I was for my first. So each child gets away with a little more than the older ones. Sometimes, my kids are just lucky to get a bath, let alone my undivided attention to sort out who did what first.
I’ll admit it, I used to be one of those “I’ll-never-do-that-when-I-have-kids” kind of people. But I can no longer feel smug because I am now the kind of mom that I used to raise my eyebrows at. The kind that lets her toddler have a pizza cutter, run around outside in a diaper, dig holes all over the yard with a hand shovel, or wear a shirt three sizes too big with pants that are two sizes too small for several days in a row. It’s all part of the humbling journey of motherhood.
(My husband has tried to tell me that I don’t always have to give in to Ryder and give him what he wants. I say, “Oh, I know I don’t have to. But, I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” Sometimes, it’s the only way I can ever get anything else done! Is that really bad?)
In all honesty, though, things aren’t as crazy at our house and my children aren’t as wild as I make them out to be. (Okay, Ryder really is that wild . . . like a wild stallion. I can see him growing up to be a bull-fighter, using only his bare hands to throw the bulls around. He is freakishly strong! And so willing to fight! I think a bull is the only animal that could give him a challenge. My neighbor, Ray, was watching the boys play in our backyard once. He comes from a family of many, many boys, and he was laughing about Ryder. “I love watching him play,” he said. “He is just a little bulldog.” See! I’m not the only one that notices it!)
But they really are great kids, if I do say so myself. And they are quite well-behaved (in front of other people, at least). And they are all really sweet. I am so thankful that they haven’t yet reached the age where they are embarrassed to hug me or say, “I love you.” I’m going to enjoy that for as long as I have it. They are the most endearing little jungle monkeys ever. (Monkey is a term of endearment at our house. I’ll ask, “Who’s my jungle monkey?” and Ryder’s face will brighten up and he’ll say, “Me! Me jungle monkey.”)
You know, now that I’m thinking about it, I want to write a list of all the advice I can think of that you won’t learn in a parenting book, such as the four lessons at the beginning of the chapter. These are just the kinds of lessons that we learn as we go, the lessons that humble us. The more kids you have, the more you’ll understand.
Now those with one child will probably be horrified by this list, since you probably still have time to be on top of everything. And, to you, I say “More power to ya” and “Just wait!” Or maybe you could offer some clear-headed perspective and inspiration to those of us who gave up trying too hard a few kids ago. Well, here they are in no particular order:
#1 This is by far the hardest part of having a new child . . . the lack of sleep. When you first have a child, you will have to learn to function in a fog. That’s just the way it is. So go easy on yourself when you start to go a little loopy. I remember waking up for the second or third month in a row with my first (and my second) and just crying out in the dark, “Lord, if You love me at all, You will let me sleep. Please, Lord! Please! Why . . . oh, why can’t I just sleep?” with tears streaming down my face.
I never did get the desired amount of sleep, but I did learn to function in a fog. And remember, when you are up at night crying, you are not alone. Millions of mothers around the world are doing the same thing at that very moment.
But you know what the funny thing is? Even if the baby is sleeping, I still can’t fall asleep easily. I think there’s a Mommy-Insomnia (Mommy-Insommy? Too cutesy?) that comes with kids, a hyper-alertness that keeps us half-awake. I will lay there for an hour or hour-and-a-half thinking about stupid things, like this brilliant chain of thought that went through my head the other night:
Hmm, I wonder if we should try raw cocoa? Raw or regular? Which is healthier? Is it even healthy to eat cocoa? There’s debate about that. I won’t give up chocolate. If God made it, it must be okay. Except pork and shellfish. Never pork or shellfish! Refuse-cleaners of the earth. I could do without meat. But I love vegetables. Cocoa in moderation. Fine with me. My grandma eats chocolate and drinks coffee. And she’s in her 90’s. Eating locally? Pineapples? No, I’m not so much about eating local as I am about eating healthy. Coconuts? Tropical! Wow, my hair feels dry. Why can’t I sleep? I need to go to sleep. The kids are sleeping well and I’m wasting my time. My mind just keeps running. And running. And it’s not running anywhere. My goodness! If people could see what goes on in my head when I’m trying to sleep. I should write this down to add to my book later. Okay, now I’m thirsty. But I can’t get up or I’ll really be awake. I want coconut cake. Yertle the Turtle. Yertle the Turtle? Where did Yertle the Turtle come from? How did I get from coconut to Yertle the Turtle? Haven’t read that book in ages! I can see soup connected to turtle. Mock turtle soup. But coconuts? Hmm, did Yertle climb a tree, like a palm tree? Are coconuts from palms?
I’m not kidding. This is the kind of grand planning that goes on in my head and steals my sleep. It’s ridiculous. Anyway, learn to function in a fog. You will not get the sleep you want, but you’ll get just enough to keep you alive. And you will get through it! You will get through it alive!
[Which is totally contrary to what I once told Hunter about sleep. When he was about three years old, he asked me, “What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?” Now, in my defense, he had asked me this late in the day, at a time when I was thoroughly exhausted. And I could not stop the words that came out of my mouth. In a dramatic, serious tone, I looked at him and said, “If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll DIE!”
At the time, it seriously sounded like a reasonable answer. And my reasoning was that if you were never able to fall asleep, your body would eventually wear out and you would die. Because our bodies need sleep to stay healthy. Anyway, Jason gave me “the look” from across the table, and I changed my answer to “You will get really, really tired and not be able to function well during the day.”
Well, poor kid, months later I was putting him to bed and he asked me if Daddy and me were going to go to bed right away. And I told him that mommies and daddies can stay up later than the kids. He got all upset and, through tears, he looked up at me and said, “But then you’ll die!” (Okay, sub-lesson for #1: Be more careful what I tell the children, especially when I’m tired!)]
#2 This is also usually a consequence of number one: It is perfectly acceptable to start crying over seemingly small things because you are so sleep-deprived that you can’t think straight. If you have to change the baby’s outfit again because they got some kind of body fluid on it again, go ahead and cry. If you just dropped the paper towel for the third time because you are too tired and weak to keep a grip on it, let the tears roll. Or if all of your children have taken up the tribal chant of “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom” at the same time, but no one can hear your small, pathetic plea to stop talking because your head is about to explode, then curl up the fetal position in the corner of the room and sob. That’s not being too emotional; that’s being smart! If we didn’t let it out in a cry sometimes, we might explode in a fit of rage! (And just keep telling yourself, “Sleep will come . . . sleep will come. When I’m sixty-five and develop narcolepsy, sleep will come.”)
#3 Never - and I repeat, never - pick up a pair of scissors and impulsively start hacking away at your hair while you are home alone with a little one. I don’t know, but there’s something about having a baby that makes you want to cut your hair. Call it the “Steel Magnolias syndrome”. Well, one day when Kody was a baby, I looked in the mirror and realized that I hated my hair and wanted it cut shorter. I’m one of those that won’t think or care about something for so long, but then as soon as I decide that I don’t like it and want a change, I have to do it NOW!
And that’s what happened with my hair. I couldn’t wait for an appointment. And so despite the fussy baby at my feet, I picked up a pair of scissors and began to cut. Well, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somewhere in my tunnel-vision-frenzy to make sure my hair was even (and because of the feverish anxiety that comes with letting a child whine at your feet), I began to lose all perspective of what I was doing.
And when I finally put the scissors down and stepped back, my eyes were opened . . . and I gasped in horror. My hair, which had been about shoulder-length, had now mysteriously been shortened to about an inch long. No joke! I went from a bob to a crew cut. And I seriously didn’t see it happening as I tried to even out “this little piece, and that quarter-inch, and hurry because Kody is getting more upset.”
Well, when the shock wore off, there was nothing left to do but grab the hair gel and spike it up into a sassy, little style. And then I waited for my husband to come home from work. And when he walked in the door, I was waiting there to meet him, giggling in embarrassment. The “Who is this young man and what have you done with my wife?” look on his face was priceless.
If I could have hidden for months, I would have. But a few days later, we had to go to my nephew’s birthday party. As I walked around the corner and came into view of Jason’s relatives, his sister let out a shocked “yelp” at the sight of my hair. But you know the funny part, I had actually forgotten that I now looked like an adolescent boy. And I began to look all around me, like, “What is it? What are looking at? What made you gasp?” And then I realized that it was me! And so I say once again: Never, ever, cut your own hair on impulse while you’re home alone with a baby.
#4 After you have kids, real conversations will become a thing of the past. Get used to it. Now you will find that you can’t complete a perfectly constructed sentence to save your life. There is only so much room in your brain. Your speaking ability has to move over to make room for the Barney theme song.
After I had kids, I went from being an eloquent orator (see!) to a blathering space-cadet that stops in mid-sentence because I heard a noise from one of the kids, and then I can’t remember what I was just talking about, and then I can’t - for the life of me - find the word that I want to use. All of my previous knowledge has atrophied in my head. Thank you, Barney and Teletubbies!
But don’t worry, the other mothers of young children will all be in that boat with you. So, oddly enough, the conversations work out alright. And sadly enough, you will find yourself wanting to talk about (and defend) Barney and the Teletubbies. (Okay, maybe not the Teletubbies, but definitely Barney . . . and the Wiggles.) They will become personal friends that take center stage in your conversations with other mothers of young children. It’s sick, I know! You never thought that day would ever come, but it does! Oh, yes, it does!
#5 Phone conversations with other moms who have kids underfoot all day will be different, too. But these are amusing, if you pay attention. They usually go something like this:
“Hey, Jen, how are you doing? I was just (Hey, put that down!) calling to say ‘Hi.’ I wanted to (I said stop hitting him . . . and put your pants back on) remind you . . . (Where are your pants anyway? Why did you take them off?) Sorry, Jen, hold on a second. I’m putting Ryder’s pants back on. Okay, there! Anyway, do you think that you could . . . (Don’t pull on the phone cord! Get out of here please, and go watch TV for two minutes so I can talk. No! I am not giving you a snack right now. When I am OFF THE PHONE!) What was I saying? Oh, yeah, this weekend, I was thinking, (No, NO SNACK! Hey, where’d you get that from? Fine, just go eat it in the other room.) did you want to visit with all of us and the families sometime where we may get to. . . what’s the word . . . visit without the kids invading us, I mean, interrupting us all the time? (WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING? Hey, you, Da . . . Hun . . . Ja . . . you know who I’m talking to! You in the blue, get over here!) You know, dinner this weekend?”
See! Your ability to speak does go. But it’s especially fun when it’s happening to the other person and you get to listen to it.
#6 Get in the habit of writing things down. Before I had kids, I could remember all the phone numbers, and what was happening when and with whom. Now, if I’m simply asked what day it is, I stare blankly with a confused look on my face. Day? What is ‘day’? Honestly, the wheels are spinning, but nothing is coming to the surface. Same thing when someone asks me how old I am. (I have to ask my husband, or figure out how old he is and subtract a year, or recall what year I was born and count up. Isn’t that pathetic?) I used to hear that you lose your memory when you have kids. But I think that you still have the same amount of memory, it just gets spread a lot thinner. So it’s basically useless. Write it down!
#7 Cereal is an acceptable dinner occasionally. No guilt allowed!
#8 Shoes and socks are optional in the yard. Or more accurately, they’re near impossible to keep on some wild children. Lately, every time I open the door, running around the yard in nothing but a diaper is a muddy, screaming jungle monkey that looks an awful lot like the fully-clothed two-year-old that I just let outside a little while ago. And speaking of socks, mismatched socks are okay. Who is going to tell when your kid has on one of his socks and one of his older brother’s socks? His pants hang low enough to cover . . . sometimes.
#9 Now, this is one that I really believe in: Let kids get good and filthy in the yard! I think it’s good for their immune systems (as long as your yard is chemical-free) and good for their souls. Kids were made for the outdoors. I love watching my kids getting dirty in the yard while enjoying God’s creation. Nothing is as simple and pure as that. It’s what childhood should be made of!
And it’s sad because I actually had to teach my kids that it’s okay to get dirty. My husband’s first reaction when they played was always, “Stay out of the mud! Get out of the puddle! Don’t get your clothes dirty!” But I come from a different view. I was the muddy, tree-climbing, outside-till-dark kind of kid. My greatest memories were (and still are) outdoor ones. (Think about it! God made us to be outside in gardens . . . naked! That must explain the phase Ryder is going through!)
I was always making mud-pies, mixing “cake batter” made with sticks and berries, or raking the fallen leaves into “houses” to play in. But the thing that I loved doing the most was climbing trees. You can learn a lot from being outdoors. And one thing that climbing trees taught me was that I was remarkably good at falling out of them and that I can have an incredible lack of judgment sometimes.
When I was a kid, I thought it was be a good idea to climb to the top of the maple tree in our backyard to collect leaves, even though it had just rained. I was making my neighbor a decoration. I had taken one leaf and began inserting the stems of other leaves through it so that I could make a . . .a? . . .a pile of leaves. And the large, pretty leaves were at the top of the tree. So I grabbed a metal lawn chair and placed it under the tree to reach the bottom branch. Then I began my long, arduous climb to the top. I made it, too. And I sat up there filling up my leaf bouquet until it was full and beautiful.
Then I started the trip down. Well, as anyone who has ever climbed trees knows, the trip down is a lot harder than the trip up. And I had to maneuver carefully because I had a fragile decoration in my hands. However, like any child that lives in the moment, I forgot all about the rain. And the second my foot hit the first branch down, it slipped off.
Now, I do not know how this happened because it happened so fast; but somehow I managed to fall from the top of the tree in a standing position, with my legs spread apart, and I didn’t hit one branch before I landed square on top of the chair and bent it in half between my legs. And I didn’t drop the decoration!
Another time, I had the brilliant idea to hang upside down from the branch of that tree, holding only the ends of a towel that was draped over it. I wanted to see if I could hang all the way upside-down in a standing position. (Yeah, I know . . . Where was my mother?) So I grabbed a towel and threw it over the lowest branch. Then holding one end of the towel in each hand, I began walking my feet up the tree trunk until I was basically upside-down.
Any adult would know that they could not possibly keep a tight grip on the ends of the towel with all their body weight pulling on it. But I was smarter than an adult. I was a ten-year-old! Sure enough, the towel slipped from my hands and I crashed to the ground on my head (the natural consequence of being upside-down). It really rang my bell. My head pounded and spun for a few minutes, as I sat there dazed and confused.
When the spinning stopped and I figured out where I was and what happened, it dawned on me: This was not a good idea . . . not without a helmet! I ran to the garage and crammed my little brother’s way-too-small, plastic football helmet on my head and tried again. How I made it to adulthood is a miracle! (But not surprisingly, I did have my fair share of trips to the emergency room. I must have been a parent’s nightmare.)
These experiences and my fond memories of mud have helped me formulate my theory: “If they are not dirty enough, then they weren’t having enough fun.” And that is something I have taught my boys! In fact, I send them back outside again if they are not dirty enough. (They can always take baths. When we remember to!) Although, I am out there all the time yelling things like, “Don’t stand on the slide, you could get hurt!” “Don’t run with that stick, you could get hurt!” “Don’t run in the driveway, you could get hurt!”
I know you may think that’s an overreaction. But let me tell you this story. When Jen’s husband, Jon, was a kid, his mom used to tell him and his brothers not to run on the sidewalk or else they could fall and break their wrists. Well, one day, Jon’s brother was running on the sidewalk, and Jon reminded him not to do that. And then in an over-exaggerated, mocking demonstration of what not to do, Jon ran down the sidewalk saying something like, “See, we’re not supposed to run down the sidewalk because we might . . .” and then he fell and broke his wrists. Both of them! See, we mothers do know a thing or two! (And, Jon, I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, I love that story! Sorry for your wrists, but it is so poetically sit-comish! A classic!)
Anyway, my memories of falling out of trees have also helped me to be a little more understanding of the childish things that kids do that completely defy reason and explanation. You know, those What-on-earth-were-you-thinking moments. Honestly, when I was walking up that tree, I can say that I was thinking - just in my own, ten-year-old, “I have to learn about the laws of physics for myself” way.
#10 So remember that you were once a kid, too. Go easy on your children when they do foolish things. I’m remembering a time when I was able to see a little of myself in my firstborn. We were all outside in the backyard, and someone was flying away on the swing-set glider. I have to say, those things have always scared me. They are the perfect height and velocity to do some real damage to someone’s face.
I was very pregnant and resting on the back steps watching the children play. Kody came over to me to give me a little kiss, as he often does. (He is a touchy-feely kind of kid. I love that!) And then he turned around and made a bee-line directly for the glider. I could see it in slow motion. It was as if some mysterious force was pulling him right to it, and I watched the glider fly full force into his face.
I jumped up just as it hit and began running across the yard to him. Now, you know how people look when they run the bat race; you run down, put your forehead on the bat, spin around three times and then try to run back. It’s great fun to watch! Especially when it’s a hugely pregnant, very short woman running in sheer terror! Because of my huge belly, my center of gravity was so off that I zigged and zagged in drunken, bat-race fashion across the yard. I was a five-foot tall Weeble wobbling all over as the weight of my belly propelled my top-half forward faster than my legs could catch up. But I didn’t fall down. (My husband said it was amazing to watch!)
When I got to him, I began examining his face and I said what every good, concerned mother says, “WHAT ON EARTH were you thinking? You ran right for it! What were you trying to do, Dakota? You could have smashed your teeth out!”
And the whole time he was saying, “Sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.” When it dawned on me that he was apologizing to me for getting his face smashed, and when I could tell that he was amazingly alright (it hit him in the top lip - a half-inch higher would have broken his nose and a half-inch lower would have bust his teeth out. Thank you, Lord!), I changed my tune.
“Kody, you don’t have to apologize to me. I didn’t mean to yell at you. I was just so scared that you were hurt. You are not in trouble for anything. I’m just so glad you are alright.”
He told me that he was running to his brother on the glider, and that he did not realize that while it was swinging away from him as he ran toward it, it would meet him square in the face on its return trip back. After I caught my breath, my head stopped spinning, and my vision returned to normal, I told him about my story of climbing and falling out of that tree. I could relate to the sheer lack of thinking things through. I wanted him to realize that we all do things like that. It’s a part of growing up and learning those pesky laws of physics.
(Honestly, though, I always thought it would be a younger child who wasn’t paying attention that would get hit by the glider. Not an older one running right for it. Kids are surprising like that! Remember . . . Expect the Unexpected! Oh, and with boys especially, you should be praying this daily, “Lord, protect them from themselves!” Example: Jason had installed little hooks on the end of the boys’ bunk-bed so that they could hang up their jackets. And one day, I walked into the room to find Ryder sitting in a laundry basket that was HANGING from one of the hooks by a belt that he had attached to it. I was amazed at his ingenuity, but he was told to never do that again!)
#11 If the balance of power is rather equal and they are not bleeding, then let them handle it. Don’t step in and fight all their battles for them. (But don’t allow name calling and other kinds a disrespectful talk. That’s just not right! You wouldn’t believe how many disrespectful, naughty children there are on the playgrounds. Seriously, if parents don’t correct children’s misbehavior, they won’t learn.)
In fact, it is a very wise thing to pick your battles carefully. This is a lesson that only a broken, tired, humbled mother can understand. If I didn’t pick my battles, I would find myself fighting all day long over the littlest things, especially when my third is so willing to fight me on everything.
It’s so embarrassing to admit this, but I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can convince myself that I am still in control while Ryder laughs at me from his position of King-of-the-Hill. I’ll tell him to do something; “Ryder, pick up these toys or you cannot watch TV!” And I’ll see him start to bristle, ready for a fight.
So I’ll back off a little; “Ryder, pick up these toys while you watch TV.” Not good enough for him. He’ll begin to whine and fight it. And I’m usually right in the middle of doing something and can’t stop to battle a toddler. (Maybe I should pick my timing better, too?)
So I’ll back down a little more, but I’ll make it sound firmer and with a more serious tone-of-voice, “Ryder, put that one toy away that’s in your hand RIGHT NOW, and then go back to watching TV.” That is basically all he was going to do in the first place, anyway. So he happily complies, and I convince myself that I really asserted my authority that time. (Wow! Is that pathetic or what? If he turns out to be a monster, I can’t really ever wonder why! Honestly, though, I’ve really only done this a couple of times . . . okay, a handful of times. I’m working on it. This is more like advice of what not to do!)
Back when I had it “all together,” I never thought that I’d see the day when my kids would be screaming like wild animals, grabbing handfuls of hair, fighting about something or other . . . and I would be sitting there peacefully (or exhausted) in the chair and doing nothing to intervene. Just watching! (Trust me! If I’m that exhausted, it’s probably better that I don’t intervene. Totally flies in the face of my “correct their misbehavior” advice. Sorry!)
Besides, if I just sit here long enough, Daddy might hear the fighting and see that I am doing nothing, and he’ll step in to deal with it. Seriously! The first parent to make a move to intervene or ask what’s going on is the one who has to do something about it. (Same with whoever notices the poopy diaper first.) So, if you can just wait him out, your husband might just have to jump in and take care of it. (You don’t learn that kind of advice in a parenting book, either. It’s just the kind of thing that comes with experience - and a severe lack of sleep.)
#12 Matthew 5:37: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ . . .” I totally agree with this, but this is a tricky one because children speak a different language than parents do. Let’s say they ask for something. Here are some of the things we say and (what they hear):
“Yes!” (Absolutely! I will jump up this very minute and do your bidding.)
“No!” (Ask again in a few minutes.)
“I don’t know? We’ll see.” (Yes, but ask again in a few minutes.)
“Give me a minute. Will Ya?” (Stand there for three seconds, swaying back and forth, and then ask me again.)
“In a little while!” (As soon as you ask me again a few more times.)
“Not right now! I’m busy, can’t you see!” (I don’t have time, so ask faster.)
“I said stop asking me about it!” (Forgive me, for I must not be understanding you properly; so ask louder and with more whine.)
Parents, you know I’m not exaggerating! I found that a good way to stop the endless pestering is just to say “no” right off the bat. And say it firmly, with the added note, “If you ask again, it will definitely be a no!” (Redundant, huh? But kids don’t get that. They can, however, smell indecisiveness. So put on your best poker-face.) Then when I’m ready, I can just say, “I changed my mind. Now I’m ready!”
This, of course, has its own pitfall because it only works the first time. And, of course, it isn’t really letting your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no. Kids will quickly learn that “no” really means “Yes, in a few minutes.” But, ironically, if you had just said “Yes, in a few minutes,” they would hear, “Ask me again in about fifteen seconds or I might forget.” It’s a learning experience. Good luck with it. I still haven’t figured it all out.
A friend of mine, Corrie, once gave me a piece of good advice that her mom told her. “Say ‘Yes’ as much as you can, so that when you say ‘No’ it means something.” I love that. It makes perfect sense. Especially when I see how my way of saying ‘no’ right off the bat doesn’t really work anyway.
There are so many times that my first reaction to any request is to say “no.” And then, when I think about the request again, I realize that there was really no good reason to say “no.” Why not “yes”? Usually, if I’m honest with myself, it’s just because I’m too tired or busy to process what they are asking, or I just don’t feel like it. Usually, saying “yes” entails some work or effort on my part. But I’m trying to remember to think about their request before I answer. It’s a lot better than changing my answer after spontaneously reacting with “no.”
#13 Just like we have to know how to speak their language, we also have to learn to anticipate how they think so that we can be one step ahead of them, head them off at the pass. I did something once that was quite stupid. In an attempt to try to educate my child with a fascinating experiment, I called Hunter over to me and said . . . (Well, first of all, you have to remember that Hunter likes mischief and danger a little more than Kody. He likes trying to see what he can get away with and how far he can push the envelope.) . . . anyway, I said, “Hey, wanna see what I can do with a magnifying glass and a dry leaf?”
That’s right! I was gonna show him how to burn a hole in a leaf as an experiment on the power of concentrated sunlight. But what I saw as an educational experiment, he saw as great, evil-genius power. I could see it in his eyes as I showed him how the sunlight burns a hole in the leaf. You know, as I was asking him if he’d like to see the experiment, my brain was telling my mouth, “Abort mission! Abort mission! Not the right child to show this to!” But I didn’t listen.
As I finished the experiment and walked away, I could feel the glee emanating from him. I could hear the anticipation; he was waiting for me to go in the house and leave him alone with the magnifying glass. And I realized the horrible, evil-genius power that I had just unleashed in him. And I knew that if I didn’t do something, we would end up with a flaming backyard.
Well, I knew that if I banned him from it completely, he might be tempted to try it while I was not looking. And so I had to make sure that didn’t happen. I went outside and said, “Hunter, do not ever try this on your own. You could start a fire. But if you ever do want to try it, come get me and I will watch you do it.”
I don’t think that he ever tried it without me. (At least, we have never had any fires.) But the lesson I learned here was to anticipate what might be going through the child’s head and stay one step ahead of them at all times. Oh, and I learned to be more careful with putting the wrong kind of power in the wrong hands.
#14 Don’t take everything so seriously. Sometimes we have opportunities to have a little fun with our children. And that’s okay. It’s beneficial, even. Proverbs 15:13: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful . . .”
One time, when Kody was two years old, he came to me with a messy diaper. In a flash of genius, the jar of chocolate pudding in the fridge came to my mind. I secretly got the jar, stuck my finger into the pudding and brought out a big glob of it. Then acting like I was checking his diaper, I pretended to dip my finger into the mess. I held my pudding finger up in the air, showed my son and went, “Oh, eewww, poopy diaper.” Then I stuck my finger in my mouth and licked it off with dramatic flair.
My sweet, innocent two-year-old (who probably thought the world of his mother) screamed in horror and clawed his way backward across the couch, yelling, “No, poopies! OH, NO! POOPIES!” I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t finish the joke. Oh, the things we do for our own amusement sometimes. Of course, then I had to give him a little speech about how it was really just pudding, and we don’t eat real poopies, just in case. (I’m twisted, I know! But he loves hearing that story to this day! Laughs so hard that he cries.)
#15 You won’t just do crazy things with your kids, but you’ll do crazy things for your kids. The yard directly behind ours is a complete mass of vicious, monster, black raspberry vines which have crawled over into our yard. Surrounding them like a barricade (on our side of the property line) are these horrible, mutant weeds which are (no joke) twelve-feet tall and form a thicket so bad that there isn’t the tiniest bit of a path to get through to the raspberries.
One super-hot day in the middle of the summer, I fought a massive army of mosquitoes to get a few berries from the outermost edges. A tiny handful was all I could do. I had donated enough blood to the bugs and vines! I brought them inside, and gallantly presented them to Ryder and Hunter. Well, they loved the berries so much that I felt this incredible urge to do everything I could to make sure that they had as many of them as I could possibly get my hands on. And so I prepared for battle!!
So, it’s like ninety degrees outside, the mosquitoes are hungry, and the raspberry vines are just plain mean! I put on the thickest pair of black jeans that I had and a hooded gray sweatshirt to protect my arms. Then I pull the hood up over my baseball cap and tighten it around my face to keep the bugs off. If they were bad at the edge of the “jungle,” I can only imagine how bad they would be deep inside of it.
I headed to the backyard with a measuring cup, hacked my way through the weeds, and literally disappeared into the jungle. And there I was, completely bundled up in the sweltering heat, “stealing” the berries at the property line. But I wasn’t in there for more than two minutes before little mosquito brains went, Oh, fresh meat! And they began systematically devouring my flesh with massive, razor-sharp teeth. (I didn’t know mosquitoes had teeth like that.)
I began to suffocate on the bugs, and I had to get out of there fast! But I had precariously tiptoed this way and that to get through the weeds and to avoid the nasty thorns on the vines, so there was no way to get out fast. I had to carefully maneuver around to find the hidden path, slowly moving one foot at a time to avoid getting more entangled. And all the while, I’m furiously swatting bugs from my legs and face and yelling, “No! Get away from me! Get back, you terrible beasts!” And the faster I try to move and swat, the more entangled I become in the vines.
Eventually, with scratches and welts, I emerge from the weeds carrying my precious one cup of pilfered berries. And as I’m scurrying back to the house, with the tip of my nose being the only flesh visible on this scalding day, it suddenly dawns on me, I really hope no one was watching me! For all I knew, my neighbors were on their back porch enjoying their cup of coffee and watching the crazy lady in the burglar-gear fight the bugs and thorns as she stealthily and strenuously tried to gather as many berries as possible over the yard line, without technically crossing into the other person’s yard. And I’d always be known as “The Berry Burglar.” It was a long trip back to the house as I kept my head down and walked as fast as I could.
Back in the kitchen, I proudly present my gift to the boys. They, of course, gobbled them up within a minute, completely unaware that this little gift cost me my blood and my dignity! And I chuckled at myself for the next hour or two, as I avoided any eye contact with my neighbors for the rest of the day! Oh, the things we do for our children!
#16 If there is one thing that I know for certain, it’s that, with children, there will be spots. Get comfortable with spots on your clothes. When you have young children, you can expect spots of all kinds, from coffee to spaghetti sauce to spit-up to snot. (Body fluids don’t scare you as much after having children!)
And how is it that when I’m mixing batter and one drop flies out of a bowl, it lands square on my shirt in a spot that I don’t really want people staring at? Despite the fact that it had about 270 other degrees it could have gone? That, or it will hit me right in the eye, going around the glasses that I’m wearing. That always amazes me! I am not kidding, the other night during dinner, Ryder was sitting three feet away from me. Three feet! When he said something, a large piece of food shot out of his mouth, flew around my glasses, and hit me right in the inside corner of my eye, where it proceeded to bother me for an hour. How in the world?
And remember that you can always tell another mother of young children by the spots on her disheveled, wrinkled clothes. There’s no point in being overly embarrassed by them. (Gina worked at a camp one summer and told me this story. One of the little girls in her cabin was crying about something, and Gina was trying to comfort her. As this little girl cried, snot began running down her face. And you know what she did? She grabbed the end of Gina’s shirt, that she was still wearing, and blew her nose all over it. With kids, spots happen!)
#17 Don’t be too concerned, either, about toys and stuff all over the house when you have young ones. Remember that you’re only one person and something has to slide. (I say this mostly to comfort myself!) You know what I’ve learned anyway? If you wait long enough, the mess usually reaches a certain plateau and doesn’t get much messier than that (probably because it can’t). So, why try to kill yourself fighting it?
I have tried time and time again to explain this to my husband when he wonders why I can’t keep up with the mess. And lately, he has been cleaning up a lot around the house. And I have had the sadistic pleasure of overhearing him muttering to himself while cleaning the kitchen, “No matter how much I clean up around here, it’s still just as messy. It doesn’t even look like I’ve done any work at all. Why do I bother? I may as well just leave it because no matter how much work I do, it doesn’t get any cleaner.” (Thank You, Lord! Thank You, thank You for letting me overhear that!)
But you know the amazing part? I still can’t convince him that it’s the natural order of things when you have young children in a very small space all day. So, bless his heart, he still keeps trying. Now, I know he’ll be upset if I don’t add this: I do need to teach the kids to pick up after themselves more. That is part of the reason the house is such a disaster. (But, honestly, that is just as much work as doing it myself.)
#18 By all means, don’t wait until the house is spotless to have company over, especially when company has young kids of their own. They probably have a house that’s just as messy (although you’ll never know it because it’s always cleaned up for company). Be brave! Be the first one to admit, “This is how the house normally looks. So if you don’t mind the mess, you’re more than welcome to come over.”
When we were just getting to know Jon and Amy, the neighbors across the street from our first house, they invited us over to visit. And when we walked in, their house looked lived-in . . . normal. And Jon said something that I just loved. He said, “If we wait till the house is spotless, we may never have company over. I’d rather just have company come over.” I thought that was so real, so great. (And for the record, their “lived-in” look was still a lot cleaner than ours. And even more so lately. One of these days, I’ll get there.)
I used to get pretty upset when people would pop over without calling first, embarrassed by the mess. My in-laws had of way of doing this. And, usually, they would show up before I’ve been able to brush my hair, change out of my pajamas and get the kids dressed. (So what if it was 10 a.m.?) I can’t think of a time that they have come over when the house looked respectably clean. I’d even settle for not-quite-a-disaster. It used to embarrass me and I would try to come up with some half-truths to explain the mess.
“Oh, sorry about the mess. We are going through our bins and switching clothes for the season.” (Umm, yeah! It’s the middle of the summer.) Or “It was clean over the weekend, but we just had company over and it got destroyed again.” (Two weekends ago!) Or my favorite, “I’m going through everything to weed stuff out.” (Which I’ve been doing for three years now. And that is really not a lie!)
At some point, I just got tired of apologizing for the mess. Now when they come over unexpectedly, I just say, “The place is a disaster because . . . well, because it always is. Just kick the toys aside and, if you can find them, pick up the couch cushions and put them back on the couch so you can sit down.” I figure they should know me by now. I’m not fooling anyone.
I’ve learned to not judge others by the mess in their house. And when I am tempted to be shocked at someone else’s messy house, it dawns on me, “Oh, wait! This is exactly how my house looks.” And suddenly, I feel a certain camaraderie with them and the mess doesn’t seem so disturbing. I just enjoy the visit. After all, as Corrie graciously told me on her first visit to my house, when I apologized for the mess, “Well, It’s a good thing I came to see you and not your house.” Thank you! Thank you very much!
#19 Always remember , “Coffee is your friend!” And when all else goes wrong, “Chocolate never fails!” Just make sure that you have enough for the kids, too, unless you eat it in a soundproof, airtight room.
However, I would like to add a caution. If you are not a coffee drinker, then don’t start. Coffee may be a friend, but sometimes that friend is like a giant, belligerent gorilla that you willingly strap yourself to with a heavy, fifteen-foot-long chain. Sure, you can go about business as usual, but only within sight of this demanding beast. You will go from a happy, relaxed sunshine-greeter to a sullen, foggy-eyed grunter doing the zombie-walk to pay homage to your ape friend first thing in the morning, before he gets angry and begins ruthlessly whipping that chain around. Then you’ll be sorry! So I really can’t, in good conscience, recommend this to non-coffee drinkers. Fair Warning!
#20 (We’re almost to the end!) Here’s one that you only learn way after the fact. Never - ever - comment on or criticize another person’s kids. I promise you, it will come back around. Never say, “Wow, look at the giant head on that kid,” unless you want Humpty Dumpty for a son. (Now, I don’t have a Humpty Dumpty, but my oldest was in adult hats by the time he was five.) Don’t say, “Man, So-and-So’s kid is a terror.” That particular one led to the Lord blessing us with feisty child #2 and wild child #3. (Alright, Lord! I get it already!) Or there was the time that I commented on how loud someone else’s kid was. Just a comment, not a criticism! Well, yes . . . again may I introduce you to Ryder? (That poor kid! He’s really a delight in so many ways. But he does have his . . . um . . . quirks.)
I truly think that if I had just kept my mouth shut about other people, I might just have had quiet, clean children who willingly help with cleaning my already spotless house, and my hair would get brushed before Jason comes home from work. But I’m learning!
#21 And lastly, never get too comfortable or too sure of yourself as a parent. Kids throw curveballs, and they usually do so in front of other people. We were at Jellystone in Wisconsin Dells for a family vacation one year, and it was time to line up for the “Hey” Ride. We stood there, just minding our own business, with a lot of other families who were just minding theirs. There was some time to kill. (I love campgrounds! There’s such a closeness with others: community bathrooms, wearing a swimsuit around other people after having children, eating meals and scolding children in front of the neighbors, and singing the “Hey Ride” song way off-key together. Seriously, we all sound like a bunch of drunk sailors. It’s great fun!)
Well, we sat there in line with our three kids, trying not to zone out and watch anyone else too closely. There was nothing else to do but wait. Everyone was so quiet. Everyone . . . except Ryder. And Ryder, for some reason, kept sticking his finger in his nose. Ok, so he’s only a few years old and that’s expected. But it doesn’t look good and it’s not hygienic.
“Ryder, keep your finger out of your nose.” We didn’t want other families to notice as we had to pull his finger out of his nose a couple more times.
Then, even better, he starts to dig in his pants. “Ryder! What are you doing? Get your hands out of your pants,” I hissed.
But he starts howling, “Owww, my butt hurts.” Casting an embarrassed, apologetic smile at the other parents, I shush him and adjust his underwear. It doesn’t work. Then, as if that is not enough, he begins trying to fight me to get his hand back in his underwear and keeps yelling, “Oww, my buttcwack! It hurts! It hurts! Oww! Oww! My buttcwack!”
My face begins to get hot, as I can only imagine what others must be thinking. So I do my best to look like a normal, decent person, and say, “You must have wiped too hard or not well enough.” And I take him to the bathroom to remedy the situation.
When I come out, I feel like everyone’s eyes are on me because they now think that my child is a grimy, little, non-butt-wiper. And I begin to wonder if we have just a little more space in line. Hey, he did just wash his hands, and so did I. But I wouldn’t even want my kids near him right now if he wasn’t mine. So we resumed our waiting, feeling about two inches big. I would be rolling my eyes and raising my eyebrows at us right now.
We just get Ryder settled, and then I look down to see one of my older sons (who shall remain nameless!) squatting and fiddling with something in his pants. (Oh, yes, folks! It gets worse! How long is this wait?) Now, I knew that he just won some bouncy balls, and that they were in his pocket. But as he squatted there, with his hands outside of his pants and fiddling with them through the clothes, it didn’t look appropriate. We already had the nose picking and butt-digging episode. We didn’t need this mark against us, too. So I leaned down and discreetly began to whisper, “Honey, you need to stop doing that because it looks like . . .”
He, however, cuts me off and belts out in protest, “I’m just playing with my balls, MOM!” My shoulders slumped, my head dropped in shame! I was laughing hysterically, of course, but I wanted to crawl in a hole. But there was nowhere to go and it was pointless to try to defend myself again. And so I resumed avoiding eye-contact until the stinkin’ Hey ride finally pulled up.
These are the kinds of things that kids will do in front of other people. When I used to hear kids screaming in the store (before I had my own), I would think, What is wrong with the discipline in that house? Why can’t you control your child? Now I think, Thank God it isn’t mine right now. Poor mother!
It’s like there’s this big mud-pit called Motherhood. It’s a good mud-pit! But it’s deep and messy and slippery; full of embarrassing and humbling moments and endless tasks like meals, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, runny noses, dirty diapers, sticky fridges, sticky tables, sticky little faces, and piles and piles of unsolicited junk mail. (What a waste of trees!)
Before you have kids, you are standing at the top and looking down at all the tired, weary mothers trying to claw their ways out of their slippery messes. Some are continually trying to tidy up their little space in the mud-hole, looking like they have it all together. (Some actually do have it all together. God bless them!) Some are running around chasing little ones and can’t be bothered by the mud. Some have given up, laid down, and made their peace with the mud. And some are sifting through the mud looking for their marbles. You shake your head and “TSK-TSK” in pity as you make mental notes of all the ways you think they could do better. And you utter the infamous words, “When I have kids, I’m never going to . . .”
Then, one day, you welcome a screaming, little, blue or pink dictator into the world. And before you know it, the solid ground beneath your feet gives way, and you start sliding down a slippery, muddy slope into the pit with the rest of them - “the Mothers.” At first, you try to look cool and collected.
“Yeah, I don’t mind being down here. It’s just where I wanted to be. I can do all of this with ease and perfectly manicured nails, too. And I’m going to do it better than all the other mothers.” (And for the record, I’ve never had manicured nails. I’m more of a garden-dirt-under-my-fingernails kind of person.)
Now with one kid, you eventually find yourself thinking, Hmmm, It’s not quite as easy as I thought to keep up with everything. But it’s not that hard, either. Just a small adjustment. And, oh, is that a little mud under my polished pink fingernail? And you flick it away. It’s just a little bit.
Then you have two kids. With two kids, you begin finding mud in places you didn’t expect: on your elbows, in your hair, up to your knees. But every so often, you can get it cleaned off enough to look pretty well pulled-together. (At least when company’s coming over.) It’s not too long, though, until you notice spots of it again. “And I just cleaned it off!” But your hair still looks good.
But with three kids, (Oh, yes! Three! It sounds like such a small number, doesn’t it?) you find yourself and the children rolling around on the ground, covered head to toe in mud, as you claw at giant handfuls of brown slop, slinging them in any direction just to get your tiny spot in the mud-pit clean for a moment. “I just want to see it clean for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?” (Umm, yes! It is!)
But try as you might, you can’t get it clean because someone else is slinging slop back at you from their spot. So you desperately begin grasping at the walls, looking for a foothold to climb out to higher, cleaner ground. They give way! And you frantically throw your body up against them to fight the onslaught of mud that keeps pouring down the sides of the pit. And so it goes all day long!
And when you’ve pointlessly exhausted yourself, you give up and you slide down to the ground and sit there defeated in a pile of unfinished things. And as your eyes gloss over, you begin humming a wishful tune, something about everybody, everywhere, helping clean up, everybody doing their share.
And then you look up and you see someone standing at the edge of the pit high above you. She doesn’t have kids yet. And she’s looking down at you and your mud-hole with eyes full of judgment and pity. And you hear it: “TSK-TSK. When I have kids, I’ll never . . .”
And you want to stand up tall, brush back your matted hair with a filthy hand, stick out your defiant, sweat-streaked chin, and raise a mud-encrusted fist and yell, “Just wait until it happens to you! It’s not as easy as it looks! I’m trying! I’m really trying! And I know you can’t tell, but I’m actually doing a really good job!”
But you don’t. You just swallow your pride, keep on doing what you’re doing, and you wait for God to bless them with a little dictator of their own. And then when they slide down into the pit next to you and give you that bewildered, anxious, How-did-I-get-here look, you can put your arm around their exhausted shoulders, pat their back and say, “That’s okay. We all understand. We’ll all get through this together.” Ahh, motherhood! It really is a wonderful, wonderful adventure! (And for the record . . . I’ve always loved playing in the mud!)
I don’t always have it together. But I try. And I keep trying, hoping, and praying for the best. My house may be a wreck, and I can’t keep up with all the piles of laundry, papers, and dirty dishes. But my family is well-fed, hugged, loved, and enjoyed. Children won’t be young forever. I try to make sure that I don’t waste this precious time that I can never get back on what doesn’t really matter. (Just come look at my house and you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. On second thought, please don’t.)
[Oh, and one more piece of advice for the women out there who have given birth to children: Cross your legs when you sneeze!
And when you are listening to some music you enjoy, such as “Forever in Blue Jeans” by Neil Diamond or “Take a Chance on Me” by Abba, and your kids walk in and complain about it, saying that they want to turn it off or smash the radio because they hate that music and think it’s lame, don’t let the little buggers get away with it. Turn up the music and start singing along. And then hit repeat and do it again! They deserve it!]