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I had a moment last week where I totally broke down. After a day of irritability to the extreme — everyone and everything was making me cranky — I lay in my bed and sobbed until the tears ran dry. There really was no one reason for it; more of an accumulation of things from of a really hard, really long month. I just felt done.

Immediately after returning to school after winter break, Owen came down with a horrible cough. He would be unable to catch his breath and as a result, he would throw up. In the kitchen, on the couch, in his bed. It lasted a week, and despite my best efforts to sanitize every thing he touched/looked at, it wasn’t long before I started to feel run down. Without getting TOO whiny about it, my cold turned into a sinus infection that completely and totally put me out of commission. I’m not exaggerating when I say I would rather give birth than have a sinus infection. Especially when you can’t take any good drugs. At the height of it, I parented from the couch, moving only to put on another movie for the boys or go in search of some snacks for them. They ate pancakes for dinner twice in a row because the thought of getting up to make an actual meal was exhausting. Despite all the help he gave when he could, Michael had to work. No way around it. So it was just me and the kids and oh yeah, a polar vortex that kept us housebound and closed school more times than I could count. To say we were going stir crazy was an understatement. Ryan came down with his own version of the cold sometime in the middle of this. I’m really, truly done with kid snot. Really.

In total, at least one of us — mostly me — were sick for an entire month. It wasn’t until last week when I was finally able to take a strong breath, smell things and taste my food. It took a toll on us. As a mother, I felt like a failure. I was tired, grumpy, yelling. We did nothing fun. The boys fought and wrestled and yelled. Ryan climbed things and threw cars at his brother. Owen was defiant and pushed boundaries and yelled no all day long.

For a month, all I felt was guilt. I felt guilty when I sighed with relief after dropping Owen off at school, guilt for looking forward to nap time and bedtime like it was Christmas day. Guilt over the amount of television they were watching. (SO MUCH TV.) I felt guilty for not even smiling when Michael came in the door because I was just too burnt out. I was stretched thin and began to panic. If I feel this way now, how am I going to feel come June? Another baby, another little person with needs. That straw broke the camel’s back, and the tears came.

I woke up the following morning feeling better. Nothing was resolved, but it felt like a new day. A day where I could make a change. Now that I was healthy, it was time to work on my behavior and how I was relating to and dealing with the kids. The yelling, it needs to change. Look, I’m not naive. Sometimes I’m going to yell. Sometimes it will be warranted and hello, it’s part of life. But I don’t have to yell as much as I have been.

In my quest to Do Better, I stumbled across this post and it stopped me in my tracks. If you have a three-year old, you should look at that. Especially a three-and-a-half-year old. The behaviors listed are Owen to a tee right now, and made me feel SO much better. It’s not just him. It’s not just me. We’re all dealing with a crazy child at this age. Some of the less desirable traits (and don’t get me wrong, there’s some awesome stuff going on with him too. But, that’s now what this post is about. Ha!) that stood out to me were:

Three and a Half Years:

“Turbulent, troubled period of disequilibrium, the simples event or occasion can elicit total rebellion

New- found verbal ability “I’ll cut you in pieces!” and lots of whining

May refuse to do things a lot, or howl and scream, or say a lot of “I can’t” I won’t” kinds of things

Demanding, bossy, turbulent, troubled but mainly due to emotional insecurity

Mother-child relationship difficult but may also cling to mother

May refuse to take part in daily routine – may do better with almost anyone than Mother”

Oh yeah. That’s Owen right now. Throw in an equally strong willed 19-month old who is in a whiny stage, and you have a recipe for a crazy mother.

The follow-up piece to that post discussed dealing with those behaviors, and a big part of it was about how the parent handles it. I read this passage, teared up (of course), and the light bulb was turned on.

Which, of course, does not always mean that your child will “behave”.  Many attached parents feel like failures when their children hit three or so, as the child’s sense of self and an increased need for boundaries start to come out. As a parent, you cannot count it as a “good day” if your child doesn’t cry or melt-down or not have a temper tantrum… You can count it as a “good day” if you were calm, if you helped to de-escalate the situation, if you held it together. And even then, please be easy with yourself!  Living with small children can be challenging!  This is about the path your child is taking as he or she grows and becomes their own person, this is not about you versus them. – The Parenting Passageway 

So that’s where I stand today. I am determined to be a better mom. My poor little first pancake, Owen. I’m sorry I have to make the mistakes on you, buddy. You are blazing the parenting trail for me. Every day with you is something new and I want you to know I’m trying my best. Together we will make it through this crazy year — and all the crazy years that are to come. I love you, kiddo. So very much.

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I’ve come across mothers both in real life and across the Internet who, when talking about their children, simply melt into this giant puddle of starry-eyed goo. Their children are just so precious, just so amazing, just so awe-inspiring. They talk about their offspring much like a teenager does of a new crush. Those little angels can do no wrong.

It comes as no surprise to me, that these are the same women proclaiming they were meant to be a mom.

I was not “meant to be” a mom.

Now, let me clarify.

I love my children so forcefully that sometimes I think my heart my actually explode out of my body. There are times where I get lost staring into their big brown eyes, am dazzled by their intelligence, sweetness and laughter. The fact that I created them is not a small thing lost on me. In those moments, with all the pieces stacked neatly into place, it all comes easily and I know that I am fulfilling a really important role. In those moments, I’m sure I’m that woman gushing about my little sweetums. I mean, I adore those rascals.

There are also times when the day is endless. The kids are whiny and at each others throats. The toddler poops in the tub (while they’re both in it), the preschooler is drawing on my dining room table, and the house is a disaster. As they push each other down again and start screeching, I sometimes wonder, how is this my life?

I have to work at being a mom every single day. Some of it comes naturally. The love, for sure. But not all of it. Every day challenges me to do better, to BE better. I had wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember and even at the worst of times, I would never go back. But there was no divine intervention, no choosing of me to be a mother. It’s a job I chose and one I’m damn good at (most days), but still, not “meant to be”.

Maybe those Meant to Be moms really do have perfect lives with children who fall right into that picture. I think they’re just showing the world their best cards, but who knows. What I do know is that this morning, as I literally scooped poop out of my tub with my (glove covered!) hands, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that this was NOT what the mom brochure promised.

I don’t think there’s any shame with having to work at being a parent. I think the regular self-evaluation makes me a better one, actually. If you’re like me, you love being a mom. You LOVE your kids. You might have even uttered “meant to be” once or twice. I might have. Probably while my first born was itty bitty and sleeping on my chest. Maybe not when he was spitting up in my underwear.

Definitely not while the other one was pooping in the tub.

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Owning a dog means voluntarily setting yourself up for heartbreak. I mean that in the best possible way.

Kodiak is getting older. He’s nearly eight and a half. While he still has the energy of a puppy most of the time, he’s slowed down over the years; added a little more gray hairs to his chin. (The kids might have contributed to that a bit.) By all accounts, he is a healthy guy, but lately thoughts of the inevitable have been creeping into my head, and as much as a try to push them away, I can’t help but think about it.

People with children tend to roll their eyes at people who have no kids, but have a dog. You know the kind — the dog is their baby. Spoiled rotten, taken everywhere, talked about — and to — as if they could talk back. Jeez, those people, right?

Only, we were those people. Kodiak literally was the first baby and we treated him as such. While we swore it wouldn’t happen — as dog owners with kids do — the life he knew changed drastically once the babies came. Suddenly he had to wait, was underfoot, was no longer the center of attention. To his credit, Kodiak took it all in stride. He adapted to his new job as Fur Brother and loves those babies like they were his own pups.

But I know it’s not the same.

I spend a lot of the day shooing him out of the way of a crawling baby, or getting annoyed that he’s begging for food, or wanting to scream because there’s dog hair on the floor AGAIN. None of these things are his fault, but it’s easy to snap at him when life gets stressful. He won’t snap back. He never has.

Lately, though, I’ve realized that in not too distant future, relatively speaking, he won’t be here to snap at. And I know then that the guilt that tugs at me now will be multiplied over and over again. If only I had paid more attention, took him on a few more walks, let him bask for a few moments in his title of First Baby. When the time to say goodbye comes, I want to feel like I did right by him.

I told Michael I want to have a Kodiak Day. A day where he gets to go to all the places he loves (the beach!), gets a special meal just for him (cheeseburgers!). I know it sounds silly, but I want to do that for him.

This all sounds morbid, I know. We could have another 4+ years with him, and by god, I hope we do. And I’m going to try and use that time better than I have been. For him. For our Kodiak.

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Dear Owen,

Last week your Mema asked you where you came from, and you replied, all matter of fact, from my Mommy.

I sat there momentarily stunned by your answer. As the story goes, my first response to that question was from the moon, so the fact that you included me in your answer surprised me. As you approach your third birthday, the things you come up with are really starting to blow my mind. I think you’re too smart for your own good sometimes.

This is still a tough age behavior-wise. You continue to assert your independence and be willful and make me wish day drinking was acceptable. While some days it feels like all we do is deal with that side of you, there really is so much more to who you are right now.

Like how each day you become an even better big brother. You are a mini-mommy and will do anything in your power to make Ryan laugh. He adores you, Owen, he really does. I can only hope this is just the beginning of a magical lifelong relationship between you two. He has recently started calling you by name on occasion — “Oh-wa-wa”. Considering he hasn’t even said “Dada” yet (poor Daddy), I would say you hold quite the spot in his heart.

You have become a loud and rambunctious boy, which is a 180 from the quiet toddler you used to be. Watching you play with other kids, dance and tumble has been really fun. You love to color and play with Playdoh, play instruments (especially your mini piano and anything you can make into a drum) and sing. OH, do you love to sing. There is a song by a band called Mumford & Sons that you adore. Every day you make me put it on and sing “I WILL WAIT FOR YOUUUU!” at the top of your lungs while headbanging to their banjo playing. Don’t worry, I have it on video to embarrass you with for the rest of your life, though really, I think it’s adorable. You are LOUD, and like to zoom things, and slam things and jump on things and whoa, are you a boy or what?

You are really into words and letters right now. You’ve known your alphabet for as long as I can remember, but now you want to know which one begins each word. You like to practice the sounds they make and I can’t hide my pride each time you get one right. “La-la-la-LOVE. Love starts with ‘L’!”

You ARE a love, buddy. The sweetest boy. As your grow and change before my eyes, sometimes I have to remind myself that you’ve only been here for less than three years. You’re so big, but still little.

I love you through and through, Bug.

Love,

Mommy

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Every night before I go to bed, I check in on my babies. Owen is usually sprawled out on his back at some interesting angle, blanket askew, his “Mommy shirt”, an old t-shirt of mine he made his blankie, draped across him. I gently tuck him back in, occasionally removing his wedged feet from between the bed slats, brush his hair off his forehead, kiss him gently and tip toe out.

Next is the baby. I turn the light on in my bedroom across the hall so I will have just enough light to see him, but not enough for him to wake. He looks like the world’s sweetest little starfish zipped into his blanket. Ryan will have rotated to his right — he always does — and will have pressed his face against the one bumper I have in there. The one bumper I put back in because he kept waking himself up trying to snuggle himself into the crib rails. I have stopped stressing about him sleeping like that now, but I always pause just long enough to see the rise and fall of his chest.

It occurs to me that my children will never know I do these things. They might remember the story hours I took them to, the outings at the playground. They might one day remind me of the pictures we drew together or the songs we danced around the living room to. They will know I parented them all day every day, but the memories of the night will be mine alone.

At night I am transported both back in time, and towards the future. Ryan’s dewy skin and sleepy suckling are all baby, and Owen’s rosy cheeks remind me of when he was tiny. The other night, though, before my eyes adjusted to the dark, I caught a glimpse of who my little boy will become. In the dark, Owen’s sleeping profile was so strikingly similar to his father’s, I actually gasped.

Babies don’t keep, but these nights will. In my mind. In my heart. In the dark.

 

Going to the grocery store with a 2-year old and a seven-week old goes something like this:

  • Plan shopping around a time there will be a good chance the baby will sleep. Change his diaper, nurse him up good and buckle him into his car seat. Brace myself for the “how dare you put me in this seat” screaming that will start almost immediately. Yup, there it is.
  • With baby in seat, chase toddler down and put on his shoes. Carry him downstairs and into the garage and buckle him into his car seat. Go back upstairs and retrieve El Screamo. Bring him downstairs and snap his seat into the car seat base. He stops screaming as I begin to back out of the garage. Hope he falls asleep…and stays asleep.
  • Arrive at grocery store. Circle lot until I find a spot as close as I can to the cart return.
  • Get cart. Bring it to car.
  • Strap on the Bjorn carrier. Unbuckle toddler, pry whatever truck he managed to smuggle out of the house out of his hands and buckle him into shopping cart. Wheel him around to other side of the car to retrieve baby, who hopefully is still sleeping and hasn’t now begun “how dare you remove me from this seat” screaming.
  • Unbuckle baby from car seat. Buckle baby into Bjorn.
  • Shop. Get stopped by various elderly people who say nice things about my children, but tend to hold me hostage in the produce department while the baby starts to headbutt my clavicle.
  • Finish shopping, begin checkout. Chat with cashier about how quickly the baby is growing, while trying to bend down into the cart without smashing his head into anything. Field questions from toddler about the name of every single person who passes. “I don’t know everyone’s name, buddy.”
  • Return to car with full cart. Open windows because I’m paranoid of accidentally locking the kids inside. Take baby, who has fallen asleep, out of the carrier and put him back in the car seat. Put groceries in cart. Put toddler back in his car seat. Bring cart to the cart return I purposely parked near.
  • Drive home. Open windows again, this time less out of paranoia, and more so I can talk to Owen as I unload the car. Bring groceries up the stairs (the only downside of our raised ranch-style house is the two sets of stairs from the garage with groceries and kids. At least it’s exercise?), come back and bring the baby in the car seat into the house. Deposit him in the living room and hope he stays sleeping for the next 10 minutes. Go back down and bring Owen into the house.
  • Unload groceries with Owen. If I’m lucky, Ryan remains sleeping and doesn’t start screaming to get out of his seat. It’s about 50/50 here.

Annnd scene. I’m tired just writing that.

This past weekend I went grocery shopping entirely alone. It was like a freaking vacation.

The day before my due date I was terribly crabby. No, scratch that. I was downright bitchy. Nothing could make me happy, I didn’t want to do anything and I was done, done, DONE with being pregnant. That morning Owen and I met some friends for coffee and when they asked if I was having any symptoms of labor, I regretfully said no. Nothing! After coffee, Owen and I went grocery shopping. I figured the baby had to come at SOME POINT during the week, so I should probably make sure I had some food in the house. After no less than three cashiers made comments about me still “not popping”, I decided we were done running errands.

Later that afternoon we went out on the boat. We had been out on it almost every day that week, and every time I told Michael to really hit the bumps hard. Bounce this baby out! The bouncing didn’t do anything, but we had a nice afternoon — our last as a family of three. I made spicy burritos for dinner as one last ditch effort for the day, and put Owen to bed. By 10 p.m. I was still grumpy and figured I might as well just go to bed. I read a magazine for a bit and at 10:45, right before I closed my eyes I said out loud, “Baby, you are coming out tomorrow. Understand? Good.”

Thirty seconds later my water broke.

With no contractions to speak of, I went to the living room, shared the news with Michael, called my family and told them to hit the road, and started getting things together.

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Last belly picture — one hour before being 40 weeks pregnant — baby time!

When we were ready to leave for the hospital, I tiptoed into Owen’s room, snuggled the blankets around him and kissed him goodbye. He didn’t wake, but mumbled a little in his sleep. I was overcome with emotion then, and had to leave the room before my tears woke him. I came out wiping my eyes and Michael gave me a big hug and assured me that Owen was going to be just fine. (Spoiler: he is!)

My mother-in-law arrived soon after, and as I was now having contractions about 5 to 7 minutes apart, we headed out. We checked in around 12:30, in the same room I delivered Owen in. I told the nurse I was maybe interested in using the labor tub, and she was all for it. Whatever you want to do, she said. I figured I would play it by ear. At this point, the contractions were, well, contractions, but they were pretty manageable. They began to set me up for the IV, and this is where things went a little wonky. I HATED the IV last time. Worst part of having a baby. I told them as much as since it was hospital policy I have one, I asked if they could at least put it in a different spot than last time (it had been right below my thumb near the wrist). Their first attempt this time was in my forearm, but it wasn’t taking. As the woman continued to jab me — and talk about how it wasn’t working — I began to get lightheaded. REALLY lightheaded.

Before I knew it, I had an oxygen mask on my face and the nurse was saying something about my blood pressure being sixty over thirty, and I don’t know much about blood pressure, but I know that is not normal. Baby wasn’t in distress, though, so long story short, in a little bit I was fine and they put the IV in the back of my hand. Wish they had just done that the first time.

The clock ticked into the one o’clock hour and as the contractions got stronger, I reflected back on Owen’s birth which was 16 hours start to finish. I’d only been in labor for just over two hours at this point and hadn’t yet slept. This was going to be a long night, I thought. I think I’d like to get some sleep. Right then and there I changed my mind about the tub and asked for the epidural and not long afterwards, I was comfortably resting.

My mom and sister arrived and since the maternity floor was empty, the nurses set them up with some beds in an empty room so they could sleep. I didn’t get much sleep, though, because the nurses kept bothering me. Every so often they would come in and roll me over, move the fetal heart monitor or check something or another. As it turns out, my contractions started getting further apart instead of closer together, and when they reached 10 minutes apart, the OB came to check me. I had gone from 2 cm at check in to about 6 cm, and they discovered that I had a second small bag of water (I didn’t know that could happen) that was still intact and was acting like a little pillow for baby’s head, slowing dilation. I asked him if he could break that bag and he said yes. As soon as he did, I felt TONS of pressure and when he checked me again not even 15 minutes later, I was 10 cm.

I told the nurse I felt like I could push, so they asked me to do a “practice” push before they woke up my family. Michael stood by me, I gave a push and they all said to stop. Baby was coming!

My mom and sister came in, everyone gathered around and I started to push. Unlike with Owen’s birth where it took a while for me to feel the urge to push and I pushed for an hour, this time it was immediate. The nurse laughed that this would be quick, then told me NOT to push for a minute (I don’t know what the reason was, but ah! agony!) I panted trying to fight the urge until finally I was all, “Um, I’m pushing…I have to push. I’m going to push RIGHT NOW!” and I heard Michael say “SHE’S PUSHING!”

And just like that, Ryan Mason literally tumbled into the world. Six hours start to finish, nine minutes of pushing. (And no tear this time, thank god!)

Owen arrived a few hours later and cuteness and sweetness filled the room. He was so excited and proud to meet his baby. We stayed the full two days. I could have left earlier, but I liked the short time of relative quiet where I could bond with Ryan. And then we headed home, our family of four.

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Life is good. It’s tiring and chaotic and sweet and wonderful. I am so lucky.

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(Ryan says “woe is me”. Life on the outside, man. Crazy.)

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