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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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Dear Ryan,

I’m sitting down to write this two weeks after your birthday. Such is the plight of the second child, I’m afraid. I’ve been composing it in my head for much longer, though. One year…just like that.

The first things people comment on when they meet you is your hair, and your happiness. Both are pretty remarkable.

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Your hair is starting to get a little too long in the back and is threatening to become a mullet if I don’t do something about it soon, but the thought of cutting it makes me sad. I’m going to wait it out a little longer until it becomes a vision hazard.

And your happiness? Oh, Ryan. You are just the happiest. You are always smiling. Always! You flirt and laugh and give giant, wet, open-mouth kisses. You have pride in your accomplishments and give yourself a round of applause when you do something well, all while shrieking “Yay!!” Sometimes I find you laughing while flipping through a book or crashing a car because, life! It’s a blast!

Your nickname around here is “Trouble”, and it suits you. You are into everything, so very scrappy, and are already proving to be my wild child. One of your favorite “scare Mama” tricks is to push your giant stuffed lion next to Owen’s closet, climb on top of it and pull on the net of his basketball hoop. Can you at least put a helmet on if you’re going to do that? Over the past two weeks you went from taking your first step, to standing from the floor on your own, to basically walking around the house like you own the place. I forgot how startling it can be to have a small person round the corner doing his best Frankenstein impression when you’re not expecting it. I think Kodiak forgot, too, because you’ve startled him a few times.

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I’m hoping once you are fully comfortable with walking that your sleep will go back to normal. And by normal, I mean you used to just sleep all the time. Naps were done in minutes without a fight, bedtime was easy and essentially through the night. As you’ve been working on this skill (and working on adding to your four teeth, I suspect) though, you’ve been up a few times at night, wanting to nurse constantly and have been royally fighting your afternoon nap. I would really, really like to go back to you sleeping. Really. Trust me, we are all happier when everyone sleeps. I will say that you always tell me when you’re ready to sleep. When you’re tired you cry “nigh, nigh, nigh!” until we put you down for night night. Never stop that, ok? It’s adorable.

You are a talker, mister. You are constantly babbling to yourself or anyone who will listen. Your consistent words include: mama, dada, wawa (Owen), dog, book, ball, bear, dat (that), yay, bah (cup), nuh (nurse), night night, hi, uh oh, rum rum (which isn’t really a word, but the sound you make when you drive toy cars around), and believe it or not, dinosaur. It comes out as “dye-dye-dye”, but you only say it when you’re playing with and showing me toy dinosaurs so I know that’s what you mean. What a funny thing to add to your vocabulary. You smack your lips together when you want to eat and always use the signs for more, all done, milk, and have created your own for lovey, which is you touching your mouth with your open hand just like you press your lovey to your face. (SO CUTE.)

Speaking of your lovey, you are totally attached to it. It’s a white lovey with a sheep head that was gifted to your brother when he was a baby. Owen never took any interest in it, but you clutch it to you while you sleep and like to carry it around when you first wake up. It’s slowly going from white to…not so white, despite washing it. I guess it’s just well-loved.

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Owen continues to be your ultimate buddy and it’s clear you already idolize him. If he does it, you need to do it too, and that means imitating him in every possible way. You need to drink from big boy cups, and play with big boy toys, and eat big boy food (you did purees for maybe a minute around six months. Then it was “give me what he’s got”, basically.) (Oh yeah, you eat everything. Every. Thing. And if there isn’t food on your tray mere seconds after I put you in the high chair you shriek!) He loves you to infinity and beyond, even though he’s become very territorial about his toys. I don’t think he was quite prepared for all that sharing. The joy in both of your eyes when you play or spontaneously hug, or the peals of laughter from both of you in the back seat makes me know we’re all doing something right, though.

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See what happened, Ry Ry? I finally got to writing about you and now I can’t stop. There is just so much to tell.

I will stop, though. For today. Happy first (and two weeks) birthday, my not-so-little Little. Thank you for the joy you bring me constantly.

I love you through and through.

Love,

Mama

 

There’s a family member who likes to tell me my children don’t look like me. This might be true for Ryan, but there is no question with Owen. Owen has my eyes.

He’s also just like me. He’s cautious and sensitive. He can cry at the drop of a hat and he’s not one to jump into new situations easily.

Last week he started swim lessons. Knowing how to swim isn’t negotiable, especially living where we do. We talked it up the week before and told him how much he would learn; how fun it would be. We picked out his bathing suit and special towel and packed them all up ready to go. The night before his first lesson, as we lay in bed getting ready for the night, he turned to me and whispered, I’m a little nervous.

The first class started out exactly as I would have expected it to. Faced with the realization that he was expected to climb into the pool — the great unknown — and climb in without me, Owen burst into tears. He looked up at me with a mix of panic and sadness, waiting for me to rescue him from the instructor slowly guiding him to the platform. I knew this would happen, and I knew I had to let him go. Logically, I understood he had to get over the fear to start benefiting from the class, but my heart hurt.

By the middle of the lesson, he was doing great. Cautious and reserved, yes, but trying. And doing! I was so proud of him. The whole way home we talked about the class and how much fun it would be to go the rest of the week. And it was fun. He did great all week long and the growth both in skill and confidence was abundantly clear. We signed him up for the following week.

Yesterday was the start of week two, and the first day with an new instructor. This teacher is a whole different ball game, in a good way. Owen was immediately forced out of his new comfort and challenged to try more. This morning he hopped in the pool (alone!) and gave me a thumbs up and a big smile. Moments later the instructor dunked him under and he emerged in tears. Here we go again, I thought to myself. As the class move forward, I could tell he was feeling stressed, despite the teacher’s encouragement and wonderful soothing. The other three children in the class were clearly more comfortable — kicking around alone on their floaty dumbbells while Owen clung to his and the instructor’s hand at the same time. At one point, he scanned the room until he found me and when we locked eyes, I felt everything.

I know exactly what he was feeling right then because he is just like me. I can still remember the same fear and the same feeling of being unable to hold back tears, even when you desperately want to. Sometimes my emotions still get the best of me over little things, even when I don’t want my own tears to fall.

I did the only thing I could do, and gave him my own thumbs up and big smile. You’re doing it, buddy. You’re doing great.

The instructor lived up to her praise and at one point during a clear panicky moment, she made him laugh and kissed his forehead. Even from across the pool I could see him relax and, unsurprisingly, my eyes welled up. By the end of the lesson he was all smiles again, and as I dried him off I thanked her profusely. She modestly brushed it off, but I don’t think she understood how much I was thanking her for.

As I buckled him into the car seat, Owen looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I was scared at my swim lesson today, but I did a good job!”

I’ve never seen myself reflected quite as clearly as I did in that moment, looking into my child’s eyes. Eyes that look just like mine.

“You did an amazing job, Owen. I’m so very proud of you.”

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Yesterday I spent the day in Massachusetts at my friend’s bridal shower. It was lovely to leave the mommy world for an afternoon and spend some time with some girlfriends and some mimosas. I was gone seven hours — the longest I’ve been apart from Ryan to date — and as much as I love my boys, I’ll admit that I didn’t miss them all that much. Mama needed a break. And enjoyed eating two (TWO!) cupcakes without having to share.

Practically everyone at the shower was wearing either blue, stripes, or a combination of the two, so I fit right in wearing a navy and white striped maxi dress which I bought a few days before at — well let’s just go ahead and get it out in the open. I bought the dress at Wet Seal. The store is across from the bookstore I was buying the shower gift in and I figured I would pop across the way and see if they had any cute inexpensive jewelry. They didn’t, but they did have the dress all cute and cheap at $16, and so I bought it. Thirty years old shopping at Wet Seal. Ahem.

Anyway, while I was at the party, the bride’s sister came up to me (Hi, Ronnie!) and was all, would you update your blog already? She told me she checks daily to see if I’ve written, and since I’ve gone so long in between posts lately, I basically figured no one was reading anyway. It was nice to hear at least one person was, so it kicked my butt into gear.

I’ve just had a touch of the Blog-itis lately. Life is happening — and quickly — and I just haven’t been able to put it down in words. Ryan is nine months going on, oh, who knows. The kid just wants to be big. He’s all over the house. Mostly backwards crawling and some sort of unofficial frontwards army crawl. It’s not what I would call traditionally crawling, but it does the job. When he’s not doing that, he wants to stand, stand, stand, and has started to cruise the furniture ever so slowly. Yesterday he took my cheeseburger right off my plate and ate it. It’s probably second-time-around parenting, because I never would have let Owen do that, but I barely even blinked. Instead, I broke some up into tiny pieces and let him have at it.

Owen is almost three and he’s busy, and loud, and smart, and sassy, and infuriating, and fresh, and amazing, and awesome. Looking at pictures from even just six months ago makes my heart ache a little because he has changed so quickly. He thought I looked “sooooo beautiful” in my Wet Seal dress, though, so that’s pretty cool.

Me? I’ve been getting into photography lately and have really enjoyed photographing my friends’ children along with my own. It’s become a fun hobby for me and one that gives me an outlet beyond the daily stuff.

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Ryan and my dad

The other day I uttered the words, why is the baby under the ottoman covered in poop?

That’s life, y’all.

I blame it on that smell.

It lingers in the fold of his neck, grazing his cheek and wafting up towards me as I nuzzle into him. It’s not the newborn smell anymore, the smell I could never quite pinpoint the origin 0f (though I swear it came from his eyes), but the smell of baby. Sweet, pink, baby smell.

My baby fever is returning. I wasn’t expecting it so soon, but it here it is knocking at the door. It surprises me, this pull towards another baby, because I couldn’t even begin to imagine another so soon after Owen. It wasn’t until he was a year old that I even started to consider it seriously.

Ryan will be eight months in just a few days and I can’t believe he is that much closer to turning one. Maybe it’s because he’s my second and there is so much more going on, but I feel like his first year of life is hurtling by me at top speed. He spoke his first word — “mama” (be still my heart). Yesterday he was thisclose to getting up on his knees, prevented only by one chubby leg getting stuck. It’s all just happening so quickly.

A few months ago I found myself in the “two week wait”, wondering if a positive pregnancy test would be at the end. It wasn’t planned — I felt it was too soon. I wasn’t ready, not at all. While I worried about taking away from Ryan’s babyhood, about throwing yet another baby on Owen, about my milk supply drying up from pregnancy before Ryan was even a year…Michael calmly and happily said another baby wouldn’t be such a bad thing. The more we talked about it, the more I began to think maybe he was right.

As it turns out, I wasn’t pregnant. As I stared at a single pink line on the stick I felt relief, and just enough disappointment to know that our family isn’t full yet.

Something has shifted in the last few weeks. As I watch my boys double over in giggles while they play with each other, my heart swells and whispers to my head, another baby.

It would be a lot, sure. A lot, a lot. I’m tired now, you know? I just got back to my happy weight. I’m still nursing. I just got one out of diapers. There are enough reasons to rationalize it’s too soon, and yet I feel myself starting to ache for the time to be now.

My body, as it turns out, is in control. I didn’t ovulate for 14 months after Owen, and while it appeared I was trying to a few months ago, I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet as my cycles haven’t returned. Because of that, I might be longing for #3 for quite awhile.

Don’t get me wrong, my boys — OH, my boys. I don’t want another baby to replace the two who are growing so quickly. I want another baby because I’ve tasted how delicious this time is and I want more of it.

It’s really the smell’s fault. If only the baby didn’t smell so good.

Although, sometimes the baby smells like yogurt…

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When I lost my job in public relations it felt awful. I left a job and people I loved in the not-for-profit world for one in consumer electronics because I thought it would advance me in my career. It was close to home and paid much more than I was making, and so, after much back and forth, I took it.

The problem was, I wasn’t very good at the new job. The passion I held for the museum I left could not be replicated in the consumer world. I felt timid and confused and spent a better part of a year hoping to not be put on the spot, afraid it would reveal the truth.

Despite all that, getting fired was terrible. Although a part of me felt relief that I could just go, I still felt awful about my performance. It wasn’t the right job for me, but it was still my job. I should have worked harder. Done better.

My current gig is one I am passionate about. Being a mother brings me both joy and a sense of accomplishment. I’m good at this job, most of the time.

Lately, though, I feel like I’m slipping into the failing zone, and while no one can hand me a pink slip, I’m still aware I need to do better.

Two and a half is a challenging age. Owen argues with me, is defiant and fresh. He refuses to nap, pushes boundaries and tells me “no” all day long. At 6 months, Ryan is a happy little thing, until he’s not. Lately I spend my days more frustrated than happy. I feel burdened and unappreciated by my two small people. I am grumpy and annoyed easily and on top of that, I yell.

I could hear myself yelling more than I should, but when Owen called me out on it, I knew it had to stop. After getting out of bed AGAIN to go potty (he knows he can get out of bed for that), I snapped that it was ENOUGH.

“Why are you yelling at me, Mommy?” He asked.

“I’m not, bud,” I said, backtracking.

“Well, you were…”

Ouch.

I’m afraid that I’m so caught up in the endless minutiae of the every day, that I am missing the good stuff. I don’t want to miss a funny quote or a big cheesy grin because I’m mad that I tripped over a stray toy for the 10th time. I don’t want my kids to remember me as a grumpy mommy who yelled over nothing. I want my words and tone to mean something.

I don’t like the mother I’ve been lately, but unlike my previous job, I’m going to do something about it. I need to take a deep breath, calm my blood pressure and start a new. One day my house will stay clean and no one will be fighting me over a nap, but that also means my babies will have left the nest. I need to focus more on the now and appreciate this time while they are still little.

And so, I have an opportunity to change the way things are. This time I can, I WILL, do better.

At least you can have an occasional drink at this job.

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(He’s laughing at me. I lose.)

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