My Daughter and the Gospel

Today was a full blown “toddler day”—full of ALL the negative behaviors you would associate with toddlers (with a bonus naptime boycott)!

Normally on days like this, I’d throw in the towel on going anywhere else by about 3 pm, but we were almost out of R’s formula and a number of other household necessities, so I reluctantly piled the girls in the car and settled in for a questionable experience.

As I drove, I told God that my day had felt purposeless, boring, and defeating, but affirmed that I KNEW He had purpose for me in spite of my feelings, and asked to experience His presence during my trip to Target.

I got out of the car to see that Zoe had dumped an entire container of Puffs on herself and the backseat, and mashed them up for good measure.

I opened the car door, looked at her disheveled appearance and the crumbs everywhere, sighed heavily, and said “you are a MESS.”

And that sweet little girl smiled at me, opened her mouth, and sang,

“I couldn’t run, couldn’t run from His presence, I couldn’t run couldn’t run from His arms…Jesus, He loves me. He loves me, He is for me.”

My frustration melted and I smiled back as I remembered that God saw me at my absolute messiest, most frustrated, most defiant, worst self and didn’t just tolerate me. He LOVED me.  And I was covered with much worse than Puffs!

I looked into her beautiful eyes and told her I loved her too, and thanked her for loving ME when I’m messy too.  And I thanked God for showing me His presence, right there in the Target parking lot.

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I know that my husband is a preacher, and yes, he is eloquent, but I think the gospel is most amazing when it comes out of the mouth of our 2 year old.

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What “Parenting First” Should Look Like

I’ve heard a lot of buzz this week about this Similac ad.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad caricatures our culture’s “mommy wars” by depicting parents making snide comments about others’ parenting choices at a playground.

“Oh look, the breast police have arrived,” says a bottle-feeding mom.

“One hundred percent breast-fed, straight from the source,” another mom says.

“Water birth…dolphin assisted,” a woman proudly volunteers.

The parents wind up getting so agitated over their differences that a physical fight almost breaks out— until a child is in danger and all of the parents race to try to rescue the child! As the cloying music crescendos, Similac reminds you: “no matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”

Judging from the conversations I’ve had and observed on social media this week, it seems like most moms that I know relate to this ad.

Adoption gives you a different perspective.

Breastfeeding or formula feeding? I had no choice in how to feed my daughters, so it’s not an emotionally charged issue for me.

All natural childbirth, water birth, Bradley method, elective C-section? My birth plan was “show up at hospital, leave with baby,” so again, not really something I’m particularly invested in.

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How should you eat/drink during pregnancy? I sat down and ate with my daughters’ birth moms a few weeks before my daughters were born, and they washed down their lunch meat with soda.  My daughters are fine.  I’m not saying that the dietary recommendations for pregnancy have no merit, but honestly, I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to your decisions.  I’ve learned not to.

Working mom or SAHM? If you’ve put in the time and money to adopt, you may want nothing more to stay home and pour into that child you’ve been waiting for.  You may need to go back to work because you just spent a year’s salary making that child part of your family.  Or you may need to stay home because your child’s traumatic history means that it’s best for them that you stay home and focus on bonding and/or assimilating them to a new language. Whatever your choice, I’m sure that you have based your decision on what is best for your whole family, just as a biological parent should, so no judgment here.

Do you feed your child all-organic foods?  My daughters were placed with our family in part so that they could have ENOUGH food.  I can’t imagine the humility and sacrifice it took to make that decision.  My kids’ birthparents are seriously my heroes, and we’re theirs, because we’ve partnered to make sure that our children have the best life possible.  Feed your child whatever you want, and be thankful that you have the ability to feed them.

I hate this ad—not just because I can’t relate to it, but because it critiques the “mommy wars” without elevating the conversation.  Sure, it clearly tapped into a nerve and went viral, but what does it actually contribute? The strongest “call to action” is to “stop judging and feeling guilty (and hey, buy our formula!)”

To me, a more share-worthy message would be, “hey parents, y’all clearly have a lot of passion and energy, and care that kids’ needs are being met.  That’s great! Now let’s channel that energy towards issues THAT ACTUALLY MATTER, like ending food insecurity among kids in your community, giving homes to the 101,666 children in the foster care system in the U.S. who are eligible for adoption, mentoring at-risk youth alongside your own kids, or supporting organizations who are fighting sex trafficking of minors.”

As Kristen Howerton said, “all of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me…let’s stop quibbling about what competent mothers are choosing for their kids, and step it up for the kids that don’t have one.”

Let’s debate the best ways to help others—not these relatively innocuous choices.  Let’s care about others in our community—not about how others feel about our parenting style.  Let’s stand with others in our community—not on our own positions.

We are parents first.

Two Under Two: My Tips

My first post in this two-part series focused on the pros and cons of having two kids under two. In this post, I’ll share the practical tips and perspectives that I have learned along the way.

Here we go!

Experiment with naptime and see what you can get away with. 

-If at ALL possible, try to schedule their days so that you get at least a little bit of naptime overlap.  For the first 5 months of her life, Riley could only stay awake for about 2 hours at a time.  Zoe typically naps for about 1.5-2 hours.  I realized early on that I could usually get at least a little overlap if I did some calculating, then pushed Zoe a little bit later or put her to sleep a little early based on when I expected Riley to be asleep.  For a while, I got about an hour of overlap most days, which was glorious (especially since I used that time to work on grants, grading, etc).   That being said…

Remember that routines don’t last long with this phase of life.  Case in point: right now, my girls are on completely opposing schedules.  Thankfully, I had anticipated that this might happen and had increased my childcare hours to compensate for the missed “naptime” work time, so I’m not stressed if their naps don’t line up (just exhausted! Ha!)

As possible, utilize on-the-go napping.  For the first 4.5 months, Riley napped beautifully on the go.  I usually gave her one nap on the go in the Ergo or stroller in the morning while I did an activity with Zoe, one great nap at home, and then one cat nap (often in the stroller or Ergo again) while we roamed the neighborhood or played outside. It seemed to work fine for that phase where she could “tune out” easily.  Now, however, she seems to be needing two good naps at home.  This brings me to my next point.

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Set your house up for success.

-Riley seems to be needing more at-home nap time, which makes it harder to go to the park, enriching classes, museums, and zoo as much as Zoe and I used to.  In response, I have made our house and yard a bit more “fun” than they used to be.  Two examples:

1) We can’t always go to the park, so I brought the park to Zoe! We have a sandbox, slides, little car, small playhouse, t-ball set, toddler basketball goal, and a water table.  It sounds like a lot, but our yard is relatively large and all of these items were hand-me-downs, gifts, curbside freebies, or consignment store deals.  We also have fun with bubbles, “painting with water” on the sidewalk, collecting pine cones, watching cars/trucks go by, waving to airplanes, sidewalk chalk, kicking a ball around, chasing lizards, and throwing berries to the squirrels—all this while Riley sleeps feet away inside (I usually prop the screen door open, but a monitor would also work).

 2) I also beefed up our craft closet.  Crafts are great because you can strap the toddler into his/her high chair to do them…meaning, he/she is restrained! This is a great activity to pull out for the toddler when you need to feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep.  I usually plan a few crafts a week (Pinterest is a great resource, but so are parenting books or my imagination) and I have enough “general” craft supplies that we can be creative (paints, crayons, Dot-dots, stickers, different types of paper, foam sheets, etc).

-Create a place for your baby in every room of the house.  You never know when you will need to put the baby down to hastily attend to a toddler.  Don’t complicate things by having to scramble for a safe spot for the baby!  Rugs, blanket, Exersaucer, swing, vibrating chair, foam mats—screw your decorating scheme and make it look like a toddler and a baby threw up all over your house (chances are good that they literally will anyway).

As possible, have friends come to your house for playtime.  I am so thankful for the friends who have visited us over the last 5.5 months.  It is way easier for us to host a playdate than to travel to visitors or a meeting spot, and it is easier to meet Riley’s sleep needs when friends visit us here.  We still leave our house most mornings, but since it takes two hours to get everybody fed, dressed, and out the door, any morning where we can cut the “out the door” part is greatly appreciated.

Additionally, friends with older kids are such an asset.  You can chat with them while holding your baby and their older kids can play with your toddler! PRICELESS!

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Set priorities, and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make them happen. 

-One of my priorities is that my family eats healthfully.  To get there with two kids, I have had to use some shortcuts…and I’m totally okay with it.

I used to never used to buy steam-in-the-microwave potatoes, pre-chopped onions, pre-cut squash, frozen brown rice, and other prepared foods like these until I had two kids under two and realized: I’m the person they make this stuff for.  Prepared food and cooking shortcuts can make the difference between “PB&J with a side of resentment for dinner” and “a healthy, balanced dinner.”  This season is ridiculously intense.  If you can remotely afford it, buy the stuff that makes it easiest for you.

Similarly, don’t stress if your meals are basic and often repeated.  This stage of life isn’t forever; everyone will survive if you serve the same 10-15 meals over and over again.  If it can be cooked in that tiny window before everyone melts down and it’s healthy, you’ve found a winner and should probably make it next week too.

Finally, have a take-out option ready for those nights when it is just. not. happening.  I am not a take-out gal, but there are times when the options are me dissolving into a puddle of tears before feeding everyone popcorn, and ordering takeout.  In those situations, to be in line with my priority, I pick take-out.

-Another priority? Personal hygiene.  To accomplish this, Zoe hops in the shower with her dad in the morning and I bathe Riley in the kitchen sink while Zoe eats breakfast nearby.  Are they missing out on the joy of fun bath time? Possibly, but they get clean in a way that works with our schedules.  Similarly, I shower at night once the kids are in bed.  Is that my preference? Does going to bed with a wet head produce a great hairstyle? Nope, but it gets me clean while everyone else stays safe.  The end result matters most in this case. 

Be realistic.  Reduce your expectations. 

-That sounds depressing, but if you expect to be able to have the same life that you had with one child, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s going to be different.  You won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’re used to or be as comfortable with your day-to-day life as you’re used to, at least for a while.  BUT…you have a whole new person in your family and they’ll be with you forever.  That is cool!  Try to savor it.

It has helped me to think of this as a new job.  You never feel comfortable or competent at the beginning of a new job, but eventually, you get in the swing of things and start to feel more capable.  Now, the difference between that scenario and this one is that you can’t quit, and you’re not paid, and there are horrible working conditions and no worker’s comp for your injuries…actually, this sounds awful, and if I am completely honest: sometimes it IS awful.  But when you begin to accept the crazy and unpredictable mess that is your daily life instead of resisting and complaining about it, you will feel peace and will be able to find joy and purpose knowing that you have the privilege of transforming babies into humans who will contribute to the world in amazing ways.  It’s an incredible gift. This blog post has a great perspective that has really helped me.

Also, there are hilarious moments.  Allow yourself to enjoy them.
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If someone offers help and it would actually be helpful, take it.  That’s something I’m really working on…that if someone says “I’d love to come to your house and watch one of the girls so you can get some one-on-one time,” or “can I hold Riley so you can chase Zoe?” or “do you want me to watch the girls so you can go to the grocery store?” or “I made extra soup.  Want some?” and it would actually be helpful, and I trust them to help me well…to say yes.  My default is “no thank you, I’m self-sufficient,” but honestly, it often serves my family better if  I can swallow my pride, drop my sense of control, and accept the help.  This leads me to my next point.

-Find a good sitter that you trust.  Regularly use him/her for date nights, time alone with one of your kids, time alone in your house (this is what my work time is for me!) or time alone out of your house.  There may be people out there who can live the two-under-two life 24/7 without sinking into a deep depression or wanting to kill someone, but I am not one of them.  Having a few hours a week where I am not responsible for the care and well-being of two completely dependent children has been absolutely critical to my sanity.  A giant thank you to all those who have watched my children.  You are the reason I can be a good parent the rest of the time.

You might have been a no-TV mom with one kid, but you’re about to meet your best friend: TV.  I use TV 15-20 minutes a day with Zoe, usually around 11:30 pm.  During that time, I feed Riley a bottle while checking my email, and prepare our lunches.  Without that 20 minutes, I give Riley stomach issues from chasing Zoe around the house while yanking a bottle in and out of her mouth, may go until 5 pm without connecting with the outside world, and eat pretzel Goldfish for lunch (if I even eat lunch).  It helps.

Both kids don’t have to be happy at all times.  This was a hard mindset for me to accept at first, but sometimes, you’re doing your best and both kids are crying anyway.  In those moments, take a deep breath, identify the most important priority, and meet it.  Sometimes, the baby needs her bottle and the toddler will just have to have a meltdown in the corner.  Sometimes, the toddler needs some love and the baby will need to cry for a few minutes in her crib.  Sometimes, you need some exercise and your kids will have to cry in the stroller for a few minutes so you can stretch your legs and shake off the stir-craziness.

Take care of yourself.

-One of my biggest paradigm shifts ever happened when Riley was 4 months old, and I realized: I don’t just have to meet TWO people’s needs during the course of the day.  I need to meet THREE people’s needs.  In other words, my needs count too.   I typically work a 13-15 hour day with these children.  Sometimes they nap together; often they do not (and nap time is often work time anyway).  It is unrealistic to expect that I will have no needs during that time frame, or to expect that I can meet all of my needs during that 2-3 hour window after they go to sleep when I am exhausted and resetting the house for the next day.

Thus, I realized that I HAVE to make certain things happen for myself: showering, exercising, eating, and occasional socialization.  Without these things, I end up feeling like a caged animal.  And caged animals lash out.

-Make the things you enjoy most happen, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.  I sometimes put on workout DVDs and do the workout until someone melts down.  Even if I got 7 minutes in, it felt nice.  I order two books a month from Amazon (because going to the library to search for a book myself is not happening,) and I read them when I cook, wash bottles, feed bottles, and brush my teeth.  I listen to podcasts and sermons while playing with Riley.  I occasionally talk on FaceTime or the phone until someone begins to act out.  I have written this blog post in short increments over 1.5 week, and although I would like to have sat down and typed it out in one relaxing writing session, that’s not my life stage right now.

-Accept your feelings without judgment.  At the beginning, I was too busy keeping everyone alive to acknowledge my feelings.  Then when I acknowledged them, some of them scared me. Why wasn’t I grateful for every second of my time with my kids? A conversation with a mom of triplets in which she told me that babysitting my kids for two hours had been (insert significant look) “a LOT” reminded me that oh, maybe because I am freaking EXHAUSTED, and this is HARD, and it’s okay to feel that way. If you’re reading this blog and find yourself identifying with this point, let me just give you a gentle reminder that your feelings are okay, and that they don’t make you a bad mom.

Free yourself—as much as possible—to enjoy the good stuff. 

My house has not been deep cleaned in a month.  And I don’t care.

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As the poem goes, “The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

I didn’t take a maternity leave with Riley, and in between our move, work, and getting used to two kids, I don’t feel like I was able to savor those first few months with her as much as I wish I had.  But regret is a memorable teacher.

I have made some changes, and in 2015, I am going to lie down on the floor and play more, cuddle more, take Zoe out for cookies more, and allow myself to ENJOY these kids.  Because this time, even in all its craziness, is really, really sweet.

Moms who have been there—if you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to read them! 

Two Under Two: A Review

When Zoe turned two, I was pretty excited.  Finally, I didn’t have “two under two.”  Everything would suddenly be easier…right? 🙂

A few days later, Zoe was turning heads across Trader Joe’s by screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!!” at ear splitting volume because she couldn’t have another sample when it dawned on me: I have a two year old.  You know, the age that is typically linked with the word “terrible.” 

Suddenly, I felt like joining Zoe in her cry.

As evidenced by that anecdote, I’m not an expert on ANYTHING parenting related—but I thought would be fun to write a few posts about what having two under two was like (since I’m soooo far past that stage now).  I will share some pros and cons of having two under two, a few tips I have picked up, and some perspectives that have helped me along the way.

Today: the pros and cons of two under two (at least in my experience!)

-Pro #1: You have two sweet babies to love and hug.

-Con #1: You have two babies, so you will have less time than you want to sit around loving and hugging them because you will be too busy meeting their other needs.  You will remember what it felt like to sit and hold baby #1 for an hour, gazing into each other’s eyes—but you won’t be able to do it with baby #2 because of baby #1, and so your bonding experience feels different.

In all honesty, I struggled with crippling guilt in this area.  I felt like I was giving Riley 50% of the parenting attention and focus that Zoe had experienced as a newborn, and that Zoe was getting 50% of the parenting that she was used to.  I couldn’t do any better without cloning myself.  It was so frustrating.  IMG_2962

Over time, I have learned to deal better with this guilt and have begun to recognize some benefits of the girls having to “share.”  I have also learned how to involve them in one another’s care and nurture (such as “hug circles” where we pass along a hug, or reading to the girls at the same time and having Zoe tell Riley about the pictures in the book,) but it’s still an area that I feel pretty vulnerable in.

 

-Pro #2: Let’s be real: with baby #1, boredom occasionally sank in (especially if you were used to a faster-paced lifestyle before baby).  There are only so many things you can do with a newborn before you get stir crazy and wonder when things will get more fun.

Boredom will not be a problem with baby #2.  Chances are high that you are already doing a lot of fun things with baby #1 because they are mobile and NEED those outings to the park, friends’ houses, etc.  You will be so busy interacting with a toddler most of the day that you will cherish and appreciate any quiet moments that you get with baby #2.

-Con #2: You aren’t bored, but you’re stressed.  When Zoe was in that “baby baby” stage and napped for a lot of the day, I had hours to kill each day.  To fill our time, I would do things like make applesauce from scratch, organize closets in our house while I talked with her about my progress, meet friends for coffee, take walks, read her news stories out loud, etc.  Sometimes I would just sit shirtless on the couch, hold her, watch an episode of Hart of Dixie, and count it as as “skin to skin bonding.”  Although I wasn’t sleeping much and it wasn’t the most mentally engaging time of my life, my job was easy: meet one person’s needs.  Figure out how to stay happy in the house while she napped again.  Meet her needs again when she woke up.

Photo on 5-7-13 at 4.01 PMBaking with Zoe, spring 2013

With baby #2, these days of quiet simplicity are GONE.  There will be no homemade applesauce—instead, you will struggle all day to clean up the breakfast dishes.  There will be no “coffee talk” unless your friend comes to you and is willing to be interrupted.  And skin to skin gets awkward REAL fast with a toddler running around.

Basically, you aren’t bored because you are living in barely controlled chaos.  You wish you could be bored.  You have fond memories of boredom.

A piece of encouragement, though: I found that by the time Riley was 3 months old, I was mostly used to the chaos.  There are still some days when the craziness feels overwhelming, and in those instances I have learned to (literally) contain the chaos.  I will pop the girls in the stroller and take them for a 45 minute walk, sit them in their carseats and drive through Starbucks, or wear Riley while I chase Zoe around the neighborhood.  Containing even one of them helps diminish the chaos a lot.

Photo on 12-3-14 at 4.23 PM #2Wearing the exact same shirt and baby carrier, December 2014.  Different baby.
Definitely not baking.
PS – If you look carefully at this photo, Zoe is “wearing” her baby too.

 

Pro #3: With baby #1, everything is new. When you get to #2, though, you know what to do with a baby.  

Con #3:  You have no idea what to do with a baby AND a toddler.  Whose needs should come first? How do you keep baby #1’s world remotely familiar when baby #2 has so many needs? How do you get their nap schedules to be somewhat complementary? How do you meet the toddler’s needs for novelty without overstimulating your baby? How do you logistically handle two kids at the playground, grocery store, church…?

My friend Becky said she had learned to “love the one who needs you most in that moment,” and so I just pray for wisdom that I can do that well in those moments of craziness.  (In practice, I probably lean towards taking care of Zoe’s needs first, which is unfortunate for Riley…but Riley can’t hit anyone when she’s upset yet).

 

Pro #4: Being a mom is the best thing ever…and even if you sometimes feel like a stressed out, overwhelmed, guilty amateur with two kiddos, you still get these moments:

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photo-74and you realize that it’s all worth it.

Coming up next: some of the most helpful and practical tips I’ve learned in my “2 under 2” journey.