Life Lately

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but almost none of it has made its way onto this blog because when I proofread it the next day, I sound about as articulate as Chris Soules.

In related news, Riley’s in sleep boot camp.  Mama cannot function like this any more.  I mean, I love a good early morning party after not sleeping through the night as much as the next guy, but 6 months of it?!!

Photo on 1-12-15 at 6.18 AM

Not sure why ZOE is the tired looking one in this photo,
as she’s the only one who slept through the night.
Drink that coffee, girl.  

The training needs to actually, you know, WORK before I can think (much less say) something profound again, but since I have the itch to write, I’ll settle for sharing a few fun tidbits from our family life these days.

 

-Zoe: Hilarious

My sweet Zoe cracks me up every single day.  Some of her recent gems:

“I need a ponytail.  I have a busy day.”

Scene: Me, trying to put R to sleep in her darkened, sound-machined-up room.
R, screaming hysterically.
Z bursts into the room and says to me, as if to say come on, you’re missing an obvious cue here: “Riley no like dark.”  To Riley:  “Light, Riley?”
Duh…why didn’t I think of that?

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She has also started going behind her kitchen set in the morning and saying “soy latte please” while passing me a pretend cup (she says “medium mocha!” for David).  She also likes to pay for “soy latte please” with her pretend credit card at her toy cash register.  I have no idea where she picked that one up.   No idea…

She got to meet Elmo at a recent toy store grand opening.  She was transfixed.  She now prays for Elmo at night.

photo-77   Don’t mind David’s wardrobe choice.
He looks like he just got back from a funeral because…he had.
#OOTDpastoredition

At least once a day, she likes to pretend to be Mr. Frank, the oddly charismatic man who leads our local library’s story time.  She switches into her Mr. Frank persona by putting glasses on, putting a ball under her shirt to simulate his “bump bump” (her word for belly), telling us “I’m Mista Frank,” and leading us in a series of songs.

I really hope Mr. Frank does not read this blog.

 

-Riley: She doesn’t sleep.  But she does other things well, like be cute.

Photo on 1-28-15 at 2.31 PM #3

I soak up every sweet cuddle and giggle from this precious little gift.

In addition to snuggling nonstop, she is also rolling everywhere, banging toys with determination, nearly toppling over with excitement when I read her books, and eating purees (well, spitting them out…tongue thrust is a bit of a challenge for her.  I had an informal consult at the playground with a feeding therapist and got some new ideas to try, and am ready to get more help if things don’t turn around in the next week or two).   

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These girls make me the happiest mama around.

 

-Bestie time

My best friend/old roommate/basically sister Becky came to visit for 5 days this last week. She brought her husband and 1 year old daughter along for the ride and we had a blast watching our girls play together!

10959381_783643375825_4633402131181552879_nWe also had a blast leaving our children and getting pedicures.  Amen.

 

My life as a hermit

Becky arrived at the perfect time.  Not only had I not had a pedicure since July 2012 (a disgusting realization I arrived at mid-pedicure…don’t worry, I left a large tip), but our 3 weeks of sleep training have made me a near-hermit in desperate need of social contact.

With our new schedule, R takes two naps and Z takes one.  Typically, they aren’t at the same time, which means I have about 45-60 minutes during the “work day” to go anywhere, if I’m lucky.  Good times.

(And by “good times” I mean FREE ME FROM MY PRISON).

I have always said “I’m a stay at home mom who doesn’t like to stay at home.”  But as the cruelties of fate would have it, home is where you’ll find me now, all day, every day (unless I decide I’d rather endure a ragefest/meltdown/car nap that negates an actual nap and results in psychotically cranky child/etc. in favor of some contact with the outside world).   

I realized that my home detention was getting to me the other day when I was THRILLED when some JROTC kids who were collecting donations for their program came to the door.  I happily handed them dollar bills in exchange for conversation.

This is my life now…

 

-On the upside: 

I am loving the 1-on-1 time with each girl that their non-synchronized nap schedule provides.  I’m a great mom of two when one of them is sleeping.

Fun with the girls

 

-Learning vs. doing:

For a few months this fall, I had a difficult time feeling engaged in my faith.  Historically, I’ve felt most engaged in my faith when I’m learning through reading, journaling, attending church, listening to sermons, etc., but with two kids, lots of distractions, and little brain power thanks to sleeplessness, I felt frustrated and told my friend Jeanette, “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new.”

Her response was awesome and has helped me so much.  She said,

“I don’t think God’s always teaching us something new every moment of our faith walk.  I think there are times for learning, and times where He just wants us to put into practice what we’ve learned.”

This is definitely a time for me to take the three minutes, five minutes, whatever I wind up having and yes, try to learn about faith and God…but it’s also the time for me to just practice DOING those foundational things that I already know He calls me to.

This morning, R and Z’s sleep schedule meant I would miss all of our church services, so I made pancakes with the girls, danced to worship music with them, and cleaned the dishes and wiped the noses and sat on the floor and played with the dollhouse figurines, remembering we can do everything for the glory of the Lord and that He can use anything we give Him.  And it was just as great and edifying as church.

 

Valentine’s Day:

Is this week.  I realized yesterday that I had V-Day plans with my toddler, but not my husband.  This situation has since been rectified (holllllla to my youth group babysitters).  

I really don’t write much about my biggest and first love—but I thought this post summed up everything I would say.  In the beginning stages of two under two, I wondered if we would lose something special in the insanity of our daily tasks…but as the storm settles and the tasks and kids get a bit easier, I realize how much we gained.  I love him more than I ever did.  I feel so blessed to have him as my best friend, love, and partner in all of this.

Now: important question! What are your V-Day plans?!! 

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.  

Loving God in the Midst of Mess

This post is going to be short and simple, but it’s what I have today.

A few weeks ago, I was having a bit of a bummer day.  David had left early that morning for a meeting, I was drowning in to-dos, and Riley napped poorly and just wanted to be held.  I felt guilty for overlooking Zoe’s needs to tend to Riley, for having a house that was so messy, for having uncompleted tasks all over the house, and for the fact that I was struggling to be joyful and patient through it all.

Why is this so hard? I asked God.  Why don’t I have this DOWN by now? 

In response, He brought this series of pictures to mind.

IMG_1552Thanksgiving beach trip 2012

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Thanksgiving beach trip 2013

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Thanksgiving beach trip 2014

Oh.  That’s why 🙂 Life is constantly changing, and my goal shouldn’t be mastery of a life stage.  (That stage will inevitably change anyway!)

Better goals: seeking the Lord’s presence and will, pursuing contentment and joy, and loving others, myself, and the Lord no matter where I’m at.

So—the girls stagger their naps so that I have no time to myself between the hours of 5:20 am–7:30 pm? (This happens to be today’s scenario). Thank the Lord for the gift of my girls and for the opportunity to serve Him well through loving them, and seek His energy and patience to help me make it through.

Work deadlines that feel out of reach? Seek God’s guidance in how to structure my time, and pray for His help in working efficiently and effectively in the time that I know He will provide.

House is disastrous? Thank God as I clean for the possessions we have, for the house that keeps me warm, for the gift of my health that allows me to bend up and down as I pick up the toys.

Feeling frustrated with myself because this is hard? Remind myself that it IS, but that I can do all things through Him—and that He loves me for me, not for my efforts, outcomes, or the ease with which I do this all.  Give myself some grace. (And maybe a latte from time to time…have you seen this “Blank Space” parody video? HILARIOUS).

On that musical note, I’m off to practice what I just preached with 3 foot naptime rebel…wish me luck!

Mothering the Second Time Around

I’m at that part in the newborn phase where I start to simultaneously rejoice because I’m sleeping better…and still wish I was sleeping better.

In the earliest weeks with Zoe, motherhood was truly a joyful free for all.  I mean.  Look at me.

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I was thrilled to be a mom, but I couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.  I was just so tired.  I remember laying on her playmat when she was about five weeks old and sobbing because I just wanted to sleep more than anything.

Riley is a much easier baby than Zoe (there are no pictures of Riley like this…not a one)

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but she still isn’t sleeping through the night (although, PRAISE THE LORD, she is not up for 1–2 hours at a time several times a night, screaming the second you stop rocking her at the preferred rocking pace and altitude like a certain someone).

When we began considering a second child, it wasn’t the finances or daytime difficulties that I had to get over.  It was my fear of being tired.  I literally had nightmares about being that tired again (those nightmares would wake me up, and then my anxiety about this issue would cause insomnia…how meta, right?)

I’m one of those weirdos who loves being at my peak all the time.  When I worked full time, I very rarely drank even a glass of wine on work nights because I didn’t want anything to slow down my performance at work.  I put my all into my workouts and rest in between them to make sure I get maximum results.  I eat for energy.  I pay attention to how I work and live and critique myself to make sure that I constantly improve.

Being tired is my nightmare because it puts the brakes on all that.  Fatigue makes me forgetful.  It makes me want to sit around instead of work.  It makes me feel lazy.  It makes me crankier.  It makes my brain work slower.  I’m not at my peak when I’m tired, and the kicker is that no matter how I critique myself or try to push myself…I’m still tired.

For someone who loves game plans and self discipline and results, this is obnoxious.

But mothering the second time around means that everything I’ve learned about living under grace instead of perfectionism is actually internalized, instead of out there waiting to be learned.  Mothering the second time around means that I know that this is a phase—that it will take time, but eventually I’ll feel like me again (maybe even a a more badass version of me.  I looked for a better non-swear-word descriptor than badass, and there just isn’t one).  Mothering the second time around means that I can admit that yes, the middle of the night feedings are obnoxious, but they also create a bond between me, my baby, and God that nothing else could produce.

The first time around, I despised the weakness and tiredness.  I loved everything else about being a mom, but I just wanted to be BETTER (faster! stronger!) again.

This time, I’m learning to accept the tiredness not as weakness, but as signs that I am working HARD, getting stronger as a mom and wife, and doing my best, which is all you can ask for from yourself.

I’m learning that I have a choice in how I talk to myself—I can praise myself for what I accomplish despite being tired, which is life-giving, or I can chastise myself for what I still won’t have the energy to accomplish, which is pointless.

I can live in this phase, accepting it as it is and trying to enjoy it for what it is—or I can wish it away anticipating the time when my accomplishments feel easier to measure and achieve.

A certain husband says “we’re done” with kids.  I hope I win this debate, but just in case I don’t—I’m going to soak up the weakness and tiredness instead of loathing it.

Because I am mothering the second time around, and so I know:

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someday I will miss this tired.

Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

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The Background

A few weeks ago, I had one of the sweetest parenting moments I’ve had so far.  I was driving and the song “10,000 Reasons” came on the radio.  From the backseat I heard:

“Bess Lor, my soul.  Oh, my soul.  Wor-ip hooooo name.”   

It was Zoe, singing a song she’s heard probably hundreds of times in the background.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul.  Oh, my soul.  Worship His holy name.”

It’s not a song I’ve ever sung to her with hand motions or an agenda to teach it to her.  It’s just a song I sing to God myself in those quiet moments when Zoe doesn’t need my full attention—when she’s busy or otherwise occupied and it feels like just me and God.

She learned it anyway.

“I love your singing, baby,” I said to her, wiping away a tear.  “It’s beautiful.”  

Then to God I said, “Wow.”  

I think a lot about how to raise Zoe.  I want her to know God’s love and to desire a relationship with Him.  I pray for it, I read about how to foster it, I think about it, I talk about it.  I want to be intentional about the right things.

But I’m realizing that a lot of her early thoughts about God and faith will not come from my carefully constructed lesson plans or mission statements…but from the background of my own life.

I can tell her “God loves you,” and that’s good—but if I rest in God’s love myself, letting His love define me instead of relying on my actions or accomplishments, loving others from the overflow of His love to me—that will speak even louder.

I can read her books about patience and putting others first, but being patient myself and letting her see me put others first will be a better lesson.

I can tell her to be thankful to God for everything.  But when she overhears me singing “for all your goodness, I will keep on singing” over and over again in a season of loss? That speaks much louder than my words.

I’ve worried about what to teach.  But really, it’s about how I live, and what God does through that.

It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think about faith and how to teach it.  But it means that mostly, I should just work on living it authentically myself.

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I’ve pondered all of this the last few weeks.  And as I stood in my best friend’s church last Sunday, in the hometown that doesn’t always feel like home, the familiar chords began and my heart relaxed into what I can best describe as openness.  And the last verse, which has always seemed a little morbid to me, hit me fresh and new and tied all this together.

“And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.”

I will not be around forever.  I will die.  But at some point, when I’m no longer here, I hope my daughter will still be singing to the Lord she loves.

This is my prayer.  Not that she never doubts; no that she has a faith just like mine; not that she goes to church every week; not that she can regurgitate creeds or impress everyone with her Bible knowledge.  My hope is that she has found something authentic and real in my faith, in her father’s faith, in her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ faith—that all that she has seen in the background has developed the foreground of her own life.

And so, as the song says:

Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.”

I will keep singing.

Zoe’s Fancy Dress Party

Alternate post title: “I am DEFINITELY a stay at home mom now, in case that time I made applesauce in the crock pot didn’t tip you off.” 

Last Thursday, I hosted a little themed party for Zoe and her friends.  I was inspired to throw the party when I looked in Zoe’s closet asking myself, “when will she ever wear all these fancy dresses that other people have given us? We don’t have enough fancy occasions to attend!”

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To rectify this total first world problem, I decided to create my own occasion.  I invited a few of Zoe’s girlfriends to wear their fanciest dresses to “Zoe’s Fancy Dress Party,” which I said would feature “fancy snacks and casual playtime.”

I may have gone a bit overboard.

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I made these napkin and utensil holders.  WHO AM I?!!

IMG_2547Although it may have made me slightly question my grip on my sanity, as well as my internalization of our culture’s gender stereotypes, I had a BLAST planning and throwing this party for Zoe and her friends  (<–maybe this should be in quotations…I clearly threw this party for myself as much as for Zoe!!)  

It seemed like they had fun too!

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IMG_2573The best part of this party was that David was SO supportive of this idea.  He looked at my “fancy dress party” Pinterest board, patiently listened to my menu and decor ideas, helped me clean the house, woke up early to help me prepare on the day of the party, and even planned his work week so that he could stop by for the last 20 minutes of the party! Did I mention that I threw this party for a completely made up reason and had no justification whatsoever for the money and time invested beyond “it sounds like a fun idea?” He is the best husband ever! 

Any ideas for our next themed bash? 🙂

Loving Our Children Where They’re At

This is one of those posts that pretty much wrote itself.

The scene: Mother’s Day.  I have already admitted how much I love coordinating my outfits with Zoe’s.  Naturally, we needed to do this for Mother’s Day and then have a mother-daughter photo shoot! FABULOUS! With visions of perfect lighting and charming expressions, I convinced David to be our photographer and headed to a nice photo spot.

“Zoe, smile!” we said.

This was our response.

IMG_2522“Come on, smile!”

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“Please? Smile?”

IMG_2527“What do you want to do, babe?” David asked.

I knew what SHE wanted to do.  And I decided to let her do it.

“Let’s let her run.”

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IMG_2535My daughter isn’t a “stand still and pose for a photo shoot” kind of girl right now—she’s an “explore and run around” kind of girl.  And it turns out that letting her be herself is way more beautiful than anything that I could create with the right camera angles.

IMG_2542Oh, and I got the mother-daughter shot I wanted.

It’s not the most flattering angle, we’re not looking at the camera, and we’re sitting on the dirty street in dresses.  But it shows what I’m learning: to love my child where she’s at.  

IMG_2544In toddlerhood, Zoe is the most unencumbered and free version of herself that she will ever be. I want to love this person, this gift, as she is.  I want her to emerge from toddlerhood knowing confidently, I am smart.  I am beautiful.  I am worthy.  I am understood.  I am loved for who I am and where I’m at.  

It’s a tall order to teach all this.  But this photo shoot gives me hope that maybe I’m getting somewhere.

(A special thanks to my husband for fearlessly throwing himself into the street to get these shots!)

For The Mothers Less Acknowledged

About a year ago, I wrote about something no one told me about being an adoptive mom: namely, that I carry my daughter’s birth mom in my heart every day.

When I rock Zoe in the afternoon light, I see a hint of blue and green in her eyes and think of the eyes they came from.  When I saw Zoe take her first steps, I half-wished her birth mother could be sitting next to me seeing the baby who came out of her body taking these final steps out of infancy.  When I watched cool winds blow through Zoe’s hair on a mountain vista this summer, I thought of her birth mother, who has never left Florida, and wondered if she could imagine the things her nine month old had experienced.

I don’t think about her a pathological amount or anything.  But I do think about her, and especially on the weekend of Mother’s Day.

Because she is a mother.

I’ve never written about this, but for the first year of Zoe’s life, I felt a lot of guilt.  I felt like I had taken something precious from someone else, like I had gotten a blessing while her birth mom had only lost and suffered.

When I opened up to others about this, they always said something like “oh, but you helped that birth mom!” To me, this was never sufficient as an answer.  I know the deep love that I feel for Zoe and the joy and purpose that I get from being her mother.  I cannot fathom living without that or willingly giving that up.  I cannot imagine the loss as your milk comes in and there is no child there to feed because you’ve evaluated your life situation and decided that your child is better off with someone else.  How can you go on after that?

So for a year, I felt guilty for “taking” a baby from someone else.  I felt guilty for having a better start to my life than Zoe’s birth mom did, for having more resources than she did, for having the ability and background to make different choices than she did.  I LOVE adoption, but I almost felt presumptuous to have participated in it, like who am I to say that I could be a better parent than someone else?    

Throughout our (ultimately failed) second adoption process, I got more information about Zoe’s birth mom’s situation than I got the first time, and it’s alarming.  I am so proud of her for placing Zoe for adoption, for having the courage to say I want better for my girl.  

I’ve finally accepted what David, our social worker, and basically everyone involved has said from day one: we helped this birth mother find a situation she felt was best for her child and we provided resources that she needed.  We helped solve a problem—we did not create one.  We didn’t say “we’re good and you aren’t.”  We said “our world is broken and it affects all of us.  We want to do something to help.”  

And yet I understand why she couldn’t do it again.

I have some firsthand experience now of just how difficult it is to lay down your desire to be a child’s mother.  I know the months of tears you can cry for a child you barely knew.  I know the unfulfilled yearnings to hold a baby against your chest, to learn her cues, to see her happy milk-drunk smile, to brush your hand against her cheek, to see her hold her head up for the first time.  I know the curiosity of what she is doing right now, the hopes that she is safe, the wondering of what she will grow into when you can’t see her every day.

I don’t feel guilty anymore.  But I still feel for Zoe’s birth mom, and for myself, and for every mother who knows the pain of love and loss.

Motherhood isn’t just about the babies you can see in front of you.  It’s about the babies that you never met, the ones you met briefly, the children taken too soon, and the ones you’ve lost to this broken world with its failed relationships, difficulties, and hardships.

Every child counts.  And every mother counts.

Whether your child walks this earth or walks with Jesus, whether your child holds your hand or someone else’s, whether your child acknowledges you today or not—you are a mother.

And although you may not be celebrated or remembered by the world today—though no one may know the feelings you experience today—the Lord is with you.  He knows you intimately, He loves you deeply, and He will not forget you.

He says: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” -Isaiah 49:16a

6 BWYou know something about that kind of love.

Let Him embrace you today with it.