When the Rose-Colored Glasses Come Off

When you are young, as with so much of life, you look to motherhood with a strong shot of romance and a healthy side of idealism.

mom and babyA co-worker brings a new baby into work, and everybody crowds around, oohing and ahhing at that amazing little miracle of life…and all you see is chubby cheeks and warm baby snuggles. (Not the tears–your own not the babies–and the 10th dirty diaper of the day or the growing mound of poo bespeckled laundry–again, not just the babies.)

You see the proud glow of a mother who watches her child achieve the winning goal, the special award, the winning medal…and you think of how brilliant your child will be and how proud he or she will make you. You see the look of pride you will wear and the look of envy the other mothers will shoot in your direction. (You don’t see the stress of playing chauffeur, the many dinners eaten in the car, the tears and arguments when said child doesn’t want to go to practice or is over-tired when practices translate into late, late nights of homework)

crying-babyYou see the mother soothing an adorable toddler’s tears away…(aww…isn’t she cute? —No, not really. After the fifth meltdown of the day, that cute baby voice is starting to sound like nails on the chalkboard and that little, red, howling face is the thing of nightmares)

To the young (and naïve) all of these inspire feelings of longing, a desire to be a participant in that moment, to be the mother, to feel the tenderness and pride. The rest of it is unknown or ignored. The rose colored glasses are on and the pictures of family bliss overshadow the known realities.

Maybe not everyone feels it, but many, even most, do. I sure did.

Outside_Looking_in_by_M_photographyI remember, before I was a parent, the longing I felt for a child. I remember the fear that I would never find a man I wanted to marry, or who would want to marry me, and the fear that I would never experience that–that I would be left on the outside looking through the shop window at what I couldn’t have, watching other women experience those moments. I would be on the sidelines–watching, wishing, but not participating.

For me, I got to experience this not once, but twice. I did meet a man, and we fell in love, and we had a beautiful, gorgeous, perfect little baby, and I felt the joy, the tenderness, the rush of pride, only to bury my beautiful little girl a year later.

Those moments on the outside looking in were all the more painful after that. Those mothers had what I had had, only it had been stolen away from me, and I feared that I would never have it again (the risk involved was just so great). I felt by turns angry and bitter, but most often, I despaired. What if, having known what being a mother was, I never got to be one again?

I remind myself of that frequently these days, so many years of chaos later. I remind myself of how much I wanted this, and how I almost didn’t get it.

When I lost Serena, I thought I knew what being a mother was. In fact, I thought I had a better picture than most, because I had experienced the joy being a mother was, but also the devastation it can bring. But the truth is, I didn’t really understand what being a mother was at that point.

look_at_life_through_red_tinted_glasses_by_andela1998-d68zvuuDespite losing Serena, I still wore rose colored glasses. My eyes and my heart were full of the tender moments, the warmth. My mind was filled with remembered snuggles, and the memory of that unique baby scent, the soft cheeks and that perfect little nuzzle spot just between the edge of the jaw and the neck…

I had not yet experienced the daily grind of parenthood. I hadn’t faced the discipline and arguments, the tears and “I hate yous,” the endless emails to teachers to try to turn zeroes into passing grades, the wrappers on the floor and bookbags in the doorway. These were not something I knew.

I didn’t yet understand that to be a mother was to put one’s self in the back seat, to place another completely and entirely above oneself. I did not know that it meant that my life would be filled with mundane moments of caretaking, or that the peacefulness of silence would be something I only fondly remembered, but never experienced.

I did not know that my wants, my needs, my own desires would be in such subjugation to the needs and wants of others.

I didn’t understand.

I wish I could say that I always handle it with grace, but I don’t.

I wish I could say that losing Serena makes me always remember to appreciate the gift I have in my children, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could say that I never feel angry, or bitter, or resentful of all that I have given up for this dream of motherhood, but that would be a lie.

I do feel resentful sometimes. Sometimes I’m angry. Sometimes I lose patience. Sometimes I wish that I could travel the world like I did before. Or I think fondly of a time when my to-do list wasn’t so long that it went straight out the door and wrapped around the block. There are those moments.

mom-daughter-share-ice-cream-607496-printBut there are also the other moments. The love, the tenderness, the laughter. There is the knowledge that I finally understand what the Bible is talking about, to truly put someone above yourself, to be willing to lay your life, not your death, but to lay your life down for another. That is so much harder.

That is motherhood–day in and day out.

It is grace. It is selflessness. It is sacrifice.

It is not perfection, but being able to admit when we’re wrong, and to keep trying when we want to give up, and sometimes loving the unlovable until they are lovable again.

I am not a perfect mother, but my children are perfectly loved, and everything I gave up cannot come close to everything I have gained from having them in my life.

I am lucky to be their mother. It is a privilege–sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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When Dinosaurs and Fancy Nancy Go the Way of Puff

Parenthood is such a rollercoaster of emotions. The happiest day of my life was the day my first daughter was born–and the worst day of my life was the day I found out she was going to leave us.

Most parents (thank God!) don’t have to experience that lowest of lows, but there are still plenty of moments of pain, sorrow, disappointment, and frustration in every parent’s life. There are also the moments where your heart feels so full of love that you can barely breathe. Moments when you look at them and think, “This is what life is all about!” The moments that you want to hold on to forever and never let go.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my children at every age. I enjoyed them as babies, as toddlers, and as kids. But now, I find that I need to adjust to them as tweens. The problem is, I wasn’t ready for this transition. I thought I had more time.

Parenthood is a series of doors opening and doors closing, pretty much continually. I’ve recognized that from the very beginning. Because I understood that, I savored the moments, stored them up–like a squirrel with his nuts–deep in my heart, so that I could take them out, remember them, gaze at them, knowing that I had made the most out of every one of those moments.

You never know when a door is going to close. My daughter always called “Joe’s Crabshack” Crabshadrack (for years!), until suddenly, one day she didn’t. The door had closed. She was a big girl, and she could say the word right. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

For years my son has snuck into our bed at night, and for years, despite the fact that I often don’t sleep as well with him there, I have told myself to hold on to the moment–snuggle, enjoy his closeness–because one day he will stop coming, and he will never come again. That special bonding moment will be gone forever, lost to adolescence.

Ironically, Gavin still occasionally crawls into our bed at night, but Arabelle stopped coming a long time ago, and had I known on that last time that it was her last time, I would have hugged her a little closer, and snuggled a little longer–savored it a little more. But I didn’t know, and that door closed, never to be opened again. That moment lost to her growing independence.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not mourned the transitions–at least, not exactly. The truth is, one of the things that I think my husband and I have done exceptionally well is to foster our children’s independence and individuality. We have never been helicopter parents, hovering around, fearful of any misstep. In fact, we’ve always recognized that it takes some missteps to learn how to do it on your own. And we’ve always recognized that healthy children are children who are independent, but also well-supported children.

We’ve always felt very strongly that, despite how much we might want them to stay little, we need to encourage them to feed themselves, take that first step, run, take that big slide though they might be terrified (and maybe so am I!!), etc. etc.. I believe that it creates confident, independent children. They know they can come to us for anything, but they are also sure that they can take on this world and succeed.

Up until now, though my heart broke a little each time, I graciously handled the closing doors: the last time I breastfed each of my children, when they no longer needed help at bathtime or brushing their teeth, when they could take the big slides without a nervous glance at me–desperate for my encouragement, when they no longer needed me to tuck them in at night, when they started spending more time at friends’ houses on summer days than they did at home–all of these, though a part of me did not want them to happen, though I wanted to create “little pills” to keep them little so I could see Gavin’s happy dance one more time and have him crawl up into my lap to snuggle a little more, still, despite what I felt, I celebrated the open doors even though it meant some doors were closing.

I was proud of them. I felt a surge of joy at who they were becoming. Though it saddened me that Gavin’s obsession with all things dinosaur just disappeared one day, I embraced the new. Though a part of my was saddened to see Belle slowly neglect her Strawberry Shortcake dolls and her My Little Ponies, in exchange for Monster High and American Girls, I accepted it. I embraced it. Until now.

gav dinosaur

My husband always laughs at me. I’m very analytical. I think about things, I ponder them, and yes, sometimes I even obsess over them. I often do this years in advance. It probably has helped me with those closing doors. I anticipate the closing door, and so, think to myself, “Any day may be the last day I breastfeed my child. This could be the last time we have this particular kind of closeness, this particular kind of snuggle” and so, because I have anticipated it, I feel somehow ready–I know I have treasured it.

Despite all my forethought, somehow this whole “tween” thing really blindsided me. I knew it would happen, and I knew a little bit about it, but I thought I had more time. I wasn’t exactly shocked when Gavin, who is ten, started showing some signs of this transition (though diving straight into things like porn and dildos–yes, for real!! was a bit much). However, right on the heels of Gavin, Arabelle, who is only 8, started acting differently. She is still my sweet little Belle! I am not ready for her to step across that threshold into tween-ness! No! She is a little girl! She is my sweetheart! She is a child and no where close to being a teenager!!

I think I feel a little bit like Puff might have felt when he started to realize that little Jacky Paper wasn’t going to be coming back for much longer–in fact, he wasn’t going to be little Jacky Paper anymore. Instead, he was going to transition into someone different, someone simply known as Jack. Puff probably felt proud, but he also likely felt incredibly sad as he realized all those special moments of childhood had moved into memory, and those particular kinds of moments would be no more.

puff_the_magic_dragon_by_anubis3021-d4lru2v

I might protest it all I want, but the change is happening. One door is closing and another is opening, whether I want it to or not. She is spouting things like, “I need my privacy” and “I need some alone time.” She is posting “Keep out” signs on her door. She listens to her ipod rather than hanging out chatting with me and her father. She is pulling away–just a little bit, but it’s the beginning.

belles note

This time, I am not ready. I am not ready to put away all things little girl. I’m not ready to see the end of dress up and Fancy Nancy and tea parties at Grandma’s house. I am not ready for my cuddler to stop cuddling in exchange for “alone time.” I am not ready–but it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s not up to me. My sweet, people pleasing daughter is ready to begin spreading her wings and asserting her independence, and though it might break my heart, I want her to fly! I want her to find who she is, and I will certainly not be the one to hold her back.

Still, I know where big sister goes, little sister is soon to follow. Lily will not wait long before she starts to emulate her sister.

But that is a thought for tomorrow. I cannot bare that thought today.

Today, Lily still clutches her blankie and sucks on her finger. Today, Lily thinks the whole world is her friend. She still climbs into my lap every morning and evening. She still plays with barbies and loves princesses. She loves dress up and tea parties. Today, she is still little, and I am going to wrap my heart around that littleness.

tea party

 

And I’m going to make the most of every one of these magical childhood moments and treasure them while I still can!

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

narrow

Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

Bye, bye crazy toddler days! Hello lazy, hazy days of summer! I’ve been missing you!

This summer has been a summer of firsts for me as a mother. It has officially launched me into the next phase of parenting. I am no longer the mother of babies and toddlers. I am now the mother of big kids. Lily, my littlest, will be four in a few weeks, and she acts older than that. The days of hovering and constant watchfulness are a thing of the past, and as much as I enjoyed my children at this stage, I can’t say that I regret the passing of these days, at least not yet.

I knew this day was coming. As Lily told me the other day, “Soon I’m going to be four and then I’ll be sixteen!” She’s not far wrong on that. The time will move so quickly it will feel like that I’m certain, and my girls take after me; they act older than their ages and so I knew that the baby days were about to pass me by forever.

The high stress days of toddlers and temper fits, bolting children hiding in the clothing racks, and constant danger due to lack of coordination are behind me. The days of increasing independence are here. Each day will take my children a bit further from me and more into being capable and independent in their own skin (when I put it that way it is enough to make me cry!). My children will always need me, but they will need me less with each passing day. Their school, teachers and friends will begin to exert almost as much influence over them as my husband and I do. It is a sobering thought!

And yet, my fledgling freedom, the faint stirrings of a me forgotten, can’t help but excite me! To be me again and not just an extension of my children! It sounds heavenly!

So many parts of me were put on hold when I had my children. I haven’t drawn a picture since Arabelle was a baby. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve sat down and played the piano. I’ve only recently started writing poetry again, something you need a measure of peace and time for reflection to create, and since I’ve had neither peace nor time . . . . So many things that were foundational to who I am have had to be put on hold, and I won’t lie, at times it has been suffocating!

I realized that the next phase had arrived the other day when I took my kids to a splash pool. It’s a pretty great place when you live in Texas where we’ve been in the 90’s for weeks already. The water’s not deep, there are fountains everywhere and there is a big play structure in the middle with a water gun and a water slide. It’s little kid heaven!

As it turns out, it’s Mommy heaven too! You see, there were a bunch of lounge chairs under a big tree and the breeze was blowing and it feel COOL under that tree. There were two lifeguards on duty and the pool was enclosed so there was no danger of my children running off or being in any danger. Very quickly I realized that I could sit back and only keep a casual eye on my kids. The kind of vigilance I needed last summer was not necessary this summer!

I read a chapter in my book. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of my happy children playing in the background. I took the time to notice how pretty it looked underneath the tree with the sun filtering through the leaves. And I felt peaceful. With all three of my children there, I felt peaceful. Not happy, not content, but PEACEFUL. It was heavenly!

Yes, I know I will miss the antics of my children when they were little. I will miss each day being a new discovery. I will miss baby kisses and cuddles. And nothing is cuter than the cherubic features of a toddler. It’s why I take so many pictures, to capture the moments, to remember. I know I will miss it.

But, big kid hugs and kisses are pretty great too. And the things we are able to do together now that Lily is old enough are a lot of fun. And the chats we are able to have are really pretty wonderful. And the freedom and the peace . . . well, they have been a long time coming!

South Padre Island: My Attempt at Spontaneity Part 4 Mommy Epic Fail Part 2 Holy Crap Did I Screw Up!!

As I mentioned in my first blog on our South Padre Island adventure (Click here if you missed it!), I am not the most spontaneous person in the world. Okay, fine (I hear all my friends snickering at that understatement), I’m a bit of a control freak. I have always admired the idea of spontaneity, it just seems so free and stress free, but the end of our second day at the beach reminded me of just why I am a control freak.

We went back to our room at the hotel in the late afternoon, huge smiles on our faces, anticipating a good night ahead, and feeling like all was well with the world. We got to the room, changed out of our wet and sandy things, and we all lay down on our beds stretching like satisfied cats. You could almost feel the tired contentment in the room.

That’s when a thought entered my head that had somehow gotten lost in the buzz and whirl of spontaneity. I sat up bolt upright and my mouth dropped open. “Oh, no!” I groaned.

“What? What is it?” my husband asked.

“It’s Monday . . .”

“Yeah?” you could hear the question in Aaron’s voice.

I turned and stared at him and said, “Alivia!” at which point Aaron’s face began to mirror my own.

We have an arrangement with our neighbor. She takes the kids to school in the morning and I pick them up in the afternoon. I had asked Aaron to call her on Friday to tell her we were going out of town and we wouldn’t be able to pick Alivia up for those two days. Aaron had forgotten, but at the time I thought it wasn’t a big deal because we thought we were going to postpone the trip. Once we worked everything out to go after all, the thought never again entered my head until that very moment.

I felt HORRIBLE! All I could think of was poor Alivia sitting there, waiting for me to take her home and having no one come. If the tables had been turned I would have been so upset! That’s what I get for being spontaneous! I’m not meant to be spontaneous! There’s a reason God made me an obsessive planner! Ugh! And now I had dropped the ball big time.

To make matters worse, Aaron’s cell had died and my cell, which is just a dinosaur pay as you go phone that I rarely use, didn’t contain Alivia’s number. I, of course, remembered my charger, which I didn’t even need. Aaron, on the other hand, had forgotten his, and there was no one we could think of to call who would have their number. I felt like the worst friend/neighbor EVER!

We finally came up with the idea of calling the school, and though they wouldn’t give us their number, they were willing to call them for us. I knew it was too little too late, but it was the best we could do.

Aaron made the comment to me in passing, “I just hope they don’t call the police worried about us.” I didn’t think much about that. I mean, I know it’s not like me to drop the ball like that, but surely they would just assume that I screwed up, right? After all, Alivia knew that we were planning to go to the ocean. Surely she would note her parents concern and tell them we were going on vacation?

Almost the first thing I did when I got home was go next door and sheepishly knock on their door. I hate this kind of thing, but there was no way around it. I had screwed up too bad.

I apologized profusely, and of course they assured me it was okay, that it happens (though of course all I could think of is that no, I don’t do that kind of thing and that there was no excuse!). I jokingly mention that at least they hadn’t called the cops worried about us. Robert looked at me without expression and responded, “Well, actually we did. We were pretty worried about you guys.”

It was all I could do not to groan. I was SO humiliated! I didn’t even stick around to hear the whole story. I apologized again and high tailed it home wallowing in my sense of failure.

Aaron, not knowing that I had already gone over to apologize, went over as well. He got the whole story. Apparently the police had poked around our house a bit, waited until Tuesday morning and when they heard we still hadn’t shown up, they went to the school to see if anyone had seen or heard from us.

All I could think of is that the police showed up at my children’s Elementary school because I am a crap mother who can’t even remember to let her neighbor know she’s going out of town, and now the WHOLE SCHOOL KNOWS IT! UGH!!

Luckily, they showed up while the office secretary was on the phone with us so she was able to assure the police that all was well before they started calling our family or started a full blown search. Still, talk about a HUGE Mommy Epoch fail! I don’t think that I will live down the mortification from this one anytime soon!

South Padre Island: My Attempt at Spontaneity Part 2 Mommy Epic Fail Number 1

As you can well imagine, the kids were up with the first hint of sunlight. Sadly, mom and dad just wanted to bury our heads back beneath the covers. Though we missed the worst of the spring breakers, we did not miss them all and what I would have given for the blissful childhood sleep of the dead that my children are blessed with! But, nope, this Mama got to hear all the drunken hoots and hollers of the college mating ritual. Seriously, it’s like watching a bunch of peacocks strutting around showing off their goods hoping to catch the right eye. To an old married woman like me, well, it seemed rather ridiculous! (Though, I have to admit, I do remember wearing some awfully short skirts and laughing a little too loud in the campus mailroom to get my husband’s attention . . . )

Still, our kids were persistent and they were not going to let us sleep past 8:00 no matter which cartoons were on, so I rubbed my gritty eyes, threw on the first pair of jeans I could find and threw my hair in a ponytail and stumbled down to our continental breakfast.

Now, I admit, I am a coffee snob. Even Starbucks brewed at home seems kind of weak to me and I find myself adding more grounds to give it some real octane (we’ve actually upgraded to Peet’s, a bit spendy, but well worth it!). I wasn’t expecting much from hotel coffee, but I was expecting coffee that I could ingest.

I stumbled down to the breakfast area and made a beeline to the coffee bar. With great anticipation for my caffeine fix, I poured the coffee and took a drink, only to spew it all over the counter. It was filled with grounds. Every single morning, it was filled with grounds.

Coffee is not a hard thing to make, and it would seem to me, that many a hotel will be reviewed on their coffee as the world seems to be filled with coffee addicts like myself. And I have to say, though the hotel was great in every other way, they got a big, fat F when it came to their coffee! I went through most of my vacation in a lack of coffee haze as there wasn’t even a Starbucks anywhere that could rectify this sad situation.

After our otherwise fine breakfast experience, the kids were all but jumping up and down in anticipation of their first glimpse of the ocean. Being that it is still early spring and the mornings are still a bit chilly, I put everyone in jeans thinking that we would look, maybe get our feet a little wet and then build some sandcastles until it warmed up a little bit more.

I should have known better. The kids took one look and ran straight in, jeans and all. Little Lily’s jeans became so sodden that they kept tangling around her ankles. She made for quite the morning’s entertainment. Many a passerby had a great big chuckle at her predicament (myself included!)

It was at about that point that Aaron ran back to our room, grabbed their swimsuits and we found a secluded place to quickly change out the wet stuff for the swimsuits.

There was only one problem. Since we hadn’t planned to let them in the water until the afternoon, we hadn’t brought the sunscreen with us. We thought about it, looked up at the sunny, but not very intense, sky and determined that the kids would be fine for an hour or two.

Boy, were we wrong! My poor little babies turned into regular lobsters, while I, still in my jeans and long sleeve, light weight cotton beach shirt just got a little pink around the face. Boy did I feel like a heel! To steal a term from one of my favorite shows, “Vampire Diaries,” total epic fail in the Mommy department!

Still, with the help of layers and gobs of aloe, the sunburn did not deter the kids’ passion and carefree joy of their first experience at the beach (well at least an ocean beach, the others barely count in my book!) Their sheer pleasure in it all only added to my own.

Check out this video and you’ll see what I mean! http://www.facebook.com/v/10150619755962054

There really is nothing like some sunshine, the sound of the crashing waves and the bright colors of a kite in a blue sky to help you feel like all is right with the world. At least, for that moment, time seems to stand still and no worries or difficulties are allowed in. No wonder people love the beach! 😀

South Padre Island: My Attempt at Spontaneity Part 1

I am not a spontaneous person by nature. I tend to be a planner, even for things that I can’t possibly plan for. I go over all the possibilities and try to anticipate all our reactions and thus be ready for all eventualities. I’m kind of obsessive about it actually.

I decided to throw all my typical OCD out the window and be spontaneous last week. I’ve been missing my sense of adventure lately, so last Tuesday I said to my husband, “Why don’t we go to South Padre this weekend?”

It was time we had some adventure back in our lives! The kids were old enough now that they could be part of our adventure instead of just keeping us from it! I was so pumped about the idea!

He kind of stared at me. “This weekend? Isn’t that kind of far for a last minute thing?”

With a little bit of sweet talking, I convinced him that it would work. The kids have been dying to see the ocean. It was the perfect time, right before he starts his new job and has to wait God only knows how long for his vacation time, right before tech week before his latest show starts, and most importantly, right before the island starts hopping with all the spring breakers. It was perfect! All we had to do was wait to make the new job official so that we weren’t counting our chickens before they hatched so to speak, and we were good to go!

Well, as always, nothing ever goes as you want it to, especially when you are doing it last minute! We were hoping to leave about noon on Friday. Unfortunately, Aaron’s new employer decided to wait until 4:30 Friday night to make it official. It was too late to make a 9 hour drive. It was hard not to be bummed.

I was not ready to throw in the towel. We’d just make some adjustments . . .

It’s okay! We’d just leave in the morning.

Or maybe not. See, one of the dangers about spontaneity is that unexpected things always seem to happen.

The hotel we were planning to stay at had filled up. We called another hotel. They were full too. We began to consider that maybe we had been a bit crazy to be this spontaneous. Maybe we should wait a bit and go back to my old planner self.

I stared at my planner. And I stared some more. I flipped the pages back and forth, but it didn’t help.

Nope. It was now or never. We’d have to wait until next year if we didn’t make it happen now. I went back to my laptop and kept looking.

Finally I found a hotel that was not only in our price range, but had good reviews too. We were on!

Instead of leaving early am, we were stuck with starting a nine hour drive at 2:30 in the afternoon. Not ideal, but doable.

Luckily our kids travel well. Though inevitably, Lily seems to hit a point of boredom where the coloring books, movies and books simply aren’t working anymore. That is when she decides to wreak havoc. On Saturday it was by dumping the big bag of trail mix over the floorboards of my newly vacuumed jeep. Sigh.

I suppose that would seem like a great source of entertainment to a three year old. In fact, she found it so funny, that she soon upended the big box of crayons as well which she followed up with her charming little pirate smile as if to say, “But you simply can’t get angry at this cute, little face, can you?”

And she was right. I couldn’t. I was too excited about our little get away to get angry with anybody.

The rest of our drive was pretty much uneventful until we hit Port Isobel which is about five minutes from South Padre Island. It was after 11:00 and we had hit that point where we just wanted to be there. We were already anticipating the big fluffy beds waiting for us.

Unfortunately, it was just then that a camper decided to burst into flames and we had to wait for 30 minutes for the fire department to put it out. (Actually to be fair, it only took them 20 minutes to put it out, but it did take them 10 minutes to show up!)

You would have thought it was a party or something the way people spilled out of the hotel to gawk. Soon there was an almost festive air while all the bystanders stood around chatting and laughing while they watched it burn. I guess there must not be much entertainment in Port Isobel!

Soon we were back on our way and then had nothing more to do except convince the kids that midnight was too late for a quick walk on the beach. Not necessarily an easy task! But we pulled it off! 😀

How a Lake Full of Turtles Made for the Perfect Day!

Spring is my favorite time in Texas. The sky is blue, the temperature perfect, and there are flowers everywhere. If it weren’t for the several months of spring, I don’t think I could tolerate the absolutely awful summers!

This year we haven’t had much of a winter, and yet I still can’t help but get almost giddy at the fledgling steps toward spring. The spring here is filled with long lists of fun activities to do with the kids and I find myself filled with excitement just like I use to feel as a child at Christmas time. The sunshine and the gorgeous flowers that will soon carpet the ground make every day feel better and a little brighter.

So, though it isn’t really spring yet, the days are teasing us into a feeling as if it’s here. In honor of its soon arrival, we decided to do one of our favorite spring time activities and go hiking this weekend, all of us.

It might sound crazy taking a three year old hiking on tough terrain, but I am mother to a very, not ordinary three year old. She is more like “Super Toddler!” I tried it for the first time last fall, by myself with all three kids, and was amazed to find that not once did Lily ask me to carry her. The most I had to do was hold her hand to steady her in the rocky and steep places.

So, much to my husband’s dismay, the kids decided to, once again, not take the easy trail, but to take the moderate trail, and then to make things even more interesting, they decided to take on the difficult trail as well.

I have to admit, even I had a fair amount of trepidation when seeing just how difficult the difficult trail really was. What kind of mother took her three year old on a 3+ mile hike on steep and rocky terrain? I had to remind myself that this wasn’t just any three year old, this was Lily.

It wasn’t enough for her to just make the hike, she wanted to be at the front of the pack with her big brother. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched her scurrying after her brother trying to keep up with his longer legs. At one point, in trying to catch up to him, she wasn’t being as mindful as she should have been. She tripped on a root and went down flat on her face, hard. She didn’t cry out much less cry. All she said was “Umpf!” pause, “I’m okay! I’m okay!” and she bounded up, brushed herself off and hit the ground running.

Arabelle is the complete opposite of Lily in so many ways. Where Lily is intense, Arabelle is gentle. Where Lily wants to take the world by storm, Arabelle approaches it quietly with her arms wide open. For her, the exertion of the hike is to be born only because of the company she’s keeping and the flowers and butterflies along the way. So, where Lily sprinted ahead, Belle and her Daddy followed along in the back, chatting amiably along the way.

I stayed in the middle, trying to keep an eye on the two darting far ahead without being out of ear shot of the two dwindling behind. I found my heart bursting with pride in the tenacity of the two in the front while my heart warmed at the sounds of Daddy and his little girl strolling along chatting in companionable conversation. It was one of life’s perfect moments.

We took a break about midway through the hike to break out snacks for the little people and to gaze at the little lake that was the goal of our hike. It was a beautiful day and the little lake glistened in the sunlight and for a moment we all just gazed in silence, one of those truly rare moments with little kids!

But then, as it so often will with little people, the moment took on a fun and playful twist. Gavin was the first to spot the turtles, and then as we looked for turtles we spotted hundreds of fish just below the surface. Gavin decided to try an experiment. He tossed in one of his crackers to see what would happen.

The fish began to fight each other for the cracker. The turtles in the distance, seeing the cracker, swam for it with one objective, to steal the cracker from the fish. It was hilarious to watch! Of course, the girls had to get in on the action as well, so they began throwing crackers to the fish and soon all of them were giggling uncontrollably at the antics of the fish and turtles.

The day was so much fun that Gavin, who, as most little boys his age, loves video games declared, “I can’t believe I’m saying this but . . . I think I like hiking even more than playing my video games!” Even after an over 3 mile hike, he wanted more! Though, Super Toddler though she may be, we felt like that might have been asking a bit much of our little toddler super hero! 🙂

One thing the day ensured is that we will certainly be going hiking a lot this year. It was good for all of us. The sunshine, the company and the physical exertion all combined to make for the best weekend we have had in a long time! It also helped me to begin looking toward the fun we can have in the future with our growing family. Though I will be sad to leave the fun of the quirky toddler years behind, how much I am going to enjoy the company of these three little amazing people that I am so lucky to have in my life!

Do You Have to Follow Me to the Bathroom? Seriously?!?

There are many things that are difficult about being a parent. There are so many changes and adjustments that you need to make seemingly on an ongoing basis. Nothing is ever constant, except for change. It would be hard to pick the hardest thing about parenting. There are simply too many challenges to choose just one!

However, one of the things that I think has to be right up there somewhere at the top of the list is that you never get any time alone. Barely a minute goes by without an interruption. If I go to the bathroom, someone follows me. If I’m in the shower, inevitably someone is pulling the shower curtain back with some question, complaint or need that simply can’t wait for me to be done with my shower. When I’m changing, I get walked in on, usually multiple times. When I yell at them to wait because I’m changing, they walk in, sit on my bed and proceed with whatever it is that they needed right at that very moment. Nothing is off limits for a mother!

The constant interruptions, bickering, referring, and urgent needs leave me feeling frazzled and make it difficult for my brain to function like a normal person’s. I never felt like I had ADD until I had kids. It’s as if they have changed my very biology! Now, even on the rare occasions that I am child free, I find that my brain simply can’t function, it can’t focus. It’s jumping around in the pattern that has become its normal since these three little blessings showed up on the scene.

I am by nature a quiet person. I have always loved time alone.  I was just as likely to stay in and read all day when I had a free Saturday as I was to go hang out with my friends. I am stuck somewhere in the middle between an introvert and extrovert. The only problem is, being a mother doesn’t really allow you to be an introvert. Unlike when I was younger, I cannot just choose not to be around people for a day or two when I’m feeling that introvert inside of me fighting for the surface.

As a result, every day I find myself looking forward to the couple of hours a day I get to myself when my little Lily goes down for her nap. And every day I struggle with how I should spend that time.

I very rarely waste those precious minutes on a nap.  As heavenly as a nap would be, I don’t want to squander that precious time. There is just not enough of it to waste it on a nap!

I usually wrestle between three options, cleaning (the most boring one, but I can get three times as much done in the same amount of time without constant interruptions), doing my work out (a strange option I suppose, but I am so sick of the kids sitting there and watching me while I work out. It’s like I’m a monkey at the zoo or something. You’d think that the novelty would wear off at some time, but so far . . . not so much!) or writing. It is such a treat to be able to write without the sound of PBS in the background (for example, right now I get to hear the rundown of dinosaur train) and without the constant stream of needs and complaints (suspiciously absent right now . . . I’d better go and check what the little imp has snuck off to! Sure enough, she’d gotten into her brother’s box of markers. Sigh . . .)!

Some of my mom friends have the opposite problem. It’s not the alone time they are so desperately craving, but instead the active social life they need. Whichever end you land on, the point is that being a parent means a whole lot less time to spend on doing the things that we need, the things that make us tick and a whole lot more time going to parks, play areas and zoos.

As great as it is to spend time with our children, I believe that we need to fight for a balance. The truth is, when I am not getting the “me time” I need, I get cranky, dissatisfied and I enter a general funk where I cannot enjoy my children in the way I want to. When I find ways (sometimes with much effort and creativity) to carve out some time for me, I am not only a better person, but also a better mother.

Finding that balance is a daily effort. I am an artist and musician as well as a writer, yet I can’t tell you the last time I picked up my charcoals or sat down to play on the piano. I certainly have not figured this all out. But I am trying, and I will keep trying.

Every few months I find that I need to pull away for a few days. I ignore the house and the list of petty tasks that I always need to do and instead I retreat to a “me” place. I get my balance back. The housework will always be there. A few days won’t hurt anybody. And I get my equilibrium back.

It does not make me a bad mother. It does not make me a bad wife. It makes me a real life woman, admittedly like all the other struggling parents out there trying to find a place for self in the midst of all the clamoring needs around them.

Being a mother is the best thing I have ever done, but I don’t want to lose myself in the process. That wouldn’t be the best for anyone.

Remember that when you feel guilty for leaving that sink full of dishes to make a little time for yourself! Everyone will be happier with a happier mom or dad! They really could care less about the dishes! 😉

 

The Big Fat Man Still has Magic!

            My kids are all very different. My son who is seven is a complete realist. If he can’t see, taste, or touch something, it’s not real (with the exception of God who gets a free pass for some reason!). He’s a complete skeptic. He had worked out the flaws in the “Santa myth” as he likes to call it when he was only four. He’s smart and analytical and no attempts to keep the magic alive with him were successful. Santa just wasn’t practical.

            Our daughter Arabelle is a completely different story. She’s five and she is a dreamer. She believes that her toys come alive when no one is looking and she believes that there are fairies in her backyard despite the fact that no one has seen them. As she so adamantly tells her brother “just because you haven’t seen fairies doesn’t mean that they’re not real!” She believes in the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny and she is a most firm believer in Santa.

            This Christmas season has been a two month long debate in our household. Gavin has presented all the practical reasons why Santa cannot be real while Arabelle has unswervingly held her ground insisting that Gavin would see on Christmas morning. Santa is too real!  This drives the realist Gavin absolutely nuts, but there is no convincing my little dreamer!

            Arabelle decided that a good way to convince Gavin that Santa was real was to write him a letter and have him send a letter back. All on her own, Arabelle, who is only five mind you, starts the laborious process for a little one just beginning to write, of writing a letter to Santa. Every once in a while I would get the call from across the room of “Mom, how do you spell ____” fill in the blank. I would respond and she would keep writing. She got done, put it in the envelope, asked me Santa’s address and with complete confidence she walked it to the mail box and put the flag up.

            Of course, Santa could not possibly let her down! My husband Aaron and I love encouraging the magic. We tried with Gavin but failed miserably, but we weren’t going to give up for our girls. We decided to pull out all the stops and we were going to do our part of helping  the magic of Santa continue for our girls for as long as we can.

            Aaron decided that he would be Santa. He thought about it long and hard. He knew that Gavin would recognize his handwriting so he pulled out my old calligraphy kit, found some of the fancy stationary I had bought when we were inFlorence and started writing the magic letter.

             Only half of the fun for us was keeping the magic alive for Arabelle. The other half of the fun was stumping Gavin who was so very sure of himself! He had already told Belle that if she got a letter, it would be from us or maybe the postman would write it, but that Santa wasn’t real so it simply could not be from him. We took extra effort to try to make it hard for him.

            Yesterday was the big day and the letter magically appeared in the mailbox. We didn’t put an address or a stamp on the envelope because the mailman won’t deliver a letter without either of those things so the letter so Gavin’s theory that the mailman did it simply wouldn’t fly. The handwriting was totally unrecognizeable so he wouldn’t think that Aaron or I had done it. We’d done our homework and we figured that Gavin would be really and truly stumped.

            I casusally asked Arabelle to go check the mail. We watched her walk to the mailbox. We watched her open the mailbox and pull out the letter. We watched her tip her head to the side and stare at the letter, and then we saw one of the most precious things we had ever seen. The moment of realization. She jumped up in the air, arms waving and squealed, “Santa! I got a letter from Santa!” And she came running and laughing with her arms continuing to wave in the air. It was one of the moments when you can look at parenting and say it really is worth it. All the difficulties, frustrations and sacrifices disappear in that moment and it is all so very worth it!

            Just as we predicted, Gavin was stumped and spent half the day scratching his head trying to figure it all out. He finally gave up with a shrug and simply said, “I don’t know. But Santa isn’t real.” But Arabelle . . . for her the magic of this Christmas is very much alive and very, very real. She will remember this Christmas, the Christmas that Santa wrote her a letter, long after she has out grown the big, fat man himself. And she will always think of it with a smile and she will know that her mommy and daddy loved her enough to keep the magic alive for just a little bit longer!