Saturday, April 27, 2013

Parenting 101

Those 100 level courses in college were quite the drag.  Common sense curriculum droned on in monotone and made us cringe at the wasted time for material we should have mastered in high school.  Moving on to those upper level classes meant getting to the good stuff, the meat of what mattered in our chosen field.

I'm 28 and I think I've just passed my 1st class in parenting.  My son is three and we're at a sweet spot in our family dynamic that often feels too good to be true.  I'm savoring every moment before that dynamic gets a radical makeover when the twins arrive.

I'm here to offer my SparkNotes version of Parenting 101, the quick version of lessons I learned in the 1st three years of parenting.  New or soon-to-be mommas might appreciate this crash study (and miraculously skip years of cluelessness unlike me) and seasoned mommas might continue reading as means to feel a sense of pride for having passed Parenting 101 light years ago.

1. Expect the Worst:  The worst will happen.  Curious children are going to try their boundaries, explore their landscape, and experiment with all things within reach.  When my son ripped a clump of hair from my sweet niece I was so horrified I couldn't move in the church pew.  I went numb from my eyeballs to my toes.  All I could think was, that's not my son, that's not my son, that's not my son.  But it was my son.  He did it.  The actions of children are not a direct correlation to our whole nature as parents or their whole nature as mini-persons.  However, they do need a swift and assured response when things go awry.  We need not act shocked or disgusted.  Expecting the worst is my way of saying consider the possibility that your sweet darling might do something in public in front of your ex-boss which makes you feel like melting into oblivion.  In that moment you can confidently respond rather than react rashly, to remember there is often reason behind the misbehavior (and you will figure it out even if not right away) and that your parenting isn't summed up in that one moment.

2. Talk, talk, talk:  The 1st night of my son's life I stared, gazed, and thanked God endlessly for granting me something so stunning.  And while I guess I moved beyond parenting as one long gaze into my son's eyes, it did take me quite a while to realize that everything I was feeding (in the figurative sense) Thomas was planting seeds and would come to fruition.  Did I really need to explain to him the process for organizing the pantry as suggested by baby books? Yes!! Loving little ones who can't yet speak can sometimes be.... mind-numbing.  I've laughed out loud several times at the awkward experience of talking intelligently to a baby whose idea of feedback appears to be: drooling, kicking, and spitting milk back up on your shirt. I've been amazed though at how all my talking, eventually, came back around and now I listen to my son who wants to talk, talk, talk too.  And wow! The joy in having conversations with our talking little peoples. It's the best! I talk to Thomas in preparation of new experiences or of my expectations, and doing so always pays off in big ways.  As a family, we do a lot of our talking in the kitchen or at the dining table and I love the communion of sharing our day's highs and lows (although we don't call them that). I see that our practice of talking to rather than at each other makes each of us feel a sense of belonging.

3. Be One Step Ahead (when possible): Anticipating children's needs is a tricky skill to master.  It takes a lot of practice in intimately knowing both ourselves and the littles.  And I'm not the one to take advice from.  I can be quite the spaz.  I once had Thomas blow his nose into a diaper in between aisles at Kohl's because I didn't have on me a single napkin, Kleenex, or wet wipe.  I'm the antithesis of the Together Mom.  But being one step ahead is, just like the rest of parenting, unique for each of us.  Thomas and I are beasts about food intake.  If meals don't arrive on time we are some unhappy creatures.  Knowing that helps me curb would-be cranky behavior.  I learn what one step ahead looks like every day too because it's always changing. Showing I'm excited to go see Jesus with Thomas on Sunday is me one step ahead.  Stepping away from my busy-ness to sit down and play with trains or "abengers" before he asks is me one step ahead.  Including Thomas in all the things that are easy for him to help with (dumping sugar in the bowl, putting place mats on the table, and carrying one end of the laundry basket) is me one step ahead.

4. Listen: About six months ago, I experienced the biggest breakthrough yet in parenting.  It was when I learned to listen to my son.  I knew I loved him so very much, but one of the biggest ways that he needed to know that I loved him was in me listening.  After a string of grit-your-teeth parenting experiences which made me feel like a big pile of crap, I searched Dr. Sears's website for some golden answer.  Dr. Sears, why won't my son listen to me? Being a bit familiar with that site, there were likely very practical solutions to my problem (an unruly child), but one line was a frying pan right to the head.  Are you listening to your child? Often I would respond to him with things like: "just a minute", "hold on", "Mommy's busy right now" and on and on.  I felt what I was doing was often more important than what he wanted me to see, hear, or do.  In turn, when I needed him to listen he didn't care to do so.  And rightfully so.  I've been working at mindful listening now for months.  I feel like this one practice alone saved me from what was becoming a miserable, reactive state of parenting.  Parenting amid a host of disruptions should be lived out as an active kind of prayer, one which says to our littles: you are worthy and I am fully here.  I fail a lot. Luckily, I get lots and lots of chances to show him that his words are a treasure to me.  And added bonus--listening means all these things in great abundance:  deep trust in one another, little fascinating insights, a vulnerability that welcomes growth (for me and him), and a ton of laughter!

5. Know thy Self / Connect with Others:  Parenting can become complicated quick.  So much out there saying... here's the right way! It doesn't need to be a laborious process of weeding through endless advice though because it can be wrapped up in this nugget: Parenting is the practice of getting to know yourself alongside getting to know your child.  Prescription to one author, doctor, or know-it-all of parenting is my definition of disaster.  I'm the 1st person in line at the library to to pick up another book on parenting (as well as any other subject you can imagine) but reading articulate and well-laid plans for feeding, sleeping, potty-training, or any other sort of child-rearing obstacle just adds to my possible tools for use rather than my resolute plan of attack.  Knowing our boundaries, our talents, and our core values are much more important than following the shining light of an expert or your fabulous mommy friend who scored great success in swearing off (fill in the blank).  And while I want to stress we should use a mix of common sense, trial and error, and talking with your spouse for solutions, reaching out to resources is healthy too.  Mommy mentors are a wonderful blessing.  The advice of others who have gone before us is often very practical and applicable.  In turn, we can find a deep connection with other women or men who are eager to remind us of our sanity, the humor in the situation, or that this too shall pass.  These relationships are second to us knowing and doing all the dirty work that's required in being our full selves, but they are absolutely wonderful! You are no island.  And you sure as heck shouldn't be changing poopy diapers on that island without anyone else to laugh with about the abominable stench.

* I took this course with Professor Thomas.  I found him to be a difficult professor.  He gave me tons of homework and he wouldn't tell me what was on the test.  Sometimes, he made me feel so little because he acted like the curriculum was stuff I should already know.  But he was pretty cool.  He cancels class sometimes and every time I see him on campus he is really friendly.

** Also, you really might want to get notes from someone else. I had to retake this class an embarrassing number of times.

Good luck!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pregnancy Update Overload

Bed rest - Orders to get into bed and stay there sounded scary once upon a time.  I've met mommies of twins who have been given that directive at ten weeks, twenty weeks, and two weeks before induction.  At each of their stories I had previously felt pity.  Now I just feel jealous.  Just three months ago, before the news of the twins, I envisioned the 1st month of summer as a fun time of nesting and squeezing in extra special memories with Thomas before the "baby" arrived.  Now, I fantasize about making it to the end of the school year, handing in my keys at the office, and collapsing into bed for a self-directed, but no less legitimate, prescription of bed rest until the boys decide to make their debut. Heaven.

Thomas & the Twins - He continues to insist their names are Penguin and Peanut Butter & Jelly. Or some other version of that but always with two names that start with Ps.  Tonight, he pulled up my shirt and down my pants band to get a full exposure show of what he sees as the twins' feeble attempt to break out of jail.  Yesterday, I stopped walking and winced at some pain.  He said, "What's wrong, Mommy? Does your belly hurt? Here. I can rub it for you."  Good kid, that Thomas.

Back Pain - I had none with Thomas. And already, at 28 1/2 weeks, I've reported to my husband that I have the slight inclination my tailbone could snap off.  I took two naps this weekend.  I was more sore than I was tired.  This doesn't bode well for making it several more weeks.

Loving the Boys - Here's a little bit of an embarrassing confession.  I have been so stressed, preoccupied, in tears, or worried from the moment we found out the one was two, that I gave myself little license for excitement.  Last week I let some true happiness bubble up inside me (felt great!) and this morning I woke up and felt this big swarm of love for these two souls I'm going to meet and know and cherish as individuals with their own personalities and dreams... even if it was momentarily before I went back to cursing my size triple G bra and the fearful feat of shaving my legs which had me genuinely concerned I would topple over at the slightest lack of poise.

Freeze-a-thon - My mission of cramming my freezer full of food is a success.  We've got oodles of French toast, soup, chicken and fajita veggies, taco seasoned beef, chili, and some other stuff I can't remember right now.  Every time I think I'm going to slow down in this race to not cooking for as long as possible post birth, I remember that even today making my way up stairs for the copier proves an Olympic feat so I better utilize my faculties before I completely give out.

Small Talk - In those twin books, there were so many quips of advice from snarky mommies of twins.  Their frustrations with strangers' questions made for an indignant reader on my part.  Oh, I would never be sarcastic with someone's sweet questions - OR - Really, people? They're just harmlessly curious.  But I'm kind of burned out with the same sweet and harmless questions, so I've dipped into some outside-the-small-talk-box thinking.  At the grocery store this week, after the cashier wishing me good luck with twins plus one I looked him straight in the eyes and said, "You should pray for me.  Even if you aren't the praying type. Ok. Have a great night!"

Car seats - There are now three car seats in the back of my Vue. To say that buckling Thomas in takes a knack for contortion would be quite the underestimation.  In one particularly dismal attempt to hear that sweet click Thomas said from his scrunched position beneath my arm, "We're in a nightmare." Yep. That about sums it up.

Stretch Marks - I'm at the Valentine's Day card stage.  You know the ones that are cheap illusions: turn it slightly to the left and it's Sponge Bob with hearts in his eyes; turn it slightly to the left and it's Patrick drooling. Turn me slightly to the left and my belly appears unscathed.  Turn me slightly to the right and my stretch marks say Why, hellllloooo there!  Yep. It's awesome in a I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-my-body-and-there's-nothing-I-can-do-to-stop-it-now kind of way.

Names - For once, something exactly like my pregacrazy with Thomas.  We picked out names quickly.  I love them.  But I've also gone over them a disturbing amount of times in my head, in the shower, and in any space where I find myself alone and able to whisper their names obsessively aloud as if the 1,238,257th time doing so will elicit some kind of aha! kind of finality to the decision.  I did the same thing with Thomas's name, questioning it over and over until the end even though we both knew that's what we wanted.  I'm a bit of a commitment-phobe.  I'm absolutely the last person on Earth to consider getting a tattoo. You think I'm joking. I'm not. The commitment of permanent art on my body would send me right over the edge.  The thought that one of the twins' names will be superior to the other sends my eyes into a twitching fit.  When you finally do hear the names, just be grateful you didn't have to pick out two at the same time and feel free to say something encouraging to me like, "I'm glad you decided to not let your children go nameless" -or- "Oh great. You thought to pick out two!"

NICU - We did the general tour of labor and delivery this weekend. Then we asked to see the NICU.  It just so happened there were twin babies the exact gestation as the boys. As soon as I saw the first teeny tiny little baby girl curled up I announced to everyone I was going to cry.  And then I cried. Not because the NICU was scary or that I was sad we will very, very likely be spending a great deal of time there, but because I was so touched to see a sweetie the same size as my babies. It made me want to meet them SO bad... but not enough to go into labor and then hole up in the NICU for three months.

Numbers - 28 1/2 lbs gained.  28 1/2 weeks pregnant.  3 - 7 weeks left until I kiss my boys.

22 weeks

24 weeks
25 weeks or so
28 weeks

Friday, April 5, 2013

Super Quick Takes

I'm timing myself today.  I've never actually tried to do the quick takes ... quickly. So, here goes.

My husband introduced me to the Pomodoro technique over a year ago and I fell in love.  I think I even wrote about it here a while ago.  I use it when I'm tired, whiny about having to work, or my son is down for a nap.  But this week, at a writing conference, we used the method for writing. Wow! I felt pretty ridiculous because I had never thought to use it for writing.  I'm a convert.  It's an incredible tool for writing. [For any kind of work!] Check it out.

This pregnancy has been so different than my pregnancy with Thomas. Hmm. I wonder why?! Ha! Anywho, the crazy mind-blowing fatigue that took hold of my 1st trimester is mirrored by a crazy mind-blowing weepiness of my third trimester.  I. Cry. All. The. Time. The other day I swore to myself I had to cut myself off from all commercials, photos and videos of military personnel separated from their families.  Dangerous grounds for this tearful mommy.  I've heard people talk about a roller coaster of emotions.  Right.  It's like that.  Only the roller coaster I'm on is rickety and has no brakes and I'm blindfolded and crying during the whole ride.  

I had a memorable April fools day.  I woke at 5 something with an intense contraction.  I grabbed Paul's hand and breathed and breathed and breathed and shushed him when he asked what in the heck was going on.  Other than feeling like someone had wrapped a band around my waist and was trying to pull the life out of me, I felt particular pain on my right side, Baby A's apartment.  I confided in close ones I really secretly hoped and felt it [and the two other contractions which followed] coincided with Baby A flipping himself from his upright position to head down.  Yesterday afternoon, my detailed ultrasound confirmed my suspicion. Another picture of the babies' heads together, once again, made me happy.  And as #3 made public info, weepy too.

Baby A @ 2.1 lbs & Baby B @ 2.4 lbs

Wanna read an awesome birth story? Check out Katie's Part I & Part II-IV.  Very cool to see women have such unique and beautiful stories with each child.  

A surprising number of students have asked to touch my belly during this pregnancy.  I've chucked any fears that doing so will have principals kick in the door for inappropriate behavior.  Today, two students felt the babies kick.  Maybe, just maybe, that moment of very much being kicked by two active babies will help just one of my curious students somehow, some day sense the fallacy presented in those who declare abortion as a means to terminate something which isn't a viable life.  I had an incredible transformation, when I carried Thomas and felt life so loudly within me, of compassion, horror, and sadness for every woman and man whose lives have touched the darkness of abortion.  

Tomorrow is the beginning of my Freezathon! I've got a pretty long list of different items I plan on freezing for this postpartum because my goodness---I was NOT ready last time. If you have any suggestions on your favorite items to freeze [or warnings on what not to freeze] I would be happy to hear!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Btw, turns out even the quickest quick takes aren't so quick.  Mine took 28 minutes. Fail.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Homeward Bound

I've wrestled with being a "working mom" in a variety of ways in the three years since my son's birth.  I've felt proud for pulling it off, harried when I haven't, and a constant awkward juggling act of overflowing laundry, papers needing graded, and a neglected husband clamoring for my attention in between.  I've relished the worth of being a teacher and that of being a mom and have attempted numerous unwritten math equations of budgets, time management, and priority adjustments to magically execute both roles.  At my finest moments, I've stormed late into school after dropping a sick son off at day care and thrown a volatile, "This working woman stuff is crap!" to unsuspecting teachers who happened to be in my path on the way to my classroom--suggesting to them, myself and God above I was one ear infection, sock-less sock drawer, or frantic morning routine away from chucking it all in the trash and riding off into the sunset in my trail blazing search for the promised land: at home motherhood.

But really I never could muster the courage to step away.  I looked to women who had slipped off the grid for that title of stay at home mom and found them quite mysterious.  What did they do all day? No really, what was it they were doing all day?  How did they manage little ones who couldn't speak, preserving self, and all those household demands that can so sneakily slide into mundane? How did they keep their sanity intact with an endless string of children's songs and adult-to-child conversations? Did they question their decision? Were they lonely? And how in the world were they able to take that leap of faith?

Essentially, I couldn't prompt myself to walk away from the financial security of my salary for the enterprise of full blown motherhood, regardless of its honorable purpose, wherein I would likely find a great deal of failure in myself.  

Yet, I'm here to share with you that I'm in fact homeward bound.  At the close of this school year, I'm taking a break from teaching to be with my sons (the three of cool to type that part!).

The decision has been met with, as any reasonable person would imagine, a roller coaster of emotions: peace in knowing it was definitely and finally time to do so, sadness for leaving a rich, collaborative work environment, anxiety for the unknown, and excitement for the opportunity to journey through something new, foreign, and undoubtedly challenging.

Two weeks ago I wrote down all my fears about being a stay at home mom on a piece of paper and took a moment to think.  It was very summer camp-esque.  That kind of activity where your paper plate of fears is thrown into the bonfire and ta-da, you're free! Only it definitely didn't make me feel free. It just helped me face the reality that stay at home motherhood isn't one big party of days that consist of me donning the apron and patiently showing my sons how to bake just as much as it wouldn't be one long nightmare of fiendish tear-inducing poop horrors, nursing babies out to kill, and me shower-less as I greet my husband at the end of the day.  It wasn't, won't, be either of those.  It will be some of this and some of that and a lot of in between stuff all over the place. 

Or so says the woman who hasn't even packed the chuck wagon bound for the promised land yet and has no idea that by the time she will have made it to the plains of Kansas she will have tossed half of her weighty belongings to the side of the well worn trail.  Because that's how I work.  I cling. I plan. I collect. I scheme. I write. I pack up all my hopes and dreams into my heart.  And then somehow along the way I happen to really live and in so doing discover to lean into an authentic reality...and that's when I let go and grow. 

Last night, I earned my initiation into that stretching title of SAHM.  At my first Mothers of Multiples meeting, moms with similar twin ages huddled together in small groups to swap advice, share stories, and ask questions.  After a winding conversation of birth stories, baby weights and milestones, and our considerations for the future, we landed in that subject of work.  Our positions on the Map of Working Mothers popped off one by one.  And there it was after my transition-to-at-home-motherhood-announcement, an onslaught of  "Oh, I could never do that" concessions and counters for my craziness.  I smiled, bit my tongue and thought of how we're all connected with our guilt to be superhero moms regardless of where we are and what our work looks like.  And that guilt can sometimes fuel our defensiveness when really we should be high-fiving each other for working our butts off to put family first in the unique and (always) courageous ways we know how: working mom, stay at home mom, or whatever title it is that you are currently wearing.

I'll go ahead and deflate this post.  I'll inhale the helium and make a funny voice to make you smile.  I thought I needed some big announcement to declare, "I'm going home! I'm gonna be a stay at home mom!", but I don't really.  I thought I needed people to rally by my side and congratulate me and wish me luck. And don't get me wrong---I would happily accept all above! But I'm in a happy place right now where I'm not concerned with the difference between me and other women, the race up the ladder, or what I have to prove. I'm at a happy place where I think womanhood rocks and being a mother is powerful and it's a super challenging job regardless of our titles and that unity is to be celebrated!  

Most of all, I'm here to tell you that all those questions I had about those elusive, off the grid mommies will now get answered by me.  I plan on spelling out for you how I've lost my sanity, detail my attempts to manage a string of endless days, and narrate both the joys and the horrors of the Real Housewife of Three Boys Under Four.  And you might get lucky one day and happen upon a post which throws a volatile, "This stay at home mom stuff is crap!" your way when you are least expecting it.