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Is Trouble Making Genetic?

Is Trouble Making Genetic?

Back when I was roughly Ellen’s age, I decided it was time to leave my mark on the world in a very literal way. My mother had previously been an Avon representative and had a good supply of nail polish. When she was occupied (I think gardening) a friend and I got into her stash and proceeded to paint everything – our bodies, my toys and books, the kitchen table – EVERYTHING. I don’t have any photographic evidence of my mischief (this was back in the days of film cameras and I think documentation of their child’s unruliness was not the first thing that came to my parents’ minds), but if you visit my parents’ house they can point out spots on various pieces of furniture where my “art” still stands strong 26 years later.

Nail polish on the Floor

Today when Cooper ran into the kitchen to inform me that “Ellen has purple all over her hands!” and I found her hands and a small portion of my bedroom floor lacquered with purple nail polish I almost had to laugh. She doesn’t seem to be quite as devious as I was as a child, but maybe that’s just because I didn’t have a big brother keeping an eye on me.

Fancy Hands

The Ebb and Flow

The Ebb and Flow

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone

One of my favorite things about Cooper has always been his cheerful disposition, so when he started having crying outbursts at school and fake coughing in the mornings in hopes that I’d keep him home my heart hurt. We have a great team that is working hard with us to help him feel less anxious, but it doesn’t make my heart ache any less on the days his eyes well up at school drop-off. I hug him and over-enthusiastically tell him to “have a great day!” even though I feel like I’ve been emotionally sucker punched. Then I wave feverishly and smile bravely until he disappears into his classroom and pray I can avoid my own crying outburst in front of the other moms.

Then yesterday, when he stood up in front of our entire church congregation and said audible words into the microphone during our annual Primary program I thought my heart might burst with pride. Just one year ago this same program made my heart hurt as the difference between him and the other kids seemed so painfully obvious. This year there was still a difference, but he’s gotten bolder and that made my heart soar.

I didn’t give it much thought before becoming a parent myself (sorry, mom and dad), but being a parent of any child (because they all have their struggles) is brave work. I often find the emotional rollercoaster ride of parenting to be disorienting and some days I think the highs and the lows just might do me in – and we haven’t even had to deal with anything heart wrenchingly difficult. It can be uncomfortable to feel so intensely. Every time I think my heart has been stretched to the breaking point we have a small triumph or a nudge from above that reminds me we’re being watched over.

Last week I dropped Cooper off at school on a day that it was pouring rain. The kids got to go in the front door instead of lining up on the basketball court outside. Cooper was thrown off by the change and I left him in the classroom looking a bit bewildered. As I was leaving the building I found myself walking next to one of the other moms in the class and we started talking. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked how Cooper was adjusting to school. Even though I’m pretty open about Cooper’s ASD diagnosis I rarely spring it on people when I first meet them, but today I did. “He has Autism Spectrum Disorder, pretty high-functioning, but it makes being in a class with that many kids kind of rough sometimes.” The words were out of my mouth before I even thought about the possible repercussions. As it turns out she’s an occupational therapist who works with kids like Cooper all the time. We had one of the most comfortable conversations I’ve ever had with another mom about Cooper’s challenges and even though it didn’t change our struggles, I felt like one more person understood us and somehow that made my heart feel a little bit stronger.

Growing Something Beautiful

Growing Something Beautiful

We recently attended a kindergarten info session. We were in the 5% minority of people in attendance who brought children. As other parents dragged the meeting on past its scheduled end time by interrogating the teachers and asking lengthy questions about the tenure of the faculty and the extracurricular activities available to kindergartners (yes, kindergartners) our children grew restless. When my attempts to occupy Ellen with my phone failed and she announced “I’m not being quiet right now!” in a high pitched voice, I took her to the back of the room. I suddenly felt guilty for bringing my offspring (to a school for children) and suspected there were several people giving me the stink-eye for not leaving our kids home with our nonexistent nanny.  Maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel like other parents watch me a lot. It makes me feel self-conscious about my daughter who doesn’t have an inkling what an inside voice is and my son who is stubbornly particular. But maybe it isn’t just me. Maybe we’re all just watching each other and hoping no one suspects the truth: that most of the time we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.
***
For the most part, I avoid anything that might be categorized as parenting advice, mostly for anger management issues, but every once in awhile something makes its way to me. The other day Noel emailed me a link to an article titled “Six Tips on Disciplining Children from an Experienced Teacher,” prefacing it with the remark, “I’m not sure if this is good advice or if it angers me.” Noel is not as well acquainted with the world of parenting articles where there is an overabundance of advice and general judginess and I was curious what had upset him. I clicked through and quickly saw what he meant. The tips were good and made me think of ways I could improve as a parent, but the author’s matter of fact examples of how she implemented them with her Stepford children was maddening. The calm interactions they had that always ended in the kids doing exactly what she wanted were almost incomprehensible to me and probably any other person who’s ever spent anytime with children or teens. Maybe this woman really has the magic touch or her children are genetically engineered, but it just felt like there was something missing or that there was a truth that hadn’t been fully told. 
****
Cooper’s preschool sent home a flier for a parenting class put on by a community organization. It had a picture of a boy with crazed eyes riding a Hobby Horse and read, “A Parenting Manual: Because kids don’t come with instructions” and promised that the class would answer your toughest parenting questions. I rolled my eyes and decided it was best I not go and poison all the optimistic parents who were so earnestly looking for the clear cut answers to how to raise children. In the Ted Talk “For Parents Happiness is a High Bar,” Jennifer Senior asks, “Why is it that raising our children is associated with so much anguish and so much confusion? Why is it that we are at sixes and sevens about the one thing human beings have been doing successfully for millennia, long before parenting message boards and peer-reviewed studies came along?”  I think about that sometimes and vow to relax and just parent from the heart, but before the thought is hardly finished my brain starts to panic asking, “What exactly does that mean?” I’m still working on figuring it out, but the words Senior spoke to her son the day he was born have at least given me a mantra I think I can live by. As she held him in her arms for the first time she whispered in his ear, “I will try so hard not to hurt you.”
***
I always hesitate to give parenting advice and have no intentions of ever calling myself an expert. When my sister calls me in hopes of gleaning some wisdom from me on how to raise her growing son my heart always breaks because I know I probably don’t have the answers. I hardly know what to do to make her son sleep anymore than I knew how to make my son sleep, so I blather out suggestions of things I tried or read about or heard other people did and then tell her the only thing on the subject I know with certainty, “I know this hard, but you’re doing a good job, really.”
***
One time I was talking to my mom about gardening. My mother is a Master Gardener and I was trying to express to her how unknowledgeable I felt about our yard. “It just feels like this huge experiment,” I said, “I just keep throwing things out there and hoping something works.” I waited, expecting her to give advice about what I should do differently, but instead she simply reassured me, “That’s gardening.” I think parenting is a lot like that; a huge experiment that even the “experts” haven’t completely figured out. We’re all just out there working hard and wiping the sweat off our brows as we tend what’s growing on our plots of land. Despite our best efforts though, there will always be a neighbor that doesn’t like our methods of landscaping and maybe we won’t like theirs, but we can’t let that drag us down because the truth is we’re all just trying our best to make something beautiful.
Training for Life

Training for Life

I read through countless bios of OBGYNs when I found out I was pregnant with Ellen. I wanted to make a choice that would be a good fit the second time around, but wading through academic histories, detailed resumes, and generic healthcare philosophies didn’t bring me any closer to knowing who to choose. In the end, my decision wasn’t based on shared viewpoints or prestigious degrees (although she has those too), but because she “start[s] every day with a thirty minute run along the trails below the nearby mesa.”  When I read that, I thought: There’s a woman cut from the same fabric as my own soul; we’ll be able to figure this thing out. 

team 015
Photo by Cindy McConkie

I’ll take a run anytime I can squeeze it in, but my preference is running with the sunrise. My current profession doesn’t offer a lot of alone time, so I cherish the quiet moments where I’m alone with my thoughts while the rest of the world nurses cups of coffee or lounges in bed. Everything feels fresh and hopeful in the dawn hours. Maybe it’s because, as Glennon Doyle Melton points out, “[The] sun shows up every morning, no matter how bad you’ve been the night before. It shines without judgement, it never withholds . . . The sunrise [is our] daily invitation from God to come back to life.” Days that I miss this ritual I almost always forget to pray.

I’ve been running since before I can remember. My parents are both runners, so when I was young I figured running is just what people do. I was as fast as the boys on the playground, always the one to beat on the timed mile in PE, and ran four years of Cross-Country and Track in spite of my parents being coaches. When Noel agreed to run a midnight 5K with me when we first started dating I knew he had serious potential and now running is a major contributing factor to why my children are still alive. I’m not one of those runners that never misses a day. I cross-train, get caught up in life, and sometimes am downright lazy, but it’s always there for me, waiting when I need it. It takes me as I am: fast, slow, and even jog-walking through pregnancy.

Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.
Noel and I halfway through our second marathon.

Running helps me purge the negative thoughts I have about myself and about others and helps me get one tiny step closer to seeing all of us the way God does. I’m unsure how this works. Whether the negativity oozes out of my pores as I perspire, gets expelled with my breaths, or pounded out through my feet, but I’m just happy it works. As I run I get to sift out my thoughts and emotions. I breathe, I pray, I count my blessings, and I sweat. Running makes me nicer, more patient, more grateful. Sometimes I think of nothing except the fact that I am; the thud of my feet and the labor of my breathing. Certainly running doesn’t solve all my problems, but it keeps me from reaching toxic levels. It strips me down to my barest, strongest self and leaves me to take on the world with the call “I am Woman; hear me roar!” reverberating through my soul.

IMG_1267

I often am asked if I’m training for anything. These days racing is sparse. There’s just not time or money or energy for it, but I’m still training, not for a race, but for life.

Suddenly We’re Those People

Suddenly We’re Those People

What happens when Ellen won't settle for anything less than being held when I'm trying to make dinner.
What happens when Ellen won’t settle for anything less than being held when I’m trying to make dinner.

When we only had one kid, it was easier to hide, but now that we have two kids it’s painfully obvious. We’ve become those people. You know the people I speak of. The ones that make you want to avoid any type of free day at the museum, the ones you don’t want to sit behind in church, and definitely not the ones you want to be sitting next to on a cross country flight. This last week has been full of reminders that this is what we’ve become. A trip to the Botanic Garden spent herding kids that were unwittingly engaged in a constant game of chicken with all the other patrons. Our final summer movie where Ellen refused to sit in her seat, almost got in a brawl with a toddler that tried to steal her chair, and shouted commentary during the entire film (e.g. “Silly squirrel” followed by maniacal laugher. “It’s a dog! Woof, woof!” followed by more maniacal laughter.)  Then Saturday when we did some rare shopping, Ellen threw a huge tantrum because she’s on a nap strike and Cooper kept disappearing which had us in a perpetual clothing rack frisking frenzy.

Ellen insisting on getting her own utensils.
Ellen insisting on getting her own utensils and yes she’s not wearing pants. She rarely does these days.

To top off the week we went to church. Our pew was sandwiched between two friends who each have a small child. As we wrestled our kids and tried to put a quiet end to their orchestration of raspberry blowing we’d exchange glances that said, “I know, sometimes I wonder why we ever come out in public too.” At the end of the meeting we all stumbled out into the hall, our arms full of discarded shoes and broken crayons. We gave each other pats on the back and politely said thank you to the widows  and women without children who told us they just love to watch our children at church.

Super Cooper eating blueberries. Or is it that he thought I wouldn't recognize him in disguise and he'd miss a lecture on not eating all the berries!
Super Cooper eating blueberries. Or is it that he thought I wouldn’t recognize him in disguise and he’d miss a lecture on not eating all the berries in one sitting!

Even though most days leave me exhausted, I’m glad I have these little people that remind me to live in the moment. There are perks to being those people after all. No one tells you you’re too big to go down the tube slide at the park or questions your sanity when you dance in the aisles of the grocery store.  Even the low expectations of strangers is kind of nice since they’ll congratulate you when your toddler only throws one fit when waiting in a long line at the post office. We weren’t always those people and from what I’m promised we won’t always be them either, but for know I’m just doing my best to hang on to the ride and not get thrown off.

The best picture we could get of us on our trip to the Botanic Garden.
The best picture we could get of us on our trip to the Botanic Garden.
For My Sister, Hope

For My Sister, Hope

Noel tells me I need to be more positive about being a mom–especially when I’m talking to you. Maybe he’s right, but you know I’ll always tell it to you straight. You are about to hop onto one of the wildest rides of your life.  Being a mother is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Nothing could have prepared me for it. You literally become someone new overnight. At times it’s disorienting, overwhelming, and downright exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating in ways you never could have imagined. Being a mom is weird like that.

There will be times when you realize you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, but don’t let that psych you out. All of us mommas have plenty of advice we’d love to give, but take it with a grain of salt because even if it looks like we have it together, we don’t. We’re all still figuring things out too. In the midst of your uncertainty, there will also be super-human, adrenaline pumping moments where the primal momma-bear part of you kicks in and you will know exactly what to do; heaven help anyone that gets in your way. And for the days in between, remember that right now your kisses have superpowers and your arms have the strength to keep the evils of the universe at bay.

There may be some evenings that you’ll fall to your knees in exhaustion crying to God that you “can’t do this,” but there will also be days that you’ll find your heart overflowing with gratitude.

Some nights you’ll be ready to make a deal with the devil for a good night’s rest and other nights you won’t be able to tear yourself away from your child’s bedside as you stare at their angelic sleeping face. Inexplicably, all children look like angels when they sleep no matter what sort of mischief they pursued during the day.

You’ll come to realize that the only thing separating you from the child-murdering parents on the news is the ability to close the door and take a few deep breaths.  And as long as you’re able to step away, you will still be a good parent. There will also be times where you won’t be able to get enough of the soft touch of their hair on your cheek as they wrap you in a full body hug. Strangely, the time between the two events may only be a matter of seconds.

You’ll crave silence, but then when you get it you’ll find yourself in a panic, and usually for good reason.

Some days your house will verge on being declared a national disaster and you’ll feel like you didn’t accomplish a single thing. On those days remind yourself that you deserve an awful lot of credit for keeping everyone alive and fed.

You’ll do things you would never do for yourself, have courage you never thought you had, and grow in ways you never thought possible. You’ll get used to people interrupting your showers, stealing your breakfast, and breaking your stuff. You’ll develop the survival skill of doing most everything one-handed while someone yells at you.

Some days all you’ll want is for no one to touch you or breathe on you and it’s important that you figure out a way to get that once in awhile. Even though there will be things you won’t be able to do once you’re a parent, don’t lose touch with the person you were and the things you loved to do. Both you and your children will benefit from you having other interests than their welfare. And for those times where it feels like your kid has hijacked your life, remember that there are other new and wonderful things you’ll get to do as a parent. When all else fails, sneak a piece of chocolate from your secret stash or take a nap instead of cleaning the house. Chocolate and naps are miracle workers.

Remember, you’re not just a mom, you’re a Mom. You’ll be doing the best social work you’ve ever done on the lowest pay, but your work will be beautiful and impactful. Know that just because you admit motherhood is hard doesn’t mean you don’t love it. Even on my worst days there’s something deep in my soul that whispers that these children were always meant to be mine and I know it’s the same for you and your little boy. You’re going to be awesome. Take it from an expert.

I am not a playground!

Why Co-Sleeping Could Never Fly At Our Place

Why Co-Sleeping Could Never Fly At Our Place

Previous to our marriage, Noel and I had roommates complain about our excessive tossing and turning and as newlyweds we’d often joke that mysterious bumps and bruises were casualties of sleeping in the same bed. These days we sleep like the dead, but when it sounds like an all-out brawl has commenced in our kids’ bedrooms, we repeatedly find ourselves wild-eyed and out of breath facing the calm exhalations of their dreams and not the intruder we expected. With us as their parents though, should it really come as any surprise? We’re a family of thrashers.

Munchkin Book Club
It looks like they’re being adorable, but they’re really having a secret meeting to discuss how to ruin another beautiful night’s sleep.

The kids have been like this from the beginning. While pregnant, I’d often wake up in the middle of the night to the strange sensation of someone doing somersaults in my belly. When they were babies, I would often bring them into bed hoping at least one of us could get some rest (and at that point I would have slept nude in the front yard if it would have made a difference), but they’d just kick me in the ribs, poke me in the eye, or scream in my face. Sleep just wasn’t in the cards no matter what configuration our pillows took.

Ellen trying out the homeless sleep in a box thing.

Sleep is much improved from the baby days, but when the pitter-patter of little feet makes it’s way across my bedroom floor in the twilight hours, I cringe and pretend I can’t feel the eyeballs that are locked on me like a target. But they never go away, so I always relent and pull a little person into bed with me. It’s sweet for about the first 10 seconds when I  wrap my arms around them and nuzzle my nose into their soft hair, but the tender moment rapidly dematerializes as I turn into a human punching bag. Even if it’s 5:30am we’ve learned by now that trying to sleep is futile so we surrender our pillows and start the day. The child (or children on particularly fabulous mornings) snuggles under our covers delighted to have the big bed all to themselves, which I think was their devious plan all along.

Cooper discovered my stepping stool was the perfect lunch table. This has nothing to do with sleep, but it needed to be shared 🙂
Déjà Vu or What Exactly Does Childproof Mean?

Déjà Vu or What Exactly Does Childproof Mean?

I thought when we took Cooper to the ER for downing a bottle of off-brand Nyquil we’d met our family quota for accidental over the counter drug overdoses, but I guess I was wrong.

Waiting in the ER
Ellen insisted on the shoes. Even the ER deserves a little sparkle.

We’d just gotten back from a quick last minute trip to Utah (more on that later) and Ellen beat me to unpacking a bottle of off-brand Children’s Tylenol. Somehow she got the top off (I’m seriously doubting the integrity of childproof lids on off-brand medications . . . ) and I found her in the bathroom chugging the bottle’s contents as quickly as she could. By this time we knew the drill. Noel called poison control while I got the kids into pajamas. Then we all loaded into the car and drove to the hospital. Ellen thought everything was a really fun adventure until the nurses brought out the needles. By the time they’d drawn enough blood for their tests Ellen had thrown up her lunch, bled all over the sheets, and screamed loud enough to break glass. They wanted us to try and get her to drink a charcoal mixture that would absorb the acetaminophen  and protect her liver, but she wanted nothing to do with it. After Ellen, me, and the entire room were covered in black goo from her kicking, screaming, and repeated vomiting we were finally given permission to just give up. We all sat there shell-shocked with the exception of Cooper who erased all the doctor’s notes on the whiteboard and drew abstract works of art. Since we wouldn’t know anything definitive until at least 10:30 we decided to take Cooper home and had a good friend come stay at our house while he slept. (Thanks Pam!)

gossip_mormonad
Pretty sure medical charcoal is what they used in this Mormon Ad 😉

Fortunately, the second round of blood tests showed Ellen’s acetaminophen levels going down so we were able to close the door on the overflowing hamper of dirty sheets and towels (pretty sure our hospital co-pay was worth that alone) and head home. We’ve resolved to be even more diligent about keeping medicines away from the kids and have our fingers crossed that we don’t become pros at this.

Passed Out

 

Today, According to My Text Messages

Today, According to My Text Messages

9:28am – I just discovered that while I was in the shower the kids ate all the berries and what they didn’t eat they smeared all over the couch downstairs!

9:36am – Well, I just scrubbed it and will see how it dries.

10:06am – And Cooper just peed all over his floor and bed. Awesome.

10:10am – Sometimes I just want to say, “Dear God, Why did you think I could handle this?”

Noel: Well, you haven’t killed either of them yet, so that’s good.

Me: Yet.

11:43am – [Back from Costco] We’re good, but the kids didn’t earn pizza.

Noel: I’m sorry they’re being so bad today. 7 more hours until bedtime.

12:03pm – And the cherry on top: he just peed on the floor again.

12:29pm – And Ellen decided a 15 min car nap was good sigh 🙁 I’m going to eat cake w/ whipped cream. In front of them 😉

12:58pm – And Ellen drew on the island w/ permanent marker while I ran some sausage down to the basement. I’m almost to the point where this is hilarious.

2:53pm – And just now I found them stuffing toilet paper in our toilet.

Noel: That’s it. Hogtie them and I’ll deal with them when I get home.

Me: Deal 😉

Disclaimer: No children were harmed (or even hogtied) today although there was a significant amount of timeout and bedtime came early. And just to remind myself everyone that our kids aren’t always monsters, here are a few cute photos.

Mini French Braid
Ellen’s first french braid.

Bubbles! Swing

Kids and Christmas Ornaments

Kids and Christmas Ornaments

You know how most parents worry about their kids breaking all of their Christmas ornaments? Well, that isn’t really a problem at our house. The kids have been really gentle with the ornaments and haven’t broken a single one. But do you know what is a problem?

A refreshing drink.

The kids drinking out of the ornaments. Yes, you read that right.

Sippy cup silliness

And it’s not like they’re dehydrated. No matter how many times I give them both full cups of water, I still find them sipping out of more ornaments.

Another round of ornaments please!

Whatever. I’ll just try to be grateful that they aren’t breaking things and try not to think too much about what sort of terrible toxins they have potentially ingested.

Confiscated ornaments