Dear Family & Friends,
Can you believe another year has flown by so quickly? What a year it has been; and what better way to update everyone than a fabulous Christmas letter. Bear with me as it’s my first time ever writing one of these. Here we go.
We find ourselves at this point of the year with a nine, four, and three year old. Our nine-year-old started a new school five weeks before summer last school year; the circumstances of a complicated co-parenting situation that would literally have you reading for months should I explain it all in this letter. We will skip those gory details and just leave it at him starting a new school. He’s adjusted surprisingly well, made lots of new friends, and had a rock-star report card the first quarter of this year.
We spent every second of every spare moment last spring driving to baseball, driving home from baseball, sitting in the cold and rain at baseball, chasing his brother and sister at baseball, and secretly feeling relieved when baseball was cancelled multiple times during the monsoon season Maryland experienced late spring. We felt less relieved when almost the entire fall football season was rained out and we have mixed feeling about his decision to not play basketball this winter. He will be doing indoor football this winter; stay tuned for the much anticipated decision on spring sports.
The two littles took the giant leap from our wonderful and convenient Ms. T’s next door daycare, to pre-k classrooms at a private church academy. The transition was not smooth, not relaxing, not comforting, and not easy. It only took four months to get to the point in which the three-year-old happily runs into the classroom, hugs me, and voluntarily goes to his seat. I can or cannot confirm that the four-year-old still clings to my leg as I try to leave. It’s a work in progress.
Despite the rough adjustment, they both come home singing bible songs, accusing each other of “sinning” every chance they get, and constantly fighting over who gets to be the teacher when they play school. I never fully understood the term “love/hate relationship” until having children 16 months apart.
Our four-year-old is taking dance class and thankfully has an amazing teacher who has been very patient with her hesitancy of joining in. She’s doing better now and despite her hesitancy, is always excited to go. She’s also perfected the art of persistence; I just wish I could say it was in reference to dance. Some day that persistence will serve her well. For now, however, it’s just about enough to drive us crazy.
Our two-year-old tried out soccer for the first time, which was nothing short of a tremendous fail. Thankfully, that season was mostly rained out as well. We will try again next year. He’s continued to make himself known for his father’s class clown personality. This includes walking around the house a few weeks ago, saying something that sounded an awfully lot like “holy fuck.” He told us his teacher at school says it; pretty sure that’s either inaccurate or he’s trying to say something else.
As for Kenny and I; well we are hanging in there. The average week proceeds with us ending a work day with many things to communicate but collapsing on the couch after the last kid is finally asleep and never communicating any of it. Our year started off with celebrating the always anticipated yearly tax returns that give us a much needed break from the constant stress about finances. That lasted about a week total before the panic seeped back in. Two teacher salaries don’t get you a whole hell of a lot in these parts.
In an attempt to get out of that rut, Kenny is doing an admin cohort through Towson University and is currently beside me at his computer, cursing at the seven page paper he has to write. I’m pretty much doing what I can to survive the rat race of the work week and often feel like I lose a tiny piece of my soul during the shit-show of getting everyone where they need to be every morning. Despite what I see as chaos, none of the kids seem to mind the early alarms, long drives, or breakfast in the car… so I guess I’m doing something right?
Although we mostly feel like we are always rushing to sit in traffic, asking each other what is for dinner, unpacking and repacking lunches, and working harder for less pay; life is still pretty damn great. So here’s to kids that make us laugh, partners that we (think) will still be fun to be around after the kids are grown, those fleeting moments of calm when no one is crying or whining, and the teeny tiny chance that 2019 will be the year we win the lottery.
Happy holidays from our family to yours!
a parent of one’s father or mother; a grandmother or grandfather
a legacy of cards, jokes, clocks, lunch, tires, cardboard, and snacks
A legacy of cards. Solitaire was a favorite, but the fast paced Dutch Blitz (a Lancaster County special) didn’t slow her. Her passion of cards made babysitting nights something to look forward to because when homework was finished and pajamas were on, the cards came out. It was often hard to keep up with her flying hands across the table; our minds barely processing the order of cards while she was already throwing out her last one with a yell of “Dutch Blitz!” Amidst the confusion that is now setting it, I was thankful for the moment at my cousin's recent wedding when she looked at me and called me "LeLe" like she used to when I was little.
A legacy of jokes and clocks. Standing in a doorway, he could pretend to grab his own neck like it was a monster arm better than anyone else; sending us into a fit of laughter every time. His attic was magical; filled with the ticking of clocks waiting to be worked on. We would sneak in and climb the steep stairs like we were sneaking into the workshop of Santa himself. There was so much to look at and he would always take the time to show us.
A legacy of lunch. Do you want to go to lunch? It was always the question when she knew I'd be home from college. I'm thankful I was able to say "yes" as many times as I did before we lost her unexpectedly. Food was a huge part of her life; evident in the elaborate and detailed meals she would spend hours on every Christmas Eve. We always anticipated that evening almost as much as we anticipated Christmas morning.
A legacy of tires and cardboard. The tires would appear in our front yard, ready to stack and climb and make into a million different games. Being the owner of the local tire shop had it’s advantages to our makeshift playground imaginations. While he was not a refrigerator salesman, he had the hook up there too. Huge boxes with arrows and “this side up” would appear next to the tires; ready to be turned into houses and spaceships. They would be cut apart and attached to the back of his lawn mower with rope; hours of fun as he pulled us around the empty plot behind his house. We would whip through those insect-filled weeds until bugs were plastered in our hair and teeth.
A legacy of snacks. There was never any shortage of snacks in her pantry. Crackers, pretzels, and those amazing sugar-coated fruit gummies. While she was always staying ahead of the risk of a snack apocalypse, she was also ahead of her time in many ways. When I called her to tell her I was going to be getting a divorce, she simply said, “well honey, I’m sorry that you are going through this. But you are a strong woman, a great mother, and you will get through this.” If she were growing up now, I imagine she'd be advocating for human rights however she could with her fiery personality and fierce stubbornness.
Not losing any grandparents until I was well into adulthood is a blessing I’m aware not all are able to enjoy. The memories that I share with my sisters and my cousins are extensive and many. While our adult lives of jobs and school and raising children of our own may have meant not being around them as much as when we were young, knowing they were there was a place of comfort in our hearts.
As we watch the end coming and as we have had to slowly say goodbye to the giant figures that ruled our childhoods, our hearts break a little.
Their legacies live on in our memories. They live on in our middle names. They live on in the way that our own children look at our parents. And one day they will live on in the way our children’s children will look at us.
You may be a mom friend if you can go for weeks-or even months-playing tag with each other's voicemail.
You may also be a mom friend if you finally connect over the phone after three months and 22 seconds into the call one of you hangs up with a "oh no, gotta go."
You may be a mom friend if you can survive a huge water park for multiple days with multiple children on little sleep and a lot of alcohol.
You may be a mom friend if you find that 95% of your conversations are about your children.
You may be a mom friend if your conversation topics include poop more often than anyone would like.
You may be a mom friend if you plan out a visit with plane tickets and trips to the beach and it becomes taking turns cleaning up puke and trips to the emergency room.
You may be a mom friend if you find yourself supporting each other even when your children are a variety of babies, toddlers, young children, teenagers and adults.
You may be a mom friend if you find yourself sharing tears as you talk about first days of preschool and last days of high school, even if it's been forever since your own children have been there or have yet to be there.
You may be a mom friend if you don't need to ask; you just bring the coffee.
You may be a mom friend if you've seen each other in those big-ass mesh panties, have handed each other pads bigger than your newborn, or have helped prop a boob up while breastfeeding.
You may be a mom friend if reading the above doesn't make you squirm.
You may be a mom friend if you can start telling a story one day and finish it three weeks later.
You may be a mom friend if you feel some sort of victory in a child's success... even when it's not your child.
You may be a mom friend if your children don't realize they are not actually related by blood until they are old enough to understand that sometimes friendship runs as deep as blood.
You may be a mom friend if you became friends because you are a mom. You may also be a mom friend if you were friends before becoming a mom but found that becoming a mom gave you an unspoken forever bond.
Little ballet shoes twirling through the living room.
The dreams we have for this little one twirls with the shoes. A blonde head charging down the football field like his dad or racing on a track like his mom suddenly turns and twirls towards a stage with a red curtain rising.
Two boys with a girl sandwiched in the middle means blue and pink toys filling our house. Dolls and action figures, trucks and play makeup. Most often, in the state of normal chaos, these toys are mixed together in bins and baskets, mingled among a million gender non-specific toys or random items that are not toys at all.
I find myself in a different place with my second son than I did my first. Nine years ago I bought blues and trucks and action figures, never considering the pink things sitting on store shelves. I encouraged soccer and lacrosse and then baseball and football as he got older and his natural athleticism became more apparent.
But now this second boy has a choice of toys with assorted colors and themes. And while nine years ago I would have likely encouraged my first with “that’s a boy toy” or “well, that’s for girls,” I find myself in a different place this time around. Not just because of birth order or gender but also because we live in world with much more awareness now than we did even nine years ago. And setting our children up to live in the world of the future means purposefully making a choice on how we present things now.
Right now it's about pink or blue; but it's also about color not mattering. Right now it's about playing with barbies or playing with trucks; but it's also about my daughter having the same options as her brothers. Right now it's just about wanting to dance or play soccer; but it's also about being comfortable in their own skin and standing up for the right of all humans to be comfortable in their own skin.
So in this world of social media that quickly spreads the reality of a world where racism and hate still live, where a #metoo movement is necessary, where being transgender means not being welcomed to use a public restroom, I can only hope these little minds we are raising will be part of the key to change.
So I stop myself from telling him he can't wear that because he's a boy. I correct my daughter when she comments that girls can't play that. I explain it to my oldest when he asks how a boy can marry a boy.
And I buy the tiny ballet shoes for the little blonde-haired boy.
On Friday, my baby walked down the familiar steps of his beloved Ms. T, yelling behind him, “bye bye Ms. T!”
A split second of time that brought my heart to my throat.
He and his sister have been under the weekly care of Ms. T since each was four-months old. Now almost three and his sister over four, it seems like a lifetime of making that walk across our two yards.
I guess it is a lifetime…their lifetimes.
I first made that walk four years ago, with my little baby girl cradled in my arms. Sixteen months later that walk often meant carrying a bag of diapers and pumped milk, with my little girl in one arm and tiny infant boy in the other. Over the past four years, Ms. T has seen my children during the weekdays more than their father and I have. She has loved them, nurtured them, taught them, potty-trained them, disciplined them, fed them, hugged them, kissed their boo boos, and simply adored them from 7am to 5pm almost every single day.
And let’s not forget the fact that she most definitely saved my daughter’s life.
There is a lot of change happening for my little family right now. And change, although sometimes necessary, can be hard.
For the first time since either him or his sister existed, I am taking the summer off. And while I doubt either will complain about Mama being home for a few months, they will both be starting a Pre-K daycare program at a local church in the fall. My daughter will be in kindergarten the following year, so this is a necessary move for her. Being as life right now is all about trying to make things as easy as possible in a world of difficult, we decided it was best to move her little brother as well.
My sweet boy did not understand that Friday was the last time that his normal would be "the normal". I had to fight back tears listening to his squeaky voice yell goodbye to one of the few people outside of his father and I who he trusts without reserve.
I wasn’t sad because we will miss our Ms. T. Of course we will miss her; but she’s also our next door neighbor and we have seen her no less than five times since that moment on Friday.
As my 25 pound, messy blonde-haired boy tripped down those stairs, I had a vision of the future. For a split second, I could see that little boy grown and walking across of the stage of a high school graduation. I could see myself in the stands, tears likely streaming down my face. For a split second, I had a glimpse of the future and the moment that I would think of the past; a flashback to now. A flashback to when I watched my baby walk down the stairs of his Ms. T, blissfully unaware of how life constantly throws you changes and how he was about to face the first big one of his little life.
To all my friends who are experiencing those flashbacks in real time during this season of change- I see you. I see you and your pride and your love. I see your heartache. I see you look at the amazing adults your sons and daughters have become, while still seeing that baby you once carried in your arms.
I see you; because in a few years that will pass by like minutes, I will be in your spot and I know you will see me too.
Our Ms. T with my girl and her best bud, who has also been lucky enough to be under Ms. T's care.
I mean, come on guys- who else lets two silly little girls paint their face like this?!
Shared with permission from best bud's Mama, of course=)
My husband is pretty amazing.
He puts on his muddy shoes in the middle of the living room and leaves a path of dirt to the front door. He throws his dirty clothes on the floor next to the hamper and leaves his dirty plates in the sink next to the dishwasher. His shaving habits always seem to take place in the five minutes after I've cleaned the bathroom and unless I ask him specifically to do laundry, he can walk past an overflowing hamper without a second glance. He burps at dinner and can clear a room with his farts- even the toddler who is still in diapers will exit with exclamations of how "dada stinks."
In conclusion, he is pretty much like 95% of the male species. So ladies, if your guy doesn't fall into that description in some way-know you've snagged a rare and mystical beast.
But despite the fact that if I keeled over tomorrow, my husband would likely live in a house of filth, dirty dishes and unwashed clothing; he is pretty amazing.
Let me tell you why.
My husband makes me laugh. And not just a chuckle- I'm talking about the kind of laughter that brings tears to my eyes. And while it's not always intentional on his part, he doesn't seem to mind if I'm laughing with him or at him. In fact, in the moments when I can't speak or catch my breath, he will start laughing too. And there is something to be said about a guy who is okay being the butt of an unknown joke, if it means making his wife laugh.
My husband tells our daughter that she is his number one. He tells her this straight up in those words... but he also shows her in how he treats her, how he speaks to her, how he guides her. He takes her out on "dates" and makes her belly laugh. Of course he's amazing with our boys; but there is something about the relationship he is continuously trying to foster with our daughter that melts my heart. I will always be okay with being his number two if it means she is his number one.
My husband passes out when someone talks about his loved ones being hurt. This isn't a metaphor-I really mean he passes the f*%$ out. When I was pregnant with my daughter, we had to go to a high risk doctor to talk about some risk factors that were caught in the 20 week ultrasound. When the doctor started describing the process of an amniocentesis to test for genetic conditions, my husband grabbed my arm in a vice grip and then PASSED THE F*%$ OUT.
When he got his head elbowed open at basketball, blood dripping down his face, he was just fine. When he dislocated his ankle at baseball and then popped it back in place, he was just fine. He passed out at the doctor's because it was his wife the doctor was talking about sticking in the belly with a needle. And while there was really nothing cool about awkwardly holding up my passed out husband while half naked and with ultrasound goo all over me, there is something strangely endearing about the fact that his body shuts down at the thought of me (or our kids) being hurt.
My husband is a team player. Maybe this is because he's an athlete and grew up playing sports. Maybe it's just because he's a good guy-I don't know. What I do know is that when his stepson suddenly expressed extreme anxiety about something, he was on board with the change that would help ease that anxiety; even when it meant a significantly longer and more frustrating commute for him. He was not only supportive of a change that meant more chaos for him; he was also instantly spitting out ideas to help make that change easier for my son.
He is always focused on what is best for our kids and doesn't dwell on the sacrifices he has to make to support them; even when those sacrifices are solely a product of the selfishness of other players. I know that he does this just as much to support me as to support our kids. What I'm saying is: my husband is a team player, even when his teammates are not.
So I may complain about him at times. I may sometimes curse him out in my head while wondering why I feel like I have four children instead of three. He is messy. He is sometimes stinky. He definitely doesn't share in my need to always be moving or checking off items from the list of things to do.
But my husband is pretty amazing.
I love a great photo. Beautiful children in matching clothes. A perfectly poised living room. Delicious, healthy, colorful meals cooked for the family. Being an artist, I appreciate a well taken photo. I also love taking them- when the light hits something just right and the kids are being cooperative.
The problem with social media is that it can often misrepresent real life. We post a picture of one quick moment and it hangs out there forever. It's so easy to look at someone else's moment and misunderstand what real life looks for them. It's easy to assume that this parenting thing is so much easier for someone else when reality is that the one moment of perfection captured in a picture was literally the ONLY moment of perfection the entire day... week... or even month.
So let me give you a little taste of my real life...
Dinner. Never peaceful. Usually at least one child is crying, usually we don't really know why. It's loud and messy, much like a school cafeteria. There is usually fighting. In this moment only two of three kids was crying, so that was a win.
My house. I'm a clean-freak, perhaps even a bit OCD about it (at least if you ask my husband). This does not go well with having children who enjoy dumping all of the toy bins onto the floor more than they actually like playing with the toys.
I wish I could say "Mommy is going to run on the treadmill" and it would be that simple. Alas, it is not. It is instead a side stitch 5 minutes in from answering 437 questions about how long I have left, mid-stride lunges to push little bodies away from the belt, and little eyes staring at me the ENTIRE TIME.
Now, I really do love braiding my girl's hair and the feeling must be mutual because Ms. Wiggly Worm has always been cooperative about it. This combination of patience can make for some really cute styles... but please know that any pictures that have been posted of her super cute hairdos were snapped mere seconds after completion. Girlfriend plays HARD and even the tightest of braids don't stand a chance against this little tornado.
And apparently, this is a genetic condition.
Potty training. You'd think it would be easier the third time around. I bought my baby some pretty awesome Paw Patrol undies, hoping he'd be motivated to wear them. Instead, he's just been piling them onto this play trolley and wheeling them around the house. Oh, and one time he put a pair on his head... so there's that.
If I had the time to snap a picture during all moments of our day, 99 percent of them would look like these. Just like what I suspect is true for most of us that post on social media, my life is just as much a mess as the next; and if you need any further proof just head on over my bio page and take a look at our most recent family photo attempt.
It. Is. Awesome.
Earlier this week, I had to go into downtown Annapolis for an appointment. When I got there, the office was not yet opened so I stood outside of the door and waited in the winter sunshine.
A man spotted me from across the street and called out, crossing the street in the middle of cars. He walked with a slight limp, had very few teeth and was carrying a paper bag molded to the shape of a bottle. In broken speech he asked me how I was doing. I politely answered; not exactly comfortable but trying to remind myself that having not done anything but ask me how I was doing, he deserved a respectful answer to the question.
Maybe it would have been better to be curt or dismissive... because he appeared to suddenly believed that he knew me and inched closer and closer as he attempted to guess my name. Several guesses in, the owner of the office I was waiting for arrived and quickly opened the door for me. I politely said goodbye and closed the door, ignoring the fact that he attempted to stick his hand in the door as it closed.
An hour and a half later, I walked out that door and headed towards my car, which was parked in a garage several blocks away. I looked up to see the same man ahead, with his back to me. Slowing down, I watched as he turned left and crossed the street. I breathed a sigh of relief as I crossed straight and went on my way.
Suddenly, he was behind me again... he must have seen me, crossed back over the street and was now following me, waving his arms and calling, “Hey! You!”
I walked a little faster, refusing to turn around or acknowledge him. He continued to shout and follow me. I came to a parking garage a block before mine. When I glanced in and saw the figure of a person standing in the attendance booth, I dodged into the lot and approached the booth. The man followed me in, still shouting.
The woman in the booth did not see me but she saw him. She busted out of the booth, yelling to him that he needed to stay out. I got the impression that it was not her first encounter with the guy. He seemed to think about it for a minute, then turned and left. I quietly called out to the attendant and explained that he had been following me, that I was sorry but I didn’t know what else to do.
Initially startled to see me standing behind her, she quickly smiled at me and said, “oh honey, it’s no problem. I’ve seen him before and you can never be too safe. Here, let me just walk you to your car to be sure.”
And that, my friends, is exactly what she did. She left her post during her work day, walked me another block to my garage, down four flights of stairs and across the garage to my car.
As we walked, we talked about how we want to give people the benefit of the doubt but unfortunately it doesn't always seem safe to do so. I told her I had little kids and she said “oh honey, you can’t take your chances. Better safe than sorry.” When we got to my car I asked for her name and if I could give her a hug. As we embraced, I thanked her and she smiled at me and left.
Her name is Ceil. The garage she works at is owned by Loughlin Management Group and she has been an employee there for 32 years. I know this because I called them and spoke to the owner of the Annapolis branch.
Calling her boss still doesn’t seem like quite enough. Perhaps it seemed small to her, but it was no where near small to me. She didn’t NEED to help me. She didn’t NEED to drop what she was doing to ensure that this semi-paranoid mama felt safe. Yet she did- without hesitation.
My kids may get great grades, they may become awesome athletes, earn scholarships to the best schools and eventually have jobs that make them lots of money.
I will always be proud of them for any accomplishments they achieve, big or small. But to watch them grow into adults who will willingly and selflessly help a stranger- now that is what will make me feel like we did a decent job with this parenting gig.
Thank you, Ceil from Loughlin Management Group. Thank you.
16 months, 10 days and some odd hours and minutes.
That's how far apart my youngest babies came out of my womb.
When my son turned 16 months, I was shocked to think about my daughter having been so little when he was born. Yet looking back at pictures, she was... a baby holding her baby brother.
We didn't plan for only 16 months. We both wanted three, but I hadn't thought to myself, "boy would it be awesome to breastfeed for three years," or "I'd love to just not sleep again... ever."
But it happened like that- guess we weren't really not planning for 16 months either, since we are grown-ass adults and surely know what birth control is at this point.
People keep saying that someday we are going to love them being so close in age.
Ahh, they are going to be best friends!
It will be like having a live-in playmate!
Having a sister only 20 months younger than me, I know there is truth in these well-meaning words. Of course my sister and I are close, especially since we jointly had six kids in six years. But I'd bet that my mom would have lots to share about how great that went 36 years ago.
Truth is, I feel like I'm losing my mind most of the time. The constant bickering between two highly emotional toddlers. One always wanting the other's toy. Someone always upset about what the other gets to do or doesn't have to do. Always a competition about who gets to sit closest to Mama, who gets to go to the store with Mama, who gets to have their teeth brushed, who gets dressed, who gets their butt wiped by Mama.
And the never ending tattling and telling... I mean, I'm pretty sure that at this point they simply enjoy getting each other in trouble.
The only time they seem to be on the same page is when they are both starving and absolutely cannot wait for one more second. Or when one of them sleeps in but the other is up at the crack of dawn. Or when their bathrooming business is in sync down to the minute. And of course there is the tag team effort to destroy the entire house in .024 seconds.
I know it'll get easier. I can see that in the sweet (if not quick) moments of cooperative play. I can see it in the giggles when they are laughing at something together, rather than at each other. I can see it in the hugs and kisses I sometimes catch them giving. I could see it tonight when my daughter called her brother into her room, telling me he's her "buddy."
But damn... it sure is exhausting right now.
My line of work can sometimes present a dilemma as a parent. I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one, as I've had the conversation many times with my colleagues-how easy it is to think about the reasons behind behaviors from 8:30 to 4:30; yet how difficult that becomes when we arrive home to our own children. It is SO HARD!
Years of experience, education, research, and reading has lent itself to a mindset of always thinking about the "purpose" behind behaviors. It's understanding the purpose that can lend itself to supports and interventions to help change behaviors that are disruptive or unsafe.
But good lord is that hard to do at home.
It is so difficult to step back from the difficult, loud, time-consuming and sometimes just plain annoying behaviors of our own offspring for long enough to think about the purpose. What comes easily at work is absolutely the opposite of easy at home.
What is easy at home is to get swept up in how inconvenient and frustrating a behavior is. It's easy to react, to overreact or to engage in any desperate attempt to just MAKE IT STOP. I cannot tell you how many times I've been in the throes of dealing with a tantrum and have thought to myself, "I do this for a living... how the hell do I feel like I know NOTHING?!"
I started working on an article with Sumitha from A Fine Parent quite some time ago. Her website/blog is simply amazing- the articles are detailed and research based (my kinda thing); yet reader friendly and relatable. The writing not only focuses on helping the reader think about parenting in a different way, but provides action plans that can actually be carried out in our millions of tough, real life parenting situations.
I'm thankful that Sumitha took a chance on my writing and this little idea I had to turn my "work mode" mind into something that can perhaps be helpful to parents.
Without further ado, please take a peak at How to Alter Your Child's "Problem" Behaviors Like a Specialist.
...and make no mistake-it is also a much needed reminder to this Mama!
Please check out all the other writing on A Fine Parent- there are others far better than mine! This article about how to stop judging other parents was particularly impactful. Cause, be honest- we all do it!