Wednesday, 29 July 2015
Sometimes parenting is nothing more than your heart breaking for your child. I knew when I became a mother that it meant giving up things for my children, but I never considered she in turn, would have to give things up for me. Being a stay at home mom has been an unexpected blessing for our family. We hadn’t exactly planned for me to stay home full-time, but three kids in four years made the thought of full-time work the wrong choice for our family. I think a lot has been said about the sacrifices of the working parent, but not so much about those who stay at home. When I made the decision not to return to my full-time position I left behind more than just my job. Case in point my Monday morning this past week. As I was picking up my oldest from junior kindergarten her two best friends began to excitedly discuss their first day of soccer that evening. A sport my daughter very much wanted to join too, until the $300 fee to sign her and her sister up became too much for our single income family. How do you explain to a four year old that soccer is too expensive for our family this year? Or that we will likely not be able to afford to put her in competitive dance? It’s heartbreaking. It sucks. But it’s our reality. The truth is that this is just one of the many sacrifices of the single income family. In our current economy having a parent stay home is a luxury many can’t afford, or like my family we struggle to afford. But the loss of income is only one part of the true sacrifice of the stay at home mom. The biggest thing we lose is, at least in my case, any hope of being ‘the hip, cool mom.’ I retired any sense of ‘style’ for secondhand threads and mom jeans. My hair went from a sense of vanity to a rotation of the ‘mom bun’ and three inch roots cause I have to save up for the hairdresser that dyes my hair in her kitchen. You lose the fun adult time. Instead of the office gossip around the water cooler, I am bitching about how Emma refuses to sleep in her new bed at playgroup. My employed friends can afford to run Mud Hero and I am fortunate to get a last minute spot in a free yoga class at the community center. Not that these sacrifices don’t come for a wonderful reason. I get to walk my daughter to school every day and meet her there (often late) in the afternoon. My middle daughter, who to be honest, I don’t trust many people to handle her often difficult behavior, told me today that I am her ‘best friend’, and my youngest lost her mind with joy as we rode the zoomobile for the millionth time on a Tuesday morning because Saturdays are just too busy. Stay at home parents’ days aren’t often pretty. They are filled with dishes and laundry and showers don’t always happen. Sometimes I have to have difficult talks with my daughters because I want to give them the world but can’t. All I can offer them is the promise that whatever we have to give up, we are giving up so we can be together. I couldn’t pull off the hip mom look anyway. I look way too good in mom jeans.
“Birthdays are highly overrated,” says no one under 21 and everyone over 25. It seems once we get to a certain age we become obsessed with ignoring our progressive aging and instead want to focus on our child’s. After all, it’s so much more fun to shop for a Cinderella cake topper, rather than tell the world we are rapidly approaching the big 4-0. Of course I am completely guilty of this. The first birthday party went from a backyard bash (first kid) to a rented hall and hot lunch (second kid) to a themed costume party complete with entertainment and photo booth (third kid). I justified these soirees with the promise that only the first birthday party would be big. Subsequent parties would be small and quiet at home with just the family. I stayed true to my word at first. A small family party was then followed by a party at the local pool. The stakes were raised with a borrowed jumpy castle for the third party and then again when my eldest daughter entered school. My daughter turned four in the last week of September. I planned a small Rapunzel party with a few friends. I pictured a throwback to my bashes of the late eighties with corny games and boiled hotdogs. Five girls sitting on my living room playing pass the parcel and then eating my handmade cake with melted vanilla ice cream. Instead the party blew up. I blame the theme. Giving a party a theme is asking for trouble. Now you have to get the ‘special’ napkins, plates, party favors. Next thing you know you are shaping a million purple cupcakes into Rapunzel’s dress and wondering where the hell your ‘little’ party went. But this year is different. My husband and I have decided, after a Christmas filled with a million presents, and a well intentioned but totally over the top trip to Disney World, enough is enough. We are doing without all of the ‘stuff’. The first slim down was Easter. Where we took away the gifts (insane) and settled into a tame plastic egg hunt and a pair of new rain boots. We made homemade play dough and sidewalk chalk for the bunny to hide along with a bunch of chocolate eggs and skittles. The results were clear. The less my kids get, the more my kids appreciate. So when it came to my youngest daughter’s second birthday the temptation to throw her a huge party was gone. A small family gathering seemed a logical choice. I admit it, I am tired. Parties are a huge undertaking, no matter how small. The food, the cleaning, the invitations; I just don’t have the energy. I felt like inviting her cousins and grandparents would be more than enough people loving on her. Although my mind was made up, I still had to face the pressure to throw her a party. About six weeks before her party her second cousin turned two and with that came the Facebook backlash of a million cute pictures of a smiling now two year old surrounded by friends at a mini gymnastics kid heaven. Insert a couple of days of mom guilt here and a flutter of indecision I recalled her Frozen costumed bash the year before. As fun as it was, the reality is E slept through it. The majority of pictures of her at the event are various relatives holding her while she slept through the cake and presents. That party wasn’t really for her, it was for me. The thing I had to remind myself, over and over again, as I responded to friends inquiries about when E’s party would be and who would be attending (not them!) was that birthdays are extremely overwhelming no matter how small. The noise, the sugar, the pressure to open presents and be delighted over and over again by the next set of clothes requested by mom is a little too much; especially for a two year old. This year we decided to take E to a local play place, Joey’s World, for a two hour run around with her sisters and two cousins we are watching while their parents are away. We then had a pizza lunch with close family and then let her spend the afternoon blowing bubbles and swinging on her backyard swing. She loved it, I loved it, and yes, I posted a million pictures on Facebook.
I remember one of the first times I ventured out of the house after my second daughter was born. It was winter and the height of the cold and flu season. My oldest was 16 months and not yet walking. My youngest was about a month and I had enough. I was getting out of the house. For this virgin mission I decided on the local library story hour, 30 minutes of songs and stories and the chance to actually breathe fresh air and experience natural light. My ineptitude and natural fear of taking two little ones out on my own was palpable and when I explained to a chilled out mom that my kids were 15 moms apart, she replied: “mine too, and I’m pregnant again.” She’s nuts. I thought with some disdain as I imagined choosing to take on the insanity of a young toddler and a newborn again. Little did I know a mere 14 months later I would be popping out my third daughter and would be the mother to three under three. Surviving three children born within 30 months is not for wimps. Like a soldier going to war, I had to (and have to) mentally prepare myself each day. The reality of being outnumbered three to one with a constant revolving set of needs and demands is something that takes a few deep breaths in the morning. With my children now aged two, three and four I have seen some sh*t (literally) and feel I can offer some advice. So here is my survival guide. 1. Get a good support system in place-After we had my second daughter, my husband and I realized we needed time away from our kids and turned to our parents for help. My parents give us a weekly ‘date night’ and my husband’s parents take our children for the weekend about once a month so we have some ‘adult time’. The best thing I can give my kids is two parents who still love and respect each other and having time alone has been a huge blessing to our marriage. I reached out to my good friends who would come over to visit me because they knew it was too much for me to pack up the kids and go out, and adult conversation was a necessity. I also embraced The Ontario Early Years Centers where I spend some great time with my kids and with other parents (for FREE). The best part of these centers is the kids can play with paint and play dough and glitter and it is not messing up your house. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the resources around you. 2. Crying is ok- When I was a new mom I would actually find myself running to my baby’s side before she even had a chance to cry. The littlest fuss and I would scoop her up and stuff my boob in her mouth. With each subsequent child I have learned that sometimes the kids will cry and it’s ok. Often it’s from being overtired or over-stimulated and just like us moms, it can be cathartic. So unless the cry is preceded by the thump of falling out of bed, I wait for them to come to me. 3. Tantrums happen -Become immune to whining. In my opinion, if kids know a little whining (or a full blown tantrum) will get their way, they will use it to their full advantage, usually in public, at your in-laws or during the family photo shoot. With my three little kids, they outnumber me and are more than happy to take me down, so I need to be the one in control. When my kids misbehave in public (often) I simply strap the tantrum-er into whatever device I have (stroller, car seat, shopping cart) and continue on with my business. If I am somewhere without any of these things, for example a playgroup, I find a quiet corner to place them a walk away. I know a lot of moms like the idea of a time in so we can hug out the feelings, but in reality when you have two toddlers and a newborn, you are halfway through a hug and you have at least one kid halfway across the mall. This is about survival and safety. A simple, “I don’t like this behavior,” is all they get out of me. People stare, so what? If you have three under three you need to get used to a lot of attention, especially from old ladies in the grocery store. 4. Get your sleep-I am a firm believer that a rested mom is a better mom so for me the answer with my second and third babies was co-sleeping. My first daughter slept through the night at three months, my second at 10 months and my 2 year old is still working on it. Whether naptime needs to be a family affair or you give yourself an early bedtime nothing spells a bad day like a tired parent. 5. Keep the peace-I learned early on when my oldest two daughters were toddlers that if I am their referee now I will be their referee forever. I have learned to encourage them to ask each other to stop negative behaviors rather than react (we are working on it) but stepping back and allowing them to work out their own conflicts (this has resulted in baby fist fights) has saved my sanity. 6. Embrace the Chaos-You will be running 30 minutes late for the next five years, embrace it. You are now entering territory where the cute outfits have been replaced with second hand sleepers and shoes are on the wrong feet. Your house is likely always at least in a slight state of disarray and laundry is something of an afterthought. When you have three young kids it’s important to lower the bar. You are in survival mode. Don’t feel guilty if your kid’s first birthday party isn’t Pinterest worthy or if the sink is full of dirty dishes. As long as your kids are happy and healthy you are doing a great job. 7. Celebrate milestones- When you have three little ones depending on you for everything it is easy to get overwhelmed. With every milestone you are closer to your own freedom so cheer on those early potty attempts and embrace rubber boots with handles. Let the shoes stay on the wrong feet and three year olds pick out their own outfits. It will benefit all of you. 8. Encourage independent play: I remember the advice given to me by my grandmother when I brought my first baby home. She said to allow the baby some time alone to play from an early age and she would be able to play alone her whole life. The beauty of having kids close in age is that they are each other’s best friends. Now that my girls are a little older, they are happy to spend the day pretending to be princesses and Ogres or running around in the backyard. I am always here to play with them if they want me. But they don’t need me to be right there all the time. Three kids at once can be overwhelming, my husband and I enjoy spending time one on one with our kids. We call it taking them on ‘dates’ and it often involves ice cream. I have to admit this is my favourite way to spend time with my kids. Whether we are swimming, shopping or walking on the beach, those are the moments I feel I really get to bond with my girls. 9. Have a sense of humor. Chances are there will be lots of great moments and lots of not so great moments. I have seen a lot of crap. Literally. But I think it’s important to focus on the good and try to be as present as you can. Remember you are gathering all the material for their wedding speeches so take lots of embarrassing photos. 10. Enjoy-There was a reason I found myself pregnant again. Although having kids close together is a huge challenge, it is also rewarding and fun. My girls are super close and are blessed to have each other as I am to have them. Remember the days are long but the years are short, so wipe that spit up off your shoulder and seize the day.
To pee or not to pee; that is the question. The answer is yes on the floor, not in the potty and I don’t give a crap about your sticker chart. Oh potty training. My old nemesis has once again reared his ugly head and I am powerless in a battle I cannot win. My laundry is piling up, my floors are wet with both urine and tears and if it doesn’t end soon I may have to take out some stock in the LCBO. Whenever I listen to the mom stories of, “I trained my perfect child in three days,” I always fight the urge to yell, “Liar!” while simultaneously feeling a stress eye twitch from the last round of ‘let’s see how many times you can poop in the house before I break out a Pampers’. The issue with my daughters is not that they are not physically ready to potty train. I always waited for the signs before I attempted these acts of insanity: dry diapers after naps, taking off their diaper, and or showing an interest in the potty. With my first daughter there was a stint of about a week where she was peeing in the potty and loving it but then she realized I was enjoying this freedom a little too much. She then shut down for the next six months. After begging, bribing and many tears shed (mine) she began to happily train because her best friend was and it was the ‘cool’ thing to do. I thought my second daughter might be easier since she had an older sister to imitate but instead it was such a catastrophe she shut me down for any future training. Hannah, my fiercely independent middle daughter got a horrible rash on her bottom that I could not heal. This meant that the moment she pooped she would not only rip off her diaper but then smear her turds all over whatever room she happened to be ‘napping’ in. Finally summer arrived and I felt ready for the ‘let her be naked with a potty in the backyard’ method thinking my daughter would have a few accidents and then ‘get it.’ Wrong. How I underestimated my little angel. With my first daughter there were many pee accidents, mostly on my couch but I understood. She got distracted, it came upon her quickly. These accidents, although annoying, were fairly minor. Hannah, on the other hand, pooped everywhere and anywhere. In the backyard I found myself cleaning out the plastic playhouse, the deck, the lawn. My poor basement was a hot spot for feces. It was a very dark time. It’s important to note that a full six months before training began Hannah excused herself from the dinner table one night, went to the bathroom, got on the toilet and pooped. My kids control issues have nothing to do with their bladder and everything to do with how crazy it makes their mom. So now I find myself here again. In a world of paying more for my kid’s underwear than my own because their obsession with Dora the Explorer might fuel a need to evacuate their bowels somewhere other than their pants. My youngest daughter senses my fear and frustration as we once again attempt this process because it’s summer and I’m hoping to save myself some unnecessary laundry. I’ve already put the potty chart up on the wall, bought the kinder eggs and talked up how ‘awesome’ the potty is. Now I find myself in a standoff between waiting for her to go on the potty and keeping her naked bum off my new couch. I’m constantly on edge trying to get her to not run into the kitchen and pee on the floor and we aren’t even in the scary “OK let’s see what happens if I take you in public” territory. So I’m quoting Shakespere and my eye is twitching. My floors are being cleaned on the regular but diapers may soon be a distant memory. So I’m drinking some wine for courage and forging ahead. Promising my two year old the world in exchange for a little poop in a plastic toilet; and blogging it for all to read.
The fate of the day was sealed the night before. As the day began to wear down my stomach started to turn. “I’m not eating supper,” I informed my husband as I warmed the mystery pasta from the freezer. “I’m not feeling well.” And yet my inner chubby girl took over at the table and I still ate in an act of solidarity with the rest of the family. It was an act I would soon regret when after a few hours of bedtime routine (bath, books, bed, begging “please for the love of God, go to sleep,” it began. For the next seven hours I was sick approximately every 20 minutes. My saintly husband came in at one point to helpfully suggest I lift the toilet lid. At that point I begged him for mercy. “Put me out of my misery Luke, I can’t do it anymore,” I cried into the bowl. It was 2 a.m. and I was at my breaking point. We had both decided my husband could not stay home the next day because he would likely need to save the time off for when he would inevitably get this. I would be on my own with the kids. Sick days for moms are very different than sick days for dads. When my husband is sick he naps on the couch as I try not to resent him and instead guide him back in bed (and out of my way). I spend the day keeping the kids quiet and out of the path of his germs while I silently try to determine just how sick he really is. I am definitely not a good nurse, but I am a worse patient. My sick day went something like this: 7am: The alarm begins to go off. I am completely oblivious in my exhaustion. My three year old immediately shoots out of bed and races towards me. 8am: After an hour of back and forth negotiation, we decide I am done sleeping for the day and we get ready to brush our teeth. 8:01: Decide going vertical was a huge mistake 8:03: Debate brushing my teeth with my now tainted toothbrush 8:04: Brush teeth and attempt not to gag. Decide I need to try to salvage this morning if I am going to get my daughter to school in the next 40 minutes. 8:10: Attempt to dress myself in a pajama couture which will be good enough for the school yard (fail) 8:12: My oldest daughter surprises me by dressing herself in a passable outfit. I am so overcome with gratitude I instantly decide she is my favourite child. Also decide the other children are staying in their pajamas as I don’t have the brain capacity to try and match tiny clothes today. 8:15: Pour the kids cereal and drink my weight in Pepto Bismol to prepare for the ten minute car trip. 8:30: Witness a small miracle when I see my sister in the school parking lot. She agrees to walk my daughter across the street and spare me inflicting my germs and outfit on the general public. I wasn’t able to head home though. As the co-owner of a small business, I had a pick up scheduled across town for a new shipment of sunscreen. 9:00 am: Discover that I am way too weak and tired to be driving after I miss several turns. Finally make it back home and collapse on the couch after firing up some Netflix. 11:30am Regain consciousness and discover my two year old has long since lost interest in Sofia the First and has instead emptied a box of cereal all over the floor. 11:35: Call my sister for a much needed pep talk to try and get off the couch. “Just think of all the weight you are losing,” she said enviously. 11:40: Convince my three year old it would be fun to vacuum up all the now crushed in cereal all over the floor. She enthusiastically vacuums for two minutes before leaving the humming vacuum for me to finish the job. 12:00pm Attempt to spread some peanut butter on bread without gagging and cut up some cucumber so I can say I fed the kids something healthy today. Treat myself to a few sips of water and a handful of dry cereal to ‘test the waters’ and gain some strength to breastfeed. 12:30: With the toddler down for a nap it’s time to get to work. Unfortunately for me, my business partner has chosen this week to take vacation so as she is enjoying a cottage with her kids, I am labeling new products while running to the bathroom every hour on the hour. 3:00pm: Realizing that my gross factor has increased over the course of the day, I beg a friend to pick up my daughter. I am once again horizontal on the couch doing a puzzle my three year old tricked me into completing by emptying it on the coffee table, saying ‘help me,’ and walking away. 4:00: Discover my three year old is also now sick and text my husband a list of necessities, namely toilet paper and Pepto Bismol. 5:00pm: My husband arrives. I find myself overcome with joy. Although my day is not over, my partner in crime has arrived to take the reins. Although he will likely trade places with me in a few hours he still shows no fear in a chaste cheek kiss. He will be next.
After almost five years I can finally admit my dirty little secret. I am a helicopter parent. After reading several articles I have realized this is actually a bad thing. But five years and three kids in, I am having a hard time changing my ways. I recently met up with a friend at a park for a play date. She is a nanny to a six, four and two year old and I brought my two, three, and four year old. I brought the usual gear: towels, water, food, sun screen and as I approached where my friend had set up ‘camp’ I noticed something that completely blew my mind. She brought a chair. What? Did she intend this afternoon at the park to be in any part relaxing? The thought of sitting back on the grass while my kids run around unattended sends me into a mild anxiety attack. I immediately go to that dark place of ‘where are all my kids? Ok… one, two, where the F is Hannah? Oh ok…she is under the slide picking her nose… Is that my kid crying? Oh crap did my kid just deck that kid?’ Is that big angry mother headed my way?’ Now I know my thinking is borderline insane but it comes from a very honest place. After I had my second daughter I became officially outnumbered with a 15 month old and a newborn. After largely hibernating for six months I began taking them out, often alone, in big public places. It was often a hot mess. I avoided parks because of how hard it was to supervise both a newborn (which kept me chained to my stroller) and a busy toddler. As the family grew I had to become more selective where I could take the girls on my own. Big busy parks were only done with my husband, so I could split the supervision. My girls are not happy to have me sit on the sidelines. At the park I am expected to push their swings, catch them at the bottom of the slide and yes, even help them climb up anything more challenging than the stairs. My friend’s ‘kids’ seemed to have a great handle on their park freedom. The two year old was happily digging in the sand while her older brothers played close by. I brought my youngest over to her hoping she too would be happy to sit and be watched from afar. Instead my trio chose to scatter in three different directions with three very different motives. The youngest immediately headed straight for the lake, because I guess she won the backseat paper rock scissors game of who gets to freak out mom at the park. While I began running, the oldest immediately began searching for her latest BFF and Hannah, my middle daughter sought out to befriend the most inappropriate person she could find. It’s a weird little habit she has picked up since we recently started spending more and more time at parks over the spring and into the summer. Last year we were backyard bound so now that she is out and about with the general public she feels the need to get really weird. It all started with her ignoring any age appropriate children and instead insisting on hanging out with the random preteens at the park. The ones that are there to ‘hang out’ but not actually use any park equipment because they are way too cool for the swings. They would be discussing the latest gossip and she would pipe in, ‘my name is Hannah,’ every five minutes or so. From there she upped the ante and insisted on joining other family’s picnics. I literally had to drag her away from another family’s picnic blanket while she protested hoping to score some fried chicken. Nowadays no adult is off limits. Although I have expressly stated she is not allowed to talk to anyone over the age of 12, she still found the one creepy adult at a recent trip to the water park and proceeded to chat them up; because the fact that they were hanging out at a children’s splash pad without any children made them the ideal candidate for a meet and greet. I definitely had no use for a chair. I could have gone for some wine though. I grew up in the 80’s and enjoyed all the freedom that came along with that era. I remember my parent’s baseball tournaments where we would be turned loose all day with no agenda and some ham sandwiches. We braved the park alone; we explored the woods. We survived. I want to raise confident daughters. I want to change my ways. Recently I was at yet another park with a large group of friends. I tried to give my girls a little space to play. While other moms enjoyed the convo and caught up on summer gossip, I found myself counting kids and resisting the urge to bail. It was not relaxing, but a step in the right direction. Until then I will have my heart in my throat while I resist the urge to hover.