Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

Things I Wish I Wanted To Do

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

– Paulo Coelho

My book club recently read and dissected The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Over water and lime wedges (turns out that while I’m no longer pregnant, everyone else is), it became clear this writer’s year-long experiment culminated in a “love it or hate it” book for our little critics’ circle and beyond – as all pop culture hits seem to do to some degree.  What do they say – there’s no such thing as bad press?

While this book was a slow, underwhelming start for me, suddenly around April (the book and the topics and resolutions it entails are divided into months), it was as if a switch flipped and I was ravenously hooked on this Manhattan lawyer/writer/mom/wife’s musing on hundreds of minor tweaks we can make to our daily routines (no Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage required) to partake in a more fully-examined existence, boost our quality of life, and thus that of those around us.  Things like buying the nice $4.00 pen instead of the crappy 25-cent pen that just feels cheap and always runs out of ink.  Changing the lightbulb yourself instead of nagging your husband to do it.  Listening contentedly to others and resisting the urge to jump in with a competing story of your own.  Accepting a limitation (or more positively, my God-given uniqueness) such as the fact that a certain hairstyle – try as I might – Will. Never. Look. Good. On. Me.

I could go on and on about the author’s simple yet pointed insights on things from learning to laugh at yourself and lighten up with your kids, to the liberation that comes from “tackling a nagging task,” be it a cluttered hall closet or a toxic relationship.  I was obviously in the “love it” camp.

But the section of the book that provided the biggest “aha moment” for me was about how to distinguish between things I truly want to do, and things I wish I wanted to do.

The phrase “I wish I wanted to do that” resonated with me so clearly.  How often do we trick not just others – but ourselves – into believing this forcefully painted picture of our supposed hobbies, inclinations, status, interests and overall identity?  Maybe you love the idea of buying everything organic but you hate the sticker shock you experience in the check-out line.  Or perhaps you think you want to take a big family vacation every summer, but spending a week with your in-laws/great-aunt/cousins/stepchildren actually induces widespread panic attacks.  You wish you wanted to do these things, but when it comes down to it, you just don’t.

True introverts may feel like they wish they wanted to get dolled up and mingle over cocktails and loud music on a Friday night, but what they really want to do is stay home with a book and pajamas, power off their phone and read until their quiet little heart’s content.  Can I get an Amen from all the introverts?

As this book goes on to point out, “…relinquishing my fantasies of what I wished I found fun allowed me more room to do the things that I did find fun.”

Being so struck by this notion of real vs. illusory desires, I couldn’t help but make my own list.  Without much thought and totally off the cuff, this is what I came up with:

Things I Wish I Wanted to Do:

*Work out more

*Not eat cookies for breakfast

*Play complex family board games (my in-laws are way into games and it’s freeing to admit I could spend the rest of my life mastering Scrabble)

*Chaotic playdates combining two or more of the following: toddlers, junk food, bouncy house, water parks or long car rides

*Camp (as in, outdoors, devoid of proper toilets, with the possibility of bear attacks)

*Go to a grad school (I must face the fact that a few proud extra letters after my name does not a happy homework-haver make)

*Have a third baby (our second is six months old and we’ve hired an overnight nanny and professional sleep coach in recent weeks – this talk is tabled for now.).

*Spend time on my hair (all roads lead to dry shampoo)

*Seek out cool indie music (Top 40 ‘til I die)

*Read classic literature (see grad school reference above)

*Embrace early mornings (maybe this will be The Happiness Project: Age 60)

As I immediately scribbled into my journal upon completion of this hasty (yet pretty darn honest) list:

Wow – there’s such a freedom to just admitting – if only to myself – “I don’t actually want to do any of these things!”

What would you not do, if you knew you could not fail?

Maybe it’s worth cancelling some unwanted plans and sticking around to find out.  Gretchen Rubin would definitely give you a gold star for that.

 

(*featured image by Anne Taintor*)

Welcome, Jude!

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I’m really, really tired as I write this.

Alas, after many attempts at cobbling this together in countless small shifts at the keyboard over many caffeinated weeks – I’ve actually completed a writing assignment! (self-imposed, but nonetheless…). I now present you with a sleep-deprived, sugar-buzzed account of our first weeks with Baby Jude, beginning with his entrance into the world…

***

I was 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant… 3 days shy of our due date. I was SO ready to meet our second baby boy and for Aaron and me to start our journey as parents of two. I had been pregnant the entire calendar year, up until late September. It had felt like a loooonnng, loooonnng pregnancy – more challenging than my first with the added responsibility of chasing after a toddler while I waddled through my days, heavy, sore and slow. The last few weeks were tough and I was really, really ready to go into labor! I had been induced with Anderson so had never experienced going into labor spontaneously. There were days I thought it was never going to happen… that this baby was never going to come out on his own!

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Enter: Old Wives Tales.

I had heard stories of people who swear (among many other things, like jalapeno lemonade, and jumping on trampolines) that a good brisk walk launched them into labor. I’m always skeptical of these “It worked for me!” claims, but feeling exceptionally motivated that pre-due date Saturday morning, I thought to myself, “it couldn’t hurt!” and Aaron and I set out to tackle the hilly sidewalks of our neighborhood. About a half hour into our walk, it was clear something was happening – I was pretty sure I was actually having true labor contractions! By the time I got home I was on my couch timing them at 5 minutes apart, and the rest is history…

Aaron and I checked into hospital triage like we were moving in – with overnight bags, slippers and pillows in hand. Though contractions were still getting stronger, my body still wasn’t far enough along to be admitted. I was so disappointed and couldn’t imagine having to return home and wait it out… The doctor told us to try walking the hospital halls for two hours to trigger stronger contractions and more labor progression. Boy did that do the trick! Two hours later after enduring staggering, much stronger contractions everywhere imaginable (the elevator, the bathroom, the cafeteria, the street corner…) to what I’m sure were either concerned or confused audiences, we were given the green light for admission to our birthing suite – sweet indeed!! I burst into tears of relief at this news and exclaimed, “Praise the Lord!” I would have joined a gospel choir at that moment had a sign-up sheet presented itself. I was THAT happy. This baby was officially on his way.

A few short hours later and after a lightning quick delivery (thankful what they say about second children being quicker was very true in my case!) Jude Emerson Morris emerged at 9:50 p.m. a big and healthy boy, weighing in at a hunky 10 pounds, 2 ounces!

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*A quick note about his name:  As you know, we struggle/borderline obsess with deciding on names.  I wish I had some story about the magical moment we decided on this name, or some amazing significance it has played in our life, but I don’t.  I think Aaron suggested it, possibly over breakfast, sometime in the last month of pregnancy.  I honestly don’t remember. We liked that is was rare, yet rooted in some history (Bible book, Beatles song), and short to Anderson’s long.  Emerson is a main street in the part of Seattle where we live, and the street Aaron lived on in college, when he first moved to Seattle.  We actually went to the hospital with two names:  Emmett Blaine and Jude Emerson.  We had been leaning toward Jude, and our British nurse helped push it over the edge.

Proud papa.

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He was placed on my chest right away – so soft and warm, his skin was like butter and radiated heat. We spent another day and night in the hospital, and then we were sent home, to start real life as a family of four…

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^^This was our first outing as a family of four, to our niece Margot’s birthday dinner.  This felt like a huge accomplishment at the time!

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^^This was one of the two times I’ve worn my hair in something other than an unwashed bun.

***

And now we’re home! And the highs and the lows and the lessons and the learning curves and God’s mercy….they are all new every morning. EVERY morning…

I try to keep a sense of humor about it all. When Jude pukes down my shirt during a particularly silent portion of a church service (yep, this happened), I may think to myself, “Maybe he wishes we were Catholic?” When he cries incessantly through extra innings of the final game of the World Series, I’ll say, “Must be a Mets fan?”

Anderson has found his sense of humor with Jude as well, while learning babies can double as human canvases:

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But humor aside, there are parts of raising a newborn that are just undeniably HARD. Oh the sleep deprivation…it’s so real. No matter how many books you read or preparation you try to do or kids you have, I don’t think it will ever feel natural to be yanked awake countless times throughout the night, sometimes for hours at a time. But you just do what you have to do and make it through, one day and one night at a time… As I write this Jude is eight weeks old, and I don’t think there have been more than five nights since he’s been born that I’ve scrapped together much more than six total hours of sleep. On a particularly torturous night when Aaron and I were up for hours and hours through endless cycles of feeding, crying, burping…feeding, crying, burping… I described the experience like this:

“Waking up almost every hour most of the night to a screaming baby is kind of like…..taking a long confusing cab ride through deep headache-inducing potholes with death metal blaring on the speakers, only to be thrown out of the car while it’s still moving. And the driver is surprisingly commanding though he speaks no English and is only 20″ tall…”

It’s hard you guys. The nights are soooo crazy sometimes. But you get up, you get coffee and you get through it. One of the silver linings as I learn to juggle caring for two kids, is I’m truly so much BUSIER, that the days fill up and fly by and I simply don’t have the time to sit around dwelling on how tired I am or should be. So, in a way, the busy-ness has been a blessing. Its sink or swim and you just have to keep on swimming.

So there’s that.

It’s interesting – in some ways having a second child, so far, is all I expected it to be – overwhelming and exhausting, but rewarding, super chaotic at times, but so sweet seeing siblings interact (the boys’ initial meeting was indescribably precious…).

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^^Anderson fawning over his brother the day they met.  He still does this daily.

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It is all those things people told me it would be, but at the same time, nothing could truly prepare me for my own unique experience I’m having. And sometimes I feel like no one else could totally understand it – but maybe everyone feels that way about their own particular lot in life?

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^^Jude has THE funniest pouty little fish lips.  We love them.

I see Anderson differently now as he’s growing so much, both independently and within the new dynamics of our household. So much newness with him alone – he is suddenly enormous! (at least compared to Jude…), he is defiant and opinionated and can make me want to pull my hair out when he simply Will. Not. Listen. (hello, age 2½!). But he still has his sweet moments and it’s all so confusing – is he still my sweet baby, or 2 going on 12?? So he’s different, and the way I see babies is different. I’m more confident in my parenting abilities this time around, which is a plus, but also don’t have the luxury to just sit around and bask in that confidence, because I’m so BUSY! The bonding and connecting with Jude comes more in bits and pieces throughout the day when I’m not trying to entertain a toddler or make dinner or take the world’s fastest shower (I think I’ve properly dried and styled my hair twice in the last two months…).

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^^A typical “work day” for me.  At least my bosses allow for a pretty lax dress code…

I don’t think I could have quite imagined how vastly different my entire life feels from the life I had two months ago. It has taken me MANY attempts to sit down and finish this blog entry. Free time is so precious and hard to come by with a toddler that will get into anything and everything, and a baby who just wants to be held, held and held some more (dirty dishes, be damned).

So that’s where I’m at. I’m tired and tested, but I’m also really proud of myself. I’m doing a hard thing every day and it’s given me perspective and grace for myself, and for every parent who does this work of raising children. And if it wasn’t hard at least some of the time, it wouldn’t be rewarding, right?

I could write an entire book called “I don’t know how single parents do it.” Earlier this month I was sick with a nasty head cold for exactly as many days as Aaron was out of town, waking up almost every two hours at night to a baby making his needs LOUDLY known. Thankful I’ve had support to pitch in and help me – I think I’d barely be standing if I had to do this completely alone. So true how they say it takes a village… I’m so thankful for mine!

And the journey continues…one cab ride at a time.

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**photo credit for some photos: heleyna holmes photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While You’re Still My Baby…

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I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday afternoon when I was admitted to the hospital to begin the last leg of the long journey to your birth. Giddy with anticipation, in near disbelief I was finally going to meet YOU – I didn’t sleep a wink all night. The next morning, the long and winding road of pregnancy was over. YOU were in my arms.  AMAZING!

I would never be the same again.

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Anderson, you’ve been my baby for the last two and a half years. The only baby I’ve ever raised, and the one who will always get full credit for making me a mom – the proudest title I’ll ever wear. You’re the one I’ll compare any future babies with. How could I not? Your sleep patterns, how soon you rolled and crawled and walked, your laugh, your cry, your way with words…it’s the only ‘normal’ I’ve ever known.

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If you were the only child I ever had, surely I have already been blessed far beyond what I deserve. That I get to experience the magic of brand new life again, all those “firsts” through a brand new set of eyes, and give you the gift of a brother to grow up with, is an extravagant gift.

Your little brother will be here in our home and in our arms, in just a matter of days. I am SO excited for us all to meet him and smother him in love. But before we do, I just wanted to pause and pay tribute to YOU.

YOU are still the baby of this family, for however many more hours or days that may be. YOU are an amazing boy, with a heart of gold, a razor sharp mind, a joyful sense of humor, and an infectious zeal for life.

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300You remind me to greet each day with excitement, and end it with gratitude. To see the possibilities in a box of blocks, the joy of running with nowhere to be, the peace that comes with going with the flow and trusting your instincts.

We’ve taught each other so much.

I’ve spent the last weeks putting together your baby book, tearfully re-watching video of your first cries and first bath, washing and folding tiny clothing that used to be yours. The fact that I even have time to write all this right now is due only to you being at PRESCHOOL, for exactly 52 more minutes.  I still can’t believe it, and am so proud of how you’ve grown.

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Thank you for making me a mom, for making your dad a dad, and for teaching us more than we could teach you. I can’t wait to see the incredible big brother you are going to be. Even though you won’t be the littlest around here for much longer…you’ll always be my baby. When I go to pick you up soon, and you run out to greet me with that big smile, your art project of the day proudly flapping in the breeze, I’ll remember that.

I love you Anderson, and I will always treasure these years of you and me.

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Slodge Podge

The last week or so I’ve more or less been running on fumes. Anything I’ve posted online definitely has not included my face, house, laundry pile, or choice of clothing in which I’ve been lounging around the house. Not sleeping well due to a combo of pregnancy aches and pains and a high-maintenance dog, begging my husband to take the morning toddler shift so I can scrap together a few extra zzzz’s, and living in his t-shirts (husband’s, not toddler’s – do I look like Bethenny Frankel?) – have been the common threads of this last week. I’m not looking for sympathy, as I know we all have days/weeks/seasons where we feel like we are “slodging through life.” Like our feet our constantly stuck in the mud and we just can’t find that light and easy pace we had the week before. Just keeping it real, and writing….which has happened like twice this year I think, but that could be overestimating.

Early today my sweet neighbor emailed and asked if Anderson and I would like to come over for a visit this morning or this afternoon. I thought to myself: “There is not a remote possibility I will be showered, out of my husband’s XL graphic tee and even remotely presentable to anyone outside my home until at least the mid-afternoon hours.” I said: “Later this afternoon is probably best for us.” No need to scare the woman.

On his way out the door this morning when Aaron asked me and my son, who was at the time very evenly alternating between bursting into PMS-like tears and exclaiming, “All done crying!” with a tear-streaked, semi-creepy smile on his face, what we were doing today, I said, “Surviving.” He patted me on the head like a lost puppy and told me to enjoy surviving, or good luck, or something like that. I can’t remember and/or didn’t really hear him at the time because I hadn’t had coffee yet.

On days like this, perspective is our friend. I may have almost thrown up from record-disgusting diapers, and I’m starting to stick to my clothing (OK, my husband’s clothing), I need to shower so bad – BUT –would you believe I still polished our stainless steel appliances, taught Anderson to ride a balance bike (he kept exclaiming, “I’m riding a bike! I’m riding a bike!” It was so cute I almost felt human again.), AND served both of us warm food today? I know. Please excuse me while I go find that gold star….the first place I’m looking is the shower.

PS – In addition, have I mentioned we’ve reverted to blow-outs this week? If you don’t know what this is, bless you. If you do, sorry for the TMI. But seriously, it’s like Anderson’s 6 months old again and I’ve actually lost count of how many pairs of shorts, blankets, sheets and sleep sacks I’ve had to shower with shout this week like I’ve been fighting wildfires. I guess he’s just doing his part to grease my wheels for baby #2.

PPS – Here’s a cute pic of Anderson on his bike AFTER I cleaned up approximately 700 toys…. total failure on my part.  This blog post obviously merits a “before” pic.  I would say use your imagination, but I know most of you have been there, and don’t have to.  🙂

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“We Did That So Perfectly,” Said No Parent Ever

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I remember it clearly. I was in the last stretch of pregnancy, feeling pretty prepared for our little guy’s arrival. I had taken all the classes at the hospital, built the crib and stocked the nursery, and was all but twiddling my thumbs as I read books and watched movies “for fun” – something I had been told I should really take advantage of before finishing a film at home became akin to passing a law through congress – so long and drawn out and diverted by tangents that the whole point is forgotten by the time the credits roll.

So I was feeling pretty ready for this baby to arrive and to get this party started (Oh, if I only knew how I’d come to mock that thumb twiddling), when I realized – we don’t have a thing. You know, a schedule-y, routine-y, “I will religiously follow this book or that blog or this pediatrician’s methods” THING. I didn’t have a child-rearing, sleep-training, milk-producing Bible, and suddenly – when I would talk to other parents I knew who did – a wave of “how could I have missed this?” insecurity washed over me.

One particular parent who comes to mind is a neighbor I like and respect, who praised the Baby Wise method of parenting. It includes a book that’s sold millions of copies, a blog fervent followers appear to read daily, a movement of parents and pediatricians who passionately oppose its methods, and a whole new language that the unindoctrinated must learn (PDF is no longer a file you save on your computer, but parent-directed feeding, and Eat, Play, Sleep is NOT a sequel to a Julia Roberts movie).

“Aaron!” my third trimester self said, semi-panicked, to my husband one still winter afternoon, “Has it occurred to you we don’t have a thing? Like, a schedule for the baby? I mean, what are we doing and how are we going to know when and how much our baby needs to do important things, like eat and sleep? What is OUR PLAN???”

A few deep breaths and blank stares from my husband later, I did what I usually do to re-center myself when this whole parenting thing starts to feel like a contest – remind myself that parents have been doing this for thousands of years without books or blogs or PDFs of either variety.

I will be my baby’s mother.

I will get to know his needs.

I will be OK.

As you may guess, I never did catch on to the Baby Wise method. I spent a few minutes skimming my neighbor’s copy of the book once, and tried Eat, Play, Sleep due to an open mind and love for Elizabeth Gilbert. But in the end, I realized my baby was just fine – his needs were being more than met – and trying to force a popular bestselling “infant management” program (Wikipedia’s term, not mine) was – for us – like trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. I gave myself the grace to truly trust that as long as parents are within the parameters of lovingly sustaining their child’s basic eating and sleeping needs, there is no one right way to parent.

Now of course this story is just one of a bazillion examples of the ways we may feel pressured, left out, or judged in our society as parents striving to be educated yet flexible, “a natural at it” while sometimes scared as hell, present yet always planning the next naptime, return from maternity leave or college fund.

I’ve learned to trust that, for me, it’s OK if my child hangs out with us while we watch football (he’s usually way more interested in the books in his lap, anyway), even though other parents cringe at the thought of even a passing glance of “screen time.” It’s OK if my son starts preschool at age 2, or age 5. And that baby food maker I never got around to using (sincere apologies to my mother-in-law — I will use it with the next baby)? Think of all the extra time I got back by simply clicking the “add to cart” button on Amazon Fresh instead.

The reason I am so passionate about leading PEPS groups is because I want to encourage other parents to trust themselves. Don’t let yourself be bullied by a book, or intoxicated by a trend, at the expense of being the exact parent your baby needs.

There is no perfect. There is no magic wand. There is no fool-proof guide book for baby-raising and if there were you’d go broke buying the next edition and the newest revision tomorrow and the next day, and the next.

Your gut feelings exist for a reason.

I’m certainly not against books, and I’m happy for whatever works for you, but I am against anything that makes good, well-meaning parents feel bad – whether it’s an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest, or the woman in Starbucks who told me on a particularly rainy day that “You know, they make rain covers for the BOB stroller” and “Really, you should get one.” She actually repeated “You should get one” as if the existing massive stroller canopy covering all but a few inches of my child’s blanketed legs would surely lead to immediate pneumonia.

But I digress and, as usual, I’m over my word count. Be kind to yourself and savor those books and blogs and DIY projects in responsible doses, like a good glass of wine. And if you find yourself putting down Eat, Play, Sleep in favor of Eat, Pray, Love – you won’t find any judgment here.

**Originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows

Higher Highs and Lower Lows

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My husband and I got into a big fight two days after finally moving into our long-awaited “dream house.”

But to be honest, I would have been more surprised if we hadn’t.

Robin Williams’ laughter and smile were larger than life. They’re still painted in my memory and ringing in my ears.

But his pain was deeper than the ocean.

And parents, especially new parents, are thrust into the greatest joy, purest bliss and calmest peace of life with a precious new child…

So why do so many of them report suffering from the deepest sadness, most severe loneliness, and isolating ineptitude they’ve ever felt in their lives?*

The common thread in each of these scenarios is something that has taken me a long time to learn about life: with higher highs come lower lows.

With the house example, I’ve learned that even good stress is stress. The overwhelming work of packing your life into boxes and unpacking it piece by piece as you get to know and operate and secure each quirk and cranny of a foreign new place is unsettling, even if it’s also exciting. Add to that exhaustion, chaos and competing opinions about priorities and I’m willing to bet many a husband and wife have “gone at it” – in a way that’s far from the christening fantasy they envisioned.

Then there’s the raw, painful story of one of the world’s most beloved comedians suffering so severely he took his own life. I’m not a psychologist but I know many mental health professionals have said in the aftermath of this shocking death, that it’s often the people who smile the brightest on the surface, that are fighting the darkest demons inside. That smile is their armor; it’s certainly not their whole truth. High highs….low lows.

Finally we have the true roller coaster that is parenting. It can lift you, windswept, to breathtaking heights you never knew existed, and then drop you so fast it leaves you spinning and wanting to throw up.

So why does this happen and what can we do about it?

Well.

One more thing I’ve learned about life is there’s a hell of a lot we have very little control over. Like where our husband puts the coffee maker. Or the unbelievable number of times in a day our little one….fill-in-the-blank (Spits up! Wakes up! Cries! Makes me cry!).

What we do have control over, friends, are the expectations we set for ourselves, as parents and as people.

When we expect things to be picture perfect, easy and happy all the time – we’re setting ourselves up for a freefall into disappointment. How can anyone live up to that bar, set as high as a trapeze artist? I’m pretty sure the only thing new parents have in common with a trapeze artist is sometimes feeling like they live at the circus.

Expect yourself to be human. Expect yourself to do some things well. And forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn to be happy in your home with dishes in the sink, and a baby with spit-up on their onesie. You’ll wash them and change them eventually, but maybe right this second you really just need to pour yourself a cup of coffee or spend 5 minutes zoning out to E! News.

And that’s OK.

Hopefully once we learn to expect that life isn’t roller coaster highs all the time, the lows might even out as well, and we’ll begin to settle into something resembling – what do the trapeze artists call it?

Oh, yeah. Balance.

*PS –  I recognize and respect that sometimes these “lows,” when related to mental health are beyond our control and require the help of a trained professional, and/or treatment such as medication. If you are experiencing something you suspect could be a postpartum mood disorder, please know you are not alone, and you deserve to find the support you need. Here are a couple of resources available to you:

*Postpartum Support International of Washington:
http://www.ppmdsupport.com** has info on PPMD, list of recommended resources and Support Groups
*Peer Support Phone Line (a “warm-line” not a crisis “hotline” – support from women who have recovered from PPMD – if you leave a message, someone will call back within 24 hours). 1-888-404-PPMD

This essay was originally published on the PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) blog, Highs and Lows.

*photo credit

The More the Merrier?

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Four Moms Talk Family Size, Sibling Dynamics,  and Why Timing is Everything

Did you always dream of having a family big enough to fill up a minivan or your own basketball roster? Or maybe you had a baby and quickly realized one is more than enough, thank you very much? While some parents struggle to conceive at all, others are graced by a surprise(!) second, third or fourth baby, just when they thought they were “done.” When it comes to family planning and family size, there is only so much we can, in fact, “plan”. One thing that’s guaranteed – every parent’s story is uniquely personal, and each family took its own set of twists and turns along the way.

As someone who has always been open to, yet unsure about, having a “larger” family (more than the average two kids), I love hearing about other parents’ experiences in planning for (or not…), and raising, families of various sizes.

To get the real scoop on what it’s like to have two, three, or four kids, I interviewed four mothers of varying family sizes about growing their brood, the story on siblings, their ideal age spacing between kids, and how each new addition has changed them as parents and their family’s dynamic. I hope you will enjoy their candid, insightful words and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as baby has made three…then four…then five…then six! I am indebted to these women for contributing to my first collaborative, interview-based blog post.

First, a bit about how I know each of these moms:

Shawna and I have been friends since high school, were in each other’s weddings, and bonded even more as belly buddies while simultaneously pregnant with our sons (her second, my first), both born in March, 2013. Shawna lives in a suburb of Spokane, WA with her husband and two sons, Kiptyn (3) and Brody (1).

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Becka and I led Young Life together when I was in college and though we have not seen each other in years, it has been a joy to follow her life and the growth of her family remotely, through emails and Facebook. She resides in a suburb north of Seattle where she and her husband are raising their four children – Jordan (7 ½), Kalum (6), Addison (4) and Lincoln (1 ½).

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Kalimar and I were in a book club together a few years ago, and I will never forget the gathering at my house where she stunned us all with the news that she was expecting her (surprise!) third child and first son, Anthony (2). He joined big sisters, Kadence (6) and Kohyn (3). Kalimar and her husband reside in a Seattle suburb.

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Vanessa was my PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) group leader when Aaron and I joined our first group with our son, Anderson, and has served as a support and example to me as I have gone on to lead PEPS groups myself. She and her husband are raising their three kids – 10-year-old Luke, 7-year-old Vivian and 4-year-old Soren…and have a fourth on the way! – in Seattle.

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It goes without saying there are wonderful mothers of 1 and of 5+ I also could have interviewed for this project. And if you are one of those moms – I welcome your unique insights, so please comment and share! Alas, these are the moms I invited on board to share their greatest struggles (the diapers! the whining! the sleep!) and what keeps them smiling (the giggle fests!) no matter how zombie-tired they are… as their families have grown… and grown… and grown. Read on!

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“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” – Woody Allen

 

“I never grew up wanting to get married, or thought about being a mom,” shares Vanessa, who is currently expecting her fourth child.

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“We had not really discussed children before our first. When we got married I didn’t even think about kids, really – hadn’t given it a thought.” Vanessa says that it wasn’t until after having children she knew she wanted to have four. “Everyone always tells me that the woman knows when she is done having babies…literally just having given birth the mom will know – she will still have that feeling for one more or she will feel complete and done, and it’s so true with me! I never felt done with each of my kids. I’m currently pregnant with #4, and I feel done. I’m ready after this one to be finished (my husband is so happy about that!).”

For Shawna, “two” was always that ideal number – before and after becoming a mom. She says that even in discussions she and her husband had before getting married, having two kids someday “seemed natural for us.” Now, with two toddlers at home, they certainly have their hands full, but Shawna admits, “Now, we partially joke that we would like a third child.” She is quick to add that is not an option for them, however (“They make surgeries for that sort of thing”).

Kalimar also had her feet firmly planted in the “two kids” camp, until a life-changing positive pregnancy test came along that turned her plans – and life as she knew it – upside down. Her son, Anthony, was born when her youngest daughter was just 16 months old – an experience she wouldn’t recommend to anyone. “I was in survival mode for his entire first year and can barely remember any of it,” she shares, adding that the timing of having two babies so close together was “extremely challenging” and – quite simply – “horrible.”

Becka, who gave birth to four children within six years, says she and her husband “always talked about having four kids close in age.” But those plans didn’t come to fruition without some serious doubts along the way. “Our talks/plans did not change until I was eight months pregnant with our third child,” she says. “After having two boys I had mentally assumed our third was also going to be a boy and if I was lucky I would get a girl for our fourth. (Finding out we were having a girl) threw a wrench in my mental picture of my family.” As a very tired pregnant mother of two, Becka says she “began to think I couldn’t do this again. I couldn’t be pregnant again and wake up to take care of three children.” After some serious thought and prayer, and experiencing 19 months as a mother of three, Becka says at that point she finally knew that she truly wanted a fourth child.

How Close is Too Close? The Age Gap Debate

As any mother of twins will tell you, taking care of two babies is at least twice as much work as taking care of one – twice the diapers, twice the feedings, twice the tantrums… you get the idea. Much of these same consequences hit parents of closely-spaced kids. While many parents intentionally wait until older children are potty-trained, sleeping through the night – even in school – to lessen the impact of adding another baby to the mix, other parents deeply desire for their kids to grow up very close in age, and some even find it easier to get through the “diaper days” all at once, however daunting that task may be.

Let’s talk diapers.

It’s something every one of the mothers I interviewed mentioned – without even being asked. For some it plays into their ideals for age spacing, for others not so much.

Becka loves the age spacing between her kids (“They are each other’s best friends”), though she can see the benefits of spacing kids out even more.

“It is hard because I am in the ‘trenches’ for quite a few years in a row,” she says, “but once I get out I will be able to stay out. As opposed to my parents who had four kids with a four-year age gap between each, so my oldest brother was 12 when my baby brother was born. That’s 14 years of never really getting out of diapers!”

For Kalimar, most everything was easier with her first two children (daughters spaced 2.5 years apart) than with her youngest two children who have only a 16-month gap in age.

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“My first two are 2.5 years apart and it’s wonderful. My first was daytime potty-trained when my second was born…could ask questions and understand my answers.” The short spacing between her two youngest was another story entirely – both were in diapers full-time, and Kalimar was still nursing nearly halfway through her third pregnancy, which hindered her own (and, she suspects, her baby’s) weight gain. When the new baby arrived, her 16-month-old daughter was confused to see Mom holding a new baby and not her. “The lack of communication and understanding of my 16-month-old was heartbreaking. There were so many times daddy had to pull her away crying and screaming because she wanted to snuggle while I was nursing the newborn and she couldn’t.”

For Vanessa, diapers were no big deal and weren’t one of the reasons she spaced her kids further apart, at three years apart each. Though she says diapers never bothered her, getting each child to sleep through the night, be more independent, and into a bigger car seat were some practical aspects to her choice. Most importantly though, she just wanted more time to be their mom, one at a time. “The best thing to me about my kids’ age gap (three years each) is that I had time with each one – to take care of each of them in the baby stage when they need you the most.” She also mentions that her kids are still “incredibly close” even with the larger age gap.

Shawna also had her sights set on a three-year age gap, but plans changed when Kiptyn was 15 months old and she and her husband found themselves trying for baby #2. Like Becka, Shawna and her husband had grown up with their own siblings spaced further apart, and felt the impact of not being as close. With her boys almost exactly two years apart, the double diaper duty can be taxing, but she loves that they are “close enough to experience life together, go to the same schools at the same time, and grow up as buddies.” Playing referee to their wrestling matches is a small price to pay.

Growing Pains…and Growing Joys

I asked the moms what the hardest transition was for them – going from 0 to 1 kid, 1 to 2, 2 to 3, or 3 to 4. Three out of four said the first baby was the hardest, followed by going from 2 to 3 (although Vanessa felt that by the time they had their third, it was a “piece of cake!”).

“Everything is much easier with two,” says Kalimar. “Once you have three or more you are in the market for a bigger car, bigger house etc…”

Becka seconds the car considerations, adding, “I don’t want a car bigger than a minivan!”

Across the board, one of the biggest rewards the moms have felt as their families have grown, is watching the bond their children form with each other.

“There is a lot more fighting and yelling happening, but also so much more giggling and silliness,” says Vanessa. “The giggles are priceless,” adds Becka. Shawna agrees, “Pure joy is seeing my boys interact and laugh together. The belly laughs I find myself listening to these days make me smile from ear to ear.”

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Whining toddlers and older kids wanting to roughhouse with the fragile younger babes was a top challenge mentioned by the moms. But on the flip side, the older, more independent kids are also able to help out with little siblings. Girls tended to take right to “mothering” their new baby brother or sister.

Words of Advice for Undecided Parents

I asked the moms what advice they would give other parents who are undecided about how many kids to have, and when to have them. Here are their pearls of wisdom:

From Kalimar: “Age spacing is crucial! I highly recommend not having kids closer in age than 2 ½ years if your first is a girl, and at least three years if your first is a boy. The reason for this is that girls are natural little mothers…they understand and want to help with baby at an earlier age than boys….even the most sensitive boy loves to crash and bang, and yes he will crash and bang into the newborn.”

From Becka: “Talk about it, pray about it and think about what you can handle. There are hard days that seem to last an eternity, but in the scheme of things a year flies by!”

From Shawna: “Consider how much time you’ll be able to spend with each child, teaching them, learning alongside them. (As for spacing), go with what feels right. Whether planned or unplanned, children enrich lives, turn life upside down in the most perfect of ways. Life is amazingly crazy with kids in it, and it is the best, most challenging thing I may ever do.”

From Vanessa: “There is so much pressure on parents to have their second child…I felt like right after we had our first, people were already asking us when we were going to have our next one! Now that I’m pregnant with baby #4, people can’t believe that either and I get a lot of weird looks and people asking if we are having it on purpose, and ‘Why?’ which no one would ask with baby #1 or #2. There is no pleasing everyone… If you are content with having one child, then just have one. Do what you want, and have your babies when you want. You don’t have to please anyone but yourselves.”

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As for Me….

Aaron and I are expecting…..to hopefully be pregnant again sometime next year! God willing. I SO relate to Vanessa’s comment about a mother just knowing when she is done, or not done, having children. Throughout my pregnancy with Anderson and even early on with him as a newborn, I already genuinely looked forward to someday, I hope, getting to do it all over again.

The insight I have gained from these mothers is invaluable to me as one of the hardest things about making any parenting decisions is the many “unknowns.” I so appreciate the “reality check” these moms have given me and their experience-based wisdom makes me feel more informed as to what I need to take into consideration – what’s best for Anderson and what’s best for Aaron and me as parents – before heading down the road toward additional children. As much as my heart tells me I would love to be pregnant again right now, my head tells me there are good reasons to wait just a little bit longer.