To My Daughter, Before You Go to Kindergarten: Love the Hard Ones

That kid who keeps making fart noises and laughing hysterically? Love him.

That kid who went to the principal’s office for cutting another kid’s hair? Love her.

That kid who doesn’t know how to count to ten? Love her too.

That kid who peed all over the bathroom wall? Yep, even him.

That kid who cussed out the teacher? Absolutely. She needs your love so desperately.

Because here’s the thing. You might be just what they need.

I know, because I’ve been loved by you. And you were what I needed. I know what it is to be changed by you, to have my insides reconfigure because of your kindness. You’ve got it in you, this ability to infuse those around you with goodness. You can do that.

What the Library Taught Me About Parenting

I was sitting in the library surrounded by moms and toddlers listening to the lady at the front of the room read stories and sing songs in her oddly confident, semi-annoying baby voice. As always, I sat in awe of her — it’s as if she doesn’t realize adults are even in the room. But as it should be, each mom had eyes only for her child, ogling over how adorable he/she was, each wondering why all the other moms weren’t watching her child, convinced they were all missing out. Except for one mom.

I have seen her on a few other occasions and know this isn’t abnormal behavior; it wasn’t just an off day, an I-need-a-freaking-break-before-I-break-your-face kind of day. On many a Wednesday, I’ve noticed her scrolling through her phone while her daughter danced and sang a few feet away, occasionally glancing back to see if she was watching her. She wasn’t.

Last week we stayed in the kids area to puzzle for a bit before lunch. As there are only a few tables, we ended up sharing one with that particular mom and daughter. Charlee and the other little girl began working on some puzzles while the girl’s mother sat and read a book next to her. No big deal. But after a few minutes, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable. Over and over again, this scene played out before me: the little girl would toddle over to get a puzzle, bring it back, work on it for a second, get stuck on a piece, ask her mom politely for help, get ignored, ask her mom politely for help again, get ignored, ask her mom politely for help again. Then, her mom, with a frustrated grumble, would take the piece out of her hand, place it assertively in the puzzle, and say something to like, “Ya know, it really defeats the purpose of you doing the puzzles by yourself if I have to do the whole thing for you.” Then, as if she could hear my blood boiling, she’d add a monotone “good job” before getting back to the pressing climax in her novel. The little girl would finish the puzzle, wiggle off her chair, waddle over to the puzzle rack, and climb up the step stool so she could reach to exchange her puzzle. 

In my passive aggressiveness, I awkwardly paced around the table and tried not to make eye contact. And now, in my passive aggressiveness, I am hiding behind my computer in hopes that maybe while scrolling through her phone today, she’ll come across this post. I know. I’m so bold.

I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. You’re right, I don’t know her personally. I’ve never gone to her house. And I must admit, I’m not innocent on the distracted mom home front. I have tried and tried to prioritize and re-prioritize in attempts to be ‘present’ for these delicate years. I will be the first to say it’s not easy. And what’s more, the second I think I’ve figured out how to be a good mother, I realize I’ve completely lost touch with myself, not to mention my marriage. It’s a nearly impossible balance.

I should mention that I am a firm believer in cultivating independence in our children. I agree that we live in a culture of hoverers, hand-holders, and “you are soooo special”ers. While hugs and kisses and kind words are good, so good, a slap on the butt and a “suck it up” is even better on occasion.

In this particular situation, though, I just wanted to slam her book down and scream, “MAYBE SHE DOESN’T NEED YOUR HELP! MAYBE SHE CAN DO IT BY HERSELF. MAYBE SHE JUST WANTS YOUR HELP. She wants to spend time with you and have fun with you. Right now, she’s little. There’s plenty of time for growing up and being big and independent. But the more you love her and hug her and show her attention now, the less she’s going to crave it later. And, ironically, the more independent she will be. See her. Really SEE her. Or she will try to be seen by someone else.”

Our kids may not need us to rub their backs at night or rock them a little before nap time or help them with their puzzles; maybe they just want these things. And sometimes, if a want is neglected long enough and quietly burrows deeper down into one’s soul, it turns into a need.

Every child wants to feel like their parents are captivated by them. They want to turn around and see us watching, our eyes glued to them. We are the providers of self-esteem and self-worth in these early years. Our words will either build up or tear down. Our words will be the words that prepare them for the inevitable middle school meltdowns, the pressures of high school, the charisma of hunky suitors (may they RIP). When others’ words are flying from every direction, ours will be the loudest because they’ve heard ours over and over and over again.

So may they be words of love and encouragement, confidence and foundation, hope and grace. May our words fill up every crevice of their bodies, every toe and every wrinkle until they collide into a beautiful love story between them and their maker. May our words be so abundant they’re overflowing, that those same powerful expressions of love escape their lips and pour into others. Because that’s what we’re here for, right? God is using us to raise up his vessels. Let’s give them the right words.

This is the Story of How I Lost My Mind

At the end of some days, I think back on the day and reflect on how it went so smoothly. And then (because I never learn), I think to myself,  “I’ve really got this whole parenting thing down.”

Then there are days like Wednesday.

God gives you days like the former, to remind you of how much you love your kids on days like the latter.

God gives you days like the latter, to keep your ego in check.

Coincidentally, Tuesday was one of those smooth sailing days. Love how Tuesdays seem to always happen before Wednesdays. Literally and figuratively speaking.

On Tuesday, Charlee took a three-hour nap AND Hattie was asleep for an hour-and-a-half of those three hours. That meant I had a whole entire hour-and-a-half TO.MY.SELF. Unheard of. Because of this three-hour nap (does anyone else keep singing three-hour nap to the tune of Gilligan’s Island?), Big Girl had a very difficult time falling asleep that night. She finally tuckered out around 11 pm. Hattie however, fell asleep around 7:30. 

Does anyone see where this is going?

So then we have … Wednesday. Hattie wakes up at 6:15. Ugh. She eventually falls back to sleep around 8. With what I am sure is to be a long while before Charlee wakes up, I decide to get dressed — as in put on makeup and a semi-cute mom-casual outfit. WHAT? I know. It is out of character. Some days you just need to feel good about yourself, right? I think God knew what the day ahead of me held, so he offered me this nibble of confidence, knowing the rest will be completely depleted in about 12 hours.

I hear Charlee’s good morning cry at approximately 8:32: “YA YA YA YA YA YA YA.”As soon as I hear her I think, “This is bad.” Not unlike her mother, she needs an ample amount of sleep to function emotionally the following day. As I make the long walk to her bedroom, I attempt to prepare myself for what is sure to be a toddlerific Wednesday.

The day begins with breakfast… as days usually do. I’m sure you know, deciding on what to eat for breakfast is torturous some mornings. And the obvious way to convey your disgust with what your mom chooses for you is to cry at a very high pitch, as to attract all the neighborhood dogs to eat the breakfast for you. How dare I give her raspberries and yogurt. The nerve.

If I were smart, I would have recognized the spiral for what it was and kept the child quarantined all day. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt, sure that once we got out the door she would be transformed by the light. So I sat her in front of the computer (Go ahead. Judge me. I would if I weren’t me.) and proceeded to play Elmo songs on YouTube while she ate her buttered pancakes (frozen and store-bought… don’t be impressed), so that I can feed Hattie and get our stuff together for a playdate.

About 12 meltdowns later (why won’t I let her wear her boots on the wrong feet?!), I am determined to get out the door before someone dies. Our 10 o’clock date was to the local church that holds a Mom ‘n Tot time on Wednesday mornings. I walk in with Charlee, fully aware that she is teetering precariously on this tightrope of sleep deprivation, knowing her tired alter-ego could rear its ugly head at any moment.

She has a couple mini-meltdowns (a boy was walking inside a train tent, which is clearly terrifying, and a little girl took the bike she wanted to ride. B*&%$), but nothing too dramatic. Then, the final straw comes in the form of a two-year-old girl who takes a hula hoop Charlee is standing by. STANDING BY. Was she playing with it? Nope. Does she know what a hula hoop is or how to use one? Not at all. Did that pink piece of plastic symbolize all that was holding her fragile world together? Apparently.

We left in a trail of tears, a baby in each arm with the eldest screaming in one ear, the youngest’s eyes wide, like, “Mom! Make her stop!”

We recover at home before nap time.

Did I say nap time? What I meant was… she doesn’t take a nap. 

C lies in her bed for an hour-and-a-half, chatting and singing … just about the only time that whole day she was pleasant. You guys. No nap. No freaking nap.

That evening, we take dinner to some of our friends. And OF COURSE she falls asleep in the car. After about 20 minutes, she wakes up. And she wakes up angry. Angry at Hattie for having to eat. Angry at her high chair for being too high. Angry at mom for not giving her TWO Gogurts.

At about 6:25, Hattie catches The Crazies from her sister and proceeds to scream, pull my hair, scratch my chest and punch me in the face for the next 3 1/2 hours. 8 gallons of gas drops later, she falls asleep. Only to wake up 22 more times before morning.

And that is the story of how I lost my mind.

Send Target. Like the whole store. Send it to me. And coffee. And a babysitter.