What If I'm Not "Soaking It Up"?

Last Sunday morning, I sat down in the middle of worship, head in my hands, overwhelmed. My husband sat down next to me and put his arm around me.

What’s wrong? Are you okay? 

I’m just tired. I’m so tired.

Are you sure that’s all? I feel like you’re not telling me something.

No. I’m just exhausted. I’m so ready for Hattie to grow out of this stage. I’m just so tired of her.

As soon as the last sentence escaped my lips, the guilt bubbled up inside me, then the shame, then the inadequacy. What kind of mom am I? I’m tired of my own child. And of all places, I knew God definitely heard me talking about his child, and now he probably thinks I’m ungrateful for this gift, the gift some achingly long for for years upon years. A new layer of guilt.

Lord, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I feel this way.

I have read all the hundreds of articles and heard the heartfelt sentiments and shallow platitudes over and over. This won’t last forever. You better soak it all up now because they’ll be grown before you know it.

I know what they mean, what they’re trying to say. I know they’re probably right. And maybe I will miss this stage.

But yesterday I cried when I heard Hattie at 5:30 AM ready for the day. I cried every time I tried to put her down for a nap because she would. not. stop. fighting it. I cried thirty minutes later when I heard her wails echoing from her room. THIRTY minutes? You wake up at 5:30 AGAIN and you can’t muster up a nap longer than THIRTY FREAKING MINUTES? I cried when Charlee collapsed on the floor for the eighteenth time that day, this one in particular because I wouldn’t give her a third bag of fruit snacks. Then, Hattie’s screams filled my ears as I set her down to go take care of her sister. I cried while I was cooking dinner and got a glimpse of the state of the house. And the state of my outfit. And the state of my hair. Then I cried myself to sleep because I felt so guilty for having cried so much.

Can I tell you how I feel right now about soaking up This Time? I feel like cussing This Time out and kicking it in the balls. I feel like locking This Time out of the house and laying down and taking a nap. I feel like telling This Time to go to grandma’s for a couple of months until it gets a little bit bigger.

This Time has me by the neck with all four of its tiny hands and is slowly suffocating me. It has brought me to my knees. I am gasping for air.

I know I can do it; it’s not a matter of knowing whether I am capable of being a semi-functioning parent day in and day out. I can suck it up and do it. But what if I am not enjoying every second of it? What if I wish for these months to pass quickly? What if I feel like a failure because my baby has cried for five months straight and I can’t figure out how to fix it? What if I am so damn ready to be out of the baby stage?

What if I’m not soaking it up? 

Does that make me a bad mom? 

Please stop telling me This Time goes by so quickly. Because these have been the longest five months of my life. I’m fine. I really am. Just allow me the space to catch my breath.

And in the meantime, maybe on my knees is where I was supposed to be this whole time. Maybe I should just stay here. 

Perfection Pending

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.

Dear Charlee: A message for you before the baby

Dear Charlee Kate,

You’re about to be 17 months old. And your life is about to change. Big time. But before it does… I just want you to know a few things.

When I found out I was pregnant with you, I was a bit nervous. Scratch that. I cried (sloppily) and thought I might crap my pants (don’t use that word until at least college). Don’t get me wrong, I have always liked babies. I mean, who doesn’t? I even love children. I’m a teacher for crying out loud. If choosing to love on 6th grade, pubescent, stinky, awkward 12-year-olds doesn’t scream “Lover of Children!” I don’t know what does. Even so, upon seeing that little plus sign, the idea of your father and me masquerading as responsible, adult, nurturing, prepared parents was a joke. We were anything BUT prepared OR responsible OR adult. We were two babies that suddenly found themselves creating (two) babies. Did I say were? I meant are.

I say all this to reiterate that God knew my heart better than I knew it myself. He knew that I was prepared to be a mother when I had just recently decided I couldn’t take care of a dog. I wasn’t exactly confident that I was ready for all the selflessness, the sacrifices, the duties of motherhood. But I didn’t realize how much you would change me. I didn’t know I was capable of being so completely enraptured by another human being — especially one so small… that does so little to earn it. I loved you wholly, infinitely when all you did was cry, sleep, cry, poop, and cry. Why? How? It really is beyond me. I don’t know how it works.

I didn’t feel like a mom at first. Having you around all the time was surreal, like I was the eternal babysitter and your REAL mom was going to come get you at any second. I don’t know when it hit me or when I began believing and truly acknowledging to myself that you were my daughter and I was your mother. Those maternal attachments crept up on me gradually until one day I found myself acting and feeling like a full-blown mommy. I’ll just give you some examples of my ridiculous (borderline obsessive) mommy-isms…

It’s literally difficult for me not to kiss you when I’m holding you. Your cheeks are so pudgy and sweet. I try not to constantly smooch all over you because I’m afraid you’ll start dodging my kisses or getting annoyed by them. That would break my heart.

I have a shameful amount of pictures and videos of you (and only you) on my phone. Don’t worry, I don’t share them with strangers or offer to show them to company or anything — I’m not THAT mom… yet.

I sometimes hold your hand while I drive. Not because you’re fussy. Just because I like you.

When you get hurt and cry on my shoulder, there’s a part of me that relishes it. Not that you’re hurting, but that I know I am your safety, your help, your person.

Sometimes you just want to lay your head on my shoulder and rock in the rocking chair. You’re not tired, you just want to cuddle. These are my favorite times of the day. Will you do this in high school?

It blows my mind to watch you learning new things. Even though I realize that you are no prodigy and every toddler does what you are doing (or more than), I think to myself, “I can’t believe she just did that. She is so _______ (brilliant, awesome, hilarious, precious… fill in the blank).”

Is it clear that I love you? Well let me be clear elsewhere as well: your father and I agree that you will probably earn a lot of spankings in the future. I am totally aware you’re not perfect and don’t expect you (ever) to be. You are a little toot sometimes, but it makes me love you all the more because I know you get a little (a lot?) of that from me. 🙂

With all this being said, you’re going to have a brother or a sister in 12 days. Honestly, I’m a little scared. I’m scared of how you will respond, of how to juggle both of you, of how to make sure you never feel neglected but also never become spoiled. I’m scared of how to be fair with my time and going through the tedious process of teaching you how to share (because you’re really bad at that right now).

But also, I’m scared that I don’t know how to love another as much as I love you. I know that God must add a chamber to the heart or an extra pump or ventricle or something to make it possible. But at my current state, I just can’t imagine it. You have captivated your father and me, and we love you with an intensity you won’t understand until you have kids. (And to have kids, you must have sex… so you’ll never understand, because you’re never going to do that.)

I just wanted you to know, ya know, before everything goes crazy and I don’t have much time to tell you, that you will always be the one that first made me a mommy, and that before any other title, I am most proud of that one.

Also, good luck with your sibling. I know you will be the best big sister… eventually…