To the Melting Mamas amidst Meltdowns

By the end of church every Sunday, I am undone. I am sweaty. I am covered in drool and Goldfish remnants. I am also usually so taxed from sitting through 1 hr and 15 minutes of controlled time with my herd of children in the pews that by the time we get home, I am cranky and/or want to curl up in Child’s Pose and not move for at least 1 hr and 15 minutes (which, PS, is never, ever possible).

I am a literal and figurative mess on Sunday mornings.

And you know what? I attend a church that loves kids. They and their noises and their antics are welcomed on a regular basis and often I get mad props and big love just for being there with my five.

The last couple weeks, though, when I have had to wrestle a baby who can’t be put down and won’t go to anyone but her daddy (& even then only for short bursts of time) and monitor four other Littles who are busy, busy, busy in the balcony where we sit (and because summer won’t die, sweat), I find myself questioning why I bother.

Wouldn’t it be easier to stay at home with the baby? To watch the service on FB and let Ben take the kids to Sunday School? To only go to service when one of our crew is singing or playing bells?

Well, yes. That would be much easier. But we started attending this church as a family and we feel that the church is part of our family, so bailing and watching from the sidelines doesn’t feel like a real option. We want our children to be part of this community and they aren’t going to get that if we ourselves are not part of it.

That being said, an innocent enough comment got tossed my way after service today (ironic giving the sermon on “Taming the Tongue”) that took a self-deprecating joke I had made and shot it down with the message of: nope. not good enough. you’re not doing enough. And I lost it.

Not in immediate response. I held my tongue in the moment and bailed out a side door so no one would have to see my tears, but I share it now because are you kidding me? Even in jest or innocent jokes? Just as the sermon said today, words matter. And I am literally sweating my way through every service like it’s a gym workout to make sure my kids are there but not too distracting, that we are a part of it all, and the absolute last thing I need is to be made to feel like I am somehow failing. Because trust me, it’s easy enough to think that on my own.

So, please: mad props and big love only, OK? I’m doing my best to extend grace, to others and myself, and if you are one of the mamas melting and trying to tame meltdowns every week at church, I see you. No jokes about it. You are enough and your efforts are of value.

 

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Minivan Moments

It is no secret to parents that you can sometimes have the best conversations with your kids when you are driving. There is something about the road or the slightly averted eyes that makes it a safe and comfortable place to chat.

Many days when I pick my biggest two up after school, they are talking shouting over each other to tell me stories as we make the all-too-short-to-fit-it-all-in drive back home. And then, just to be helpful, Truman starts chiming in, “Me turn! ME! TURN!” as if I haven’t been around him all day and already heard all his stories. 3yos, man. What a hoot.

This year, though, because my kids are in a two-year temporary building for school, our drive TO school in the mornings has gotten longer. Originally they were riding the bus but the schedule changed (insert eye roll here) and it became far more convenient just to drive them the extra distance instead of heading to the bus stop earlier. And what I have found on these mornings (besides the fact that I need to drink my coffee BEFORE the 7:30-9:00 drop-off craziness of every day) is that my kids and I have some pretty cool chats during those extra early minutes together in the car.

It is during these drives that I get to hear about what is going on at school that day or how things are going with so-and-so and this-and-that in their classrooms. This is when we get to quick review what we have going on later in the day so everyone is (sort of, mostly, kind of) on the same page after school. And this is when they get to just ask me whatever or tell me whatever is floating around their (pretty darn awesome) brains.

I really dig it.

And, because this one cracked me up, I have to share one of our conversations from last week….

As some of you know, HD decided to apply for Student Council this year. The day the applications came home, he told me he wanted to do it and he already had in mind his platform proposal (my words, not the school’s). He wanted to assign student helpers, student janitors, if you will) to help so the custodian wouldn’t have to do as much to keep the bathrooms clean.

“You know, Mom, like I do? They could push down the paper towels in the trash and stuff?”

Love him.

So. We talked about his answers to the application questions and he filled it out, took it back on time, and was told that yes, he could indeed run for StuCo. Yay!

Then, last Thursday morning, when we had approximately 20 minutes before we had to head out the door and I still had lunches to throw together, he tells me that he needs a speech to present to his peers. That day.

Oof.

My Mama heart freaked. I wanted to help him but I didn’t want to do it for him and he was right that he did not have enough time to write it all out himself.

So. We compromised. While I made lunches, he told me his ideas and I wrote out an outline on a half sheet of paper. I then handed it to him, told him to give me his speech, and lo and behold a future debtor was born – he did it. He used that outline and elaborated and it was just cool to watch him do that so easily. He practiced a couple times  (“Mom, time me to make sure I’m under the time limit!”) and then we were out the door and in the van.

On this particular morning drive, after we had just done the mad-dash outline save, after a week of applications and conversations, is when Harrison decided to ask me, “Mom? What’s Student Council?”

Friends, it took everything in my being not to burst out laughing that he waited until that moment to make that inquiry, but instead I did my best to answer and away we went across town to school where he did share his ideas with his classmates and he was in fact elected to that mysterious entity otherwise known as Student Council.

Bless his heart. So proud of him. So entertained by him in that moment. So glad to have a few extra minutes with them all in the morning, even though the in-out-load-and-go of it all is a damn circus every day. To be a witness to their development and their personalities is worth it. And, thanks to the change up in my coffee routine, I’m coherent enough to remember the funnies that pop up along the way.

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Staying Put

Last weekend, on a total, uncharacteristic for me, whim, I concocted a plan for us to travel to Kansas City this weekend to take the kids to their first Royal’s game. Cool, right?

In theory, yes. But then the week came (LT’s first one of preschool which went really well but left all of us a little worn out from all the extra running around and him in general simply for the fact that it was his first week of school) and by Thursday/Friday both the weather forecast (super hot + chances of rain and thunderstorms) and Wilson (diaper rash from hell and clingyness on Stage Five Alert levels) were not looking great/road worthy.

Then our sleepless Friday night happened thanks to the aforementioned diaper rash resulting in a 2-hr-awake window in the middle of the night and the most dic-er-us (TJ’s version of the word) thunder storm we’ve had in ages that woke our entire family from 1:30-2:30A. We had actually made the call prior not to go to KC, but that sealed the deal from last minute heading down there Saturday because Ben and I, not to mention the kids, were sooooo tired yesterday. Minus the ability to teleport or hire a chauffeur, it just couldn’t have happened.

So instead we’ve spent the weekend making the most of our family time and letting a few rules fly out the window to make up for the disappointing change in plans. The kids stayed up late Friday night for a movie and picnic dinner in the basement. Yesterday we did a family walk to the park, and did not reschedule piano lessons, and they got to go bowling and to Cherry Berry, and we started our first kid audiobook listen (The Boxcar Children), AND they went to bed EARLY to counter the previous night’s thunderstorm shenanigans. Today it has been board games, book listening, show watching, slime making (am I the only parent who hates making slime?), and watching the Royal’s on TV because, of course it’s not actually storming there yet (*face palm*). There has also been time for me to do some grading, Ben to work on budget, not watching the Huskers play, and even some reading.

Honestly? Even though we couldn’t resell the tickets, I don’t really care that our plans changed. Had I been thinking about it being the end of Lincoln’s first week I never would have hatched this plan in the first place because I know better. These first few weeks of school have to have sacred weekends which sometimes means not even going to church because down time is a MUST. Doing some active, some quiet, some food, some free, some cost activities just as a family unit? Also a MUST.

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If I’m also being totally honest, I’ll admit that my main motivator for wanting to go to the game this weekend (besides cheap tickets because, let’s face it – not a great season for the Royals) was to give my kids one fun trip that was not also grief-tinged. Every other major trip we’ve done this year has been and I wanted one start-to-finish excursion that was not, but then we (re)discovered that going was far less valuable to us, at this time, than staying put.

So put we are. Doing our things. Taking it easy*. I’ll take it.

*I repeat: Slime sucks.

Dear Wilson

The thought went through my head today at Wilson’s 9 Month well check, and not for the first time, that I am afraid that I am going to be old pile of hot mess come her first birthday. I mean, wouldn’t the first birthday of the last baby be enough to reduce anyone to mush status pretty easily? As it is, with our Wonder girl, I find myself of course celebrating her each passing month, but even now, at 3/4 of the way to 1, there’s still a bit of lamenting happening, too. It’s like I haven’t escaped the trauma of the unexpected, life-saving surgery and NICU stay yet.

Actually, I know I haven’t.

One way I know? When I hear or smell anything that reminds me of the hospital, I get panicky. We’re not talking PTSD here, but still. The smell of hospital brand/grade sanitizer? Yep, that does it. The beeping of a vitals machine as it attempts to take blood pressure and pulse? Oh, wow. That REALLY does it. I flat out wanted to drop kick the little roll-y vitals cart thing at the doctor’s office today because it instantly threw me back into all those times I was trying to hold Wilson in the NICU and the machines kept going off (thankfully not because she was in actual distress but because the little pads don’t stick worth a darn), making it next to impossible to snuggle and feed my baby the way I wanted, longed, wished so badly to do.

Here’s the other way I know I haven’t moved past the trauma of it all: I haven’t mourned the loss of my brand new newborn expectations that I had for her and I, for all of us. And clearly I need to do exactly that. So, here goes…

Dear Wilson,

Sweet, sweet, surprise Baby Girl. When I think back to your birth, it is hands down one of the happiest moments of my life. I had experience under my belt, your daddy at my side, and all the nurses and I were smiling and laughing; and even though of course labor is intense, I cannot think of any other way to describe your labor and birth than joyFULL. In hindsight, I am so glad we did not know what was coming next because I think it would have changed your birth dramatically, and my love, you came into this world in the happiest way possible. What I’m still trying to wrap my head and heart around nine months later is how we had to fight in the days and weeks to come to get back not just to happy but to home.

You were, of course, amazing. Strong, blowing through doctor’s expectations that first week, charming everyone with your sweet face and incredible story (and WONDERful nickname). Everyone surrounding you – doctors, nurses, family, friends, prayer warriors – they were amazing, too. Your dad and I? We flew by the seat of our pants and did our best to rock a previously unimaginable situation that ultimately was so short, so swift, but at the time felt like trying to cross a canyon five miles wide and ten miles deep on foot. That being said, I have never been, for one second, frustrated with you over your first three weeks of life. And perhaps that is why I haven’t found a way to direct my feelings or move past them yet because there is literally no one and no thing that can take the blame for what happened. It just did. And thank the heavens above, we still got to keep you anyway.

What I do feel sad about, mad about, down right cheated about, is not getting to have a typical newborn experience with you. By Baby No. 5 you kind of have a sense for how these things go, but Sweetness, you showed us we knew very little beyond how to love you and hold on for the ride of our lives. I wanted to be at home, curled up in my own bed, nursing you and napping next to your bassinet, and having your siblings loving on us all the time, and your dad home from school for a handful of days, and not too many visitors, and just time to do our thing and start the work of figuring out Life as Seven. Instead we got none of that and my every comfort level and heart string was pushed and stretched tight enough to physically hurt. It still hurts now, sometimes, to the point that I have watched other women welcome babies in the time since your birth and been pissed and judgmental about everything they are out and about doing, only to realize I don’t give a flying flip what they are doing – it’s just that I didn’t get to choose what you and I got to do for 22 days.

22 days.

Doesn’t seem so long when I look at that number now. As you grow, I’m sure it will get even smaller. And of course I know that others have faced far worse, far longer, far less happy in the end. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have yet to meet a mama who would trade to have our birth experience, either. I can’t make it a comparison game, but I can mourn for the 22 days that we didn’t get to call ours alone, that went so far off the plan, they rewrote all the rules. Wilson Ann, you will always be worth it. Never ever doubt that. I am sorry I couldn’t make your first 22 days smoother and less scary (for all of us). But you’ve had my heart from the start. You’ll have it forever.

With All the Love,

Mama

P.S. This is you at 9 months. Total, pure sweetness. img_1297

Staggered Start

In a strange and most likely never-to-be-duplicated turn of events, we are smack dab in the thick of the longest, most drawn out start of a school year ever for our family. I suppose the fact that we have more family members than ever before enrolled/teaching school this year might have something to do with that, but truly, we’ll see an entire month go by between the first person’s and last person’s start date (Holy Transition Period, Batman!).

Ben started off with back-to-school meetings on August 6th and then he and the biggest two Bigs had their first day of class on August 16th. The other bookend will (finally) come next week when Truman gets to start attending Two-Day preschool which can’t happen until he’s three, but because his birthday is on a Thursday, that means his first day will be the day he actually turns three (and gets to bring treats and have his first swimming lesson and again, I say unto you, Holy Big Day, Batman!), and y’all, stick with me for a minute on this tangent, but I’m really not sure how this is going to go. Maybe it will be great. Maybe it will be easy peasy, lemon squeezey. Or maybe we will pay for one month of preschool and then decide to wait a bit, because even though he is now potty-trained and seems to think he’s as big as the rest of the Bigs, I honestly have no clue if preschool will stick for him yet or not. No. Clue.

The other two of-school/teaching age family members are, of course, Lincoln and I, and we both had/have our first day TODAY! LT is an old pro at preschool these days, and he is SO excited to be attending the five-day class this year, he was practically wiggling from the minute he got up this morning. He headed off into the classroom without so much as a backward glance (or goodbye!) and came home lit up about, of all things, book orders! No wonder that boy has my heart! He’s grown so much since last year – both physically and socially; I can’t wait to see all that he learns and does this year.

And then there’s me, with my strangest back-to-school first day ever. For the first time I am teaching solely online and for a new-to-me institution, Bellevue University. So no teacher clothes or hauling books around or being gone in the evening hours and missing time with my family. Instead, I’ll navigate how to fit in my online hours during naps and at nighttime, and I’ll do it all from the comfort of my couch (with blue-light blocking glasses) or perhaps, on weekend, the coffee shop. img_1274

It feels like a big day. I suppose because it is. A big month, actually, as we all take a deep breath and begin/continue figuring out what this year looks like and means for all of us. I’d say it all looks pretty darn good, even if it is the longest beginning ever in all the evers. And yes, that is my new favorite shirt in all the evers, too.

Velcro Lite

Leave it to Wilson Ann, the 5th baby who taught us that we have much, much to learn about new babies, to continue that trend even as we approach the 9-month mark. True to form, she’s doing all kinds of physical feats early and she managed to pop two teeth months ahead of schedule/her siblings, too. Most remarkable and unique (and exhausting for my back) is her mid-summer appearance of Velcro Baby tendencies.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s a pretty aptly named parental conundrum: the baby wants you and only you all the time and how dare you put the baby down ever and therefore the baby is stuck to you as if with Velcro, always. Clever, right? Well, it’s all fun and games until you get a Velcro babe and then, hold on to your hats, folks. Actually, your baby. All you can do is hold on to your baby, so forget your hats.

In our case, we’ve gotten off lucky (*knocks on wood; knocks over a forest*) in that Wilson did not show signs of severe clingyness until right around the 8-month mark. In fact, the real first instance I can recall is a weekend trip we took for HD’s birthday to a cabin with friends where she chose to celebrate his big day (& my broken toe) by refusing to let me put her down or even hand her off, ever, except to Ben and sometimes not very happily then, either.

Thankfully, when we got back to our familiar territory of home, she was fine. Off and running (jk! crawling at warp speed yet) and perfectly content. But ever since, anytime we go anywhere and anytime anyone offers to hold her, she will NOT have it.

She’s perfected the koala clutch move on our arms and the tuck-head-into-parent’s-collarbone nonverbal cue whenever anyone attempts. She’s cool with Ben, thank goodness, and on rare occasions she relents for a grandma or grandpa, but wow. For the most part if other people are around or we’re in public, she is Velcroed in tight to my side and screams like a banshee if I put her down, hand her off, or heaven forbid, walk out of her sight.

img_1152Oh, sweet girl. Thank you for not doing this before now. Thank you for being the cutest thing even when we’re both dripping sweat and all I want to do is eat with two hands or go to the bathroom. Thank you for continuing to be my tiniest, most humbling teacher of what it means to be a mama. Thank you for at least cutting me some slack and going Velcro Lite on us.

Close Proximity

Crickets here on the blog lately as for the last couple weekends, Wilson and I have been sharing sniffles back and forth and back again. You see, she’s awfully darn cute, so when img_1071I got some head cold germies, it was hard to remember to keep my distance from her (plus we still nurse around the clock, so….) and then when I got better and she got them, it was hard to remember not to let her slobber-bobber-ness get too close to me, so….I’m starting off my second Monday in a row with a head fog.

Fitting as we’ve been in a fog these last couple weeks, anyway, awaiting Ben’s grandma’s funeral (happening this weekend) and trying to wrap our (foggy) brains around the fact that school is starting, well, next week! Ben actually went back today for his first round of meetings and dives in full force with those this Thursday with kids starting classes the following Thursday.

We will have two in elementary and two in preschool (after he officially turns 3, for Truman, but knock on wood, potty training is going well, so looks like it is a go), which means this mama has to wrap her (foggy) brain around all the drop off times and split locations and all that again, which is different this year as our kids’ school is doing a two-year remodel, so they have to be taken to a different location, which feels new and little nervous making for all of us, I suppose, even though I know it will go fine once we get the new system figured out.

But we’ve honestly had a strange summer and a strange year, so shifting into the new school year and all the change that comes with it is making me glad to have at least a few more days here with all my babies under one roof (even if we are sharing too many back-to-school germs before back-to-school has even begun). I like it better when Ben is here with us so we can divide and conquer and enjoy just a tad bit more, but that’s what Paw Patrol is for, right? Right.

It may not have been the summer (or spring) we had planned or wanted, but we have been able to be together just the seven of us a lot, and that is always, always a good thing in my book.