Monday, March 16, 2015

What I Didn't Know Then

I am now 5.5 years into this parenting gig. I have raised three babies--one of whom will enter toddlerhood when he turns one next month; one of whom is in the middle of the oh-so-invigorating threenager phase; one of whom turns five and a half (that half is a big deal) next week and will start kindergarten in the Fall. 

I have come a long way over the last 5.5 years. In the beginning, I knew nothing, aside from what I soaked in from every parenting book, magazine, blog, email, and article I could get my hands on. Those things were great for surface-level parenting: breastfeeding, sleep schedules and training, teething, treatment of acid reflux, sleep regression, growth spurts, medication recommendations, transitioning to solids, achievement of developmental milestones, pumping and freezing and thawing, and on and on and on. You get the gist. Because you've read them, too. 


It's a deeper comprehension of mommahood I have learned over the last 5.5 years that I think is so important for us mommas to know, experience, and understand. It's what I know today that I wish I could have told myself 5.5 years ago. Things I didn't learn from reading those books and magazines and blogs and articles. Things I learned because I lived them.

What I didn't know then was that...

...the days are long but the years are short. Sometimes, by the end of the day, I am D.O.N.E.  momma-ing. On particularly challenging days, I have likely refereed 1,962 sibling arguments, wrestled through 897 diaper changes, vacuumed under my kitchen table 762 times, cleaned 425 spills, wiped 237 hineys, and been bitten 94 times while nursing. On those days, I have probably had "company" for every single one of my own potty breaks, eaten every meal standing up, loaded and unloaded the washing machine 8 times with an 18-pound baby on my hip, and hauled everyone into and out of carseats more times than I have sat down myself. I am especially tired at the end of *those* days. You know, the ones where you look at your watch and can.not.believe. it is only 3:13 pm. Those days are looooooong. But you know what? All of a sudden, I blinked and I am now registering my baby, the one I was just cradling in my arms on the Labor & Delivery floor of Northside Hospital, for kindergarten. 

So. I lie in silence in the playroom, hearing the tick-tock, tick-tock, of the wall clock, saying not a word while watching them play. Trying to memorize the size of their bodies, the inflection of their voices, the sparkle in their eyes. Because soon, all too soon, I will long for these days, even these loooooong days, when nothing else in the world was more important than watching them grow with each passing tick-tock, tick-tock of that ever-moving clock.

...this too shall pass. At the same time, those moments that you could stand to do without on *those* days will pass. I promise they will. Take it from a momma who survived an acid-refluxed, protein-allergy-ed newborn (read: screaming many, many hours for many, many days for many, many months) while managing 4- and 2-year-olds with a traveling hub. That season passed. My sanity almost did, too, but alas, I survived. You will, too. 

...put in the effort. Turn off the television. Put down your phone. Put away the movies during errand-running. Close your computer. Instead? Be present with your children. Help them cultivate their creativity and quench their innate desire for learning by taking away readily available, and overused, technology. Play with them. Pretend with them. Be with them. Let them lead. You follow. See where they take you. Pull out board games. Pull out books. Pull out costumes. Read with them. Talk with them. Listen to them. Observe them. Make them your priority. I promise you, I absolutely PROMISE you, you will never, ever regret investing your time and energy and attention in your children. If they ask you to play, then play. Because one day? One day, they'll stop asking. So play with them while they still want you to. I guarantee you that no status updates nor viral articles nor Instagram photos nor flash sales are more important than the little eyes that are watching you, pleading for you, while you scroll on your phone. Put in the effort to be a good parent. It's a choice you will never, ever regret.'s okay to be in survival mode. In other words, sometimes you need a movie day. Sometimes you're sick or they're sick or you've been up all night or you are pregnant or you have a new baby or you're just absolutely exhausted. And that's okay. If it means a movie marathon day, then a movie marathon is! If it means cereal for dinner, than cereal it is! If it means paper plates instead of dishes, then paper plates it is! If it means pajamas all day, then pajamas it is! Stop judging yourself. You're doing a great job! Cut yourself some slack. And then wake up tomorrow and turn off the movies and start anew. 

...admit when you make mistakes. Admit it to yourself. Admit it your spouse. Admit it to your children. Kneel down. Look them in the eye. Apologize. Explain that we ALL make mistakes and that's okay because we learn from them. And then? Learn from them. And try to do better next time.

...forgive yourself. You know that whole mistake thing? Well, forgive yourself for them. You aren't perfect. Don't try to be. Just try to do better next time. 

...the greatest moments are often the simplest. My hub and I were recently talking about our favorite moment from the last six months. Without hesitation, I knew my answer: one night in December when all five of us were lying together on the playroom floor, watching a movie. Other contenders? Painting my daughter's fingernails. Playing board games with my oldest son. Nursing my youngest son in the stillness and quiet of the morning. Praying together each morning on the way to school. These moments are simple. These moments are HOME to me. They are what I'll treasure when I think of the last six months. Focus on the little moments. They are often the most fulfilling. 

...say yes. When people offer to help, say yes. When you are invited for nights out, say yes. Say yes to playdates. Say yes to date nights. Say yes to kid-free nights. Say yes to weekends away. Say yes to new things. Say yes to new people. Just say yes. You deserve it. Everyone needs a break sometimes and that doesn't make you a bad momma. It makes you a wise one. 

...make time for yourself. You give most of you to others, most of the day, most days. Take time for you. You are important, too. Treat yourself that way. Pamper yourself every once in awhile. Paint your nails. Get your haircut. Go yourself. Make your health a priority--not just by staying on top of your own dental and physical health appointments. But also? Take care of your body. Exercise and eat well. You want to be a strong momma. An energized momma. So walk the neighborhood or join a gym or pop in a 20-minute workout DVD during naptime or hit up some fitness classes. You'll feel better and stronger and healthier, which makes for a better and stronger and healthier momma. And what a beautiful example for your children. But also? Indulge sometimes! Enjoy the dessert. Drink the wine. Don't feel guilty. what you want them to do. Stop telling them what you want them to do all the time. Model it for them. Show them. They will mimic you. Be a good model for them to mimic. 

...say I love you. Over and over again. They are listening. They are watching. Tell them. As soon as you see them in the wee hours of the morning. When you tuck them in at night. And everywhere in between: While driving in the car. When passing them in the hallway. When dropping them off for school. When picking them up for school. While pushing them in the swing. When walking the neighborhood. While putting on jammies. When brushing their hair. Tell them. You can't tell them enough.

...tell them you are proud of them. As much as possible. But just as important? Mean it. Watch their self-esteem soar. They are listening. They are watching. Tell them. You can't tell them enough. can't be good at everything. The gist of one of my favorite sermons of all time (fist bump to you, Andy Stanley) was this: there's no win in comparison. Stop comparing yourself to the momma on your left and the momma on your right. You are you. Be the best you that you can be. For example, me? I cannot cook. This is not a secret nor a surprise. I can heat the heck out of a Stouffer's lasagna. But cook? My hub drew the short straw for that one when it came to his bride. I am also terrible at interior design when it comes to grown-up spaces. Case in point? We've lived in our home for 2.5 years, and do you know what's in our Master? Furniture. A television. That's it. No pictures, no decor. Not a single throw pillow. No rug. No nothin'. But. You know what I can do? Bake. And decorate children's spaces. So. I watch others be good cooks and beauiful interior designers. And I high-five them. And then I offer to bake for them and I lovingly admire the rooms I have decorated for my children. I can't be good at everything. Neither can you. Thank goodness. Because what a boring world that would be. emotion in front of them. It's okay for them to see you happy and sad and mad and frustrated. Those are called emotions. We all have them. They need to see them. Label your feelings to them. Help them identify them. Help them to understand why you feel the way you do when you do. Because you know what? Then they'll learn to do that, too. And that's important.

...hold their hands when they ask you to. One day will be the last day they will ever ask to hold your hand. That day may be tomorrow. So. Hold their hands today. 

But. Here's another secret. Perhaps the greatest lesson I've learned so far: 

Mommahood is a journey. It's a learn-as-you-go kind of gig. To me, this is the unspoken beauty of mommahood. What a beautiful education I've received over the last 5.5 years. And now, I await the new lessons with eyes wide open, ears wide open, and heart wide open. Let's see what lessons the next 5.5 years bring...