Brothers and Sisters

When Sweet Pea was born, Schmee, then a 3-and-a-half year old, thought that his sister would come into this world a primed, ready and willing playmate. Someone he could tumble around with, run through the grass with and enact intricate and dramatic scenarios with dinosaurs and robots.

He was sadly disappointed.

 

Since then, he has been attempting to engage in cooperative play with her on a daily basis, getting more frustrated as time went on. If he only he’d known that soon she would be interested in what he was doing… just not in the way he intends.

Sweet Pea’s has gained a little more stable footing as she runs through the house, her reflexes as quick as a striking snake. She seems to be saying, “I’ll gladly play with you, but first I’m going to take your robot, see what it tastes like, and then run off in a random direction and see what you do about it. How’s that for playing together?”

Schmee seems conflicted. He so eagerly wants her to play with him but when they do it’s usually on her terms and that is frustrating for him. So what can I as a parent do about this? What should my reactions be?

For the most part, I let them work it out. Sure, I set boundaries so no one gets hurt but I let them engage in a kind of give-and-take and talk to them both about how they feel and what they want. It’s certainly not easy and not everyone always gets what they want.

Recently, Schmee had worked really hard on a drawing of a train. He insisted it was his best one yet and he wanted to share it with Mom. But it was not to be. Sweet Pea, only trying to see what he had made, accidentally crumpled the paper, “Ruining it forever!”

So what did I do? I talked with Schmee, showing sympathy and compassion for his lost art. “That stinks,” I commiserated, “But maybe you could draw it again?” I explained that Sweet Pea must’ve really liked his drawing, too, and set them both up with their own paper and crayons. Though initially he had his arm raised and fist clenched, he soon relaxed, allowing me to help him draw another train. He even gave Sweet Pea a couple crayons to use for her own work. Things don’t always get resolved so quickly or so well, but we do keep trying to communicate our needs.

Angels Among Us

“I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us, from somewhere up above. They come to you and me, in our darkest hours, to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

- Alabama

These lyrics are really resonating with me lately, given what my family has experienced over the last few months.

Upon returning home from work one evening, I noticed something was terribly wrong with my daughter, Gabrielle. Her stomach was extremely distended and hard. Immediately we proceeded to the emergency room. Upon reaching the hospital, my husband and I learned Gabrielle was very dehydrated, her kidneys were shutting down and her heart rate was extremely high. Lactic acid levels revealed that her body was in distress. I was very scared. I knew the information doctors were sharing with us didn’t look good.

Although surgery was not required, the doctor proceeded to tell us Gabrielle’s breathing was labored and a ventilator would provide the support she desperately needed. We consented to these measures, despite the risks of pneumonia and an inability to wean from the machine.

Our first angel appeared when our friend came to the emergency room and sat with my husband and I until early morning. She was our extra set of ears who listened to information objectively and articulated questions to the emergency room staff when we were unable to.

Little did we know that one week would turn into two, three, five. My husband and I took turns keeping a vigilant watch over our girl while still trying to be present for our sons at home. By week two, my husband and I were exhausted. When others realized this wasn’t a short term situation, they asked how they could help.

At first, I declined help as I thought we had this and I didn’t want to burden others, but as time went on, I knew we needed help. We were in crisis. It felt uncomfortable accepting help initially but there were more “angels among us,”  the family, friends, co-workers and hospital staff who carried us through a very difficult and lengthy situation.

People were checking in with texts and phone calls, even daily cards in the mail. We were given meals and gift cards. Coworkers helped out with my workload. Friends and family came and sat with Gabrielle to give my husband and I a much needed break. My sister was such a tremendous help: she spent many nights at the hospital with Gabrielle, sacrificing time with her own family to support ours.

After 5 weeks of hospitalization, Gabrielle is now home and recovering. We couldn’t have made it through this ordeal alone. Our “angels” were ready and willing to help. All I had to do was to take hold of their outreached hands.

The Moments That Make Up a Year

Have you ever seen the musical Rent? There is a fabulous song whose lyrics always inspire me: 525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?

What inspires me about these lyrics is the concept that a year is made up of 525,600 moments – lots of little moments that in the end represent one year of your life. For me this means there are lots of chances to be my best, to follow through, to appreciate my family, to be healthy and treat the children in my life well.

It is very common to set goals at the start of a new year. Many people identify what they want to do differently when a new year comes around. There is also a sense of a newness that comes with a new year that gives us permission to forgive our previous failures or shortcomings. A new year is a new day, right?

What I notice is that many people who make resolutions at the start of a new year become frustrated when a few days into the new year they have already failed to follow through with their new commitments. Once they fail, many will give up all together. It seems they quickly forget how many days and how many minutes make up a year.  There’s 525,600 minutes, which is a lot of moments to do it right!

With this is mind, maybe the best New Year’s resolution is to appreciate all the moments for what they are – 60 seconds that alone do not equal much and together can make a difference.  If we thought of moments in this way, would we be more apt to forgive ourselves for the minutes we fall short? Would we also be more aware of the difference each moment can make? It seems to me that we might.

Motherhood: Be Prepared

It was the Saturday before Christmas and like most everybody else, my daughter and I were at the mall. We had our trip all mapped out: lunch in the food court (according to my daughter, they have the best pizza), Build-a-Bear for a gift for her BFF and then a visit to Santa. I knew it might be crowded but we were prepared. We were going to take our time and enjoy our girl’s day out.

And then things went terribly wrong.

We had finished lunch and had just walked into Build-a-Bear when the fire alarms in the mall starting going off and the lights began flashing. At first I really wasn’t that worried. I assumed it was a false alarm and we continued shopping. Then a clerk from the store approached me and told me we had to evacuate the store. Ok, no problem. I still wasn’t concerned.

But as we left the store and entered the mall, I panicked. People were screaming as they ran toward the exits. I quickly grabbed my daughter’s hand and we began running with the crowd. She kept asking me what was wrong and telling me she was scared. I told her just to keep holding my hand and I would keep her safe.

As we entered Macy’s to exit the mall, the gate to Macy’s closed behind us. We made it outside and started walking the distance to our car. As we approached our truck we encountered a woman who looked both terrified and confused. I asked her if she knew what had happened. She said she had been in Macy’s and that there was a shooter and then a loud explosion. I didn’t wait to hear any more details; we got in our car and got out of there.

Later that day we learned there hadn’t been a shooter at the mall, but there had been an explosion:

A tank had exploded in the food court and from there, panick ensued. I explained to my daughter what had really happened and tried to calm her fears. She said she was never going back to the mall (that actually made my husband happy) and then began asking all kinds of questions about fire and fire safety in our home. She became obsessed with making sure the Christmas tree lights were off anytime we weren’t in the family room.

We have had many conversations about fire safety since then and I think she might even be ready to go back to the mall. But me, I’m not so sure. I honestly don’t remember every being so scared and feeling so helpless. Keeping me safe is one thing, protecting my daughter is on a whole other level. In retrospect, I am pretty confident I overreacted and probably did my daughter more harm than good. But I don’t really know that I would do anything differently if I had to re-live the experience.

Before you have children you think you understand how much you will love your child but you can’t really know the depth of that love until you hold them for that first time. Your whole world changes. You will run like a crazy woman through the mall holding your child’s hand without even knowing why. You just will.

Parental Limits are the Key to Screen Time

It all started with Angry Birds.

Picture this: You and your little one are waiting at the pediatrician’s office. It has been 20 minutes and you’ve run out of ways to distract your energetic toddler. The baby is crying. The toddler is across the room climbing and jumping off of the waiting room chairs. The baby is crying louder. The toddler is now playing with the trash can. Reluctantly, you hand over your smart phone. The toddler starts flinging birds at pigs and you tend to the baby. You think to yourself, problem solved. What you don’t realize is that a new challenge is just beginning.

As my kids grew so did their desire for more screen time, more games and more screens! Now those Angry Bird-loving toddlers are Minecraft-obsessed school-agers. All three are devoted gamers. Minecraft, Skylanders, Super Mario… you name it, they want it.

It’s very frustrating as a parent to listen to the constant requests for screen time and new games. My husband and I have learned that gaming rules must be set. Our kids are allowed to play two days a week, and they have to give us their iPods on their days off so they don’t sneak and play and break the rules. We’ve also set up parental restrictions on their devices so that they are unable to purchase anything without our approval.

Our kids are growing up in a technology-driven world and monitoring our children’s screen time is just one of the many challenges that parents face. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a little screen time so parents can get things done, but just like everything else, we need to be in charge. If our kids were allowed to make all the decisions they would eat cookies for every meal, never bathe, and stay up until midnight. Sure, we have treats on occasion, we might skip a bath and stay up late for a treat, but all of these things are in moderation. The same goes for screens. As parents we need to set rules and be consistent. Easier said than done, I know.

So, is your child hooked on screens, too? How do you set limits?

Parenting is Hard Work

This time of year I usually need a reminder that being a parent is hard work. Rewarding – but hard – work. There are a million things to do, places to be and toys to buy. I wish I could create a clone of myself to get everything done.

Facebook doesn’t help. As if only to annoy me, my friends and family keep posting pictures of their beautifully decorated homes, suggested holiday recipes and latest Pinterest projects. Seriously, who has this kind of time? I am doing well to make it out the door each day without forgetting something.

To comfort myself, I tell myself that I am the rule, not the exception. Everyone struggles. But am I really? Could I be doing more as a parent for my family? Should I? Self-doubt as a parent can be overwhelming and let’s face it, exhausting. We are often quick to extend grace and forgiveness to those around us, but do not extend it to ourselves. It is tricky to know when we should honestly push ourselves to do more and when we have set unrealistic expectations. I think the key is being open and honest with one another about our struggles as parents. And to seek support and help when needed.

I read something recently that sums up how I feel as a parent, particularly this time of year: “She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” If you looked at a typical day at my house you could see just how unpretty some of those details are: dirty dishes and unmade beds, baskets of laundry and empty dog bowls, raised voices and slammed doors. But among all of these unpretty details, there is love. Love for the home our family has created and love for each other. So, from one hardworking parent to another, relax. Cut yourself some slack. I’ll try to do the same.

Say “No” to the Hustle and Bustle

I, like many of you, find that I get all caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Whether I am shopping, baking or crafting, I spend much of November and December hurrying from one activity to the next. And as I hurry through my holiday to-do list I find that I am not fully enjoying this season. It’s supposed to be joyous, but too often, it’s stressful. So this year I’ve said “no” to the hustle and instead said “yes” to less.

Feeling stressed? Say "yes" to less this holiday season.

My typical mode of operation is to try to make the most out of each day. I often measure this by how much I have accomplished, especially during the holidays, when I usually end up replacing the magic of the holidays with holiday planning and prep. But slowing down and doing less this time of year has actually led to me feeling some of that joy. I’m less stressed simply because I am intentionally making the decision to be more present. This year, instead of worrying about getting it all done, I’ve set fewer expectations for myself – even if it’s been a challenge to do so.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t just let the holidays pass me by. I’ve just tried to make better choices about where to put my energy. This means I haven’t done things simply because it is what I have done every year. I’ve done what makes sense for me and for my family this year. For me, this comes down to the differences between routines and traditions.

Traditions are those activities that support our family’s values, like going to church as a family or my father cooking breakfast on Christmas morning. These are rituals that bring us together. Routines are those things which often end up on my to-do list: baking certain cookies, sending cards and decorating my house. And it’s these routines that seem to create the sense of hustle and bustle which I am trying to avoid. While I enjoy baking and decorating cookies, I’m not going to stress about making as many as I have in previous years, and I won’t stress about sending as many cards or putting up as many lights, either. Hopefully by slowing down and being more present I’ll really experience the joys of the season.