The Skill of a Lifetime

img_5277So a thing has started happening at my house and I could not be any more excited. My middle daughter is just starting to read. In my opinion, this is a huge milestone for all kids and as everyone knows, reading is especially near and dear to my heart. And the other week, for the first time ever, Spawn #2 picked up Green Eggs and Ham and read the majority of the book – on her very own. I think that child got a year’s quota of high fives and shouts of joy from me in that moment. Now I remember being super excited when Jaycob first learned to read too but I just don’t think I fully appreciated the greatness of it as much mainly because I had a newborn attached to me 24/7 as well as a needy three year old. So unfortunately for the first born, he might not have gotten quite as much attention. Or maybe he did, and I just simply forgot because, well, Mom Brain.

But a few weeks ago as I sat and watched Addy furrow her little brows as she concentrated on sounding each and every word out, I just kept thinking to myself: girlfriend, your world is about to open up in ways you never dreamed it could. It’s hard for me to even vocalize how proud I was/am of her. Granted I know reading is nothing “special” or unique – obviously everybody learns this skill. But regardless, it’s just so gosh darn important. I want to relish the pride and jubilation I’m feeling so I thought I’d write her a brief note so that maybe someday she’ll never forget just how momentous this time is for both of us.

To My Favorite Middle Challenge,

Learning to read is one of the most detailed first memories I have. I’ll never forget the day the letters just “clicked” in my own mind, and they went from being merely letters thrown together on a page to actual words jumping out at me. And while I don’t remember my first book’s title, I do remember it was a “thicker” book (well, thick for first grade) with complete sentences. I remember rushing to my dad when I got home from school and insisting he listen to me read. I was so excited and proud. It was one of the greatest feelings of my life and even today it still ranks pretty high up on the list. I hope you feel the same when you’re older because while you might not realize it now, your world is about to change. And not just because I can no longer spell out words to your father with you having no idea what I’m talking about. (Although I am slightly sad about that.) But because with each page you read and each new word you learn, you are gaining the knowledge and know how needed to change the world. Reading gives you power. It is THE tool needed to ultimately do and become whatever you dream. It can take you places you’ve never dreamed of all the while providing you with new ideas and insight that you might never come up with on your own. It can offer you new perspectives and transport you to another world in the blink of an eye. With reading the possibilities are endless, and I hope you never underestimate the power in this milestone.

Love Always,
Your voracious reading Mother

There’s a lot of things that I do wrong as a parent. I’m crazy. I yell a lot. I love to say no. (Dad, that’s ALL your fault!) But if there’s one thing I do well, it’s modeling my love for reading. Any spare chance I get, my kids see me with a book (even if it’s an e-book) in my hand. They see me reading the history section of our local Barrington magazine (really, the only section I can handle!) They see me reading my weekly Mt. Carroll newspaper. And most often when everyone else is glued to the television, they see me go find a quiet spot on the couch and curl up with a book. I grew up watching my own dad constantly read, and I think that really shaped my own love for it. I certainly hope that among all the negative traits I’m ultimately passing down, my love for reading is one of the positive ones.

There’s been a few times when I’ve caught my second grader still reading with his flashlight in bed at 10:00 at night. Now granted, I’m not happy the next day when he’s overtired and throwing fits, but secretly my heart is swelled with pride because that’s what I used to do. Give me a Christopher Pike book any day during my adolescent years, and I too would stay up way too late reading. Hell, that’s me every night now still. It’s my me time. My time away from reality where I can zone out and forget about all the things I need to do or how many times the kids sent me over the edge that day. Without that time, I couldn’t function.

So while ultimately I want my kids to grow up to be happy, healthy and kind – you know, the staple things that every other parent on the planet wants for their kids – I also can’t help but wish they turn into the biggest book-loving nerds that ever could be. Because someday, whether they like or not, I too will make them plow through Atlas Shrugged over their summer vacation. Isn’t that every kids’ dream?! Hashtag sorry not sorry.

Surviving the Mayhem that is Summer

IMG_2843Well, it’s that time of year again. Parents all over social media are posting all their “first day of school/last day of school” photo montages. People comment about how cute the kids are, how much they’ve grown, and how fast time flies. Sure, I participate in that trend too. Because it’s all fun and games until that first day of summer vacation actually comes around. You wake up to the sound of your kids barging into your room at 6 am with their latest list of wants and demands, and then they immediately start fighting because their wants are more important than their siblings’ wants and It’s Not Fair. And then the baby starts crying too because her diaper is down to her knees from the night and wants to be changed “Right Now!” And you’re barely processing any of it because you were still in the middle of your REM sleep from having gotten up three different times in the night to deal with whomever needed covering up or a drink of water at any given time. So you just stare at these screaming, yelling, demanding monsters and think “what the F is going on?!” And then it dawns on you that this is just your everyday morning, but have no fear the bus will be here soon and you’ll at least be down one kid. But then you really wake up and your brain starts to semi-function and now you’re at “holy shit, there is NO bus. It’s SUMMER!!” You immediately try to slip back under the covers and hope they don’t notice, but it only makes them yell louder, demand more and of course jump on you.

img_2767So yeah, summer vacation has commenced. Remember when you were that kid though and you couldn’t wait. And all you could think about was the freedom, the never-ending playtime and just all of the fun! Those were the days. Yet here we are now, on the other side of the fence wondering how the hell are we going to survive these LONG two and a half months?! I’ve decided it’s basically the same thing as Purgatory. You essentially have one foot in Hell at all times but you know you won’t be stuck there forever (even when it seems like you will). You have one mission for the summer: SURVIVAL. The key is understanding that it doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you GET THERE.

img_2774As a new parent or even a parent of just one kid, you might be delusional in your summer planning. As in you’re actually excited for ALL the fun grandiose activities and adventures you’re going to do. And hey, if that’s what you’re able to actually do (and enjoy it) then more power to you. For me, on the other hand, who’s in the midst of toddler hell, I know better. I’m in full on survival mode and trust me when I say it’s not easy. So here’s a few tricks I’ve learned that just might give you a slight edge to making it to August.

Step #1: Always have a calendar handy and in sight. You want to be able to see the days tick by and know at all times exactly how many you have left. It’s mainly for moral support to again remind you that this won’t be forever. And each day you get those kiddos to bed (well to bed and actually ASLEEP) it’s a full on WIN for the day. Because the key to survival is taking it one day at a time.

Step #2: Do a little recon on your house. Take a few minutes and try to scope out a few different places that you can hide, even if it’s just for five minutes. You know they will hunt you down like dogs and they will do it quickly, but a few minutes of silence is basically the equivalent of Super Mario finding a magical mushroom that gives him that extra boost needed to make it to the next level. We’re stay at home moms; we wipe asses for a living. It doesn’t take much to find our next burst of strength to keep going.

Step #3: Lower your expectations. As in, stop having any. A successful summer is not the equivalent of having a full itinerary every single day. More than likely the kids won’t even remember visiting every single local park. Letting them run wild outside will be just as exciting and probably more memorable anyway.

Step #4: Use your village. Find a few core friends that have the same philosophy as you (as in they don’t give a shit and it’s all about making it through the day) and have play dates. Now, not the Pinterest kind of play dates, the kind that actually make sense. As in “kids, there’s the swingset, a bucket and a pile of dirt. We’ll be back in two hours to feed you so no one withers away. We’re going to drink mom juice and shoot the breeze in peace. Unless someone needs the ER, WORK IT OUT.” Because oftentimes if kids are left alone without hovering, crazy parents, they actually do okay. And even if they don’t, that’s okay too. Our job is not to interfere with every single banter or incident of not sharing. Let the little bastards figure it out. We’ll all be happier in the long run.

Step #5: Do whatever you can to make them more independent. You know they need us for everything, but even if we end up hearing just one less “mom!” in a day, it can make all the difference. Give them access to available snacks. Make sure their clothes are easily accessible so they can dress themselves. If they come down wearing their Christmas dress, so be it. Just remember it’s simply one less thing you have to do yourself. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to let go of the control, especially when you see the messes they make from doing things themselves. But just keep your eyes on the prize: the more they do, the less you have to (well eventually, because in the beginning there will most likely be a lot of extra messes.) But they will get there!

Step #6: Ignore them. Obviously not entirely, but in those first few weeks when they’re fighting over EVERY SINGLE THING, stop trying to be the referee. It’s simply impossible to do, and you’ll be in the asylum before the end of June. Just keep reminding them that unless there’s blood, they need to work it out themselves. By the end of the summer, more than likely they will have all learned a few new choice words because you’re simply unable to control the not-so-silent mutterings under your breathe anymore. But hey, if they’ve learned to work out even one of their 74,382,974,389 fights in a day, you’re doing a great job.

Step #7: The most important step to surviving the summer is to just have fun. Most likely that will involve a fully stocked (wine) fridge and a secret stash of Snickers, but it is important to remember that this is your time too. Being a stay at home mom is a damn hard job and even though we live with one foot in the nut house, we’re lucky as hell to have this time with our kids. Loosen up and remember, they’re just kids. Give them the damn vats of Goldfish, let them pee in the yard. Because they won’t always be barging in on us in the bathroom or be around to climb in bed with us every night. It’s hard to truly┬ábelieve, but deep down we know someday we’ll miss this.

So keep your friends close and your alcohol closer. And let the countdown to August begin.

Toddlers, the 8th Wonder of the World

Toddlers. One of the magical words of the English language that has the power to evoke a plethora of emotions. Before a person has children of their own, oftentimes while watching other people’s kids from afar, one of their first thoughts is probably along the lines of “snot-nosed brat.” And then they have their first born and spend all their time admiring just how “smart and creative” their child is. Basically perfection. Until their second comes along and they begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, their child is not going to be the next up and coming president (although we do have some pretty low standards for that role these days). Anyway, once the third, or more, come about, you go so far as to wonder just who the hell these demons are and when was that pivotal moment of them taking over your house.

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Just your everyday tantrum

As I’m personally on my third bout of “toddlerhood” in my household, believe me I’ve been through the entire gamete of emotions associated with this delightfully crazy era of life. Yet unfortunately I’ve learned, through experience, that there just is no book, no friend’s advice (or warning, however you want to look at it) that can wholeheartedly prepare you for this trying stage. Because unless you have toddlers of your own or have lived through this, when people try to describe the pure unedited shit show that takes place on a daily basis, trust me when I say: you simply won’t believe it. There just is no way these supposed horror shows could really happen. Because you know that you’ll be a good, supportive and caring parent, so obviously being an award-winning parent would never lead to this unimaginable insanity. With that said I thought I’d share just a few of my own personal experiences and tell you what no publisher will ever print because it could potentially lead to the end of the human race.

Did you know that in order for a toddler to brush their teeth it is a requirement that they put toothpaste on EVERY surface of the bathroom? For some reason a “rice-sized” amount on a brush just doesn’t cut it. Nope. It needs to be smeared all over the sink, countertop, light switch, walls, vanity, mirror and yes, even the floor. I’ve tried various types of dispensers. Didn’t matter. I tried being the only one allowed to put the toothpaste on. Yeah, nope. That didn’t matter either. Apparently this is just one of the many magical powers that toddlers are blessed with having.

Now let’s talk food. For starters approximately 49 percent of their allotted food ends up anywhere other than in their mouth. This is still true for my almost seven year old. Although maybe he’s brought the percentage down to about 32. I’ve determined that that is the only possible explanation for them demanding a snack five minutes after they just ate a real meal. And then repeatedly every 10 minutes until it’s actually time to eat again.

The majority of the time, toddlers are simply incapable of hearing you. You could be standing directly in their face screaming at them and you might as well be screaming at a wall. I’ve had the hearing checked on my middle child and I ask my oldest at least once a day if we need to get his checked. Most days I feel like I’m stuck on repeat as I’m literally repeating everything I say a minimum of three times. However when you get to that point when you’re legitimately worried about their hearing, this is what you do. Get a piece of candy. Be at least two floors apart and I personally like to try being behind one to two closed doors from the subject in question. Next, as slowly and quietly as you can, begin to unwrap the candy. Within two to three seconds, the toddler will immediately begin yelling from afar, “Mom, what are you eating?!” and they will sniff you out like a bloodhound. It works every time, because toddlers are indeed deaf…until they’re not.

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She’s driven me off the edge a few times.

They also have the uncanny ability to bring you to an edge you never could have dreamed existed. A place where you are so tired you can barely put together a intelligible sentence and you haven’t seen any semblance of patience in days. You’re to the point of wondering what exactly you’ll need to pack in your runaway bag. Or every time you get in the car (without kids) you think, “what if I just keep driving? How long until they notice?!” Even if running away is simply going to a gas station so you can go to the bathroom in peace. You’re so desperate for five minutes of alone time that you’re willing to risk catching any million of the possible diseases derived from all the unthinkable filth in that public restroom. Trust me, this edge exists. I’ve been there often. But toddlers are smart little shits, and one of their super powers is knowing exactly when you’ve reached that edge. Like a dog can smell fear, toddlers know just when you can’t physically or emotionally continue. And then they strike. They come up to you, give you a giant bear hug squeeze and call you their “best fwend.” And once again, they’ve got you trapped under the spell. Until the next edge appears, and the cycle repeats.

I’m sure we all know a few adults that make us whisper under our breaths that they seem to have a split personality. You just can’t understand how they can be so nice and happy one minute and turn into an angry beast in the blink of an eye. Oh, if only toddlers had merely two personalities. Instead, they have the incredible ability to be laughing hysterically, get instantly angry and bite their sibling, cry huge crocodile tears after getting bit back and be hugging again all in a span of 30 seconds. Trust me, there isn’t even time to attempt timeouts or give a lecture about the importance of being nice. As sane adults, our brains can’t even compute everything that happened because four very different emotions just occurred before you could get your first disciplinary word out. But that’s okay. As someone with three kids, I’m to the point I don’t want to be involved unless there’s blood and someone needs the ER or a trip to the police station to be put in jail (something I threaten often out of pure desperation.)

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She climbs all the dressers trolling for lotion.

Toddlers also have physical abilities that most adults would never believe unless they saw it for themselves. Because in actuality, they’re half mountain goat. Sir Edmund Hillary (one of the most famous mountain climbers ever) has nothing on the scaling ability of a three year old. Sure he climbed Mount Everest but could he have climbed walls? When someone tells you to strap down every piece of furniture you own, Do It. Even if you think it’s ludicrous. Trust me, you won’t believe their mad skills until you witness it first hand.

As a parent living through the toddler years, you will endure the impossible. Say the unthinkable and spend way too much time pondering if that really and truly just happened. There will be shitastrophes that give you nightmares for years. And meltdowns where you’re absolutely positive the end of the world is coming because what else could be the cause of such pandemonium. Your friends without kids might never believe your stories. Your parents, who’ve been out of this phase in life for quite some time, might insist you’re exaggerating. But the rest of us know. And we get it. However on the flip side of this insanity is all the laughter, memories and experiences we gain from this time in our lives. There will never be another one like it. And just remember, as I like to try and remind myself on a daily basis, it’ll always be better than the upcoming teen years.

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Just think how sane and bored we’d be without toddlers?!