But I just have to complain.  Or comment, because I don’t even know that it’s complaining so much as just seeking sympathy.  Not that I’ll get any, really, because nobody ever comments.  Which sounds bitchy, I’m sorry. 

But man, by the end of the day, I’m freaking exhausted.  It’s unbelievably tiring sometimes.  There are parts of my day that are slow and calm, while Julianna naps.  It’s very peaceful.  But the mornings are insane, even making lunchs and picking up clothes ahead of time, it’s still a harried mess trying to get three kids dressed, fed and out the door. 

And pick up is ever more busy.  I usually wake Julie up from her nap and shove her into the car.  Then I drive to the school, fight for parking, get Julie out, walk super slowly to the school and wait for the cherubs.  Then I drop Sarah off at home, and bring my two home.  At least on Mondays and Fridays.  Tuesdays, I also pick up Caroline, and Wednesdays, I go to the Holden Library and then drop off Jessie and pick up Harrison.  Every other Thursday, Jess has Brownies. 

There’s homework and cooking and cleaning and childcare – and it’s busy, busy, busy.  Bathtime and homework and laundry, oh the laundry.  I’m never actually caught up on laundry, I’ve got most of a load to wash still, and two loads to fold and put away.  The dishes, the mess, the blocks, the paper.  The paper.  Sam is learning to write and add, and likes to do it as often as possible.  Jessie needs to sketch out her house plans, and details of Lala Land, and Julie just like scrawling on paper and presenting it to me gleefully.  I’ve constantly got paper and crayons all over the place. 

I’m tired.  Really, really tired.  My back hurts, my head hurts and I’d pay money for a quiet hour alone in a clean house with cool drink and a good book. 

It’s just bad policy.  Because I’ve discovered that whatever you are smug about will eventually become your problem. 

I never understood picky eaters.  I thought if a child was being picky, the best policy was to just ignore it.  Keep providing a balanced diet, and the kid will eventually eat.  A child won’t willingly starve.  There’s no reason to provide a special meal for a child, or to rush to provide supplements and vitamins.  It’s indulgent and teaching the child that they have every right to demand that their parents dance to their every whim. 

So why was I up peeling potatoes last night to make a single serving of mashed potatoes for Jessie? 

Because.  That’s why.  Because I was an idiot, and smug, and then I realized that my daughter, who’s always been very slender, is getting skinnier and skinnier.  And when I don’t have stuff for her to eat, she’ll just not eat.  There’s a very small list of items that she’ll eat, and an even smaller list of healthy food that she’ll eat and enjoy.  Chicken, tuna fish, some breakfast cereals.  She won’t eat bread, or yogurt, or cheese.  She’ll eat green beans, occasionally broccoli.  Loves mashed potatoes.  And will eat ice cream, cake or cookies like they’re manna from heaven.  Beans and hot dogs.  White rice.  Apples and peanut butter.   I think the point was driven home for me this past week, because she was with me for every meal.  And on several occasions, she’d end up skipping a meal because she didn’t like what was offered.  We’d go to an aunt’s house (I’ve got a lot of aunts, and we visited several this week) and she’d easily go all day without eating.  Because they offered perfectly reasonable food, food everyone else ate happily, but Jess didn’t like it.

So today I’m going out to buy multivitamins.  Which I’ve never done before, because my kids are good eaters.  My kids love fruit and vegetables, eat a healthy diet and had no need for supplements.  Because I was a good mom.  See how smug I was?  Now the only one who actually eats well is my toddler.   Sam eats more than Jessie does, but he’s dancing ever closer to the picky, picky stage, especially as he can see that Jessie is so finicky. 

I’m not sure how to handle this picky stage.  I really don’t want to cater to her dietary whims, but seriously – she’ll just skip a meal, or two.  And it doesn’t seem to bother her, and she’s skinny, skinny, skinny.  The doctor has always assured me that she’s super healthy, and not to worry, but she’s never been this picky before.  I’m going with vitamins and trying harder to make sure that I always have at least one thing at every meal that I know she’ll like.  And hope that this, like so many other stages, passes quickly.

It strikes me that there are a lot of just little details, none of which would constitute a whole post by itself, but all together, there are a bunch of little details I don’t want to forget…

Jessie – she’s officially an adolescent.  Okay, so she’s only nine, but I’ve noticed a huge increase in the drama and emotional freak outs.  And they’re more adult freak outs, she complains of me nagging her all the time, her clothes don’t look right, her hair isn’t perfect, her brother is making her nuts, etc.  She’s become obsessed with doing her nails – and also, oddly, drawing out pictures of her house that she’ll have one day.  She’s planning on four kids, Tziporah, Emma, Megan and Jackson, and spends what appears to me to be an excessive amount of time planning and decorating her imaginary house that she and her husband and four children will live in.  She’s also become excessively picky.  It’s not that she won’t eat, because if I give her one of four or five items (three of them are candy, cake and ice cream, the other two would be chicken and mashed potatos, wait she’ll eat tuna as well), she’ll eat and eat until she’s full.  But if I don’t have those things, she’s not eating.  Literally.  Just won’t eat.  And she’s SKINNY.  I’m legitimately concerned that she’s not eating enough.  It’s freaking me out…

Sam spent the night at his buddy Harrison’s house two nights ago.  My clingy, almost pathologically shy boy – voluntarily packed his bag and went off for the night at his friend’s house.  And then had to be dragged out sobbing the next afternoon, because he didn’t want to come home.   He’s doing very well with the homeschooling thing we’re doing.  Because he was behind in kindergarten (they really do need preschool), he needs to catch up in order to go on to first grade.  So we’re working at home every afternoon on letters and numbers.  He’s super motivated (because for every educational game we play, I give him a star – 10 stars and he gets a dollar to spend at the dollar store down the street), and I’m really impressed at how fast he’s picking it up.

Julianna – holy moly, is that kid cute.  She’s talking all the time, chattering away.  She’s still relatively easy to handle, although we’re rapidly approaching the terrible twos.  She’s opinionated and loud, making her thoughts and feelings abundantly clear.  She’s still obsessed with the Little Einsteins (Pat Pat, in our world) and asks for it 24/7.  She also sings all the time, and one the cutest songs is when she just sings different names – Mama, Yaya, Abby, Abby, Abby, Mama, Yaya, Yaya…. over and over again.  It’s like her version of My Favorite Things. 

My son is named after two of his grandfathers.  One on my side, one on my husband’s side.  And he misses them desperately.  Having never really met them, I’m constantly stunned at how intense his grief is over these men.  Marc’s grandfathers both passed away before I met him, and my grandfather died last year.  Sam didn’t really know him at all.  But he mourns for them, talks about his grandfathers a lot. 

It’s so hard to talk to him about it, because he’s just aching with grief and sadness.  Sometimes he’ll get really quiet, and then he’ll just say quietly “I just miss Grandpa Sam and Grandpa Bubbles and Grandpa Earl so much” and then start to cry, and it breaks my heart.   Because I miss him too – I loved my Grandpa.  He was the man in my life for a very long time, and I’ll always miss him.   On more than one occasion, both Marc and I have ended up crying right along with him.

I’ve tried to explain grief to Sam.  Tried to tell him that it’s okay to miss people we’ve lost, that missing them is a way of honoring them.  And that even though it’s hard, we just have to get thru it.  I give him tangible reminders to make him feel better, I’ve framed pictures of each of them and put them on his wall.  Marc’s grandfather was devoutly Jewish, so I tell him that when we celebrate Shabbat, we’re honoring him.  My grandfather loved nature and reading and playing chess, so I’ll pull out the chess board that my grandfather used to teach me chess and we play together.  I recently went to the library and took out bird watching books, and Sam’s outside right now, diligently bird watching with his best friend.   “See, Mama?  I’m watching the birds, just like Grandpa!”

Sam is such a tender, sweet kid.  His emotions are raw, there’s no artifice or defenses.  Whatever he’s feeling is right there.  I always say that nobody loves me like Sammy loves me, because it’s so intense and all encompassing.  And his grief is the same way.  He just misses them.  He knows that he’s lost something, but not having his great grandfathers in his life.  And while my heart breaks for him, I’m also in awe of his capacity to love, to grieve for men who would have adored their namesake.  And in the end, isn’t that an incredible testimony to how very much these men were loved?  How much of an impact they had, to be mourned three and four generations down the line?  I hope that my great great grandchildren think of me as often as my son thinks of his grandfathers. 

You can’t.

There.  I’ve said it.  Parenting is sometimes the ultimate manifestation of “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.”  I love my kids – and that means I love all of them, even the parts of them that I sort of sometimes wish might be a little different.

I love to read.  And perhaps, I love to read more than anyone I know.  Maybe my standards for loving to read are rather high.  I’m never not in the middle of a book.  Or four.  I’m at the library at least twice a week, and I literally start to stress out when I’m running low on new books.

I just assumed that my kids would also love to read.  I read all the tips on how to get your child to love to read, and diligently followed all of the rules.  Our house is FILLED with books.  Overflowing with them.  I always have one with me, my husband reads (perhaps not as voraciously, but he’s still a reader).  I read to my kids every night, filled their little lives with literature.  It’s too early to tell with the little two, how much they’ll enjoy reading on their own.  They like to be read to, but as far as I can tell, every kid loves to be read to.   My oldest adores being read to as well, but as far as picking up a book and reading it independently?  She’s not that interested….

My nine year old will read, but only after much coaxing.  Once she gets into a book, she’ll read it happily enough, but it’s never her go to activity.   It was so frustrating to me – why doesn’t she love to read?  Why?  I did everything right.  And still – somehow she insists on forming her own opinion :-).  Because in the end, you get what you get.  Some people love to read, some don’t.

I think reading is like any other talent.  Like playing piano, or playing football.  You can do the classes, expose them to it, but in the end, I think reading, really loving to read and doing it well, is an innate talent.  Some kids are going to be concert pianists and exceptional atheletes.  Some kids aren’t going to do much more than practice when you make them, and forget it as soon as they can.  You either are a reader, or you aren’t.  I started reading, and it was like coming home for me.  It was, and is, my default activity.  I’d rather read than watch television, rather read than clean.  I’d rather read than just about any other leisure activity.  My daughter can read, knows that there are wonderful stories out there, but it’s not her thing.  She can read, she will read, she doesn’t live to read.  Not the way that I do.  And that’s hard for me sometimes. 

I felt, for a long time, like somehow I had done something wrong (I generally like to blame myself for any sort of parenting issue).  Hadn’t I done everything right?  Why wasn’t she picking up the books and reading?   Eventually, I can to the realization that it’s perfectly okay that she doesn’t love to read.  She loves a good story, loves to learn, has a serious need for drama and pathos in her life, but she doesn’t love to read.  And you know what – I wouldn’t change it.  Because truly – as a parent – you get what you get, and you don’t get upset.  In this aspect, she’s not what I expected, I thought of course, my child will adore reading – but she doesn’t.  And I find that, once I got past that initial dismay, I don’t mind at all.  She’s simply who she is – and I can’t begin to express how fabulous and fantastic that is. 

Like most people, I had a tangled up kind of childhood.  Wonderful in many ways, but kind of yucky sometimes too.  I had a wonderful mother, fabulous extended family that adored me, but a father who opted out fairly early on, and some major financial struggles.  I didn’t have the fairy tale family.  I wouldn’t change my childhood, because it brought me here, and I really like it here. 

But it wasn’t what I wanted for my kids.  And I wanted kids desperately.  I didn’t know that I wanted marriage.  I didn’t know if that was in the cards for me.  I hoped, I dreamed, but in reality – I was more than prepared to have kids on my own.  I was raised by a single mom, it was how I knew how to parent.   We had an extremely unplanned pregnancy very early into our relationship.  Tragically, that pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage of twins, and my whole world fell apart.  It’s tough to put into words what that experience was like.  After losing my babies, I knew simply and absolutely that the only thing that was going to make it okay was to get pregnant again, and while I was far from certain that Marc and I would be together forever, I did know that he would be there forever for my child.  He and I had lost our babies together, he alone mourned for that pregnancy the way that I did.  I knew he was and would be the father of my children.  I just didn’t exactly know for certain that he and I would be together forever. 

Somehow, without me ever actually realizing it, he just sort of made all of my dreams come true.  I’m an unbelievably happy woman today, with a love that still surprises me.  I didn’t go into this assuming that it would be happily ever after.  But it is.  I knew that Marc would be a wonderful father, that no matter what happened between us, he would never, ever desert his children.   I didn’t know that he’d be my partner in all things, my best friend, my first call and my better half.

I had learned early on that relationships between adults were fragile, and tenuous.  Sometimes they worked, and sometimes they didn’t.  And that in the end, you had to be able to stand on your own when your world fell apart.  What Marc has shown me, over and over again, is that our relationship isn’t tenuous.  Our relationship isn’t fragile.  It can withstand three kids, two step children, joblessness, multiple moves, sleepless nights, no money, and even less patience.  It can, and has, thrived in all of those circumstances.

It’s our ten year anniversary tomorrow – and I never thought we’d be here.  I’m happier than I ever dreamed of being, because I couldn’t even fathom this level of trust and committment.  This is my life, with this man, and I’m so incredibly grateful for it every day. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope yours is half as wonderful as I know mine will be.

We do a LOT of birthday parties in this family. Partly because both my husband and I have large families, partly because we’ve got a lot of friends with kids, and partly because we’ve always got limited space. So this year, my daughter is getting a birthday party every weekend for three weeks. Today is her “school friend party”, next weekend will be a “Daddy’s family party” and the end of the month will be the combo party with my family and all of our friends, and it’s a joint party for her and her best friend.

So today, we had seven little girls, a five year old little brother, and a toddler running around like lunatics to celebrate the birth of my oldest child. We had a cupcake decorating party, and set each kid up with a couple of cupcakes, littered the table with sprinkles, glitter frosting and tubes of icing and let them go nuts. Then my husband pulled out the number nine candle – and I had a minute, just a minute, when I wanted to cry because how was it possible that my tiny little angel baby was suddenly a big nine year old girl?

Wasn’t it yesterday that buying the number one candle was an event?

Every child is special and amazing and my oldest isn’t any more amazing than my middle child, or my baby. But the difference is that she is my introduction to motherhood. She’s the one that changed my name from Melissa to Mama. It’s not that her milestones are any more momentous than the others, but they are my first as well – so there’s that moment of ohmygoodness, my baby is not a baby anymore and it panics me just a little bit.

Because I remember so vividly the day she was born, and the baby she was. I remember the way she’d lay her little head on my shoulder and stop crying when I whispered “Shhhh” and I was convinced she was a genius. I remember the way she’d warble the Barney theme song and dance across the bed. I remember the way she was terrified of pumas (thanks Go Diego Go!) and my husband would have to search the bedroom before she’d lay down for sleep. I remember the way she used to cry for me to shut off the sun when we drove home on 290 and it was in her eyes and how she never quite believed me when I said I couldn’t. I remember her first day of preschool, and her first day of kindergarten and the day she decided to potty train herself. I remember all of it, and it’s blowing my mind that she’s NINE. And next is ten, and then she’s a teenager, and suddenly, she’ll be an adult – and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.

I’m a little wistful tonight, because my baby is growing up, and I’m already a tiny bit missing the baby she was. I’m loving the grown up girl she’s becoming, and I can’t wait to see the woman she’ll be someday – but I wonder if I’ll always picture her as I do now, this tiny little angel wonder girl who changed my entire world nine years ago.

I’m not a strict mother, by most standards.  I’m haphazard about mealtimes, lackadaisical about clean faces all the time.  I’m easy going about outfits – Sam buttoned his own shirt for services at the synagogue last week, and did an abysmal job.  But he was delighted with it, and so proud, I couldn’t bring myself to rain on his parade, so I told him he looked great and off we went.   I like to think I’m a “pick your battles” sort of mom, and unless it’s going to harm them, I’m willing to let my kids make the choice.  Whatever that choice might be.

But I’m hard core about school.  My pretty little Jessica celebrated her ninth birthday yesterday in what had to be the single longest expedition to the mall I’ve ever taken.   Marc and I are not shoppers, either one of us.  Plus we’re on a pretty tight budget, and discretionary trips to the mall aren’t really factored in.  But it was her birthday, and our tradition is that the birthday girl (or boy) gets to pick their favorite restaurant for dinner.  And she chose the food court at the Solomon Pond Mall.  Since I knew that asking her to go to the mall and then just eat and leave would be way too hard, I actually took all three of my kids down after school got out, and Marc met us there after work with Lilli and Sarah.

We had a delightful time, really.  The kids were great, everyone loved it, and we didn’t get home until nine o’clock.  Sam fell asleep in the car, and stayed asleep, so he was fine.  Julianna fell asleep, woke back up and didn’t go back down until close to eleven.  But what with her being a toddler and the ability to take a three hour nap the next day, I wasn’t too concerned.  But, oh, my Jessie.  She was vibrating with energy, laughing so hard she couldn’t stop.  She was so hyper and happy and just thrilled to betsy, she didn’t fall asleep until midnight. 

As you can imagine – this morning was nothing I’d want to repeat.  She was exhausted, and epically miserable.  But you don’t get to stay up all night and then blow off school the next day.  Sorry.  You go to school.  Follow thru and committment.  If you’re supposed to be in school, you go to school.  Being tired is not an excuse, and next time you’ll know that staying up that late means that you’ll have a very hard time the next morning. 

So she went to school.  And she was furious and sobbing and exhausted, and I was resolute and unyielding.  Natural consequences.  I tried to get her to settle down, tried to convince her of the wisdom of laying down and relaxing – but she didn’t want to.  But I think that it did register this morning.  I told her on the way in that I didn’t want her to be exhausted and miserable, but she was too old for me to force her to sleep now.  I can force Julie to sleep, just by laying her down and not letting her up, but Jessie is nine.  She’s old enough to make that decision, and live with the consequences.   And I’d rather she learn the lesson now than when she’s in her twenties and stayed out too late partying and then blows off work the next day and gets fired. 

She had calmed down by the time we got to school, and kissed me goodbye cheerfully enough.  But even though I did the right thing, and I know that – I’ve still spent all day feeling awful and second guessing myself. 

It’s the eve of my ninth anniversary of parenthood (also known as the day before my oldest daughter’s birthday), and it strikes me that I have a very different perspective on parenting than I did nine years ago.  I thought it would be easy, I was great with kids, and motherhood would be a cinch.  And in a lot of ways, it is easy for me.  I’m aware of how well suited I am for this job – I truly enjoy being a stay at home mom, and have the luxury to do so.  I have a lot of patience, and a lot of experience with children.  I was the oldest of four (or six, depending on if you count the stepsiblings) with dozens of cousins that I used to babysit for. 

But this is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done – and while the demands of parenting a nine year old are vastly different from the demands of parenting a nine week old, I can say officially and for the record, that it doesn’t get easier.  It just gets different.  I’m also fortunate in that I have many children.   My stepdaughters are almost thirteen and ten.  I’m able to experience life with adolescence from a safe distance, and I have to assume that it’ll make it easier when my own kids reach that age.  With three to four years separating my three, my kids are all at very different stages.

Some of what I wish I had known nine years ago today – before I had my first child, before I was a mother…

 –  It really doesn’t matter when they hit their milestones, as long as they do.  Nobody really cares, other than you, if your child is potty trained at two, or three.  If they give up the pacifier at six months or four years.  If they sleep thru the night.  And you won’t care six months after they’ve done it either. 

 – It’s totally worth the cost of a co-pay to hear that it’s NOT an ear infection.

 – Everyone has brought their child into the doctor in at least once for what turned out to be a temper tantrum.  (Or was that just me??)

 – If you don’t want advice, don’t look for it.  People LOVE to tell you how they would raise your child, but if you are calm and confident, they’re much less likely to think that you need their help. 

 – The best thing you can do for your child is to NOT entertain them every minute.  Encourage them to play, to make up games on their own.  Give them opportunities to think of their own fun, and make sure they know that your job is not to play with them.

 – Sometimes, it’s really fun to just play with your kids.  Enjoy the stage they’re at, because it won’t last long. 

 – Bribery works.  Call it positive incentive if it makes you feel better, but don’t discount it as a parenting tool.

 – Make sure you know what the rules are.  In our house, whining is okay.  I don’t love it, but don’t mind it too much either.  What I really hate is disrespect.  My kids aren’t allowed to speak sarcastically or disrepectfully to either of us.  Other parents may have different rules, but for us, that’s a line in the sand.  if you decide ahead of time what matters to you and stick to it, you’re in a much better position to enforce them.

For the most part, my kids are great thru the night.  Granted, I nurse well into toddler hood and co-sleep, and as a result, even if they were waking up, it wasn’t an issue because I’d sleep mostly thru it.  Last night was the exception. 

Marc had gone to the gym, so he wasn’t home until after ten.  Jessie has been having trouble falling asleep, so I told her that she could sleep at the foot of our bed.  Sam only falls asleep with snuggles, so he was in there too.  And Julianna was on the other side of me.  Normally, we move at least one or two out of bed, but last night, when Marc came home, I was already asleep, so he just shut the door and tiptoed out to sleep in Sam’s room. 

Julianna is cutting some molars, I think, because she woke up at three o’clock.  Now, if she’d woken up and said “Mama, my teeth hurt.”  I know I would have been sympathetic.  I’m a good mom.  But she’s a toddler, and instead, she woke up, sat up, and hollered happily “PAT PAT!”  Which is code for “Hey, lets watch Little Einsteins!”  At three o’clock, I’m not really into insipid Disney cartoons.  I’m just not.  And by the time I clued into the fact that she was actually rubbing her mouth and crying (due to the fact that I wasn’t putting on the television), Sam was awake too.  So I got up.

I brought them both into the kitchen, gave Sam some motrin because he claimed his nose hurt, and changed Julianna and gave her a tylenol suppository (she vomits the oral meds).  We watched an hour of television, then went back into bed, Sam finally drifted off close to four thirty, and Julianna fell asleep about twenty minutes later.  Which would have been great, I could have gotten at least another two hours of sleep – but Marc’s alarm clock went off at five. 

I got up, because I missed him.  And I’m so glad I did, because (despite the fact that I’m now so exhausted I could cry but don’t have the energy) we got this lovely little interlude when it was just us, and we could talk and discuss and debate and hang out.  I love him so much, and it’s easy to sometimes lose sight of that connection.  Not lose it, exactly, but have it fall to the bottom of the list, between homework and dance lessons and teaching Sam his letters and getting Jessie to do her chores and wrestle Julie into the tub – spending quality time with my husband is an incredible luxury.  So today I’m grateful for the sleepless night.  And also grateful for a midday nap 🙂