A Son I am Proud of

Tomorrow marks my son’s second birthday, and with each passing hour, I’m becoming more emotional.  It all started with our “tickle fest” before his bedtime.  We were tucked up in my king-size bed, and as I held his hands and tickled under his arms (a move that has him screaming with laughter and shouting, “One more time!”), I looked at him and saw a two-year old.  With his pretty hazel eyes, neat white teeth and pointy, mischievous chin, he doesn’t resemble “my baby” anymore.  In fact, the last lingering traces of baby are gone…

Our bedtime routine had me rocking him in his chair, and before you knew it, I’d rocked into reminiscing.  Beside his chair is a photo of us on the day he was born.  I looked at the photo and then looked at my son:  The only resemblance to the newborn he once was is the handsome cleft still distinguished in his chin.  The rest of him has been shaped into the unique, toddler I know and love today.

And what a toddler he has become:  A tender-hearted, happy, sometimes stubborn bundle of energy who loves Thomas the Steam Engine, is crazy about berries of any kind and believes every day should begin with the greeting, “Good morning!  How was your nap?”  Gone is the “test-the-waters-first” baby he once was…Here is the “jump-right-in” little dude eager to engage others in play.  Quite simply, he is my “pride-and-joy.”  And while I sometimes find his behavior frustrating, I am always delighted by him.  He’s a “glass-half-full” kind of guy, a “live-life-to-the-fullest” type of person.  He’s not afraid to tell his family and friends “I love you” and he’s the first to ask “Are you ok?” when someone falls down (even if he’s the one who pushed them).  He’s my role model; the person who’s taught me the most about living joyfully.

I’ve always been proud of my son.  You can see it in the photo of us by his rocking chair.  When I look at that photo, I see my eyes first…they are knowing.  They speak to me as if saying “Hello New Mother.  This is the beginning of a wonderful yet dreadful journey with the highest-highs and the lowest-lows, where every second, minute, hour will show you the depths of intense, terrifying love and you will never be the same.”  My expression in that photo is one of pride, exhaustion, and overwhelming love, and I still feel those things, only ten-fold, for he is a li’l man who is both exhausting and lovable at once.  And always, always, whether he’s a newborn baby or a full-blown toddler, he is a son I am proud of.

The Christmas Miracle (or Why You Never Take Your Toddler to the Post Office During the Holiday Season)

“Must not turn back now,” I tell myself as I grip my son’s slippery hand.  “I’m in too deep!”  Sweat slides down my forehead and I use my free mitten-clad hand to wipe it away.  With an hour to kill before dropping my son off at our Friday Morning Out program, I made the foolish, cringe-inducing decision to take my 21 month old son with me to the post office…to get holiday stamps…”Why, oh why, didn’t I just wait until after I dropped him off?!”

We pulled up to the post office at 8:20 only to find that they didn’t open for another 10-minutes.  Rather than waiting patiently in our car, I made another poor decision to drive to the nearby grocery store to treat myself to a (not needed) pastry.  Fifteen minutes later, we’re back at the post office where we join the seven other people in line.  “Not bad,” I think until I look closer and realize that each of these people have large quantities of holiday packages to ship to far-away places.  The type of shipping destinations that require a 10-minute strategy discussion per package with the postal worker followed by a 5-minute debriefing because you’re not sure what just happened (did you really just ship something to Istanbul?).  Looking closer, you realize there’s only one postal worker actually helping the customers in line.  “All I want is some holiday stamps.  Isn’t there an express lane for stamp buyers,” I mutter to myself.

It all starts out fine.  My son is happy to stand beside me and hold my hand.  He smiles joyfully at each customer in line, spreading holiday cheer while greeting each person with a “Say good morning!”  Then he decides to strike out on his own, dropping my hand and literally walking into the legs of the woman in front of us almost hobbling her.  With a quick but sincere apology, I scoop him up into my arms where he’s content for all of 5 seconds.  And so begins, to the delight of everyone else I’m sure, the singing of the children’s songs.  Ironically, we start with If You’re Happy and You Know It (which I’m most definitely not and neither is anyone else) and move on to inappropriately chipper The Wheels on the Bus.  We’ve only made it to the “wipers on the bus” when the lil’ guy squirms out of my arms and makes a run for the door.  This should have been my cue to get the heck outta there, but I’m a stubborn gal and we’d already invested 10 minutes of our lives into this line.  More people join us, thoroughly jamming us into our spot, and I stifle the beginnings of a panic attack as I realize we can’t leave now even if we wanted to (which I do, I really, really do).  The only way out of this line, and back into the blessed light of day, is to complete our holiday stamp transaction.  “Stamps…What the hell was I thinking?!”

Meanwhile, my little man’s working his way into a tantrum.  Rather than smiling at people, he’s moved on to scowling at them.  Less Santa’s Helper more The Grinch.  I can hear the other customers’ thoughts:  “Look at that foolish woman who brought her toddler to the post office during the height of the holiday season!”  or “Thank God that’s not me!”  or “I am never having kids.”  If the post office’s windows weren’t sealed shut, I’d throw us out of them.

And with this thought, we move to the second place in line.  From this spot, I can see the holiday stamps I wanted (which I no longer care about as the need to merely survive this experience takes over).  It’s just the one lady, who my son almost hobbled, in front of us.  The postal worker calls her and her massive bag full of packages up to the desk.  And then something so unexpected, so wonderful that I can only describe it as The Christmas Miracle occurs:  The woman (forever to be known as The Christmas Angel)  turns to us and says “You go next.  I’ll wait.”  After confirming that she’s sure, profusely thanking her and promising that I’ll be quick, I purchase my stamps with a shaking hand and flee the post office.  “Mam, you forgot your debit card,”  the postal worker tells me as I run for the door.  “Keep it!”  I scream while heaving open the doors.

Our trip to the post office for holiday stamps taught me a few things:  1) Never take your kid to the post office. If necessary,  hire a babysitter instead (yes, even if said-babysitter costs more than the stamps)  2) Regular stamps will suffice.  Holiday stamps aren’t worth that sort of pain.  3) (And most importantly) Miracles really do happen.

The sense of relief I felt as we left the confines of the post office and took in a sweet breath of exhaust-filled air was so immense I almost cried.  And let me tell you this, if I’d known which vehicle belonged to The Christmas Angel (what am I talking about, angels don’t drive cars.  They take public transportation), I’d have left her my pastry wrapped in a thank you note and sealed with a holiday stamp.

Sigh

Today my little guy turns 18 months old.  It feels so significant to me, almost as remarkable as when he turned one.  The day’s been marked with a jumble of emotions, just like on his first birthday, and I can’t express fully what I’m feeling.  I guess the best way to say it is, Sigh. You know, the long drawn out sound that releases all of the pent-up breath from your lungs, cleanses your soul and lingers in the air well after you’ve closed your mouth.  Sigh.  The sound seems to encompass all that I’m feeling today; the plethora of emotions ranging from happiness to sadness and everything in between.  On the one hand, I’m celebrating this blessed day.  Every month of his life is a precious miracle, and the 21st of each month a tribute to the beautiful gift in boy-form we’ve been given.  And at 18 months, he’s never been funnier, cooler or more charming.  There’s a lot to celebrate today and don’t I know it.

Yet, a lot has been lost, too.  Sigh.  And just like when he turned one, the realizations begin to hit me:  How I’ll never swaddle him again or wear him in a Bjorn.  How I’ll never lay face-to-face with him again on the floor during the obligatory tummy-time.  How I’ll never hold his hands again while he practices his steps; his little legs wobbly but his pride immense.  Milestone birthdays like this make me realize how fleeting it all is and have me hanging on to his every word and action.  Why just today, he learned that a frog says “ribbit.”  That little sound, escaping from his lips, was like the sweetest gift he could have given me on a day when I needed it the most.  A reminder, in ribbit-form, that all is not lost; that there are many adventures to be had, many moments left to cherish, and that 18 months is only just the beginning.  Sigh.

A Memory for the 4th

There we sat, along the crowded Duluth harbor, watching the 4th of July fireworks explode in the sky.  I turned to my mother and said, “Just think, Mom, this time next year we’ll have a baby.”  And while the sky filled with red, purple, gold, my thoughts turned inward to the life growing inside of me.  I was only 2 months pregnant at the time (with my son who’s  now 16 months old) and suffering horribly from “all-day” sickness, but it’s my fondest Independence Day memory even beating out the childhood ones spent on a beach in Oregon.  To a child, 4th of July fireworks carry a sort of magic, and no doubt, the fireworks from my youth grow bigger and brighter with time.

Yet, that low-key 4th of July, spent along the harbor, is my favorite.  The baby inside of me represented possibility; a chance for an even bigger and brighter life filled with more love, more everything.  Sitting on the camp chair watching the colored sky, I was terrified that life would never be the same yet thrilled that I would experience so many things, like 4th of July fireworks, for the first time again through the eyes of my child.  That’s part of the gift of parenthood, after all:  The ability to relive some of your childhood.  So here we are, my son’s second 4th of July, hanging out at the pool, lunching on hot dogs and watermelon and anticipating the sparkling night sky.  Of course, he’ll be asleep long before the first firework lights the sky, but I’ll watch it for him; my face lifted upwards to the sky, eyes open wide with delight, as a soft “oohhh” escapes my lips.

Happy Day

“Go bring the card to Daddy!” I tell my pajama-clad 15 month old son as he runs down our hallway clutching his Father’s Day card for Daddy in his hand.  He’s steady on his feet, moving rapidly with good balance and I marvel at how quickly he’s improved in the 4 weeks he’s been walking.  “Bring the card to Daddy,”I remind him as he moves into the dining room.  “Dada, dada!” He repeats as he spots his “target” in the living room.  He stops just shy of Daddy’s feet and holds the card up to him.  My husband reaches down to grab the card, and as he does, I ask my son if he can wish Daddy a “Happy Father’s Day!”  “Happy Day,” my lil’ guy says, having just learned the phrase from his Grandma (or “Amma” as he calls her).  The words don’t just stop at his lips, though; rather, a smile lights his face and sparks in his eyes.   He senses the true meaning of “Happy Day:” The wish, the promise, and the joy of the phrase.  I can read it all on his precious, increasingly toddler-like face.  No other word he’s uttered, and he’s learning and repeating more and more each day, brings him the same satisfaction of saying “Happy Day.”   I think it’s because the words perfectly sum up the little man; he personifies the happiness and goodwill they convey. Perhaps  “Happy Day” is a way for him to express the joy that’s in his heart.  Whatever it is, it’s contagious.  I find myself repeating it throughout the day.  A reminder that, when we are together as a family, no matter what life throws our way, it is a “Happy Day.”

A Memorial Day Swim

For a special Memorial Day outing, we took our 15 month old son to a neighborhood kiddie pool.  As parents, we are privileged to have those rare moments where everything feels right; where we’re free of maternal or paternal guilt and it feels like we’ve got this whole parenting business down pat.  This was one of those moments and I savored every fleeting second of it.

Watching my son, in his adorable swimsuit gear with a red sun hat on to protect his precious face, enjoy the pool was better than a healthy dose of Vitamin D:  It just felt good for the soul.  He was the  youngest kid at the pool, and while he couldn’t swim, jump and kick like the older kids, that didn’t stop the little man from making his presence known.  Rather than observe quietly from our corner of the pool, my guy decided to shriek with pure joy at the top of his lungs.  And while not everyone understands baby speak, a mother knows her son:  It was as if he was saying “Good splash little girl in the polka dot suit!” or “The warm sun on my back and light breeze on my face feels divine!”  or “Holy cow, did I just pee in the pool?!”  or “Excellent jump boy with goggles!” or “Of the two I’ve experienced, this is the best Memorial Day ever!”  His sweet voice shrieking with excitement echoed my own internal delight and had me saying, “Hear, hear” with the exception of peeing in the pool, that is.

The Determined Walker

The path between our ottoman and built-in-bookcase is becoming well-worn and marked with memories.  When we leave this house, I’ll have to find a way to take the floorboards with me as the ultimate memento of my 14 month old son learning to walk.  The lil’ guy took his first steps on Easter but didn’t seem to think much of this “whole walking thing” and went back to crawling.  Over the last few weeks, he’d take a few steps here or there with our prompting but he wasn’t anywhere near a “walker.”  Then this past weekend, while my parents visited, he decided to “step” up his game.  Now he’s on his way to walking, and I’m left with pride, a broken-heart and grooves in my floorboards.  It’s amazing how such tiny, teetering footsteps can feel so big.

Hands-down, or should I say foot-down, no milestone yet has felt as breathtakingly painful and beautiful all rolled into one as watching my son learn to walk.  With each shaky step, I hold my breath watching as he struggles for balance.  I’m torn between the maternal pride that urges him on and the maternal longing to keep him a baby for as long as I can.  Pride wins out, though, and I’m clapping my hands and cheering for him with each successful pass.  When he stumbles and falls to his knees, I feel the pain as if it were my own.  My hands smart as if they hit the ground along with him.  “Shake it off, buddy!” I tell him while, really, I should be saying it to myself.

I feel like I am learning with him, although what I’m learning has nothing to do with walking and everything to do with determination.  When was the last time I tried so hard at something?  When was the last time I fell repeatedly but without losing hope?  When he falls, he acts as if he has no other choice but to charge ahead, and after painstakingly getting back up, he continues on his path.  And then he does it again and again and again.

I feel blessed that this determined boy is my son and that I’m fortunate enough to witness not only his precious first steps but also his continued progress.  And I’m thankful to him for trusting me to witness his journey to walking.  I’m thankful that he trusts me enough to take those vulnerable steps, to fall down, to get back up in my presence.  I’m humbled, that after successfully completing his path, he eagerly turns to me for approval; that my cheers light up his face.  When it’s really the other way around, when I should be saying to him “Am I worthy of you?  Am I worthy of the determined, precious miracle that you are?”  But before I can phrase the question, he’s off with his hands raised for balance and his feet carefully finding the way.

 

Love, Poop, Kegels and a Few Other Things I’ve Learned About Motherhood


To my former foot-loose and fancy-free self, I must look like some sort of alien now complete with stretch marks, sweatpants and “mom hair.”  This Mother’s Day will be my second as a mother, and it’s true, motherhood has taken over my body and transformed my mind, heart and soul until I hardly resemble the gal I once was.  Before you have a baby, you cannot understand how he or she will transform your life, consume your thoughts and dominate your heart.  When I was pregnant, I envisioned my life with baby just the way it was only with the addition of a baby.  This was as far as my brain could comprehend impending motherhood, and boy, oh boy, was I wrong.  Turns out being a mom is nothing like I expected; it’s so much more.  So yes, fellow bloggers, in honor of Mother’s Day, another post about moms.  But what can I say?  You write what you know (or in this case, what you’re learning), so here’s a taste of what I’ve discovered about motherhood during the 14 months I’ve been blessed as a mom:

  • Your own mother becomes the wisest, most loving, most patient, most generous person you know.  This is a true gift of motherhood:  The ability to fully understand and truly appreciate all of the sacrifices your mother made for you (Thank you, Mom)
  • Knowing this, your own mother becomes the yardstick you measure yourself against.  It’s the most flattering compliment you can pay her but also one of the most daunting challenges you’ll take on
  • Your child is not born a blank slate; rather, he has his own personality, behaviors, mannerisms, etc., and it’s your task and delight to discover them
  •  After having a baby, sometimes when you laugh or cough or sneeze,  a little pee will leak out.  You’ll try to remember to do your daily Kegels, but honestly, who has the time?!
  • When someone mentions the word Kegels, you’ll instantly start doing them. (Ladies, I know I’m not alone in this phenomenon)
  • What experienced parents tell you about sleepless nights and utter exhaustion is true.  Maybe not all the time, but as your baby grows, you will hit rough patches that feel as if they will never end and that you will never sleep restfully again.  Fear not, you will.
  • Conversely, just when you think naps and bedtime are going smoothly, that you’ve hit your stride and come into your own as a parent, you will hit a rough stretch of nights/naps that will leave you unable to remember even your first name
  • Love for your child will overwhelm, consume, transform you.  You will barely, just barely, be able to comprehend the depths of your love and the power of it will take your breath away.  You’ll feel it within seconds of his birth, when he reaches a new milestone and at random moments of any given day
  • This overwhelming love will make you feel like the most powerful person in the world but also the most vulnerable.  If the world was a scary place before motherhood, it’s even more frightening now knowing that you’ve got to send your precious, innocent child into it, and that, try as you might, you won’t be able to control everything that happens to him
  • Your emotions will run on high; you’ll experience happiness, sadness, anger in their most acute forms
  • Who’d have thunk it?!  Poop, specifically your baby’s, does make for titillating conversation
  • You’ll cry a lot, especially as your hormones settle after baby’s birth, and you’ll feel like life is like reading one big Hallmark card
  • You’ll catch yourself singing or humming the music from baby’s toys.  When caught doing so, you will not be ashamed
  • You’ll develop a heightened sensitivity to child abuse.  Watching the news or reading the newspaper will become painfully difficult at times
  • Motherhood brings the gift of selflessness and a new perspective.  You’ll step outside of yourself and learn to sacrifice with love and grace

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of things I’ve learned about motherhood.  If I really wanted to, I could make this post 25+ pages long but I simply don’t have the time.  And that’s another thing I know about being a mom:  You will be stretched beyond your very limits and, try as you might, there will never be enough time to do it all.  This is a fact about motherhood that I butt heads with every day.  But before I let myself be consumed with maternal guilt over my daily failures, I remind myself that my #1 job is to love my son and I do that unconditionally every day.  And that’s what motherhood is:  The complete, selfless giving of yourself to another person.

Baby’s First Ride

It’s amazing what $5 at a yard sale can buy you.  For $5,  we found laughter, imagination and a spirit of adventure all in the form of my fourteen month old son’s very first car.  And a beauty of a first car she is with four plastic wheels, a squeaker for a horn and a speedometer that features two speeds:  The Tortoise or the Hare.  Indeed, she’s the sweet ride we all dream of owning for our first car:  A Little Tikes Deluxe Cozy Convertible Car complete with a handle for mommy to steer .  Finding her for $5 at a yard sale on a rainy day was a cool twist of fate that had the clouds parting and a golden beam of sunlight illuminating her cherry red exterior as if to say, “I’ve been waiting just for you.”

Now I’ve already admitted my son’s got swagger, but seeing him in his new ride brings it to a whole ‘nother level.  After washing the Cozy Convertible  inside and out until it gleamed (as much as plastic can), my guy was ready for the first spin.  With his retro sunglasses in place, and the speedometer reading “Hare,” we were off.  Like a pro, the little man put his hands at 10 and 2 o’clock but not before shifting into gear.  As we cruised around the neighborhood, I could sense my son projecting a hipness that you can’t teach.  Nope, the lil’ guy was born with it and I’m just lucky enough to be in his presence.  Even I have to admit, though, that he was milking the whole thing.  As we passed two toddler twin girls, I watched my son sink a little lower into his seat, put one arm on the steering wheel and give a nod as if to say, “How you ladies doin’?”  I”m fairly certain that one of them actually swooned.  Love ‘em and leave ‘em was his motto, though, as we cruised past leaving a trail of broken hearts in our wake.  What can I say?  Other than mommy, this fella’s first love is his car and I’m happy to keep it that way.

Taking it to the Crib

The relief I feel is palpable; I won the nap battle and got my fourteen month old son back into the crib.  Those of you familiar with my blog know that my baby boy slept well in his crib at night but refused to do the same for nap time.  So the little guy and I have been sharing naps for the last 6 months or so, and trust me, I use the term “sharing” lightly.  For the last 6 months, nap time has been, rather than restful, both emotionally and physically draining.  I’d spend 15 to 30 minutes of each nap trying to get my son to rest his head and, eventually, close his baby blues.  Rather than resting, he viewed nap time as the perfect opportunity to test his “motor skills” on mommy:  Biting, hitting, kicking, hair pulling and blowing raspberries were just a few of the activities I’d look forward to at the start of each nap.  Nope, he’s not an aggressive baby, but being over-tired certainly doesn’t bring out the best in him.  And for the record, I’m not against co-sleeping.  To the contrary, we co-slept with baby on and off for the first 6 months of his life.  Ultimately, though, for a variety of reasons, we decided that co-sleeping was not for us in the long-term.

When I say I won the nap battle, what  I really mean is that I’ve won the emotional battle with myself.  For the last few months, I’d been unsatisfied with the situation.  It seemed like it was taking longer and longer to get my son to actually fall asleep, and I didn’t feel like he was waking fully rested, either.  Yet, emotionally, I wasn’t ready to take nap time back to the crib.  A part of me absolutely adored that quiet, cozy time with baby sleeping beside me.  I’d take the opportunity to study his precious sleeping face:  The pretty fringe of his long lashes, the way his lips puckered slightly in sleep, the perfect curve of his rosy cheeks.  His sleeping form most closely resembles the sweet newborn I remember, and I was hard pressed to break the link to those fleeting newborn days.  So rather than trying to get the little guy napping in his crib, I continued to share nap time even though it left me feeling drained.

It wasn’t until I got baby back to the crib that I realized how drained I was.  Turns out I need nap time as a break from my little man.  I need that time to myself so that, and I’m not speaking for other moms here, I can be a better mommy when my son is awake.  I need a little time each day to rejuvenate myself through rest, reading, exercising or just sitting quietly.  No matter how I use nap time, one thing’s for certain:  I’m always eager for my son to wake up because I miss him.  The sweet sounds coming from his crib that signal he’s awake are like music to my ears and I’m eagerly running down the hall to greet him.