"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Peeling Back the Layers

He came running in from school on Friday, out of breath and talking a mile a minute.

This was not my child.

My child comes home from school and exhales a sigh of relief. Relief to be home. Relief to have some "Alone Time," he calls it, after a day full of people and activity. Relief to be able to just relax.

But not on Friday. On Friday he had something to tell me.

It took awhile; because of his excitement he didn't tell the story in one straight line. He told bits and pieces, revealing more information as I questioned him and as thoughts and details occurred to him. At the end of the breathless release of words from his mouth, this is what I gathered:

Evan and four of his friends are going to perform a play for his class on Monday.

For fun, not for an assignment.

Apparently, Evan had been telling his lunch bunch (a group of kids selected to eat lunch in the classroom as a special Friday reward) about Peppa Pig. [side note: if you guys haven't watched the show on Nick Jr., you might want to. There is no underlying educational value to the program, like a Super Why or Wild Kratts. It's just silly and all three of my kids Laugh Out Loud at the pig family's antics.]

So he was telling his friends about the show, when he started to create his own plot to a Peppa Pig "episode." As the story became more elaborate and more hilarious (by second grader standards), his teacher stepped in: "This sounds like it could be a great play for you all to perform for the rest of the class on Monday."

"So that's why," Evan concluded, as he unpacked his backpack and placed his lunch box on the counter, "I didn't finish my lunch. I was making a Pig Mask! I get to be Peppa!"

Evan. My kid who, as a three-year old, didn't speak or interact with the other children or play centers in his preschool class for the first seven months of the school year. My kid who has come up with coping strategies (which have included "falling asleep," rolling his eyes back in his head, and hiding in his coat or under a table) when attention is drawn to him.

There's also the Just Act Goofy As Hell routine.

My kid who, at nearly eight years old, is peeling back the layers of social anxiety, introversion, and fear, to reveal the beauty and the intelligence and the humor that we, his family, have always known was there in his soul.

This isn't the first time he's felt brave. He's stepped out of his comfort zone in the past, whether to try something new (a new food, a new activity, seeking out a new friend). But it doesn't happen often and it comes in fits and spurts. At the first sign of social growth or bravery or new, I've learned to keep a close watch for more. He gets a rush of adrenaline, I think, as he tests his limits. When he sees what he's capable of, he wants to push that line a little more.

Friday was no exception.

He had no sooner completed his I Spearheaded and am Performing in a Play for my Class story, when it was time to go to gymnastics. Evan has been taking gymnastics, off and on, for about three years. He loves it for the Ninja Moves. He loves it as an individual sport. He loves that his teachers allow all of the students to go at their own pace while gently encouraging them to continue to make forward progress. I love it for all the same reasons. I love that I can sit behind the glass partition and watch his strength and confidence (both in his physical abilities and socially) grow. I don't love that he's now doing flips; actual, physical, real-live, up in the air, chin-tucked, body-rolling, mom's-heart-attack-inducing flips on my bed every night before he takes a shower. I don't love it, but I really do.

At the end of his gymnastics class, as the team was seated for their final huddle, I watched as Evan raised his hand and spoke to his teachers. They nodded and he stepped forward. In front of the whole class he, all by himself, performed a perfect, steady tripod. The class clapped as he, slightly taller, it seemed, headed back to the group. I waited for the next child to step forward to perform their favorite gymnastics move, but none did. The class wrapped up and Evan bounded out of the gym, beaming.

As I was tucking him into bed that night, I asked him about it.

"I saw you do a tripod in gym today, bud. It was awesome! I think it was your best yet."

"Yeah, it was."

"Did the teachers ask if anyone had something they wanted to demonstrate, or did you just want to."

"I just wanted to. I'm getting really good at tripods and maybe some of the kids don't know how to do them yet, so I decided to show them."

For some reason, I started to get misty-eyed and was glad that his face was pointed away from mine as I tickled his back.

"Evan, I'm so proud of you. You're so much like me in so many ways, but--"

"How am I like you?" he interrupted.

"Oh gosh, bud: The way you look at the world. The way you interact with your friends. The way you think and think and think and think about something before you do it. The way your voice is sometimes quiet but I know that hard-working brain is loud with thoughts and ideas."

"Oh. But my eyes are like daddy's."

"That's true. But listen: there's one thing about you that is so different than me when I was your age...and even now! You're so brave, buddy. And I love that about you. Did you know that I have never, in my whole life, done a flip? Ever! And it's because I'm too scared to. But you just do it! I love that! I love that you have the confidence and the bravery to do a flip and to demonstrate how to do a tripod to your gymnastics team and to perform a play for your class. I love it and it makes me so proud of you."

"Don't forget the pool this summer," he said after a thoughtful minute.

"What about the pool?"

"This summer, I'm going to jump off the diving board for the first time ever. I might even do a flip!"

And with that, he closed his eyes: imagining, no doubt, his first jump off the board. He'll rehearse it over and over and over in his head and then, on that first trip to the pool this summer, I have no doubt that he'll climb up that ladder and jump off that diving board. Like he's been doing it forever...

Lesson Learned:

It's taken me nearly eight years, but I'm finally getting the hang of this kid. I'm starting to worry less and watch more. He takes his time, but he always gets there. He's following his own path, but he knows the way.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Potty Day: The Third and Final Cut

We take a mixed bag approach to Potty Training in our house. On the one hand, we are in no hurry to reach the milestone. We wait, and we wait, and we wait, until our toddlers are practically screaming their potty-training readiness (and until the birthday presents they received for their, um, third birthdays have already lost their brand-new lustre). On the other hand, despite our apparent laid-back approach to the start of potty training, we go full-throttle once out of the starting gate. We do a guerilla-style, don't look back, leave no man behind, 24-hour crash course in Big Kid Bathroom Use and once we've picked the date for Potty Day, there are No More Diapers. (Pull-ups at nap and bedtime for the first few months, but these are new, Big Kid "Nighttime Undies," not diapers.)

It worked for Evan. It worked for Max. I had no doubt that it would work for Molly.

To be fair to our littlest potty training contestant is not, yet, three. She will be in about a month, but she's still, technically, "two."

But, according to our pediatrician (and the whole wide world) girls are ready to potty train earlier than boys. At Molly's 18-month well-check, her doctor concluded the exam with, "So, have we started to potty train yet?" I laughed in her face. At the 2-year well-check, again the doctor asked. And again, I responded with a less than civilized, "Haha! Uh, no." At her appointment for her 2.5-year well-check, Molly conversed pleasantly and maturely with the doctor, who asked her, "Molly, do you use the big girl potty?" Molly looked at me. I looked at the floor. The doctor smiled warmly and reminded me, "You know, most girls are ready to potty train at about two years old." I just knew we couldn't go to Molly's three-year check-up in February without those big girl undies.

Also to be fair, despite what they say, Molly was not showing any signs of potty-training readiness. She typically wakes up wet and never announced when she needed a new diaper. Walking around with a saggy, stinky dipe never seemed to bother her in the least. In fact, the only readiness she did demonstrate, was a Mastery of the Language of Potty Training.

If you know my sweet, cuddly, bashful, peanut of a little girl, this may come as a surprise to you: Molly has the worst Potty Mouth of any of my three kids. She's so vulgar that, to the sheer and utter delight of her big brothers, she rewrote the lyrics to Shake it Off:

'Cause the Poopers gotta poop, poop, poop, poop, poop
and the Peers gotta pee, pee, pee, pee, pee.
The farters gotta fart, fart, fart, fart, fart.
Poopy Butt!
Poopy Butt!
Butt Butt!

So, we were going to capitalize on the Using All The Potty Words element of Potty Training and just go for it. 

We went for it! Just like we did for the boys, we offered a small treat (an M&M or a mini-marshmallow) for successful peepee in the potty and a Poopy Present (a small, wrapped gift...stickers, new socks, mini Lalaloopsy, etc.) to unwrap after successful poops. We have eight or ten Poopy Presents, so that we can continue to reinforce successful pooping during the first week. The peepee treats will continue until we start to forget to use them...for the boys it was the first four or five days.

And she nailed it. After a slow start brought on by the fact that she, like her brothers, has the largest-capacity bladder ever, and the ability to hold it FOREVER, she was using the potty (for all! potty needs!) on her own by bedtime last night. She woke up this morning, swapped her pull-up for Elsa and Anna undies and has been batting a thousand all day. What a girl.

Princess Big Girl Undies, sitting upon her throne of towels.

Lesson Learned:
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Forget potty-training until your kid is ridiculously old and mature and ready. After three kids, I'm a definite believer in this reward-based, 24-hour approach to saying Goodbye to Diapers. Now we just need to find a way to get her to leave the Potty Words in the bathroom...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Organized

There are a lot of moms out there right now saying, "That's it. This is the year. In 2015 I WILL get organized."

I am not one of those moms.

You can't "get organized" if you already "are organized."

I've been organized since birth. It's genetic, I think. My mom was somehow able to keep the house, all eight of our schedules, and her brain organized and running smoothly. I inherited that trait, but that's not bragging...that's an admission.

Read more about me and my Need For Clean over on BonBon Break....

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Organized

...and everything in it's place. As it should be.

Lesson Learned:

Let's make a deal: Don't hate me because I'm organized, and I promise not to judge if I have to scoot a pile of laundry over before sitting down on your couch.

Friday, January 2, 2015

the sweet spot

Parenthood is hard. It's exhausting mentally, emotionally, and physically. There are days, as a parent of young children, that you feel like you cannot catch your breath; you are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of your responsibility, you are running on empty due to little and interrupted sleep, and you are in Constant Physical Contact with one or more of your tiny, needy children. And it feels endless.

Until, all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and you realize that you have reached The Sweet Spot: that magical time during which your children are the perfect balance of big enough and little enough. 

In this center of the Parenting Venn Diagram, your kids are big enough to be somewhat self-sufficient. Yes, you may still be preparing their meals but, when they sit down to eat, you can, too, without anyone on your lap or attached to your boob. Your kids are capable. You can tell them to put on their shoes and coats and They Can. Some of the most-challenging child development milestones are behind you (colic, sleep-training, cutting teeth, teething while nursing (!), potty training--we're almost there with our last one!). Best of all...wait for it...your kids can Entertain Themselves for short-to-medium lengths of time. 

But, they're still little. They still cuddle in close to read books together at bedtime. Their eyes still light up at the mere mention of jellybeans. They're still goofy and unaffected and un-self-conscious. They think you are the Knower of All Things and you kind of are...with occasional help from Google. When they get out of the bath, you smell their freshly-shampooed heads and they're still baby sweet. 


This Winter Break, it hit me. We're in The Sweet Spot. 

I first caught of glimpse that we may be here on our first day off from school. We went to our brand-new indoor trampoline park and It. Was. Awesome. The boys were, of course, in paradise. But, surprisingly, Molly was, too. She bounced everywhere, racing ahead of me and her brothers calling back, "This way, boys! Let's jump on the big, BIG trampolines!" She jumped down the trampoline runway and (gently, slowly) lowered herself into the foam pit. We paid for an hour, we could have stayed for two...and Molly would have kept up with us. 

When we traveled to my parents' house, it started to become more clear...Sure, the kids were still up ridiculously early every morning of our trip but, finally, they can hang despite having had little sleep. Seldom are the all-out, day-ending, exhaustion-induced meltdowns. They're big enough to be able to wake up early, have a busy day of sightseeing and holiday festivities with family, catch a quick cat nap in the car if necessary, and stay up until (a later than normal) bedtime.

But they're still little enough to want to pose for dorky pictures with their parents.

We returned home to a house cluttered with Christmas decorations and new toys. While I spent the next day and a half de-Christmasing the house, the kids played. By themselves...together...but independently from me. There were tears demanding my involvement once or twice, following a too-roughly-tossed couch cushion and over a dispute involving what may or may not be a Creeper action figure from Minecraft (I have a lot to learn, apparently, after Minecraft took over our house this Christmas). But for the most part, they settled their own quarrels and entertained themselves happily and productively. Big enough to play independently, little enough to still Play.

We enjoyed a low-key New Year's Eve. We watched a Jake and the Neverland Pirates special and toasted the New Year (well, the end of the show, actually).

The Sweet Spot? Big enough to toast, little enough to go to bed at their regular bedtime on New Year's Eve. The bedtime, by the way, is another indication that we are in the Parenting Sweet Spot: our three kids, 7.5 years old, 5, and nearly 3, all go to bed at the same time....kind of. While I'm reading to Molly and Max, Sam is playing Legos with Evan. Then Molly goes to bed, Sam reads an extra book to Max, and I go to read with Evan. Their bedtimes are technically staggered, but the bedtime routine all happens at once. We're not yet at the point where we are negotiating who gets to stay up until what time and "that's not fair!" and "but I'm older!" etc. Right now, it's simple.

We started the New Year with something completely new.

The Sweet Spot is when all three kids can go ice skating with just two adults and a stack of buckets.

Big enough to join in, little enough to think they're destined to be the next Olympic figure skaters after their first trip to the rink.

We wrapped up our Winter Break with a trip to the movie theatre...just me, the kids, and Big Hero 6. It was right in the middle of the day, but the fact that it was going to eliminate any hope for naptime didn't deter me. Naps are No Longer Necessary. I wasn't sure I'd ever say those words, yet here we are. At long last and, at the same time, all of a sudden. 

Big Hero 6 was a great movie. All the kids loved it...we're in that Sweet Spot, after all. There's no movie-selection negotiating or splitting up at the theatre. We all still love the animated feature (which, to be fair, is easy when Disney keeps hitting it out of the park...). 

At the end of the movie, as we approached the escalator, littlest Molly said, "I do it myself! I go on the escamator all by myself!" I held her hand and grabbed hold of Max's and got ready to take our big All By Ourselves step. But I couldn't. My biggest boy stood at the top of the escalator, motionless. "Go ahead, bud!" I said. "We're ready!" He looked at the moving steps, hesitated, then looked back at me. 

"Hold my hand?" he asked.

My perfectly big and little boy.

Lesson Learned:
In 2015, I'm going to enjoy this time of our lives. I'm going to enjoy my Big Enough and Little Enough kids, knowing that I paid the dues to get to this point, but that it won't last forever. 

In 2015, I'm going to be Present in the Sweet Spot.

Monday, December 22, 2014

now or never

"What'll it be for lunch, cutie?" I asked her a few weeks ago.

Now that Molly is on the downslope to three [gulp.] she has opinions about things that she never had before. I can no longer choose her clothes for her (or shoes! My god do NOT suggest which shoes she wear, if you know what's good for you!), and I should not, if I want her to eat, prepare her lunch without her prior consent.

She tapped her chin thoughtfully as she furrowed her brows in concentration. "Um. Lemme see....peanut butter sandwich, if you say so!"

"If I say so? Well, I don't say so, I'm asking you what you would like."

"Peanut butter sandwich, and I say so!" she decided.

One of my favorite things; one that sings with the adorableness of a burgeoning vocabulary and smiles at how confusing the development of the English language can be, is when little kids practice using grown up phrases and idioms in their speech.

I'm not sure I've ever said, "if you say so" to Molly, but she's clearly heard it somewhere and was looking forward to trying it out for herself.

Several days ago, after she finished her breakfast of waffles and syrup, she asked me to wash off her hands. "Mommy! I sticky! Wash off my hands please, now or never!"

"Now or never? Well, how about never? If I never wash your hands, you'll have to wash your own hands," I reasoned.

"No, Mommy, you do it. Not never. Now, please."

And today, at naptime, I tucked her in and read her a story. As she twirled a strand of my hair around her fingers she yawned, her eyes drowsy. "I take a nappy, Mommy?"

"Yes, baby. It's time to take a nap."

"Now or never?"

"Now, baby."

"Okay, Mommy."

And with that, she was out.

Lesson Learned:
No, no...this is my favorite stage.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Dangers of Doorbells

Let me give you a little thought exercise for the evening:

My mom and dad have eight children.

No, no...that's not all. It gets crazier: So they have eight kids. That's eight Christmas lists; eight piles of presents hidden throughout their modest split-level. My parents provided a magical, Santa-fueled Christmas for EIGHT kids.

And there's more: When they were in the thick of it, with eight little believers (or "believers"...my older sister and I were the queens of pretending for the sake of the littles...) to shop for...there was no such thing as online shopping.

Seriously. I can not even begin to wrap my brain around how it was even possible to pull off Christmas without Amazon.

...until the day online shopping nearly ruined the Magic of Christmas.

Let me set the scene:

Evan is at school and Max, Molly, and I are taking advantage of Max's no-school Monday morning. They're still in jammies and we're up to our elbows in sugar cookie dough. Once the dough is mixed and chilling in the fridge, they decide to pull out the wooden train set while I try to knock out a stationery order. (For you new readers--welcome! Thanks for reading! In addition to being a mom and spilling my guts on this blog, I also make personalized stationery for kids.)

So, I'm in the office, which looks out onto our front porch. I'm printing out some notecards when I see a man in a familiar brown uniform standing at my front door. He has clearly just delivered a package and is about to ring the doorbell to announce it's arrival. I quickly meet him at the door and, through the window in the door, make the universal gesture to Shhhhhhh! OHMYGOD! Do NOT ring that doorbell! That is probably a CHRISTMAS PRESENT you just delivered and if you ring the bell, two small children will come running to greet you! They will demand to see who the package is for and will insist that we open the box Now! Mommy! Right now! Mommy!

I then wave him away with a smile and because he's probably a dad, he smiles knowingly back and quietly retreats off the porch.

[I have had a lot of practice with the white lies this year. Every time the kids notice a package on the porch (which is, like, every day because Hello, Christmas and Hello, online shopping), I tell them that it's a delivery either for my stationery business (which makes a bit of sense) or for Uncle Mike's juice company (which doesn't make any sense at all).]

So, as soon as I wave the UPS man away, I open the door to bring in, what I assume to be a smallish, nondescript Amazon box, which I would then tuck away in the office until after bedtime.

But on this morning, with two little ones who are constructing their own wooden version of the Polar Express just ten feet behind me...I open the door to see a huge box: five-and-a half feet in length and four feet tall...with a full-size drawing of the contents within: Our Family Gift...a tabletop air hockey table.

There was no explaining this one away with a casual "it's probably just boring stuff for Sara Kate Kids!"

I slammed that door so fast and near-screamed "I think the cookie dough is ready!"


Three hours later, as I was tucking Max into his bed with some books for Quiet Time, he looked at me square in the face and asked, "So who was that at the door this morning?" Refusing to meet his eye, I replied, with a kiss to the forehead, "Hmm? Not sure. I never even heard the doorbell ring..."

Lesson Learned:
Thank you, Mr. UPS Man, for not ringing the doorbell. I've learned my lesson: Never again will I open that door in the month of December...unless the kids are asleep.

And, for the billionth time: Oh, my god, Mom and Dad. HOW did you do it?! I literally can't even...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bear Ticklish does it again

As we were getting into the car after preschool this morning, Max said, "And I think there's one more thing I want to add to my wish list. Cecelia brought the Cootie Bug game to school and it's so fun. So I think I'll ask for it so I can play with it whenever I want."

Now, here's the thing about Christmas wish lists in this house: They would be added to and amended repeatedly, right up until the moment these children's eyes close on Christmas Eve if we didn't have a Wish List Close Date. And so, our good little elf takes those wish lists up to the North Pole and delivers them to Santa sometime during the second week of December. Santa needs time to make all those gifts, you know....and not every one of Santa's helpers has Amazon Prime two-day shipping.

"Well, buddy," I said as I put the car into drive and headed towards home, "I'm pretty sure Bear Ticklish already brought your wish list to Santa, but maybe you could save your money for Cootie Bugs and buy it for yourself."


Then a sniff.

A glance in my rearview mirror showed me the saddest face I've seen in a long time. Big pouty lips, huge tears in his eyes, and the threat of an imminent meltdown.

Now, here's the other thing about those Christmas wish lists in this house: Not all wishes are fulfilled, but some wishes that don't make it on to the Official Lists, have been known to magically come true on Christmas morning. The Cootie Bug game? That's like five bucks at Target, which I'm sure I'll swing by sometime next week anyway. Wish Granted! Christmas Magic FTW!

But, even knowing that I could make this magic happen, I couldn't just let him melt down on me on the way home from preschool. We still had to make it through lunch before Quiet Time and Molly was starting to whimper, assuming that if Max was upset, she probably should be, too.

So, we came up with a plan:

"Listen, even if your wish list is already up at the North Pole, Bear Ticklish is still here! Maybe...just maybe!...if you're extra sweet and ask him very nicely, Bear Ticklish can add one more thing to your wish list. But make sure it's something you're really sure about! You don't want to ask him for more than one extra thing or he might think you're acting greedy."

"Do you think he will?"

"Well, you never know. But it doesn't hurt to ask, right?"

"I guess," he sighed, wiping his tears away.

After we took off shoes and coats and hats and mittens and washed our hands, I started to get lunch ready. For about five full minutes, Max stood at the counter talking quietly to Bear Ticklish. I couldn't hear everything he said, but I watched as he used hand motions to help him explain what the game is and how it's played.

As he turned back toward me, I asked, "Feel better, bud?"

"Yup," he said, "And I think Bear Ticklish is really going to tell Santa. I think I saw him smile at me a little bigger which means he will."

Lesson Learned:

You're the best, Bear Ticklish. And I'd better jot that one down on my Target list...