The Sleepless Wonder

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This week has been rough to say the least. Matilda is on her second bout of the stomach flu this week. The poor kid has been through the ringer. Not to mention, I've earned my fair share of badges in the categories of "clean up" and "disinfecting" over the course of the week. But, my other precious child has actually been the one keeping me up at night. Yes, this post isn't about Lysol, Listerine, and my Pursuit of Healthiness. Oh, no, this is going to be about my sweet Daphne, or as she's known around these parts: The Sleepless Wonder.

What is it in my genes that has brought me these two precious bundles of joy that somehow have the will and wherewithal to keep themselves permanently awake. I say my genes, because, apparently my husband has always been a totally sound sleeper. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it is in his genes to magically rest undisturbed through just about earthquake, a nuclear missile, or say, even a screaming baby in the middle of the night. Whew. (Don't get me wrong, this dude is my's just the fact that he sleeps like one too makes me totally jealous!)

I have never been a good sleeper. My mom tells stories of being a zombie, nursing me as a baby night after night until one of us lost our minds and finally gave up the ghost and crashed. Even as a youngster I would hate going to bed, hate staying in bed, and insist that I just Was. Not. Tired. Which, as any reasonable adult comes to understand - is completely false. I'm pretty sure I spent most of my twenties trying to catch up on that lost sleep...but, it didn't matter. Now that I've finally found my desire to sleep - I'm once again thrown into a roller coaster of total snooze deprivation. Yes, yes...what goes around comes around and all that...hilarious, isn't it?

My babies just don't sleep. Matilda woke up every 2 hours for eight months straight. Even after I went back to work after the first three months, yep, she was up and at 'em like clockwork, and I would somehow drag myself into the office, being sure to keep extra toothpicks in my purse in order to keep my eyelids open at all times. It wasn't all terrible, I'll admit. I enjoyed our special bonding time in the middle of the night. I would gaze at her face, sweetly nursing back into dreamland, and try to memorize each little contour of her cheek in the dimness of the nightlight. I loved watching her little expressions - especially the jerky little smirks and smiles her lips would make while she drifted back to sleep, totally unaware of my staring at her. I genuinely missed those moments when she started sleeping through the night.

But, before that, you know what else I missed??? Sleep. I missed sleep. I missed not having to wake up in the dead of night with my heart racing as if a cannon had just gone off at the sound of my infant screaming like a banshee. I missed waking up feeling like I was ready for the day and not having to seriously concentrate to pick out matching socks. I missed drifting off to sleep peacefully instead of completely paranoid that the sound of my own heart beating would somehow awaken the beast from her delicate slumber in the crib down the hall. I missed choosing to have coffee in the morning instead of it being medically necessary for me to function or operate a piece of machinery (like a curling iron). Is it selfish to miss sleep? Is it unreasonable? It didn't even matter...I was too tired to care.

And, guess what? I'm dangerously close to approaching that level of sleep deprivation again. I think every parent or parent-to-be has pretty reasonable expectations about the first few weeks. They know it will be hard. They know they will be up in the middle of the night. But, God gives us that amazing amount of grace and compassion in our souls that are so incredibly in love with this new creation that we can't help but want to wake up again and again and care for this helpless little creature (who happens to be insanely adorable) and get to be the solution to all their problems...Yes! I can change you, sweet one! Yes! I can feed you, you cute little punker bottom. Yes! I can burp you, oh kissable little cheeky monkey butter bear blossom baby. (Well, the nicknames get a bit incomprehensible around 3 or 4 in the morning, see?)

So...what's to be done? How to get a baby to sleep through the night is such a mind-boggler for so many people, it's right up there in the "eternal question" category somewhere between "What is the meaning of life?" and "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?" There are books and books and books and now blogs and articles and whole websites dedicated to just how you can solve all your baby's sleep problems (in three easy payments/steps/nights, etc...)

I've read my fair share. Believe me, I'm no stranger to research. When I want to know something, I put my heart and soul into it and seek out every last drop of advice I can get my hands on. I'm certainly no expert, so I've taken the time to actually look at what the "experts" do have to say. From "Ferberize" to "Baby Wise", from the "Baby Whisperer" to the "Happiest Baby on the Block". Just google "get baby to sleep through the night" and you will be up to your eyeballs in "do's and don'ts". conclusion? The experts know absolute crap about my kid.

The experts know crap? Yes. All of them. No matter how educated or renowned they may be, you can absolutely find an "expert" to support anything: Swaddling is good. Swaddling makes the baby feel constricted. Don't sleep with your baby. Co-sleeping helps the baby feel secure. Pick up the baby to keep them from feeling unloved. Never pick up the baby or they will always cry to get your attention. Never let the baby fall asleep on you. Never lay the baby down awake. Always lay the baby down while still awake. Let the baby cry to help learn soothing techniques. Letting the baby cry only confirms to them that you think they are unlovable. Give the baby a pacifier. Never let the baby sleep with the pacifier. A baby needs a trigger to give them routine. Don't assign a prop to a baby or they will become dependent on it. There is no difference in a baby's ability to sleep through the night, they have to learn it. Every baby will eventually sleep through the night if you allow them to find their own pattern.

Drowning yet? Exactly. It's overwhelming. And all of the above information is straight out of "expert" advice. Well, the only thing it taught me was that apparently I've been doing everything wrong, no matter what I've been doing! Sigh.

Have a baby? Or going to have a baby? Take a deep breath. It's going to be okay. Put down the baby book, make some coffee (decaf if you must), hug someone (I won't tell if it is your cat or favorite pillow) and pat yourself on the back. Why? Because, congratulations - YOU know your baby best! You are all the expert you need.

I've read and read and read. I've asked a zillion moms (including my own, since, well, you know - she raised me and lived to tell about it). I've listened and learned and have a LONG way to go (if that wasn't obvious). But, if I know one thing, it's that those experts are NOT around in the middle of the night to pat me on the back and hand me a cup of coffee and reassure me that even if I pop her paci back in her mouth it is most likely not going to turn her into the next president OR the next serial killer. Deep breath. I have to stop thinking if I swaddle her wrong, surely she'll be scarred for life. If I let her nurse to sleep that she will surely grow up to be a hippie or cultist or libertarian. If I let her cry it out she will need extra therapy sessions, or maybe become the next American Idol (here's hoping that set of pipes goes to some good use!) Nope - there are no guarantees that my child will or won't turn out the way I think is best - or worst. I love her. I will care for her. I will provide for her. I have hopes and dreams for her. And right now, I hope that she sleeps and dreams her way through more than two hours at a time!

The fact is, these "experts" never address the one thing we are really all wondering but don't want to ask: How can I survive this? One night at a time. That's the truth. Some nights you will have extreme compassion and be able to rock your baby to sleep and she will still wake up every 20 minutes. Other nights you will want to throw your baby through the window because, just when you thought you had it all together, your sweet little bundle of joy discovered your wit's end and is now clenching onto the last nerve you never knew you had - and biting your nipple at the same time. And still, you love her. You survive. You have ups and downs. You have a perfectly scheduled routine one week, and the next week you find yourself eating cereal out of the box at 2pm and discover you've put on yesterday's dirty yoga pants on backwards. Someone will question your methods. Someone will do it better than you. Someone's kid will magically sleep through the night at 2 weeks and tell you all about how easy it was and you will want to punch her in the face. But, you will survive. I will survive. And so will Daphne.

Tonight we are going to let Daphne cry it out. She will wail and my heart will break. She will scream and my breasts will ache with the need to feed her and my soul will be crushing with the utmost of guilt. (Can you tell I'm looking forward to this?) It totally sucks. I hate it. But, when I look at my red-ring-eyed baby and see how insanely overstimulated she is, I know it is best for her. Am I selfish? Am I abandoning her? Am I crazy? All this and more will be haunting my thoughts tonight. But, echoing between each cry, each gulp, each beat of my heart will be the resounding truth: I love her. Trust me, we've tried it all. The co-sleeping, the triggers, the only-go-in-every-ten-minutes-so-she-is-reassured, and the list goes on. This is the last resort and this is what it came to with Matilda as well - and, after 3 nights of utter horror - Matilda was sleeping a full 12 hours straight. Whew - so, here we go again.

I don't want anymore advice. I don't even want sympathy. I want a good hug and a high five and a strong, strong cup of coffee. And prayer. And sleep. Good night.

Sentimental Mama

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Well, we just got back from Daphne's six-month check up. Six Months. Whoa. If I thought the pregnancy went fast, it's really nothing compared to how time warps after the baby arrives. And I think that warp speed must increase exponentially with each child, since I swear that Daphne's first six months have flown by faster than Matilda's first six weeks did. Whew.
Thank the Lord her appointment went very well and was extraordinarily typical. (Yay for normal!) And (not to anyone's surprise) she is measuring above average in all directions (I like to think this applies to her brains and good looks as well...of course!)

Yes, my little chunky monkey is up to 18 lbs 4 oz...almost double her birth weight (but, not quite!) Just to put this in perspective - Matilda measured almost 20 lbs at ONE YEAR. So, yes, it seems this little sister is eager to kick her title to the curb and potentially lap her "big" sister in size sometime soon. I figure if they can start sharing the same size clothes, then it is just less laundry confusion for me and my husband (who, oh-so-lovingly dressed Matilda in one of Daphne's shirts the other morning for church and I just couldn't help but burst out laughing as Matilda walked up to me looking totally confused with her sleeves up her forearms and her belly button nearly showing. Whoopsie! Gotta love a daddy in a hurry who only means well!)

As baby Daphne continues to grow at an alarming pace, it has almost entirely taken the pressure off of me to keep up with Matilda. It's like after they hit a year, that's it - you grieve the "babyhood" and begrudgingly start to refer to them as your "toddler" or "kid" or "child". Sure, you still toss around the "baby" lovingly - but to those around you who hear it, they assume it is more like a nickname or a sweet pet name referring to your now-walking/climbing/dancing little youngster. But "baby" is still said deep in your heart, with each child, with each month that passes, and the older your kid gets, the more deeply rooted they become as your baby, indeed. I know it's a cliche - "You'll always be my baby" - but there is truth to it. I know I will not always remember every little idiosyncrasy each of my babies have (it kills me to say that!) and I have to write down each and every milestone so that it doesn't slip away. But, I know that when I look into my child's eyes - even when she will be older and completely embarrassed by the notion - I will see a glimmer of the chubby cheeked tiny little babe I used to nurse each night back to sleep.

Now, with Matilda, she is just this little sponge of knowledge, soaking up every little piece of information that gets thrown her way (it's frightening). I only hope she uses her powers for good and not least the majority of the time! But her little face is total "girl" now, total "kid", and I don't refer to her age as months or weeks or days. She's 2. It was difficult for me when she turned one year depart from some of those "babyisms" - to wean her, to let her start to climb the couch, to allow this little independent spirit to blossom. But, only 2 days after she turned one, we learned we were pregnant again! So, I have to say, as emotional as it was (granted, the hormones were certainly flying at the time!) I also had this peace that in only a few months time I would be holding a new little baby and get to relive it all over again.
And here I am! Six months in, and it is just a circus of joy. Yes, we all know how crazy and exhausting it is - but, there is still that tugging at my heart every day to stare at this new baby and soak up all her littlest details.

Halfway to ONE. It just doesn't seem possible. I keep thinking we just brought her home. I keep thinking her birth and name and arrival is NEWS to the world. But, the truth is - I've had four friends give birth just this month alone and, amazingly (ha), turns out there is a big difference between a newborn and a six-month-old! I remember six months ago, looking at a six or seven-month-old and knowing that it would be very soon that Daphne would be their size, making those movements, getting busier and louder each minute. But, you just can't fathom what the next stage will hold. You just can't jump ahead and think about how this time will fast forward in a blink of an eye. I just can't allow myself to take those mental leaps and bounds and already start to long for a time that I'm presently in! Stop! Look at her now! Sigh. Okay, she is still a little baby. My little baby. My huge, ginormous, chunky monkey little baby.

I know she is the one who got the shots today - who cried and waled and just needed me to hold her close. But, let's face it - I think I'm the sadder of the two of us today. Six months old already. C'mere my little baby. Mama needs another hug.

Loud and Clear

Friday, January 20, 2012

Earlier this week, sometime between screaming, yelling and crying, (my toddler, not me, thankfully - okay, maybe a little me...) it occurred to me how sacred quiet has become since having children. Not only is it hard to come by, but it is almost creepy when it finally finds you. The early morning hours (so early it is really basically nighttime) when I'm nursing the baby, the oh-so-rare nap that syncs up perfectly between the two girls, thewitching hour right after Matilda is in bed and sometimes Daphne drifts off to give me just enough time to listen to the sweet sound of wine landing into my goblet, and sometimes (if the planets are perfectly aligned) an extra long shower where you drown out any sounds that might possibly be going on outside and can actually take a second to just. be. quiet. Yes, these are precious moments and I know that I am thankful for them and every mother is. But. That's not what I am thankful for this Thankful Friday.

Nope. You see, as it occurred to me that I was ever so grateful for those times of absolute silence...the thought crossed my mind at how easy it was to be thankful for. Yup. Easy peasy. Gee- thanks, God, for giving me some respite in the day amidst the chaos. Yeah, that's a no brainer. So, instead, I challenged myself for the be thankful for the noise. You know, THE NOISE!?!?

The baby is screaming. She has no reason. She's changed. She's fed. She was beaming sunshine and rainbows not ten seconds ago and now, all of a sudden, as if a car backfired right in front of her, she is screaming at the top of her lungs for you to do something, anything to please figure out what it is to make her happy once again.

The toddler is yelling at you. Incessantly. Your name. Your name. Your name. WHAT? She barks out orders like a Russian dictator in a language only she can understand, and you ask her again to please repeat quietly her dire need. This sets off an eruption of already-fragile-emotion that leads her to throw herself on the floor, hitting her head in the process, and forcing you to transform your frustration and channel it into genuine compassion for your completely unreasonable child. You take a deep breath as you pick both yourselves up off the floor, only to have her giggle and wriggle out from under you, taking off running like a cheetah on the hunt. Two seconds later, you find her in the middle of the kitchen floor with all your pots and pans out on the ground ready to become her new drum-kit - and your new nightmare.

Then, there's my favorite...the gang up. Sure, they are only a baby and a two-year-old. But, don't let those little heads fool you. Behind those Disney-like doe eyes are two little brains conspiring to constantly remind us who is actually in control. The gang up in the car is the worst: You're trapped. You promise them you are merely blocks away from home. You can almost see it, even. It doesn't matter. The iPhone is dead. The book fell to the floor. The last goldfish cracker was swallowed six blocks back. The sun is in the baby's eyes. There is no more entertainment to be had - you've even caved and put on freaking Veggie Tales in the cd player which was clearly only in the car for emergencies only. But, it's too late. MELTDOWN has begun and the volume is rising. First whimpering. Then whining. Then the baby starts to cry. Then the toddler is screaming because she's worried about the baby. Then the baby is upset because of the crying. Now you are yelling at both of them and you can't even hear the firetruck that you now see in your rearview - and when you do see it, all you can think is "great - now I have to pull over and wait for you = more time with these insane screaming babies = I am officially going to lose it". Yes, we're all thinking all this at the same time as we begin to pledge out loud that if God will just put them both into a deep sleep coma for their afternoon naps you promise to never leave the house again.

Yes. These are the times it is hard to be thankful for. (Deep breath here). Whew. But, I must. If I don't, I become slave to the rare the longing for the moments that pass so quickly...and in the meantime, what? I'm just killing time with these two, loud little monsters who are eating up my quiet free time? No. I want to find the little gems, the little spots of gratefulness when things get LOUD...when my entire brain is drowning in the sound of it all - I want to be able to pick out the tiniest of pleasures - if only to help me survive them a little be better (and longer).

First of all, this tiny little human needs me. Me! And, really (truly) what better thing do I have going on than to be needed by my child? Nothing. Never. Honestly, there are moments when it feels like the my children are just interruptions and obstacles in my otherwise perfectly planned day of housekeeping goals and food preparations. There are other days that are full of laughter and snuggling, of course...but, most days fall somewhere in between. A few chores get done, a few more get undone, and if we all make it out alive with something edible on the table for supper - well, the day's been a total success.

Secondly, this too shall pass. Sometimes I hear this in my head and think "Praise God!" and other times I bite my lip and hold back tears at the thought of them growing up - right now - right this second before my eyes! Blink. There they are, older. Blink blink. Older again. Good golly. These are moments, people. They are messy and loud and commonly obnoxious - and fleeting. I don't want to look back with rose colored glasses and think "Oh, remember the days, how they were so sweet and wonderful back when the girls were little?" no, I want those rose colored glasses NOW! Not that I don't want to be realistic - instead, I want to look this hot mess in the face and embrace it with both arms!

Squawks of need. Yells of joy/anger/rage/excitement - or whatever emotion is running through Matilda at the time. Cries of begging and chirps of want. And toys toys toys toys. Whistles, drums, and all those stupid light up toys that bleep and blap and "teach" your child nothing beyond the fact that this toy contains two levels of volume control: Loud and Louder. These are the sounds that make up the symphony of our home. Our super loud crazy ridiculous home. Thank you, God. Thank you that these sounds of growing pains are present and alive and well. Someday they will be replaced - by adolescent sibling teenagers texting (or whatever their doing by that time) a whole host of who knows what, happy/sad/angry and so on that will become the new soundtrack of our daily life. Thank you that these girls are expressive right now (to say the least) and that you've entrusted them to me for this wildly unpredictable time. Thank you for the noise. The reminder was just what I needed. Loud and clear.

Dirty Laundry

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here it is, the one place I can take a minute to air my dirty laundry for the world to see. Literally. (Try to hold in that groan.) Yes, a word about laundry.


It is never ending. Do you understand that this means it will never end? Truly. Just when you think you have caught up - guess what, you are wearing clothes that are dirty and will need to be thrown into the empty hamper that you have - just minutes before - officially declared as a completed task.

Unless I decide to join a nudist colony (unlikely) or quit shopping forever (even more unlikely), there will always be more and more and more laundry for as long as I live. I wear clothes. I get clothes dirty. I need to clean the clothes. Fold. Put away. And then wear again, only to start over the cycle guessed it...will never end.
So, then, why is it such a loathsome task? Why do I have such a hard time keeping up with it if I know that I, in fact, create the cycle myself...prolong it, procrastinate it, even pursue it? In fact, one of the most enjoyable parts of life (for a woman anyway, and correct me if I'm super wrong here) is shopping for clothes! Do we understand that getting new clothes only ensures increasing the amount of laundry that is to be done in our future?

I've tried to put myself on a schedule. Do the girls clothes on Monday, do our laundry on Thursdays. It helps. It ensures that the mountain of laundry doesn't reach Mount Everest status quite as quickly as it could otherwise. But, let's be honest...the schedule only goes so far. One crazy-Matilda-bath-time later, and theres 4 more towels that I didn't account for, along with the sheets that Daphne just spit-up on, and oh yeah- the cat just puked on the kitchen rug again...and voila! Another round of laundry off the schedule.

Or, I've finally finished sorting all the laundry and getting the cart ready and it's all ready to load...when I realize we are out of quarters and it will have to wait. That's right - did I mention we still use quarters for our laundry? Yep. We are apartment dwellers, so we have yet to experience the joy of in-home-washing-and-drying that I've heard is all the rage in modern appliance technology. Ugh. I mean, it's really not so bad. I still remember the days (not that long ago) when we had to load the car up with our laundry and take it to an actual laundromat - where you just sit and chill and try to make eye contact with that weirdo in the corner over there who has been slowly eating Doritos from the vending machine that looks like it's been around since the fifties. Yikes. Yes, we've come a long way since then, baby.

But still, to load up the cart, strap the baby on in the snuggly and hold Matilda's hand as we walk by the pool (I'm sure it is only a matter of time before all of us accidentally stumble into that pool with our laundry...oh, Lord help us) and make our way to our community laundry room...well, it is simply a lot of effort. Sometimes I will wait until Josh gets home from work to do the laundry simply because I can't even mentally handle the effort it takes to haul my girls and all our clothes (and detergent!) down to the laundry center back and forth (26 minutes to wash, 64 minutes to dry) and back and forth again. Sometimes I will bat my eyes at him, hand him some lovely baked good fresh from the oven and get him to do the laundry for me (heehee). But, even still haunts me. He will lovingly/begrudgingly wash and dry the clothes (which is an immense relief to my schedule) but then there they are...sitting in the basket...needing to be folded and neatly put away.

That is just the worst. The thing is - it's not hard work. It's not difficult or exhausting or painful in any way. But it is not fun. It certainly doesn't help when a certain little 2 year old wants to "help" - only to unfold/destroy a perfectly stacked pile of clean shirts in the blink of an eye. (Hurricane Matilda can take down an entire tower of clean clothes in mere seconds - remarkable.) So, yes, that can be frustrating. And it is always annoying to not find matches to socks - no matter whose they are. (I don't know how I'm going to die someday - but I'm pretty sure it will involve baby socks as they seem to be the bane of my existence.) But, that basket of clothes, I swear, just stares at me, taunts me, rolls its eyes at me behind my back...until it is finally folded and put away neatly. It's like the Tell Tale Heart of housekeeping.

Yes, laundry is a necessary evil of domestic maintenance. So here I am, venting about it once and for all so I can get it out there - puke out all my complaints...and get over it. It must happen. I must do the laundry. You...must do the laundry (well, your laundry). It's there, waiting for us. Dirty socks. Ketchup stained bibs. Applesauce smeared onesies. Crayon marked leggings. Pitted out work shirts. Floured aprons. Sweaty undershirts.

Well, it all really just stinks.

But...we can do it! We must soldier on, detergent in hand, quarters in our pockets. We must wash, dry, fold, and put away the freaking little mismatched baby sock at a time.
(This is where I high-five you). So, enough complaining. Here we go. And the next time you want to just burn your laundry basket and buy disposable clothing...well, don't. Air your dirty laundry for a day - get it out of your system, and then just go do it! Quickly. Before those jeans can stand up and walk away on their own. (Did that basket of clothes just smirk at me?)

How Great Thou Art

Friday, January 13, 2012

This Thankful Friday, I'm grateful for, in a word, ART. It's been a busier than usual week for me as a SAHM. Three mornings have started with get-out-the-door-and-be-somewhere-on-time sort of manic craziness. It was one of those weeks where it seems like you just don't have the time to stop and smell the roses, let alone stop and gaze into one and enjoy the beauty of "why God made it that particular shade of flamingo pink" or "how does the dew drop stay on the petal so delicately for so long?" So, it's funny that this is my art appreciation week. But, maybe that's exactly why I don't want to take it for granted.

God is so creative. The Divine Creator, in fact. And it's not just that He made the sky blue and the grass green (or red or tan or whatever if you happen to be color blind). First of all, the fact that He made them at all is the most creative of miracles even imaginable - let alone what color they are! God was so creative that His voice commanded it...speaking tangible objects into existence. But, God also made us, in His likeness, creative!

Now, before you get insecure or feel left out because your "not a creative person"...just hold your horses. Maybe you sing off key, maybe you did burn that last piece of bread in the toaster, maybe you can't tell what adverbs modify, or you always lose at Scattergories. Big deal. That's the coolest thing about art - pretty much anything requires it, and you don't have to be good at it to enjoy it. In fact, just place the words "The Art of..." in front of whatever your next action is, and all of a sudden, Wham! Kazaam! You are feeling more creative in a flash. (The Art of Drinking Coffee, anyone?)

So, how do I know you are a creative person? Because, well, you were created! (Let's just pause for one second to briefly reflect on how ridiculously magnificent God exactly is at being creative - I mean, weaving us together in our mother's womb? Each one of us unique? Every cell perfectly placed for a purpose? Continues to blow my mind.) And since God made you in His likeness, you are are able to create also! It is one of the most awesome qualities us lowly humans can possess.

Sure, we're not speaking galaxies into existence, maybe. But - just last weekend, I took flour, yeast and a little salt...and voila! French Bread. (Okay, so there were many hours of mixing, rising, and kneading implied in that "voila" but was wonderfully edible bread...and not the powdery paste it initially started as!)

What's even cooler about being a creative human is that the love of art starts almost immediately. Baby Daphne is already drawn to colorful objects. She's not even six months old and she is developing opinions about flavors she prefers (bananas-yes, apples-no). She laughs when you make faces and follows pretty lights with her eyes. And then...just a couple more years down the line, Matilda is a all-out creative explorer. She's like the Ponce de Leon of the crayon box. The Magellan of the play doh. The Sacagawea of sidewalk chalk. You get it. Kids just have that incredible "why-wouldn't-I-try-this" wonder about them. I love it.

Yesterday, at the new toddler community class we went to (a better one, different teacher, and hopefully we will be able to kiss up our way off the waiting list and soon be actually registered for the class!) she got the chance to PAINT for the first time, really. Easel, paper, brush and paint - even a smock to make it official. It made me want to buy her a little beret she looked so cute. And, like an old pro, she acted like she'd been taking lessons from Picasso for years.

She loved it! And, honestly, I sort of love the picture. Sure, I'm her mother and I will keep it forever...but it reminds me that there isn't necessarily rhyme or reason to beauty. It reminds me that playful, cheerful, colorful expression is a blessing that can be as soothing as a sunset, as emotive as a good cry, as treasured as gold.

We use all our senses every day. We get up in the morning and absorb whatever the day has to offer. And we're more concerned with what's happening the next day to stop and savor what's right in front of us. Don't stop and smell the roses. Just stop and smell what's right under your nose! (If you're changing a diaper, maybe wait a few more minutes.)
When's the last time you played with play doh? Not just humored your kid and rolled it around in your hand to pass the time - but actually tried to have fun with it? When's the last time you colored a picture just for the heck of it? Made hopscotch with sidewalk chalk? Blew bubbles in your milk? Ate a crayon? Okay - maybe don't eat a crayon.

But, take a second and think back to your childhood - did you feel more creative then? Did you like art more? Probably. And maybe because you felt more of a sense of being "good" at it....or, was it that you just felt more sense?

God is limitless in His creativity. His beauty (and beautifying) knows no bounds. God, thanks for giving me just a smidgen of the love You have for art and creativity - how it is all around us and can remind us of how great and awesome and good you are. Thanks for being so creative in Your design of us and the world around us. Thanks for making us creative. Thanks for making us different. Thanks for making us beautiful. Oh yeah, and thanks for making us.

Now, time for me to practice the Art of Diapering. (It helps to say TaDa! really loudly when I'm done just to officially make it feel like art.)

Joyful Parenting

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

(Since writing the post below, I'd like to add that we did find a WONDERFUL teacher at another time/day teaching the same class who has been sweet and helpful and very patient!  We LOVE Ms. Dodson and the order, compassion, and education she has provided for Matilda!  All that to say, it is worth the time to find the right fit for your kid!  Hooray!) - added, 10/25/12

So, yesterday I took Matilda (with baby Daphne in tow) to a toddler class called "Joyful Parenting". The title alone kind of cracks me up. Sort of conjures up the image of happy women in jumpers knitting toddler sweaters with one hand and kneading homemade bread with the other while their precious child practices perfecting their cursive on a writing tablet at their feet. Okay, maybe not, but it did give me an image of some staged happy family circa 1970 or whenever the first time they taught this class. Needless to say, I wasn't sure we were a fit for the class from the get-go.

It is a free class you can register for through the local School of Continuing Education, so technically it's a class I'm signed up for - like, to learn early childhood education and development skills - but really it is like pre-pre-pre-K with parents being totally included. I wan't sure what to expect. I'd heard that this particular teacher (Miss Sonya) could be a bit bossy, so I figured, well, maybe should could find her match in Matilda.

There are about 25 kids in the class, all around the age of 2, give or take 6 months. So, yeah - loud and crazy doesn't quite begin to describe the opening 10 minutes of "free play" allowed at the beginning of class. Whoa. There are different "stations" to play at - the truck station, the doll station, the pretend kitchen station, the train track station, the painting station (yes, real live paint set out to "explore their senses"...and my laundry) and little tables and chairs all set up as if the Munchkin Lollipop Guild were about to hold a convention there. Cute.

Matilda walked in, eyes wide, and let LOOSE. I mean, this girl was like a pinball, darting back and forth between the stations before any other kids were overcoming their shyness just to take a step through the doorway.

CARS! No, what's that? PAINT! PAINT! oh, messy. What's that? DOLLS! Chair? Doll. Kitchen? FOOD! Oh, plastic food. Cars? CARS! Train tracks. PAINT? DOLLS! Mom? Where's mom? PAINT! MESSY!

That's all I can imagine was racing through her mind. She was like a starving chihuahua set free in a butcher shop. I hung back, signing us in and hovering over Daphne in the stroller as Matilda darted to and fro discovering the limitations of the toys. I could see right away that the teacher was a bit nervous about her.

Miss Sonya is a larger woman, with dyed black hair and is a little older than I expected, though I'm certain her choice of occupation has aged her considerably more than time itself ever could. I can tell that at one point this was a compassionate woman with a love for children and learning; but, as I continue to watch her (rolling her eyes, taking long sighs of exhaustion) I'm less convinced of her passion for the "Joy" of parenthood and pretty sure her nerves of steel have worn thinner and thinner through the years of "Matilda's" that she must have encountered.

As Miss Sonya eyes Matilda (oblivious to her) I tense up, wondering how I can suck up to the teacher on Matilda's behalf, and try to greet her and make a good introduction. This woman is intimidating, I'll admit. Her size and stature make me curious how she hasn't frightened more children under her direction, and then I think "well, maybe she has- maybe that's her survival mechanism! Those scornful eyes floating between curtains of thin black hair - eeek!" But, then she smiles, dodges a chair being knocked over while skipping over a little toy car she nearly tripped on and I take a sigh - okay, this lady must know what she's doing. Let's do this.

Twenty minutes in, and in the middle of "circle time", we are the first to get a time out. This is the moment I start to roll my eyes and take deep sighs of frustration, as Miss Sonya glares at me and dictates "You need to take her into the hall." Good grief. Perhaps I'm just more used to Matilda than others. Perhaps I don't have the knack for running a tight ship like Miss Sonya. Or perhaps I just didn't burn my toast that morning and she did. But, of course, I am annoyed at the fact that my child is getting reprimanded for acting her age. Seriously. You hand out instruments, turn on music, and then ask Matilda to SIT DOWN??? Really? Yeah, lady, this is not going to happen.
Not only would Matilda not sit down, but she would not sit still! And who could blame her? She knows a beat when she hears one - girl wanted to dance! Plus, she was hoarding the instruments. But, she wasn't stealing them! She wasn't taking them away from any of the other kids. She was simply retrieving the abandoned instruments neglected by (I'll say it-) boring children and picking them up to test them out as the song continued. None of the other parents even cared a bit. But, Miss Sonya would not have that. Oh no. Sigh. So...out into the hall we went, to "calm down" and "come back when we could behave". Yes, I suppose this time out was as much for me as it was for Matilda. Ah well.

Outdoor time was fun. Trikes and basketball and stealing trucks from the twin boys who couldn't keep up with her (tough luck, Anthony - just kidding, of course I stopped and made her share the truck).

Outdoor time was followed by clean up and snack time - which led to more reprimanding. Again, Matilda wouldn't sit still, wanted to PLAY PLAY PLAY! At one point, Miss Sonya took Matilda by the arm and led her back to her chair while telling me firmly "Don't ask her. Tell her. You tell her to sit and eat her snack." By this time, Matilda was compliant and sitting, so I forced myself to swallow the words that were itching my tongue - "I'll tell you, Miss Sonya, this girl ate almost 2 bananas and a piece of French Toast for breakfast - she doesn't care about a snack! She wants to play with the little play kitchen - and was doing so quietly, I might add, and not disrupting anything! UNHAND my child you behemoth!" Okay, I tend to get a little dramatic inside my head. Nevertheless, Matilda finally sat (for two seconds) and Miss Sonya got distracted by some little girl who threw up at table four (lovely) long enough that we could skate through the next ten minutes unscathed by her glaring eyes.

Finally, another circle time to end the morning. We got in trouble one more time for sitting at the table when we should have been sitting on the floor, but Miss Sonya said "this week and this week only" she would allow it. Well, thanks. I decided to nickname the last circle time session "Vowels and Bowels" since we sang songs about AEIOU followed directly by a nice round of Potty Power. Nothing makes you feel more in touch with your toddler than shouting "Potty Power" at the top of your lungs, let me tell you.

And, finally, the time was over. Miss Sonya handed out little stickers to the youngsters and we waved good-bye. As we left, everyone was telling Matilda good-bye. While I had only grabbed the names of maybe 3 or 4 other kids, nearly everybody seemed to know my little socialite's moniker. You could even hear the other parents barking out warnings as we went - "Look out for Matilda!", "Close the door, here comes Matilda!", "Don't let Matilda out!", etc. We all got a kick out of it, honestly.

Sigh. Ah, my Matilda. My little sparkplug. My whipper snapper. My snarky lil gumdrop. My spunky monkey. She does bring me pride and joy. Though, I still think they should rename the class: Exhaustion 101.

Thankful Fridays

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My second (and only other "official") resolution for 2012, is to implement Thankful Fridays here on the blog. We've all heard "TGIF" and do, indeed, Thank God It's Friday...the end of the work week (well, for those working outside the home anyway) and high five at the tick tock down to five o'clock to start the weekend - that's right, even us stay-at-home-moms cherish our Friday nights - it means the hubby is home for the next 48 hours, which stands to reason it offers potential for actually accomplishing something! Yippee!

But, I want to not only Thank God that it's the end of the week - I want the end of the week to remind me to be thankful for something. Yes, of course we are all grateful for little things each and every day. I would be nothing if I wasn't thankful to God for all the blessings He has bestowed (that's right, bestowed) unto me and my family. But, I want to be more intentional about it. I want to stop and really take notice of something in particular each week. And I want to put it out there - for you all to see and potentially stop and contemplate something you might be thankful for as well. It might be a person, maybe a place or thing, or even an abstract feeling or attitude. Heck, it could be a new frozen yogurt flavor for all I know...let no grateful stone go unturned. I think gratitude is at the core of humility, and humility must come before authenticity. So here it is - the start of me being publicly grateful for who knows what.

This week, I'm grateful for little victories. It's not surprising, perhaps, being the first full week of the new year. We are each nervously sitting through each hour of the day with our own little resolutions, trying to build up minutes into hours into days that formulate a new habit that creates us a little bit closer to who we would like to be...or so we hope. So, yes, sometimes getting through an entire day without digging a spoon into the peanut butter jar (not today) would be considered a little victory - hooray! But, for me, in particular, little victories came in the form of potty training. Dry undies. Successful bribing. Clean carpet. Unused diapers.
That's right, I said it and I'm not ashamed. Potty training. Each ONE of us, like it or not, had to actually learn how to use the toilet - and let me tell you, we should each be thanking our mother's a little bit more for it!

I know I mentioned a few months ago that Matilda was interested in potty training. Well, we had a go at it and then it was just melt-down-city from there. So, instead of turning into World War III (no pun intended - one or two making the obvious jokes) I decided to just leave it up to her, so to speak. I just kept it positive. I would ask her very often if she had to go, and when she wanted to, we would do it - otherwise, we wouldn't. Well, I am super duper proud to say that she has been VERY interested in it this week, and today we had our first fully successful day of potty training! I can't believe it! Granted, we're still a little shaky on the whole "tell mommy ahead of time" thing - I'm still having to initiate the journey to the potty and ask her about a zillion times a day if she has to go....but, hey, again - I'm not thankful for total success,no, I'm thankful for little victories- like today!

Parenting Matilda is so minute to minute. The girl is busy and moody and has more energy than a chihuahua hopped up on Red Bull. So, to grasp focus long enough to actually sit ANYWHERE (let alone a potty!) and do what you are supposed to do is a huge milestone for this girl!

Now, who knows if it is the cute My Little Pony undies, the bag of leftover Christmas treats I'm bribing her with, or the actual developmental progress of becoming a "big girl" that's motivating her...but, I'll take it!
Thank you, Lord, for giving me moments of success and peace today that help me know there is a light at the end of this tunnel! Thank you for each dry half-hour that passes. Thank you that I didn't have to get on my hands and knees and scrub the carpet today. Thank you that You made us capable to learn these crazy tasks and remember them and only get better at them. Thank you for placing just enough little victories throughout my day as a parent so that I know I am going to survive and find joy again - even in the middle of my naked toddler screaming what could only be incoherent obscenities at me in her own language.

Potty training today was very representative of the bigger picture of parenting. It is unpredictable. It is messy. It is embarrassing at times. It can challenge your patience (and hearing) beyond measure. At some point you won't know what to do and you will give in to some sort of method you would have sworn you would never do prior to having children (i.e. I will never give my kid chocolate four times in one day for using the potty!) But, in between all those times are just enough unimaginably precious moments that make it so entirely worth the next half-hour you can't help but want to stick around for more. A hug. A kiss. An "I love you mom-mom". And a dry pair of My Little Pony underoos. Well, hallelujah. Little victories go a long way.

Off Target

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Or, as it is known to most of us...Happy Deprive-Yourself Day! That's right, today is the day we all hold to our new resolutions for the year. The day we are determined that if we can just get through these first 24 hours of depriving ourselves of something then, surely, the rest of the year will follow with ease.

What's your New Year's Resolution? Maybe you aren't giving up something after all - maybe you are only looking to gain something. Still, with each resolution there is a two-fold vow taken December 31st, ready to spring us forward into a new and better year where we will fully equip ourselves with what we believe will be necessary to our new found happiness. Two-fold, in that, if you are looking to "lose weight" you are also hoping to "gain self-esteem" or perhaps you are wanting to "read your Bible more" than you will also have to "be less self-centered"...with every gain, there is a loss somewhere - for the better! It seems only right to have a balance of gains/losses when mostly what we are seeking is a new found balance within ourselves somewhere. (Just ask Oprah, am I right?)

Maybe "balance" is becoming an overused term (it can be found on the pile of "amazings" and "authentics" that are getting dusty from their use over in that corner over there). Still, for lack of a better term, I am also looking for some extra balance in my life this coming year.
As a new stay-at-home-mom, I take very seriously my authority over my domain. That is, I run this here household, ya see, and there'll be no more shenanigans when it comes to keeping this Pardy train on track. Er...I want to do a good job at home. :)

So, let's cut to the chase. What am I giving up? Target. What am I hoping to gain? Perspective. (And savings.)

Target? Say what? Is this the same girl who nearly walks around with bullseyes reflecting in her glasses at every turn? Is this the lady who makes a day at Tar-jay into an amusing outing filled with entertaining stories and lattes and deals at the bargain bins and can't stand the notion of not seeing those little red clearance tags polka-dotting her favorite brands???

Yes. It is. You read me right. I'm giving up TARGET for 2012. The. Entire. Year.

I had my final parting with Target yesterday...right up to the very last day, you betcha. I'll admit it wasn't quite the dream parting I had hoped for. I had some final Christmas returns to bring there, and by the time I got what I needed, Matilda was starting to meltdown and there was a line 20 people deep at the Starbucks and it was approaching lunch time and my family was starving. So...there was no leisurely shopping to be had, latte in hand, new shiny items to be discovered. Nope, it was more like ripping a band-aid off, only to find the wound was still there, yet to scab over. The wound of wasted time and money, that is.

So, here's why I'm giving up Target: I can not be trusted. I realized this a couple months ago, as I caught myself once again headed toward the red bullseye (it really does draw you in) and merely going to get out of the house with the girls, grab a coffee, and stroll the store for utter and complete entertainment, justifying the whole mess by "needing" one or two items that I most likely would end up forgetting to grab anyway by the time I filled the cart with dozens of other items that had struck my fancy that day. This was not "shopping for my family". This was not "picking up necessities". This was not even "running errands". This was total self-indulgence...and it was making no sense at all...not to me, not to my time, and especially not to my check book.

We have some awesome and serious financial goals for 2012. I'm excited about paying down some debt and tucking some real rainy day money away and getting a true grasp on what we are spending where and why...not because I want to control the money...but, because I don't want the money to control me (or lack thereof!) It's all God's anyway, but I've been asked to help steward this small portion that's been graciously blessed under our care - and both my husband and I want to be sure this is being dealt with according to our value system: God, family, time together, caring for those less fortunate, and so on...our value system...not Target's (or anyone else's for that matter.) Simply put, I'm removing the temptation. For at least a year.

Now, before you scoff, before you doubt, before you - hey, I saw you roll your eyes! Believe me, this is happening. First of all, I've told you about it, so there's a bit of accountability right there.
Second, if there is an upside to being as stubborn as I am - this is it. One time, when I was in high school, I felt like I had been entirely eating too much chocolate. Like, a LOT of chocolate. So much that I began to think "I don't think I could ever live without chocolate!" (these are the kinds of mundane/all-important life questions that you face in your teens - amazing). So...I gave up chocolate...for 3 years. That was that. I just didn't want to be a person feeling controlled by something - so I just removed it from my world. I wondered if I could do it - so I did. So, believe me when I say I will not be going to Target for the next year.

Yes, I will be shopping elsewhere. Obviously, our need for basic living necessities will continue. But, I hope to be more conscious with where I shop - why I'm shopping - and to do so diligently, with a mission in mind and a list in hand. I think intention is the word I'm looking for. Being an intentional shopper, making sure that I'm finding the best deals for our needs to be met.

Yes, I will be the first to admit that it might not be as fun to shop at Goodwill or Big Lots as it is at Target. For me, that's the whole point of this experiment. I don't intend to never shop at Target again. And, I have no problem with other people shopping there. Let's be clear - I love Target! This is exactly why I need to quit it. I need to step back, refocus, and evaluate my perspective so I can find that comfortable position between needs and wants that allows me to make the most of what I've been given and how I can give back.

It will be so interesting to see how much time and money I will save this year. What will God have me do with it? Certainly, I'm hoping 2012 helps focus my sight on what truly matters, and how to be more thankful for it. I might not hit the bullseye...but hey, it's worth a shot.
(Like you didn't see that pun coming?)

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