Bye Bye Baby

Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker

There are a ton of bottles and bibs stuffed haphazardly into one of my kitchen cabinets. And breast pump parts and milk storage bags and bottle cleaning brushes and pacifiers. And they all fall out on me in an inconvenient avalanche, followed by a swear word muttered under my breath, every time I open it. My youngest, my last baby, is almost 21 months old; you'd think I'd get rid of it all and score myself some sweet storage space for more useful things, like my secret chocolate stash dishes or canned goods.

But I can't.

It's the same with the tiny pair of tennis shoes, long outgrown, that have been worn by all four of my kids. Or the last few favorite outfits that nobody's been able to wear for at least six months. (Okay. Eight months. Or maybe ten ... ish.) All taking up room in a closet I could totally be using for all the stuff that needs a home.

I can be on a cleaning binge, breezing through the house with a trash bag, ruthlessly throwing away crayon drawings and broken toys, triumphantly getting rid of all the stuff I once thought I might need someday. But then I come to those cabinets. And that closet. Just when I think I've mustered up the strength to give all the baby things away ... I stand there for a minute. I run my fingers over the little outfits, and remember how adorable my pudgy little babies looked wearing them, and then it starts: that deep and inevitable ache. A nagging sadness, bubbling to the surface of my consciousness, squeezing my chest and throat like a vise grip. And I close the door and walk away with a half-empty trash bag.

What stops me from getting rid of all that stuff? I don't know. It certainly isn't logic, because it would certainly make more sense to clear it out. But to purge my house of all the baby things is to, effectively, purge my house of all the babies. When I think about that - no more babies, ever - I feel like my heart is going to stop. It's not that I feel incomplete. It's not that I want more. In fact, I think any more kids would throw off the equilibrium in the house: right now we have a nice even number, and I can't even imagine how much the dynamic would change if we were to throw a girl into the mix.

I guess it's that getting rid of the baby things feels like moving on. Like I'm rushing something that already feels like it's happening too fast. I look at my "baby" and am painfully aware that he's no longer an infant. Racing around, climbing, jumping, talking in sentences, being very clear about what he likes and dislikes. It has happened in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it time frame, and I'm digging my heels in and trying to slow down the process while he's racing ahead, developing in leaps and bounds, growing big and tall and robust. Just the way he should.

But oh ... my heart.

I have spent the last eight years mothering babies. When one grew out of infancy and toddlerhood, here came the next to fill the void. Now, whether I'm ready or not, I'm done with all that. And I'm left standing here, silently screaming, "Wait! Nobody asked me if I was okay with this!"

The piece of advice I've heard most frequently in my years of motherhood, from everyfreakingbody, is to enjoy this time because it goes so fast. And I admit, it was hard to enjoy when I was knee-deep in poop and perpetually crusted with spit-up and in the midst of high-pitched whining from all directions. I tried not to take the sweet, quiet moments for granted, but even so, I still found myself wishing time would speed up a little so they wouldn't be so needy. I couldn't wait for the miracle of self-sufficiency. Potty-training? I thrust my second and third sons onto the big-boy toilet by the time they were a year old in hopes I had some pee-pee prodigies on my hands. Because diapers? Ew. I was sooo over them. The earlier they could learn to do things on their own - the faster they grew up and let me off the hook - the better.

Yesterday, though, my almost-two-year-old spontaneously whipped off his diaper and ran to the toilet - on his own - shouting, "Pee-pee, Mommy!" And instead of being elated, I was deflated. My baby? No, he isn't old enough to ... oh wait. I guess he is.

He's old enough to do a lot of things.

Except stay my baby for much longer.

Five Things Moms Do Better Than Ninjas

Thanks to everybody's favorite mutant turtles, and pop culture in general, a couple of my boys are slightly obsessed with ninjas. (I'd kinda like them to idolize something other than covert assassins, but their dad is a good role model on the opposite end of the spectrum so I'd say it evens out.)

What they're most impressed with is how ninjas sneak around. They're always trying to do it, although they're about as sneaky as elephants walking on bubble wrap. Kids are only quiet when they're up to something, and in those cases the quiet itself is like an alarm going off, so they're screwed either way.

But if you're a mom - or have a mom - you know that ninjas' sneakiness skills have nothing on mothers'. Because although they may appear unassuming, moms possess an amazing ability to carry out just about anything they want to, completely undetected. Take these sly Mom maneuvers for example ...

The Sneak and Snack. This is useful when you have a snack that you absolutely do not want to share. Because you know that the second you break it out, you'll be surrounded by little scavengers who are all like, "Weeeeee want a bite!" With the Sneak and Snack, even the crinkliest wrappers are opened with complete silence. Child heading around the corner? The snack mysteriously disappears until said child is out once again out of sight. One caveat: you must remain silent for a little while after eating your contraband goodies, lest a kid catch a whiff and say suspiciously, "What does your breath smell like?" with those accusatory eyes.

The Stealthy Sleep-Saver. This tactic is useful across different age groups. For babies, it's the ability to get out from under them without waking them, which is tricky. For older kids, it's the ability to sneak across creaky bedroom floors to turn off a lamp or something without so much as a footstep. (I even amaze myself with that one because seriously, y'all, I am not a petite little thing.) When you value your sleep or alone time and you know that if your kid wakes up - again - that you're not going to get as much, you can do amazing things to ensure that they stay asleep.

I can't even do the splits normally, but this is pretty much me trying to get out from under my sleeping toddler without him noticing.

The Swift Spart Snatch. Remember back in the day, when I wrote about "sparts?" That was like two kids ago. And now that I've got four, I have more sparts - spare, nondescript parts of random toys - than I can shake a stick at. Luckily, moms are the best at stealthily snatching up those sparts and quickly dispatching them to the garbage without any kids noticing. Because when kids have a closet full of actual, working, recognizable toys, why on earth would they want to play with a ... a ... what the hell is that, anyway?

The Trashing of Treasures. I love the things my kids bring home from school. Really, I do. But if I saved all the finger paintings and construction paper hats and worksheets with stars, I'd have to rent out a storage locker. (Or twelve.) And here's where this ninja mom skill comes in handy. Because if your kids see you throwing away the "most awesome thing they've ever made, EVER" ... well, there's probably a therapist's couch or an appearance on the Jerry Springer show in their future.

The Character Creep. Moms have to be great at playing Santa Claus. And the Easter Bunny. And the Tooth Fairy. And the Elf on the Shelf or whatever other character creeps into your child's room under cover of darkness to leave surprises. This skill takes the Stealthy Sleep-Saver up a notch to advanced level because not only do you have to slip in and out - and leave stuff behind - completely unnoticed, but you also have the added pressure of ruining your kid's childhood if you get caught. Unless you're really good at making up on-the-spot excuses for why you're sneaking around in the middle of the night with an armful of "Santa's" goodies.

So you see? Kids might be fascinated by the sneakiness of ninjas, but if they knew what their boring old moms were actually up to, they'd probably think we were a whole lot cooler. We can't blow our covers, though, so we have to appear as regular and Mom-ish as possible.

Cookies, anyone?

The Case of the Paper Peen

I was concerned about my kids' Valentine boxes from the start. Mainly because I procrastinated so long on making them that by that time, everyone else had posted pictures of their kids' Valentine boxes online. And y'all? My Facebook feed looked like Pinterestville, population "everyone but Rita." I felt bad, but damn. I mean ... with three kids in school, I sat through the excruciatingly slow labeling of like sixty Valentines this year. And now I had to help them make these fancy boxes too? Sheesh.

I ambitiously bought all kinds of craft supplies (like I was going to actually do something with them). And I covered shoe boxes with colored paper and then handed them over to my kids. I told myself I was fostering their independence and creativity by letting them do it themselves, but really it was because I had no energy left to get all Pinterest-y three times in a row.

I didn't take pictures, but yeah. They turned out just about like you'd imagine.

When they were done making their Valentine boxes, the kids wanted to use the leftover craft supplies - which included several sheets of foam paper. I told them to have at it, and went on about my business.

It wasn't until later that I found this:

What the ...? Okay, let's turn it the other way and see if it looks any less ... well, phallic.

Nope, still totally penis-esque.

Well, if Miley Cyrus can have a foam finger ...

Since there is (almost) always an explanation for this type of thing (remember this gem?) so I decided to investigate.

"Uh, Colin?" I asked. "What exactly is this?"

He cracked up. "It looks like a penis!" he shrieked.

"Yes." I tried not to laugh because hellooo, perfect opportunity to be a model of maturity.

... Okay, so I chuckled. A little.

... Okayyy, so it might have been more like a chortle.


"It's not a penis, Mommy," Colin said in between fits of giggles. He explained that the sheets of foam reminded him of the foam bathtub letters he'd had a long time ago, and he wanted to make some for his little brothers. Only he's not so great at bubble letters, so this was the result. And this particular letter? Was a "Y." It all made sense when he turned it the right way and paired it with a "B" that he happened to have.

It just goes to show that things can look very different when put into the right context.

So next time I find a penis laying on my kitchen counter, I'm going to ask ... "Y?"

PS - Have you entered the belVita giveaway yet? Only two more days! Click on the "Giveaways & Reviews" tab to check it out!

Heart-Shaped (Soap)Box

It's almost Valentine's Day. I haven't been single for the last fifteen Valentine's Days (this one will be the sixteenth) which means nobody is really trying to impress me on February 14th.

(No offense, Honey.)

But the thing is, I don't mind. It actually kind of irritates me, the V-Day showmanship. Okay, it really irritates me. It's worse if you hang out on the Internet a lot. Which I don't, of course, because I have a full and interesting life.*

*And by "full and interesting" I mean "full of disgusting messes to clean up and butts to wipe and interesting to those who enjoy laughing at other people's expense." **

**And I totally hang out on the Internet all the time. Duh. I'm a blogger. I'm probably stalking your Facebook page as you read this. Nice profile pic, btw.

Anyway, I'm sure my various news feeds will be full of photos from people who think that the strength and quality of their relationship is directly proportional to the kind of gift they're given. Like a huge sparkly gem and a box of chocolates the size of Texas is going to guarantee that you'll stay happily together into old age. News flash: someone sending flowers to your office may make your coworkers jealous, but it says nothing of how your relationship is going to weather the days that aren't Valentine's Day - the days that are, in fact, pretty much the polar opposite.

Sure, it's great that we have a special day designated to celebrating our partners. Sometimes (often!) real life gets in the way of romance, and your relationship takes a hit, and you need an actual reminder to stop and appreciate the person you fell in love with. But buying someone a big gift on Valentine's Day hardly says anything to me except "I was obligated to give you this because we're in a relationship and that's what people do on February 14th" or "I bought you this so you can show it off on the Internet and everyone can be impressed because hello, Valentine's Day."

You wanna know what gestures of love truly impress me?

Gestures that are made on other days of the year, when we're not suckered into it by social media and pressure to compete with our friends and "tradition."

Gestures that are made on, say, a Tuesday afternoon when your significant other knows you've had a crazy day and brings home takeout. Or notices that you're a total zombie after dinner and says, "Why don't you just go on to bed? I'll take over from here." Or gives you a plant - not a flower - on some random Wednesday, for no reason, because he knows you like plants better than flowers since they last forever. Or tells you with sincerity how special you are, how important, when you're standing at the sink in your sweatpants and bedhead, doing the breakfast dishes on a Sunday morning.

The most romantic gestures aren't made at the prompting of the calendar, or of society. And true love isn't demonstrated through extravagant and showy offerings. It's the whispered conversations after bedtime. The offer to be the "mean one" who takes the kids in for immunizations because you can't stand to see them cry. The sharing of a load you can't bear to carry alone, whether it's dishes or depression.

The best gifts aren't baubles or trinkets or stuffed animals or vacations given simply because it happens to be Valentine's Day. The best gifts are the kind that take thought and feeling and effort, the kind that say, "I know what you need because I know you, I see who you are and what you're going through, and I care about the things that make you happy."

Those are the things we need to celebrate. Not on February 14th - but whenever they happen to happen. "Just because" means much more to me than "Just because it's Valentine's Day."

(Although, Honey? Don't forget that those Texas-sized boxes of chocolates will be on sale February 15th.)

The Frumpy Guide to Great Mornings

As someone who has to get four children up, dressed, fed, and out the door by 7:45 every morning, I've learned a thing or two about speeding up the process. Because kids - at least mine - are naturally about as fast as a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter. They stop to torment each other dawdle about every minute and a half. If you don't have some sort of a game plan (and/or an iron fist), nothing ever gets done. So here are a few of my best tips for making things run smoothly.

Make a morning checklist. This is a great way to keep your kids on track. At least sort of - and sort of is better than not at all, right? It gives them not only a visual reminder of what they need to be doing, but a sense of accomplishment from checking things off. You can use a wipe-off board or a piece of paper or whatever to list their morning routine: Eat breakfast, get dressed, wash face and hands, brush teeth, make bed, get backpack ready, etc. For kids who aren't old enough to read, you can use pictures. As a bonus, if you've got more than one kid, they tend to race each other to see who can get their checklist finished first - which is great because they get all their stuff done quickly, and it gives you plenty of time to mediate the inevitable argument over who's faster.

Plan ahead. Trust me, I know: sometimes I've had such a crazy day that I can't fathom doing one more single thing after the kids are in bed except for freeing my boobs from their bra and sprawling fatly on the couch. But ask yourself which is worse: postponing your sprawl for fifteen minutes, or scrambling around in a half-asleep haze the next morning trying to find shoes and determine which pants belong to who. Take fifteen minutes and lay out clothes (unless your kids are fashionable enough to be trusted with their own outfits, in which case I'm jealous because mine would end up in some unfortunate mix of stripes and plaids and a size 3T shirt that they insist "fits" since they managed to squeeze into it). Make sure the clothes you need are in fact clean and dry and not mildewing in the washer (oops). Locate everybody's shoes. If you're feeling really ambitious, pack lunches (and maybe you'll have a few minutes to throw in a lunch note that your kid can pretend to be embarrassed about but secretly loves). You'll thank yourself in the morning, when you aren't running around in a sleep-deprived stupor trying to get everything together and feeling like an epic failure.

Independence is awesome! This is less of a quick tip and more something you have to work on for a while, but I cannot stress enough how sweet it is when your kid can actually do something for himself instead of relying on you (when you're trying to do something else). I know that when they're younger it seems easier to just do things yourself. If they put their own dishes away, they spill or break something. If they try to dress themselves, it takes ten million years. So you just do it to speed the process along. BUT. Once they do master something, there's such a sense of freedom in knowing that you can trust them to do it on their own. Practice on weekends or evenings or snow days or summer vacation, when there's not so much of a time crunch. Choose uncomplicated, kid-friendly things: Velcro shoes are your friends.

... Unless you've done this. Have you seen this video? Anybody tried it? I'm dying to but haven't gotten around to it yet.

And finally, my last tip ...

Have a few quick standby breakfast recipes. This one speaks for itself. Quick breakfasts are awesome breakfasts. So I'm including a couple of my favorite breakfast recipes. You're welcome.

1.) Pour cereal into bowl. Pour milk into bowl.

2.) Put bread in toaster. Toast. (Also works with waffles.)

I mean, I'm somewhat of a culinary genius, but I think those are easy enough to follow.

Have a great morning, everyone!

(And don't forget to click on the "Giveaways & Reviews" tab to win yourself some NeoCell Beauty Bursts - I'm extending the giveaway a few more days!)


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