About Ali Cummins

Posts by Ali Cummins:

Parental Apologies

DaycareA couple of weeks ago, a co-worker invited me, or really Riley, to have a playdate with his daughter. He was anxious about the request and began rapidly and apologetically explaining his reasons behind it. He explained that his wife was going back to work and that they would be dropping off their two children, ages five and three, to daycare for the first time. His daughter, the three-year-old, would be in Riley’s class. He further explained that his daughter was very shy and that he was worried about her making friends. He said that she didn’t warm up to others quickly, and it would be great if she could have a friend there before she started. I told him we were happy to do it and hoped that it would indeed make that day a little bit easier. I also over-shared with him that Riley was a member (perhaps founding member?) of what I call the “mean girls club” at school–a group of three girls that includes her best friend, Hawk (a nickname made up by Riley for a sweet little girl named Juliet when she was unable to pronounce her name). This group of girls are very competitive with each other, which is probably putting it lightly. Basically they don’t share well together, they battle over who will be first for anything, and it sometimes comes to blows (well, pushes). By pickup time though, they are the best of friends. I’ve often gotten a confused tilt of the head from the daycare teacher as Riley proclaims while leaving, “Mommy, can we go to Hawk’s house? She’s my best friend.” That’s when you know it’s been a particularly rough day. (more…)

We arrived.

We arrived. And as I suspected might happen, I did not arrive the same person I was when I left. I arrived with a little more pride in my heart and a little more self-aware.

The night before we left, I lay in bed and ran through my game plan for the trip. I thought out what my strategy would be during screaming battles. I decided what I would consider a “pull to the side of the road” emergency and what “emergencies” would be considered a lesson in patience. I packed the car with toys and snacks close at hand. I even took some time to repent, for I had committed a good parenting sin and borrowed a portable DVD player from a mom-friend. Absolved and feeling prepared, I went to bed.

License plate road trip

We left bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7 am for our estimated six-hour drive. I was prepared to make stops frequently, to spend the night somewhere about halfway through, and to practice meditations. I must admit, I was a little nervous. At 7:30, we made our first stop because of me. I drink a lot of coffee in the morning. We piled back in the car and drove peacefully, until 8:30, when we made another stop, because of me. We unbuckled, the girls waited, we rebuckled, and hit the road again. The girls snacked on muffins and veggie chips in the back seat. Maddie babbled something to Riley; Riley laughed and babbled something back. I heard from the back seat, “Mom, my baby is funny.” There were times that they would space out in front of the DVD player, but the majority of their time was spent talking, reading a book, and playing with their toys.

By 3:00, one hour from our destination, I had broken up one verbal disagreement between the girls. It lasted a total of two minutes. We had stopped frequently, mostly to take care of my own needs. Even with all the unbuckling, rebuckling, and the 90 degree heat, the girls did not complain one time. We had smiled, laughed, and patiently tackled each mile.



It was during that last hour that I realized I had planned and strategized fully assuming that my girls would be poorly behaved. My hope was that we would have a fun road trip, but I didn’t really think that that was going to happen. I hadn’t given them any credit. After a little more self-reflection in a traffic jam, I realized my expectations of their behavior are often pretty low. I expect gymnastics class to be a nightmare, the grocery store to be a disaster, and restaurants to not be worth the hassle. Sure, I’ve been burned by tantrums before, but isn’t my job as a mother to be their continuous cheerleader?

I grappled with this question for the next twenty miles, my mom guilt thicker than the traffic. I knew my answer to this question had to be unequivocally “yes,” which meant I had to sort through a lot of “but they” statements. But they bicker. But they didn’t listen that time. But they just wear me out sometimes. The list goes on. I started tackling these statements, changing my answer from the negative to a positive. It was time to have a growth mindset in my parenting.

We arrived at the hotel after eight hours on the road. Riley burst into the hotel room jumping up and down.  “I love my new house! I love my new bed! I love my new TV! I love my new table!” We spent the night at the pool. No meltdowns. No fighting. All smiles. This was the perfect road trip and it taught me an invaluable lesson; I have some amazing little girls, and I could not be prouder of them.
Road trip!

It’s Not About the Destination

I love my planner. With work and family, I have multiple things going on and need a place to get it all out of my head. It helps keep me sane. It also offers me a new inspirational quote each week. This week’s quote was especially fitting as I prepare for a road trip with my two little ones to my cousin’s wedding, about seven hours away.

A good traveler

I learned about three years ago, when Riley was born, that no plans are fixed. Okay, it took me about a year to fully let go of the control I longed to have over plans, but I learned and relearned how to be flexible. By the time Maddie came around, I’d mastered it (or at least as much as any control freak can). So, on my road trip, I do not plan to have any fixed plans. There will be no “I will arrive by this time” or “We will stop at this rest stop.” I fully intend to either arrive early or late. I may stay a night in a town I hadn’t planned to stay in, and I probably will be stopping along the side of the highway at some point.

The second half is a little harder. I fully intend on arriving.

Like you should with any quote, I am choosing not to take this quote at its literal meaning. We will arrive, although I may arrive a little wiser than when I left. I have traveled by air with a baby, then a pre-toddler, and then a toddler when I made my yearly trip home for Christmas with Riley while we still lived in Colorado, and I know that you do not arrive as the person that you were when you took off. Usually the person getting off of the plane is much more haggard, a little wiser, and either set back by or touched by humanity.

 

As a new mother, I had my first airplane adventure with Riley when she was three months old. Still new to the scene of motherhood, I hung on to a small amount of my dignity. I had the diaper bag packed with all the essentials, had my own carry-on with my essentials, and was in a generally cheery mood. Most of the passengers were mothers with their children, which I was happy to see. We were going to do just fine.The doors locked, the flight attendants went through their spiel, and we were cleared for takeoff. The front tire had barely left the runway when I felt a rumble. It was too early for turbulence, and unfortunately, I knew that type of rumble all too well. Then the smell hit. Yes, Riley had soiled her diaper at the most inopportune time. It takes about twenty to thirty minutes after takeoff to level out and for the “fasten seat belt” sign to turn off. I couldn’t muster the strength to look up at the other afflicted passengers during this waiting period. Even on a flight full of moms, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find a sympathizer who would overlook the stench she also had to endure. As soon as the flight attendants gave the signal, I made my way, eyes down, to change my little bundle’s bundle. It was my first taste of mom embarrassment. I arrived a little humbler.

Newly a toddler the next year, I was prepared for some embarrassing moments. By this time, I’d been through my share of them. I wasn’t prepared for the maddening adventure that ensued. This time, I was seated between two very busy, very self-important businessmen. If there wasn’t sympathy on the previous flight then there definitely wasn’t any now. Again seizing the opportunity, Riley did not waste a minute and began squirming, climbing, kicking, screaming, and lurching her tiny body in every direction. Keeping flailing toddler hands under control in that confined space is nothing short of a nightmare. My apologies fell on stony stares. Just when I thought I could not take anymore, the businessman to my right pulled out his laptop. A laptop. Riley’s kryptonite. She lost all control and lunged toward it, trying desperately to pound away at its keys. She spent the remainder of the flight completely sideways in my arms crying, reaching, and twitching her body every way she could. The businessman didn’t even look up. I swore never to fly again. I arrived a little harder.

 

The next trip, Riley was full swing into her toddler years. This time, my mom was visiting to help me move to Indiana. The day prior, my mom and I had packed up my entire house and loaded it onto the moving truck. The next morning, we were exhausted and very eager to get on our way. Getting to the airport, though, proved harder than it sounded. Our flight was at noon, so I scheduled a taxi to pick us up from my house by 9:30. It would give us plenty of time to get there, check in, and grab a bite before getting on the plane. As 9:40 rolled around, the taxi was nowhere to be found; 9:50, still no taxi. I was on the phone with dispatch by that time, and they regretfully informed me that in fact there was no taxi on the way. The request had been misplaced, and they would send another taxi. At 10:20, the taxi finally turtle taxishowed up, slowly hovering past each house looking for its destination. I ran to the bottom of the driveway, frantically waving my arms. Its reaction to my hurried call was less than quick. I rapidly explained that we needed to leave quickly and make it to the airport as fast as possible. This fell on deaf ears. There was not a fast bone in this taxi driver’s body. He reversed as if he were driving through molasses, and the pace did not increase much by the time he got to the highway. I made a fateful mistake of asking him if we would be charged for the fare due to the oversight about halfway to the airport. He diligently pulled over to the side of the highway to call dispatch. I was beside myself and desperately begged him while he chatted to please start driving again. Again, it fell on deaf ears. At that point, my mom and I were so stressed and fatigued that we couldn’t help but break down laughing. We eventually made it and still had about five minutes to spare and grabbed some McDonald’s for Ri before getting on the plane. Surprisingly, she sat and behaved like an angel the whole way. There is something to be said about the presence of a grandparent. I arrived a little more jovial.

With my past traveling-with-a-kid experience tucked safely in my memory, I will embark on this road trip fully intending to arrive. I won’t be fully the person I was when I left. I just hope that my sanity arrives with me.

 

Play Hard, Work Less

It has happened. I knew that it would. My once stationary, sweet little baby has transitioned to a very mobile 1 year old. Games have become all consuming and all cleaning has gone by the wayside.Toy rings

Like rings on a tree, the rings of toys on the kitchen floor can tell you a child’s age. At three months, your floors are spotless. The counters are wiped, aside from a stray coffee ring next to the always-on coffee pot. The baby is playing happily in her bouncer, and you are singing children’s songs while washing dishes. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way, but after you experience a few more months, you’ll begin to imagine it was that way.

 

By five months, there is a Bumbo in the middle of the floor. A set of Fisher Price keys, a rattling toy, and a soft, crunchy book can be found in a circle around it. You are now washing a dish, wiping your hands on the towel, picking up a toy, and giving it back to your smiling baby. You turn around and begin washing another dish as you feel those plastic keys hit your foot. You wipe your hands, return the toy, wash a dish.

By nine months, the baby is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by the shape sorter, three different-sized balls, a Little People playset, the walker you are encouraging her to start using, a set of toy musical instruments, four baby dolls, and a set of measuring cups you thought might help entertain her. The toys make a perfect circle around your precious child as she picks up each one for precisely one minute and then throws it down in boredom. You are now singing, with a little more speed to your tempo, thinking about how one might accomplish washing a dish with one hand, while clapping the tempo on your leg and using your foot to pick up a toy and push it back to your poor attention-deprived baby. Inevitably, she ends up in the pots and pans, pulling out each one with a startling crash.

 

By twelve months, she has become fully mobile — perhaps not walking yet but definitely able to keep up with the best of those crawling. The kitchen now holds 80% of the toys that belong in the playroom. The perfect circle is a more modern-looking series of circles that create a wall along the perimeter. The last line of defense to keep her from escaping. You are now looking at a line of dishes that have been patiently waiting for you all week. After creating a new voice for the troll doll that has your baby captivated, you think you can start working down that line. You turn, pick up a dish, and hear the pitter-patter of tiny legs going straight for the stairs.

And so I find myself here.

Yes, Maddie has discovered the stairs. More and more, I have learned that Maddie has a natural sense for adventure Maddies gameand a sense of humor to go with it. I fear she may be the child who will grow up and think jumping out of a plane is fun. Two weeks into her thirteenth month, she has discovered and fully embraced the fun of scaring people. She waits patiently for me to turn my back to that line of dishes, then makes a mad, one-legged crawling dash to the stairs. She will wait at the first stair until she hears me say, “Maddie, you know you aren’t supposed to be climbing the stairs by yourself!” and begin coming after her. She then climbs to the second stair, stands up, holds onto the rails, and waits. I come around the corner and approach the rails. “Mad–” Before I can finish her name, she uses her whole body to scream, “AHHHHH!” I jump and pretend to be frightened. She belly laughs. “You scared me!” I exclaim as I pick her up and bring her safely back to the kitchen. She is delighted with herself and waits patiently for me to turn so that we can repeat the game.

I would lament the change of my not-so-clean house to my we’re-using-paper-plates-now house if the game weren’t so much fun.

Lessons Learned: Buy more safety gates, enjoy it all, find solace in the fact that Apple will likely someday invent a self-cleaning dish app (the iDish), and begin researching how to appease adrenaline junkies without jumping out of a plane.

 

On Your First Birthday

Maddie in hospitalYou, my baby, are turning one this week. The cake is made, the decorations bought. Yes, the celebration is on. For me though, the celebration is bittersweet. Besides the obvious joy of you embarking on childhood, there are also a lot of selfishly good things that come along with your turning one — no more formula, you can have honey to soothe coughs, pureeing baby food will become a thing of the past, and I am one step closer to sleeping again. This was enough to help me get through Riley turning one; in fact, with her I looked forward to it. But you are my baby, and I know that I will not have any more. This time, it means saying goodbye to all of the ups and downs that make up a baby’s first year of life for good. As we celebrate, I can’t help but also lament those things that I’m going to miss about you, Maddie.

1) Toothless smiles. That time you smiled, I mean really smiled, and your mouth was all gums. I spent my days doing the most embarrassing songs, dances, and games just to get that gummy smile to come out. Even the stress of teething was eased by the enhanced cuteness of your smile with each single tooth. I’ll miss that.

2) Your shoes being painted on your socks. Slipping on those adorable painted-on mary janes completed every outfit. They were your go-to shoes. Easy to slip on and endearing. Soon we’ll be wrestling to get out of the door with even one shoe strapped to your foot. Shoes aren’t so adorable anymore. I’ll miss those socks.

4) Lifting up your belly to unfasten your diaper. You progressed quickly from being an easy diaper change to rolling all over the place. Now, diaper changes typically start with you sitting up, which requires the lifting of your plump little belly to unfasten it. I’ll miss that little belly and all the little rolls that accompanied it.

5) Snuggles. Morning time when you want to relax on my chest for just a little while longer, your little hands rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. During the day when you just need a rest and lay your head on my shoulder. Nighttime as you suck your fingers and drift to sleep. I’ll miss all of those.

6) Milestones. One of the best parts about having a baby is that you are never the same month to month. There are so many milestones along the way in this short first year of life that I am privileged enough to witness and in some cases help you achieve. Sitting, successful tummy time, eating baby cereal, crawling, smiling — all of it is new and exciting. The look of pride and the accompanying grin as you achieve all of it is priceless. I’ll miss those.

7) The stumbling progression to walking. From the moment you first pulled up on the coffee table and began to cruise, I knew that walking would soon follow and life would never be the same. Then you began standing on your own, swaying with your little arms out for balance. Then the many, many falls on your little diaper-cushioned bottom until you finally master that one first step. It’s the anticipation and the inevitable glory that make this so much fun. I’ll miss that.

8) Baby smell. No, I’m not talking about the dirty diapers, the formula-scented spit-up, or those gaseous toots you were famous for around four months. It’s that mild, understated smell that babies have. For those who haven’t smelled it, it’s hard to explain, but for those who have, it’s hard to keep from smiling while remembering it. I’ll miss that.

9) Unencumbered excitement. Whether it’s me returning to daycare at the end of the work day or spotting your missing ball across the room, your entire body reacts to the joy. The joy bounces your legs, which bounce your torso till it escapes from your ear-to-ear smile. This excitement can pull me out of any bad mood and reminds me that days are full of small things to celebrate. I’ll miss those bounces.

10) Being needed, all of the time. It’s the thing about having a baby that tests a Hand in handmom’s patience but is also, hands down, the greatest part. You needs me for everything — to be fed, to be dressed, to be calmed down, to share in excitement. Every accomplishment you have, you look to me for praise. Every boo-boo you get, you want me to comfort. The mother-daughter bond is strong and interdependent. But, as you pass your first birthday, you will begin your journey to independence, and it’ll be my task to help you get there. I know that it’ll be a joy to watch. I also know that I will miss the days that you needed me for everything, and I was easily able to meet your needs. I will deeply miss that.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey of motherhood, it is to take the time to acknowledge what is hard and enjoy all of the other times. This birthday, I’m finding this lesson especially important. Sometimes what is emotionally hard as a mom is a great accomplishment for our kids. It’s part of letting go. So this is me letting go of a phase of my life, and my baby’s first year. I can’t wait to see the woman she becomes.