Nurture Her Nature

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.

Sisters

Story is an only child and lucky to be so. All my extra energies (and income) go to her. Every time I look at her, really look at her, I’m overwhelmed by how much love it is possible for me to feel. I understand now where the phrase “my heart is going to burst from my chest” comes from. That’s really the only way to describe that so-intense-it’s-scary emotion. It is very difficult for me to deny her a smile, whether that comes from a gift of a toy or allowing her to sleep in my bed. I do it (sometimes). I can’t give in to everything or I wouldn’t be a good mom—at least that’s what I tell myself—but it hurts a little. Like any other mom, I want to give my child everything.

 

Story is an only child and unlucky to be so. She doesn’t have that special bond that is only between siblings. My family is the absolute best; I don’t know what I did in a past life, but I certainly won the lottery in this one. One of the many things that makes it so special is my relationship with my two younger sisters. I would not be who I am today without them. They each own a piece of my heart, and the really cool thing about their being my sisters is they always will be. We’re all stuck with each other; we’re family. There is an invisible but incredibly strong ribbon that binds us. If one of us tugs on that ribbon, maybe without even knowing it, the other two feel it and show up. My point is, Story doesn’t have that. Her ribbon is only wrapped around her.




So, I had the great idea to give her a sister. This is a bit problematic for a couple of reasons. First, I would need to procure sperm from somewhere. Second, it is not yet scientifically possible to predetermine the sex of your child. Bummer. So my great idea took a turn and extended to adoption. I really thought quite hard about it and was excited. And then I talked to my mom. My oh-so-wise mom asked one question: “Lesley, do you want to adopt because you want another child or because you want a sister for Story?” Well, damn. There went that idea.

I’d come to accept that Story is going to be an only child. I didn’t know how it would be possible for me to love someone else that much anyway; my heart is only so big. But Story said something the other night that made me rethink all of it. As she was getting ready for bed, Story was practicing her letter sounds. “Hey, guess what! Everybody in our family here [my family lives in different towns throughout the state] has an E sound at the end of their names: Mommy, Story, Remy [dog], Henri [fish], Ali, Riley, and Maddie!”

Story is an only child, and Story has sisters; she has a toe in each pond. It’s not at all what I pictured for her. I think it might just be better.

Two Tickets to the Train

I had two tickets to the train at the Indianapolis Zoo.

The year prior, I took Riley to the zoo as our last outing with just the two of us. Maddie tagged along, but she was still in utero and had been for the previous eight months. It was unseasonably warm that day, and given my size, I felt a bit like I was sitting in a sauna I couldn’t escape from. We were excited, though. Riley, who was still working on pronunciation, exclaimed, “Zoo!” clearly and excitedly the whole way there. The trip up was uneventful and happy. Unfortunately, I had not checked the City of Indianapolis events calendar, and they were celebrating who knows what in the park next to the zoo, which was fine, except there was no parking to be found. I spent the next forty minutes driving the side streets trying to decide whether or not the neighborhood would be safe enough to park in. With my self-defense skills somewhat limited given my range of motion at the time, I finally decided on a parking garage at a nearby medical facility. By nearby, I mean a mile and a half from the zoo. Good thing I was a prepared momma and brought my walking shoes and the stroller! After being rerouted by a couple fences blocking our direct route, we finally made it to the zoo.

Riley, my lovely water baby, headed straight to the splash pad in the center of the zoo. After a break for lunch and another round at the splash pad, we ventured out to see some animals. And we did. One animal. A tiger. Riley lost interest. “Choo choo train! Choo choo train!” I must explain; with Riley’s limited speech at this age, she referred to everything that she wanted as “choo choo train.” Inventive but rather difficult to decipher what exactly she wanted. This time, she was, in fact, referring to a train. I bought our tickets, and we waited in line. For forty minutes. Forty minutes of line waiting with a two-and-a-half-year-old.

Finally, our turn! We boarded, and I sat next to my excited toddler who couldn’t believe Thomas had made it to the Train at the ZooIndianapolis Zoo. Ten minutes into our journey, just outside of the grasslands, the train came to a slow, strained stop. Another ten minutes and our conductor announced that the train had indeed broken down and we would need to follow him back to the station. We were stuck on the other side of the zoo from the station. We had now been at the zoo for five hours. Riley was tired. Riley did not want to walk. So I carried my little engineer, and her little sidekick in my belly, all the way back to the other side of the zoo, where I was handed two tickets to ride the train again, for my trouble. After another mile and a half back to the car, I had three quarter-sized blisters, two “free” tickets to the train, and one sleeping toddler. A successful, memorable last day for just the two of us.

Fast-forward one year.

The beginning of 2015 has been anything but restful, which really isn’t a word a working mom uses to describe her world anyway. I have taken a large amount of sick time off of work this year due to Maddie adjusting to daycare germs. For those of you with a daycare baby, you know these sick days are never restful. They are either spent with a cranky, cranky baby or with a slightly sick baby who has a teething fever 1/8 degree above 100 and you feel too guilty to just sit around so you either work or madly clean the house while entertaining your happy child. It isn’t really a day off work either way. Lesley has also been feeling the working mom strain with an extraordinary amount of work to be done that often spills into the nighttime hours. We needed a skip day, and I just happened to have those two tickets to the train at the zoo.

It turned out perfectly. The weather was a warm 63 degrees. The sun came out at the right times, and the clouds came out at the right times. Riley and Story brought with them paper and crayons and drew each animal after they were done with the exhibit. Riley excitedly held her caricature of the polar bear up to the glass for the polar bear to see when she had finished, and Story went through each of her portraits in detail with a very sweet docent at the orangutan exhibit. Again, a successful day.

Riley StatueStory Statue

The ride home, however, was a bit more eventful. Just out of the rush-hour traffic, Riley announced that she had to go to the bathroom. Immediately. In luck we pulled into a nearby gas station. Crisis averted. There were a couple of teachable moments when it came to the sharing of crayons as they put finishing touches on their artwork. There was also one incredibly smooth example of sharing done right (go, girls!). Then we hit traffic — at the exact moment that Riley and Story discovered how utterly hilarious “butt-nana” sounded. You would think we had twelve-year-old boys in the backseat as they doubled over laughing each time one of them said their new word. For twenty minutes. The hilarity continued as they decided it would be equally funny to take off their shoes and smell each other’s feet.

Story: “Riley, my feet smell like cherries.”
Riley, smelling her own feet: “Yuck.”
Story: “You smell my feet.”
Riley, smelling Story’s feet: “Mmmm … I smell chips!”
The traffic finally broke as did Lesley when the girls began talking about poop. After she declared that the use of the word poop would no longer be used in conversation, the girls turned to the word toot. Lesley, despite herself, exclaimed, “A toot is almost a poop,” then shook her head. “I can’t believe I just said that.” We all roared with laughter.

Yes, this year has been a lot of work, but with our skip day, the mom balance has been restored.

Lessons Learned:

Always be prepared for every scenario; you may be doing more walking than you expect. Enjoy the imagination of your children (while silently praying the whole daycare will not soon be saying “butt-nana” because of your child). Always make time for your family when you, or they, need it.

All the World’s a Stage

Story has chips in her two front teeth. They were made by a coffin. (Ahem, before I get hate mail, I want you to know this did not happen during my watch.) At age two, Story climbed up on a coffin after funeral services and fell, knocking her teeth into the hard surface. I’m sure she thought the coffin was a stage.

My daughter is very theatrical, and she has the personality to sustain it. I’ve told you how she wakes as a different animal every day and is that animal for a time. This sometimes carries over outside the home. She’s been put in time-out at school because she ignored the teacher’s requests for her to sit on her pockets. When placed in the time-out chair, she told the teacher that she couldn’t possibly sit on her pockets because snails don’t have pockets.

IMG_0552She has led a coup in tumbling class. She stood on a tall mat, declared herself the new leader of the group, and told the kids in her class to follow her to a different station. They did.

During outings in public places, Story will recruit strangers, kids and adults alike, to be a part of her play. She casts them in roles and gives them directions on dialogue and action. Sometimes she says hi first.

One of her favorite places is church. It has a built-in audience, after all. The children’s message is delivered with all the children in front of the congregation. Story answers every question posed, tells stories of her own, declares things such as “But Jesus is dead,” and once stood up, opened her arms wide, and stated in a strikingly booming voice that she would give a hug to everyone so they wouldn’t be sad and always remember she loved them. She also does interpretive dance in the aisles to the choir music.

I love to see Riley and Maddie let their personalities shine too. This week, Ali signed Riley up for a kids’ fun run. She showed me the adorable outfit she had picked out for Riley, and then she showed me what Riley was wearing: an Elsa costume. Riley said it was her running dress. And it was! Riley was all smiles as she ran by wearing the dress. Maddie is turning out to be nothing like what we thought. Sure, she’s sweet and all, but sly and sassy takes the dominant spot. She may also have a little bit of diva in her.

There are a lot of things about Story that are just like me. There are a lot of things about Story that are nothing like me. One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a mom is to let her grow into herself, not a vision of what I want her to be, not someone who would stuff her personality into a box to please strangers, and certainly not someone who forgets what happiness is. It took me a lot of years to remember how to love life and be me. Story, Riley, and Maddie have that now, and I’ll do everything I can to help them keep it.

Lessons learned: Don’t come to the rescue of strangers; just watch in amusement as they try to respond to your child’s directions. Don’t even bother with the pretense of embarrassment; it’s just wasted energy. And never let your child know that something she’s done has made you uncomfortable; that something will become her mission.

The Old, the New, and the Digital Native

Easter was busy as usual this year. As a child, I eagerly awaited the hunt for my hidden Easter basket in the morning to see what sugary delights the Easter Bunny had left me. It was a fun, understated, and simple holiday. Not for my girls. Their Easter tradition starts the Friday before Easter with an Easter egg hunt at daycare. My Easter tradition starts the Thursday before Easter with a mad dash to the grocery store before work to buy candy for the thirty-two plastic Easter eggs I need to stuff for the hunt. I know it’s coming every year. Daycare knows it’s coming every year. Still, they do not post the sign till the week of, and I forget that I am not prepared until the day before.

Easter BasketAfter the Friday sugar buzz, we move into Saturday for the start of our family Easter traditions. We attend an Easter egg hunt put on by a local church. They do a fantastic job, but it is much, much more than an Easter egg hunt. The first year we went, they had a bouncy house and school-carnival-type games for the kids. The next year, they had the bouncy house, the games, and pony rides. This year, they had the bouncy house, the games, the pony rides, a rock climbing wall, a fire truck, and an ambulance that provided the kids with a real-life experience of having an EKG done! Not to mention, their egg hunts happen on the half hour with thousands of eggs. Three egg hunts total for Saturday alone. By 5 p.m. Saturday, we are all pretty exhausted.

Easter morning is the simple tradition of my childhood. We wake up, find the Easter basket, and have a lazy, sugar-buzzed morning. Sunday morning, Riley woke up at 6:30 a.m., turned her head to me, and whispered, “Where is the Easter bunny?” Those sweet memories are what make the traditions worth it.

This year, I noticed a new phenomenon inspired by another phenomenon Riley discovered the summer of last year. Riley, who is typically of the go-go-go mindset, does not usually slow down for small details. This year, she took the time to sit down with her Easter basket and open each individual egg, announce what was in it, and put the contents and the egg aside in their own respective piles. What was she doing? It didn’t take me long to realize that she was acting out what she has been watching nightly for the last eleven months: surprise egg videos on YouTube — a craze that has mesmerized kids, one that I just cannot understand.

These videos show only the hands of a person opening “surprise” (Easter) eggs containing a toy inside. The voice narrates what he or she is doing and tells what the toy is. Riley is fascinated. She is not a child who will sit down and watch TV. She will watch five minutes and then move on to the next activity. But she will sit down and watch these videos for hours! I was shocked to find out that these videos have millions of views. The lead of this group of video creators seems to be a lady who calls herself Disney Collector. She remains anonymous but is reported to be making millions on these videos. In my opinion, she deserves every penny, and I wonder if she stumbled onto this phenomenon or knew exactly what she was doing. I look forward to research that will explain children’s draw to this type of video. Is it the instant gratification, the small surprises?

Surprise egg videos

About a month or so ago I was watching the girls for the night while Lesley went to a reading from a beloved author who was in town. The moment Lesley walked out of the door Riley and Story began bickering like sisters. Poor Maddie was just along for the ride. After about 45 minutes of timing turns with one of the babies toys that would not interest either of them on a normal day, I decided to break out the videos. We have an Amazon Fire TV and are able to watch the videos on the TV through the iPad. Lesley, who is much more savvy than I am, has convinced Story that these videos are only available on  iPads and not the tablet she has at home..I knew that Story would be thrilled. The moment I put the first egg video on the screen Story shouted, ” I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!”. Both girls sat cross-legged on the floor screaming in delight each time an egg was opened. Unfortunately for me the reprieve was short lived and I returned to refereeing turns as Riley wanted to watch egg videos and Story wanted to watch Play Doh egg videos.

Shamefully (maybe), I let Riley watch her videos before bedtime while I get my necessary cleaning done. Of course, I have had my share of mom guilt. (I also secretly wait for the research that tells me she’s learning something.) I imagine this brand of mom guilt is much like the guilt moms felt when video games first came out. This new digital forum is entertaining my kid, but is it good for her, is it taking away from something I should be doing, or is this just the world she’s growing up in? I’ve contemplated, struggled with, and come to terms with my mom guilt now. Riley enjoys it, and I get my cleaning done. It works for us. Who am I to stand in the way of my digital native?

Lessons Learned: Stick with your family traditions no matter how hectic they are. Embrace things that are new. Let go of guilt and get your cleaning done.