Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Day My Rowdy Kids Taught Me Compassion

              My baby had a doctor’s appointment today and I woke up dreading it. This is atypical for me. First of all, my pediatrician is the bomb diggity. Seriously. A fellow patient once described her as being “your best friend with a medical degree”. And it’s absolutely an accurate assessment. I usually look forward to doctor appointments, if for no other reason than I get to chit chat with our awesome doctor.
                And this is hardly my first rodeo. I have been taking babies to the doctor for a while and though some circumstances may give way to some anxiety on behalf of my children (Please let the nebulizer treatments help. Please let that mole be normal. Please let it be strep throat and not a stomach virus.), this anxiety wasn’t for my children. It was for me.
                You see, I knew that in addition to the baby, I needed to take her two older brothers. Again, taking siblings to the doctor? Not new. I’ve been dragging my gaggle (no, y’all, I legitimately have a gaggle. A gaggle is defined as five or more. Did you know that?) of children to appointments of varying sorts for over a decade. It is not something that typically causes me stress. I don’t pack a bag of books and snacks and Amazon gift cards to keep them happy. We go, we survive, we come home. And it’s always been okay. Until the last year.
                Almost a year ago, my sixth child became a legit toddler. By the time he hit fifteen months, it was clear he was going to be a handful. His personality is a perfect storm of amiable qualities (he is intelligent, focused, determined), amplified by a thousand. If Beethoven and the Incredible Hulk had a baby and then that baby ate a radioactive spider, the personality of that baby would likely be similar to my son’s.
                Now imagine, in this scenario, that there is a walking, talking catalyst, following this brilliant, explosive little creature around ALL the time. That’s my other son. Oil and water are not a suitable analogy. These two are more like baking soda and vinegar. You can probably see why the idea of sticking the two in a tiny exam room for thirty minutes, while simultaneously trying to hold a wiggly infant, seemed somewhat comparable to a stroll through the seventh circle of hell.
                And guess what? It was.
                The boys were unruly and loud. The baby was fussy from her shots. For the first time in my twelve years of parenting and hundreds of appointments, no one got a sticker. No stickers. None. This resulted in me dragging a miserable baby, two wailing toddlers and an unsightly diaper bag through the parking lot to load into our van covered in dog hair, cracker crumbs and more than one dirty sweatshirt. By the time I got everyone buckled, the sleep deprivation tugging on every nerve of my body, all I could do was sit in my van and cry.
                I can only imagine what the casual passerby could have thought of the sight. “That woman is a hot mess.” And they would be right.
                Later, as I was cruising through social media, I noticed a post someone had made on Facebook about her own experience in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Her experience was not like mine. She sat with her well-mannered, eleven-year-old son and witnessed the deplorable behavior of several younger children. Her post scolded these parents, citing the reason for this behavior as a total lack of discipline. Obviously, she mused, these parents didn’t understand the concept of “the belt”. My heart broke in that moment. She was not talking about me, but she could have been. She could have been talking about my babies. Because in the ten minutes she spent with them in a waiting room, she thought she knew them. She thought she knew me.
                To this woman, and any who have shared her views (and I, in my shame, am among them), may I offer a simple plea? Stop judging other parents.
                I have been there. I get it. I still do it. It is as easy as breathing, to point that finger, to say, “I would never let my child act that way.” Ever been in a restaurant, an airplane or a grocery store and thought to yourself, “Why don’t they DO something about that kid? Spoiled brat.” I have. I have thought those things. Ever seen that kid wandering the neighborhood kicking a mailbox and turned to your spouse to huff, “Where are his parents? Don’t they even care where he is?” I’ve done that one too. I need to stop. We all need to stop.
                There is no way that a five or twenty minute view of someone’s life can possibly qualify us to determine what kind of parent they are, or what kind of child they are raising. It would be like watching five minutes of a movie and trying to write a synopsis of the plot, or walking into a hospital and wanting to perform open heart surgery after taking BIO 101. We are not qualified to judge each other, nor should we make it our goal to become so.
 We need to stop the mentality that we are only succeeding if someone else is doing worse than we are. My failures do not make you a better parent and your failures do not make me a better parent. We only succeed when we love, support and encourage each other and ourselves.  We need to be more patient with the children we encounter, including our own. We need to be more patient with ourselves. Chances are, we all just need a graham cracker and a nap.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

As a mother of more than two children who are not at least four years apart in age, I have grown pretty accustomed to getting comments regarding my family whenever we go out in public. I've talked about this, I know. It's nothing new. And it's nothing unique. If you have three children, "you have your hands full". If you have two children who are not separated by half a decade, your hands are full. If you have four children, you obviously don't know what causes pregnancy ( It's sex, by the way, in case you have four children and you didn't know. You can stop having kids now, I've solved the mystery. Enjoy sex too much? Never fear, evidently the solution is to buy a television.).

I've said this before too, most of the time these comments don't bother me. In fact it's sort of become a game. I reward myself with treats for every silly comment or question I get. I have perfected my list of comebacks for the most frequent remarks. 

"Are they all yours?"

"All except the brunettes." 

"Do you know what causes that?"


"Are you having more?"

"Thanks for reminding me, I'm late to meet my husband."

I've been responding to questions about my family size, structure and planning for so long, I could probably do it in my sleep...if I ever got any.

It's pretty rare for anything to surprise me or offend me. If anything, I'm just jealous that anyone would have the presence of mind to notice other people and their kids in the grocery store. The fact that they can take the time to add my children is, in and of itself, impressive. 

But every once in a while, it happens. Someone says something that leaves me speechless. This happened to me the other day. I had the four youngest with me, the three boys and our new baby girl. I have had plenty of comments lately about how exciting it must be to finally have a girl. I get it. Everyone thinks that's ideal, having both genders. And I'll be honest, it is fun. I love having a girl. Those comments don't bug me. 

The other day, however, as I was walking out of the store with the three boys and baby girl in the car seat, a lady stopped me and said, "Three boys! What do you have in the car seat?" I told her it was a girl. A look of relief washed over her as she looked me right in the eyes, in front of my sons, and said, "Thank God."

For the first time in a long time, I had no comeback, no witty rebuttal. I was speechless. My jaw literally fell open and I stared for a moment before simply turning and walking away. 

By the time I got to my van, the back of my throat was burning and tears were filling in my eyes. I wanted to go back and find her and tell her all the things going through my mind, the good, the bad, the ugly. I wanted to scold her. How dare she say that to me in front of my sons. Who on Earth did she think she was?  I wanted to hug her and cry on her shoulder and stick a bar of Ivory soap in her mouth all at the same time. 

I didn't go back to find her. I loaded up  my babies and I drove home. But if I could ever sit down with her, here is what I'd want her to know, what I wish I could have told her that day:

1. I do thank God, every single day. I thank Him for my precious baby girl and for her six amazing siblings on Earth, and for her big brothers in Heaven and her incredible dad. I thank Him for my family with every breath I take. I thank Him that  I have the opportunity to be a mother, that I was able to conceive and bear children with my own body and that I have had the awesome privilege of creating a family with my husband. I don't give extra thanks for my daughters. I give extra thanks for health, for kindness and occasionally for good sleep. Sleep doesn't care about gender. Neither do I. 

2. My boys are not the dirt I had to dig through to get to the buried treasure. I didn't have another baby so I could "finally get to the good stuff". I got pregnant knowing (and expecting) that the baby could be a boy. Were we excited to have a girl? Of course we were. But please, please don't mistake that excitement for relief. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing about a healthy baby that I don't celebrate.

3. Children hear you. Did you realize that? My little boys with the dirt in their hair and sandals on the wrong feet are listening. They hear you saying that they are somehow inferior because they are boys or because they were born first or because they share a gender with a majority of their siblings. You want these boys to grow into men who will respect and treasure women but you just told them they aren't special because they are boys. How can you ever demand the respect from them when you don't show it? I know you'd probably say the same things if I had three girls in a row. It wouldn't be true then either. Children are a gift and every last one of them is precious and worthy of love.

4. I have had some time to calm down and collect myself. I'm not angry at you anymore. I am not upset or hurt. I do, however, now have a bar of Ivory soap hanging out in my diaper bag. Make another remark like that in front of my children and it's going straight into the upper opening of your digestive tract.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I bought cheap strawberries and I will NOT apologize

Social media has done some really good things for our society .I can keep in touch with my family members who live far away, see pictures of my best friends kids on a daily basis, follow updates from my favorite authors and know who in my circle of acquaintances has the barfs so I can avoid them.
All good things.

Social media, however, has also turned us into a bunch of raving lunatics. Everything is going to kill us. Have you noticed? The government is going to take our guns...and kill us. The chemicals in our blue jeans are going to soak into our skin...and kill us. Vaccines, antibiotics, forward-facing car seats, standing within eighty-seven feet of a microwave? You're dead. And if you want to eat non-organic produce? Well, I just hope your life insurance policy is up-to-date.

Y'all, I'm a dead woman walking.

I'm not going to lie and say I don't have my soapbox issues, I totally do. And I have been known to voice my opinions in no uncertain terms. Actually this is one of those times. I think we need a chill pill, a big one, because even though we all mean well, we have a problem. Because we are so busy trying to save everyone with our opinions, we're driving ourselves, and everyone else, nut-bar-crazy.

So, to the person who grows their own produce in their backyard, next to their corn-fed chickens, you're amazing. Seriously, you're kind of my hero. Your food is fresh, delicious and you're able to sustain yourselves. This is incredible and I am so happy for you. But the idea of having to plant and maintain a garden at this particular point in my life feels a bit like preparing for a colonoscopy.

To the person who carefully and meticulously scours the labels at Whole Foods, creating perfectly balanced menus to accommodate the nutritional needs of your family, making sure to avoid things grown with anything other than sunshine and glacier water, you also are my hero. I admire and respect your quest to keep your family healthy. My hat is off, waving and singing a song to you. I mean that sincerely.

To the person who had to buy the pesticide soaked strawberries at Kroger because they were two for four dollars, I get it. I know that you'd love to buy those organic strawberries or plant your own. But it's not in the budget. In fact, buying these four dollar strawberries might mean that you can't buy the cute sweater you've been eyeing since before your last birthday, or the mascara that you wouldn't have to wet-down and swish out of the tube. I understand. And guess what? You're still my hero.

Advocating for healthy eating? Awesome. Posting articles about the benefits of growing your own produce, making your own organic baby food and the dangers of pesticides in farm-grown strawberries? It's okay. But sharing vague and under-researched posts about how those farm-grown strawberries are poisoning our children? Not okay. Feeding my kids cheap strawberries may not be as good as feeding them ones I grew in my backyard but I am not pouring antifreeze into their cheerios (which, by the way, are also Kroger brand). I am not poisoning my kids. I am feeding them strawberries. And I, for one, don't appreciate being told that I'm killing them by doing so.

The problem with our frantic and obsessive social posting is that it could, unintentionally, lead us in the opposite direction of our goal. Maybe we should consider that some will take from our messages that nothing they do will be enough. Our health, safety and the well-being of our families is entirely impossible. Unless we can subscribe to all the guidelines posted by every article-wannabe (the accuracy of online "research-based" articles is a rant for another day) that we see in our news feed, we are doomed. So why bother trying? It's never going to be enough. Is something we post going to encourage someone to skip strawberries all together because they can't afford the organic ones from the locally-owned and operated produce market? Is a mother going to cry herself to sleep because her child refused to take a single sip of the green smoothie she slaved over and begged for a Gogurt instead? Is she a failure? Are we making others feel lazy, incapable or uncaring because they picked up Little Ceasar's on their way home one night, instead of making quinoa-stuffed bell peppers?

I hope not.

Maybe we can all resolve to think before we post, relax a little bit and try to enjoy this thing called life. As the old saying goes, no sense crying over non-organic strawberries!