How to Get a Toddler Ready For School in 25 Easy Steps

Step 1: Open toddler’s door. Softly and sweetly say, “Good morning, [insert personal term of endearment here]!” Get yelled at. Hope that when they say “I’m still sleeping!” or “Close the door!” they really mean, “Good morning, mommy! I missed you all night!” Know they actually mean, “Close the door, peasant. I’m sleeping!”

Step 2: Walk away. Give them five more minutes to wake up on their own. Make coffee, let the dogs out, brush your teeth, and prepare.

Step 3: Open the door a second time. Sit on toddler’s bed and stroke their hair. Steel yourself against tears and pleas for more sleep. Consider the fact that they will always be tired on school nights and up by 6 on Saturdays. Say nothing. Just wait for the tears to stop.

Step 4: Pick an outfit.

Step 5: Put it back. They hate it.

Step 6: Pick another outfit.

Step 7: Put it back. It’s not the right color.

Step 8: Give up on clothes.

Step 9: Attempt to remove wet diaper while dodging kicks. Ignore the headache that’s begun from piercing screams. Make a mental note to wear ear plugs tomorrow.

Step 10: Ask toddler to get dressed. Plead, cajole, threaten, punish – do what you have to do to ensure clothes of any kind go on their bodies.

Step 11: Look at the clock – realize you’re now running 10 minutes late, even though you got up 10 minutes earlier than yesterday. Bribe toddler with juice and nursery rhymes (kids YouTube).

Step 12: Panic because there’s no juice and SHE WANTS JUUUUUIIIIICE!

Step 13: Panic when there’s no milk either. (When was the last time you went to the grocery store?)

Step 14: Attempt to put shoes on toddler. Watch helplessly as a melt-down ensues.

Step 15: Consider giving up and going back to bed. Realize you’re out of sick days, grit your teeth, and wrestle ease toddler into car seat.

Step 16: Turn on DVD player to Judy and the Beast.

Step 17: Press forward because it’s the wrong scene.

Step 18: Repeat process three more times. Threaten to turn movie off.

Step 19: Sing along with movie. Stop singing when toddler insists that “mommy, you don’t sing.”

Step 20: Drop off toddler at school. Struggle to release yourself from toddler’s death grip. Watch helplessly as melt-down ensues.

Step 21: Get back in car and breathe a sigh of relief.

Step 22: Seriously consider going back inside because you miss toddler.

Step 23: Scroll through photos of toddler on your phone and cry because you love them so much.

Step 24: Ask yourself if it might be time to have another baby.

Step 25: Contemplate your sanity.

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I Gotcha

I’ve always known I believed in God, but there were plenty of times when that meant little more than an occasional fervently whispered prayer when I needed something. I’d engage in religious debates with other Christians – Christians much more learnèd and devout – and non-believers alike, but I didn’t know much beyond what I’d learned through years of religious classes. I didn’t really seek to know God.

My faith hasn’t grown deep and true in churches or on prayer kneelers. It’s grown slowly, over the course of the past couple of years, in hospitals and on winding mountain roads.

When cancer struck, I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t understand how or WHY something so terrible could happen to Casey – to us. I was angry and confused and hurt. So I prayed, but I didn’t hear anything. For a long time after that, I was indifferent. I didn’t hate God. I didn’t turn away from Him. He just wasn’t a priority.

Then things got bad – really, really bad.

Visit after visit we received terrible news. The cancer had spread to his brain. The cancer had grown in his lung. The cancer had spread to the other lung. Shingles covered his right leg and the pain was excruciating; he could barely walk. We were defeated. We were lost. We were broken.

We went on vacation – just the two of us – in an attempt to forget, to heal, and to rest. While we were there, we stumbled on a beautiful little chapel. We drove past, in a hurry to play, and forgot about it. We passed it again on our way back. Compelled to enter, even as a vicious storm brewed, we stopped and walked and prayed. Then we called my dad and shared the photos and mostly forgot about it.

The next week, on our way to an appointment, I asked Casey what cancer had done to his faith. He said, “nothing good.” I asked him if he was angry with God and he nodded, nearly in tears. I wanted to comfort him, to whisper, “I gotcha.” But I didn’t think words would help. Anxious and afraid and desolate, neither of us spoke for the rest of the drive.

That day we got our first bit of good news. The radiation had begun to shrink the brain tumors.

Some of the tightness in my chest eased and I felt a glow of warmth I could barely begin to understand. Though of course I knew this meant the medicine was finally working, I didn’t think it was a coincidence that it was this particular medicine or this particular time.

A few weeks later, a friend from my dad’s church, moved by dad’s prayers during rosary, shared his own experiences with cancer. He gave my dad a bottle of holy water and a container of holy dirt and asked him to give them to us. We could sprinkle it on Casey, blend it as a smoothie, leave it on our mantle, pray over it. It was ours to use as we pleased, but he gave it to us to use in good faith. We accepted gratefully.

Both sat on our mantle for over a week as we thought about it. We finally made the decision to use them. Zoey and I rubbed the water and dirt on Casey’s chest, leg, and head – everywhere the cancer and pain was worst. Then we bowed our heads and prayed together.

A few weeks later, we got more good news. The tumor in his right lung was gone. The tumors in his left were shrinking.

We were overjoyed. Casey danced. I laughed. We both cried.

God was everywhere in this. It was like He’d reached out, wrapped His giant, celestial arms around us, and held us. We basked in His warmth and more of the tightness eased. We were finally able to breathe again.

We started talking about going back to church, something we’d done off an on since we’d been together. Church was tricky for us – I was raised Catholic and he’d been raised Lutheran, but what we wanted was a church we felt comfortable attending together. It was a struggle. I felt comfortable in the Catholic Church, but didn’t agree with or believe in all of its teachings. He didn’t feel at home or at peace there. We argued about it, prayed about it, struggled with it. We knew we needed to find a church, needed to raise our daughter knowing God, but we didn’t know how.

On a whim, one Saturday (after yet another church-related argument), we decided to try our friends’ church. I was convinced I wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t feel comfortable, wouldn’t want to return.

I was wrong.

God was everywhere. He was in the people, in the music, in the sermon. He spoke to me.

I thought it was a fluke, but had nothing to lose so we went back the next week.

I was wrong again.

God’s presence was even stronger this time and I knew, I just knew He was speaking to us. I could feel Him pressing on my heart. I felt safe. Loved. Comforted. Peaceful. Joyful.

I felt like I was home.

We went back to the doctor yesterday and heard more good news. The tumors continue to shrink. The medicine continues to work. The cancer is under control.

God is with us.

All this time, He’s been with us. Even when we didn’t listen, didn’t see, didn’t care, He’s been there. He’s just been waiting for us to hear Him saying, “I gotcha.”

Perfect

I watched you today in Target as we both browsed in the same general area. Your shiny, long hair hung perfectly down your back and your swing dress fell perfectly just above the knee. Your boots were swoon-worthy. Your bag was to die for. And your children – oh! Your children! They were angels! The older one sat quietly in the cart playing with his dinosaurs and the little one gnawed thoughtfully on her pacifier. They were content to wait while you looked at shoes, and then ambled over to the clothes.

I watched as you picked up a beautiful sweater – one I’d been eyeing only minutes before (but put down because come on, Target! $37.99?! It isn’t Anthropologie!). You held it against yourself, examining it in the mirror. Your lips curled up slightly and I saw you think it:

Perfect. 

I spend a lot of time watching others, wondering how they do it. How do they stay calm when their children run away, when they choose not to listen, when they scream? How do they keep their houses clean after working all day? How do they maintain their sanity day in and day out when I feel like I’m going to lose my freaking mind if I don’t get to work out or read a book or take a shower without someone calling my name or asking me for nursery rhymes.

I spend a lot of time feeling like a failure.

I’m not a patient enough mom.

I’m not an understanding enough wife.

I’m not a sensitive enough daughter.

I’m not a present enough sister.

I’m not a thoughtful enough friend.

I’m not perfect enough.

I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.

And then I cry in Target because somehow your togetherness high-lights my mess. Somehow your quiet children and beautiful clothes and smooth hair mean I’ve failed.

I feel like I fail constantly, like I’m a giant screw-up, because I do a lot of stuff wrong. I hyper-focus on my mistakes, thinking and re-thinking about things I said and did, but wish I hadn’t, allowing them to consume me. I let them gnaw at me, until I’m convinced everything I do is wrong. Until I believe that my mistakes mean I’m a failure and I forget everything else. Until I forget everything I did that was good, everything that was right, everything that meant I was trying.

And so this season (because when’s a better time than Advent?), I’m going to practice giving myself grace. I’m going to practice joy and peace and love – for myself as well as others. It’s here, written in stone, in black and white, so everyone can hold me accountable, and remind me to be joyful and forgiving and kind.

And the next time I start to doubt or worry or stress that I’m failing, remind me of the moment when my adorable, manipulative, wonderful little toddler takes my face in her hands and says, “You make me so happy, mommy!” when I let her out of time-out.

Remind me of the moment when the house was a disaster and we were fighting, but Casey mixed up the serious phrase he wanted to say and we laughed so hard we cried and the fight was over.

Remind me of the moment when it seemed like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, when Casey was too sick, and I was too tired, and the doctor said the tumors were shrinking.

Because those moments? They were perfect.

But I don’t have to be.

A Damn Good Mom

My daughter asked me to rock her tonight. I was tired – we’d been driving all day and I was up late last night. I had a thousand other things that needed to get done – chapters to write, bags to unpack, school work to prep. I was hungry and stressed because there was no food in the house (or none I wanted to eat). I wanted to lay her down and say goodnight and unwind, but I worried about the guilt, about the fear that I’m a bad mom because sometimes I want to shut down or hide.

I spend much of my time worried about the kind of mom I am. Am I a good mom? Am I bad mom? Do I care enough? Do I care too much? Am I involved enough? Am I over-involved? Am I even doing this right?

 It was easy when she was a newborn – eat, sleep, poop, repeat. We’d throw in tummy time and some songs and call it a day. Most of the time I felt like freaking Wonder Woman. It’s not easy anymore. She needs so. many. things. Or so she tells me five hundred times a day.

I need milk, Mommy.

I need to watch a movie, Mommy.

I need peanut butter, Mommy.

I need baby, Mommy.

I need to play play-dough, Mommy.

I need to color, Mommy.

I need juice, Mommy. No, milk. JUICE, MOMMY! JUICE!

PLEASE!!!

She’s a very articulate two-year old. It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. By the end of the day my patience is worn thin, my nerves are frayed, and every part of my body is sore. I can tell by the way she treats her baby dolls what kind of day it’s been. On good days, she’s sweet and loving and the baby gets hugs and kisses and songs. On bad days, the baby is in “big trouble” and goes to time-out because she’s “not nice!”

I watch her emulate my behavior and it simultaneously warms my heart and makes me cringe because she’s playing mommy. She’s playing me. Most days I don’t want that kind of knowledge.

I want to be the best mom, the greatest mom ever, the kind of mom who doesn’t snap or yell or wrestle her kid into car seats and out of bathtubs and away from playgrounds, but I’m not that mom. I can think of at least five mistakes I made today and I dwell on each and every one of them. I’ll spend the rest of the day and half of the night wishing I could take back that hissed, “Zoey!” when she wouldn’t stop whining, wondering if she’ll remember how she cried when sat in time-out after I told her not to eat the play-dough for the twelfth time, hoping that she’ll forgive the pop on her hand when she reached for the hot stove after I told her not to.

I make a lot of poor choices in the heat of the moment. But every once in a while, through the grace of God, I manage to make the right choice.

Like tonight. Tonight I sat down with my very big two-year old. She curled up in my lap and laid her head on my shoulder while I sang her a song. And when the song was over, she pulled back and smiled at me. Then she gave me a kiss and said, “thank you, Mommy,” before she nestled back in. And I held her close and smelled her hair and breathed. And for the first time all day I didn’t question the kind of mom I am because I know: I’m her mom and I love her enough to care about the kind of mom I am.

And I think that makes me a pretty damn good mom.

Fear

I’m afraid of the dark – I always have been. I never knew why or what triggered the fear, possibly an overactive imagination and too many novels, possibly just the fact that I was a kid, but I rarely went to sleep fear-free. For years, I leapt on and off my bed to avoid the Purple People Eater any creeps that might be lurking beneath it, ready to kill me.

In order to stave off some of the fear, I convinced myself that if I did things just so, no harm would come to me. And so, every night I checked the closet and closed the door. I refused to look into mirrors when the lights were out. I pulled my blanket up to my chin, believing that anyone who wanted to hurt me (presumably by cutting off my head) wouldn’t do so if my neck were covered. No one wants a partial head, amirite? I didn’t get out of bed unless I had to use the bathroom and I refused to turn lights on if I did for fear of seeing something I shouldn’t. And when all else failed, when fear still plagued me, I closed my eyes and prayed.

It didn’t matter what I said, but I would usually wind up repeating the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary over and over, the familiar words and repetition calming me enough that my stomach muscles unclenched, I was able to breathe normally, and I’d eventually drift off to sleep. Nothing could harm me so long as I was praying.

The next night, the cycle would start all over again. I was afraid of lots of things as a kid – Bloody Mary (not the Queen of England, the mirror one), ghosts (though I wasn’t sure I believed in them), evil things that lived under my bed (thanks, Poltergeist), clowns (thanks again, Poltergeist). Those were the times I couldn’t wait to grow up because grown-ups don’t have irrational fears. Grown-ups aren’t afraid of the dark. Grown-ups are strong.

Unfortunately, my fears didn’t magically disappear when I grew up. They merely changed.

As a young adult, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the Right Guy, that I wouldn’t find a job, that I couldn’t do the job I found, that I’d never be a successful writer.

As a newlywed, I was afraid to be apart from my Right Guy, afraid that we would never stop fighting, afraid that I’d drive him away with my never-ending tears.

As a pregnant woman, I was afraid of birth defects, being a bad mom, being a mom at all, labor, missing life before baby everything.

As a mom, I’m afraid that she’ll grow up too fast, afraid of the moment she gets hurt, really hurt, afraid of mean girls and meaner boys, of the moments she’s sad or hurt or broken and I can no longer fix it with a hug and the Minion movie.

I thought I knew fear then. Until cancer. I’ve never been afraid of anything more than cancer. Because no matter how many times I check the closet or under the bed, or how high up I pull my blankets, or which lights I leave off or turn on, I can’t make his cancer go away.

But on those nights when I feel my stomach clench and my breathing hitch, when I feel the fear start to drown me, I close my eyes and start to pray, the same prayers over and over, the familiar words quieting my mind, giving me peace.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

And I know if I keep on praying, my fears won’t conquer me. Because it turns out that it’s not the words or the familiarity or the repetition that soothes me. It’s the knowledge that I’m not alone, that Someone is always with me. And for a little while, nothing – not the dark or mirrors or cancer – scares me.

Because nothing can harm me as long as I keep praying.

A Country Song

When I was 15, I fell in love for the first time. We spent our afternoons driving to Sonic for Route 44 Cherry Limeades with the windows down, blaring country music, imagining we were living a country song. We passed adorably folded notes in school addressed to “Babe” and “Baby” that were just cleverly rephrased conversations from the previous passing period. We fell asleep on the phone, our voices getting quieter and quieter as the hours passed, until finally one of us would hang up with a smile and a sigh.

It was true love.

Then I moved.

We stayed together for a few extra months, until distance tore us apart. Still, we kept in touch and played the on and off game for a few more years, each break-up more dramatic, more devastating than the last.

I thought I’d never get over him. I thought I’d love him forever. I thought we’d find our way back to one another eventually. I thought we were a country love song.

Then I fell in love again.

And again.

And again.

(I can’t help it. I guess I’m kind of a hopeless romantic.)

It turns out we were a country love song, but the song was over.

When I got married, I promised to love my husband forever. I promised to love him in sickness and in health. For better or for worse. Until death do us part. As long as we both should live.

I made those promises with a very vague notion of their actual meaning. In sickness? Sure, the flu’s not so bad. For worse? Well, all couples struggle. Until death? Gosh, that’s so far away!

It wasn’t long before I found out that sickness was cancer. Worse was far worse than I could have imagined. Death was too near, too possible.

And things were hard – really, really hard. But they were also better because, as a result, I learned how to love my husband. I learned how to talk to him. I learned to hear the things he said and those he didn’t. I learned when to give him space and when to smother him with affection. I learned how to be his friend, as well as his wife.

I learned what true love really was.

And sometimes we’ll load the kid in the truck, roll the windows down, and blare country music on our way to Sonic.

And when the song ends, we’ll play it again. Every day for the rest of our lives, until death do us part.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom (and all the baby mommas and baby’s momma’s mommas),

Now that I’m on the other side, the Mom side, I see things differently. I see what you sacrificed and why you struggled. I see why you did the things you did. I get it now. And I owe you a thousand apologies, but for now I think I’ll start with these.

I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry for –

Not wanting to eat the food you made. Because now I know how much time and energy went into deciding what to cook and then cooking it. Yes, even into baking that Tombstone pizza and dealing with the mom guilt of making frozen pizza instead of a gourmet meal after a day of chasing after a million kids and maintaining a household.

Whining about having to clean my room. Or any room, really. Because you had already cleaned the kitchen, living room, laundry room, and attic. The least I could have done was pick up my 1,000 Barbies and Jenny Gymnast.

The tantrum I threw when I couldn’t decide what I wanted. Because you told me I could have something, and that gave me conflicting emotions. Cue tantrum.

The tantrum I threw when I was hangry. Because if I’d just eaten the food you made, I wouldn’t be hangry.

The tantrum I threw when…you know what? I’m sorry for all of the tantrums I threw. Because tantrums are like road kill; they’re gross and embarrassing and everyone has to stare at them no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

The sleepless nights. Because I wasn’t tired, or I was overtired, or I missed you, or I wanted to eat, or I was afraid. Because while I was sleeping for the rest of whenever I was tired, you were doing all of the things.

The early mornings. Who needs alarm clocks? Hello, it’s me! Your 4a.m. wake up call.

Inflicting physical pain on you. Biting, hitting, kicking…Because pregnancy and labor weren’t enough. Obvi.

Arguing about everything. I already see this happening and my baby isn’t even talking yet. How does a 13-month old even know how to argue? No, you can’t eat the Styrofoam off of the garage floor because you might choke and die. Sorry for keeping you alive and ruining your life.

Thinking I was right. I wasn’t.

Forgetting to say thanks.
For everything. Seriously. All. The. Things.

Blaming you. After all, you didn’t neglect to do my science project until the night before it was due. You didn’t decide to date the boy who broke my heart. You didn’t skip my curfew. You didn’t make my friend betray me.

Making you worry. Especially when I could have prevented it.

Growing up. Because babies are cute and cuddly, and teenagers can be assholes.

Not appreciating you.
Thank you for loving me, teaching me, caring for me. But mostly, thank you for teaching me how to be a mom.

Not getting “it.” I get it now. Promise.

And when the apology itself isn’t enough, just remember that payback’s a bitch and I have at least 35 or so more years of it.

Love always,
Your Daughter

NOTE: Amanda Fullilove and I wrote this piece together last year. It originally ran on Curisome (when that was still a thing). I decided to re-post in honor of Mother’s Day and because I miss Amanda (and her writing – COME BACK ONE DAY!).