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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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.

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!).

Enough

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure I wanted a second baby. Whenever people asked, I’d say what I knew they wanted to hear:

Of course! We’re just waiting until the chemo leaves his system.

Oh yes, Z needs a sibling. We don’t want her to be an only child! 

Definitely. But we’ll only have two – three tops.

But secretly, I wasn’t sure I meant it. I remembered the nausea and fatigue that comes with pregnancy and imagined feeling that way while caring for my terribly awesome toddler and a (possibly) ill husband. I worried I might resent another child for taking away what little me time I have. I thought about my anxiety and how much I fret over the state of one baby, fearful I might not survive the stress of two.

I’m tired. Exhausted. Bone-weary. I can’t remember the last time I felt truly rested, peaceful, contented. I know I’m not the only mother that feels this way, but sometimes I feel so alone. I feel guilty for wanting time to write or read or rest. I feel guilty when I ask other people to help me because I feel like I’m supposed to do it all myself. I feel guilty and anxious and tired constantly, and I just don’t know how I would care for two little ones when it’s a struggle to care for myself.

But then I watch my daughter’s face light up when I pick her up from school or I hear a raspy little, “thank you, Mommy” when I hand her something she asked for, and my heart skips a beat and I feel it. I feel the pull of another child, of another sweet face, another silly soul to steal a piece of my heart and make me a mommy all over. And I’m almost there – I’m almost ready for another baby.

When I asked the doctor last week about trying for a baby this summer (a full six months since the last chemo treatment), I fully expected him to say that we were ready to go. I wasn’t ready for the hesitation. I wasn’t ready for him to ask how I feel about abortion. I wasn’t ready for him to tell me they don’t recommend people get pregnant on any cancer medications. I wasn’t ready for the pity I saw in his eyes.

Until that moment, I didn’t know that I was ready for a baby.

He saw the pain in my eyes, the tightness in my mouth and he told me he’d look for more answers, he reassured me he’d know more the next week, at the next visit. He shook our hands and said the usual goodbyes and he left the room. My husband had been on the phone with the pharmacy for most of our conversation and we’d waited two and a half hours to see the doctor, so he was more than ready to go. He held open the door, smiled, and motioned me out. His face fell when he saw the tears welling in my eyes and I told him to close the door.

Then I sat in the hard, little chair and I cried. I cried for the baby I didn’t know I wanted, for the baby I might not be able to have. I cried for my only child and my sick husband and myself. I cried because it wasn’t fair and I didn’t understand. I gave myself five minutes to fall apart, then I let my husband hug me, I pulled myself back together, and we left.

On the way home, we discussed our options – adoption, In Vitro, playing the odds. None of them made me feel any better. I felt a void. I didn’t know I wanted another baby until the doctor told me it might not be an option.

I know we might still have more kids, that the doctor could come back on Tuesday and tell us he was wrong, that the odds aren’t stacked against us. I know this period of mourning might be premature. I know God gave us our little girl early, before cancer, for this very reason. But knowing those things  doesn’t fill the space I didn’t know was there – the quiet space a second baby was waiting to fill.

I may not have the option to fill the space with another child, but I know that if I leave it empty, it will poison me. So, instead, I’ll have to fill it with something else, with someone else, someone like the daughter I’m lucky enough to have. Maybe by filling the space with her, I won’t feel like something’s missing. Maybe I won’t even notice. Maybe I’ll be okay. Because even though I know now that I want another baby, the baby I have – she’s enough.
Enough2Michbelle

NOTE: This piece ran on The Huffington Post.

Terrible

Today, you were terrible. Today, I was exhausted and your daddy was sick. Today, you didn’t listen to anything I said. Today, you climbed on the kitchen table everything even when I told you not to, especially when I told you not to, you laughed at me when (for the millionth time) I tried to stop you from eating the possibly poisonous fertilizer we’d just laid down, and you almost managed to insert a screwdriver into an electrical socket before your dad saved you from almost certain death. Today, I was sure I’d lose my mind.

When I caught you dumping out the dogs’ water and pulled you out of the laundry room, you collapsed onto the floor and threw a tantrum complete with flailing limbs and pterodactyl-level screeching. You calmed down when I bribed offered you a snack, but when it wasn’t goldfish, the tantrum began again.

I felt a familiar throb begin in my temple. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was somewhere more peaceful like a hospital ER or the front row of a One Direction concert, but your wails only grew louder. I gave in and handed you some goldfish. You smiled at me beatifically, momentarily soothed by the cheesy goodness of the fish, until I refused to share my Coca-Cola with you.

“Milk! Mommy, milk! Peeeeaaase!” I opened the fridge, more than happy to comply if milk would make the noise stop.

Naturally, we were out of milk. Since you live almost entirely on goldfish, milk, and avocado, the absence of one is nearly catastrophic. I grimaced, unprepared for the drama of a grocery store trip. Still, I packed your diaper bag and wrestled you (screaming) into your car seat. You didn’t want to be strapped in so you threw your paci and Hootie at me, but quickly realized you needed them more than you’d ever needed anything in your entire existence.

“PACI! Are you? HOOTIE!! Aaaaare yoooouuu?” You cried mournfully until they were firmly in your grasp. You were finally, blissfully quiet and I sat down, reveling in the silence that the magical pacifier gave.

But then, “MOMMY! MOMMY! MOOIE!”

I didn’t think a movie was necessary for the five-minute trip to the grocery store so I told you it was broken, but you didn’t believe me. You lifted your arms over your head, clapped your hands together, and chanted, “MOOIE! MOOIE! MOOIE!” until I had no choice but to relent because I was crying laughing too hard to continue the broken movie charade.

You were happy when Flynn Rider smoldered and Rapunzel sang, until I turned off the car and sat you in the grocery cart. You didn’t want to sit, you wanted to play, and when you couldn’t play, you wanted me to hold you, and when I didn’t hold you, you started to cry. So I let you walk, “but only if you hold my hand!” You did – for approximately three seconds – but then you saw something shiny, so you jerked away and took off running.

When I tried to pick you up, your limbs went stiff and immobile, then totally limp as you threw your weight to the ground. You lay stretched on the dirty floor, whining dolefully. Earlier today, you weighed 27 pounds but somehow you gained 100 pounds and were too heavy to pick up.

I pretended to walk away, hoping you’d follow me, but you stayed there crying instead. The woman at the deli counter with the glossy hair and high heels tried to pretend like she wasn’t judging me for leaving you there and I tried to pretend I wasn’t silently yelling at her to mind her own because HAVE YOU EVER HAD KIDS, PERFECT, SHINY LADY!?

When you thought I wasn’t looking anymore, you got up and darted to the thing you wanted to destroy touch. I used my super mom strength to wrangle all 127 pounds of you back into the cart.

I strapped you in and you started crying again. I watched you – your beautiful face scrunched up in fury, your blue eyes luminous with tears – and my frustration began to wane. I remembered yesterday when you gave me a thousand hugs, yesterday when you laughed at everything, yesterday when held my hand as I sang you another song, and I was overwhelmingly struck with love. Because, daughter, I love you so much. We stood there, just two girls in the middle of a store, until your cries finally subsided. Then I kissed the top of your head and whispered, “I love you, baby.”

And you Houdinied your way out of the strap, stood up in the seat, and said, “Gol-fish?”

TerribleMichbelle
Z with paci and Hootie.

My Daughter is Not My Best Friend

The more my daughter becomes a person and I see her as a human to interact with instead of just a baby to snuggle and feed, the more terrified I grow about this person I have to keep – a person who has thoughts and opinions all her own, a person I can’t trick into helping me clean up with songs and hand-clapping, a person who will be able to tell me exactly what she does and definitely does not want. What if we don’t get along? What if she hates me? What if I ruin her life? It’s bound to happen since I will absolutely be a regular mom (and not a cool mom).

I’ve listened to my students talk about their mothers – mothers who hang out with them, mothers who don’t give them rules or curfews, mothers who they talk to as though they’re peers (“Shut up! Don’t be a bitch!”), mothers who are cool, mothers who are their best friends. I’ve seen mothers who are their daughter’s friends and I’m not that mom.

It seems a bit presumptuous to say, since my daughter isn’t even two, but I feel confident saying that she is not, nor will she ever be, my best friend.

I have a best friend. I text, call, snap, and Facetime her constantly. I visit her whenever I’m able. I discuss intimate details about my marriage with her. I whine about stupid things like my bald spot and dry skin. I share my insecurities and fears. I tell her disgusting details about myself. I ask her for advice. I call her crying. I obsessively chatter about books and TV shows with her . I am vulnerable with her in more ways than I care to admit to anyone but her. I tell her things I don’t even tell my husband and I tell my husband nearly everything.

I can do this because she and I – we’re the same. We’ve experienced many of the same things – marriage, teaching, motherhood, fangirl life. And we’ve done it together. We’ve bolstered each other during difficult times. We’ve gotten drunk on multiple bottles of champagne and recorded ourselves giving advice to our future YouTube followers. We’ve kept each other’s secrets. We’ve pushed each other to succeed and celebrated each other’s victories.

DaughterNotBFMichbelle

I always want to be close with Zoey. I hope she and I have the kind of relationship I have with my own mom. I hope we always trust and respect one another. I hope that she comes to me when she needs advice, when she’s afraid, when she’s hurt. I hope she is confident enough in our relationship that she knows she can share things with me, that we can be honest with one another, that she knows I’ll always love and support her. But I have no intention of asking her advice about how to talk to her dad when we fight or debating with her whether or not the sex thing I read about will really make his head spin faster than Linda Blair’s.

Because she’s not my friend, she’s my daughter.

I grew her. I birthed her. I fed her. I love her more than I love myself. In a lot of ways, although she is completely her own person, she is also an extension of me. I feel all of the things she does in all of the clichéd ways mother do. She belongs to me in a way that no one else can – not a husband or a parent or even a best friend.

I was writing when she started crying, not twenty minutes after I laid her down. It was the first moment I’d had to sit and do something for myself all day so I immediately thought, “You have to be kidding me. Go back to sleep, kid! I just want five minutes for me.” When she didn’t stop crying, I sighed, slightly annoyed, but pushed open her door and picked her up out of her crib. We sat on the glider, her face on my chest, mine in her hair, both of us quiet for a minute. Then she pulled back and looked at me. “Hi, Momma! Nose!” She touched my nose, then hers. I laughed.

“Song,” she demanded. I started to sing. She rejected that song and then the next four with a quick “no” and a vigorous shake of her head, but I kept singing until my magical voice lulled her back to sleep. I could have put her down then, but I kept rocking and singing a love song just for her.

The truth is even when she’s grown and has daughters of her own, even when she’s old enough to get it, I may still decide not to share all of my secrets or doubts or thoughts with her. But we will always share this moment – the two of us rocking together and singing our love song.

DaughterNotBFMichbelle2

Because she’s not my best friend, she’s my daughter.

NOTE: A version of this piece ran on Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.