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!).

#blessed

These past few weeks have been a struggle. I’ve had to force myself to write. I sit at my computer and stare at words that don’t make sense, storylines that sound contrived, and I cringe. I don’t want to write. I’ve read – losing myself in stories not my own for hours at a time – but I can’t write. I have nothing to say.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the bone-weary task that is adulting, easy to forget the good things in the midst of the truly terrible, easy to dwell on the fuck you moments, easy to forget that I’m blessed by so many and so much.  I know; I do it all of the time.

But today I’m not going to. Today I’m going to take my daughter to the park because it’s a beautiful day and she loves the slide. I’m going to sit on the couch with my husband and watch TV. I’m going to kiss them both as much as possible. I’m going to laugh at my hilarious kid. I’m going to sing songs and play peek-a-boo and watch “Punzel” for the twelfth time this week. I’m going to make jokes with my sister.

And I’m going to ask you a favor. Share some good things with me. Text me. Comment. Call me. Whatever. Just lend me a little of your happy.

In return, I’ll lend you a little of mine.

image

This. This is my happy. Her name is Z and she’s my favorite person in the entire world. And she’s one of the many reasons that I am #blessed.

 

It’s Not Always About Me

Though I wish with all my being that Casey were well, I’m so grateful that Zoey isn’t the one who’s ill. I don’t know how I would deal with that. I don’t know if I could. It’s hard enough watching her struggle through normal childhood illnesses like Bronchitis and Hand Foot Mouth Disease. So I’m amazed when I see other mothers caring for their sick children with grace and dignity, when I see them acting normally, when I see them smiling and working and living. How do they manage not to fall apart? How do they find the strength to watch their children pocked and prodded? How do they wait for them as they’re wheeled away for procedures they’re too young to understand?

Melissa Hammerle is one of these mothers. Her son Parker isn’t even two and has spent more time in hospitals than most adults that I know. He has Gastroesophageal Reflux and Vesicoureteral Reflux which affects the bladder and kidney function. He is also hearing impaired in both ears (loss in one, partial in the other). And he suffers a condition called breath holding spells where, unable to express himself adequately, he holds his breath until he turns blue and passes out.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, he has broken attachment to Melissa, which means he won’t let her hold, bathe, feed, or change him. This is because he associates the pain and anger and fear of hospital visits and needles and procedures and probing doctors with her. Because she was there for him. Because she was trying to make him better. Because she loves him.

Everyone has told her repeatedly that he won’t remember any of this, but it’s clear he does. He may not remember the procedures or the doctors, but he remembers the fear and pain and anger. And he associates those feelings with her.

He doesn’t understand why he’s angry.

He doesn’t understand why he’s in pain.

When I sat lamenting her pain, telling her how sorry I was, that I couldn’t imagine what she’s been through, her response floored me. She said that it was okay, that she takes it all in stride because his pain is so much worse than hers. She said they refuse to sink.

There are days I don’t want to function because I feel so overwhelmed by our circumstances. There are days where I moan constantly about working full-time with a sick husband and a toddler, about being tired, about not having enough time to write or read or breathe. There are days when I let life crush me.

You know what Melissa does? She teaches high school kids all day (child development) and sometimes takes care of Parker and her little girl Paisley-Kate on her own (because her husband is in the military). She’s planning on teaching swim school this summer for extra money. She over-extends herself and does it happily because that’s who she is. I know she, like any of us, has dark days, but she doesn’t let herself drown. Because she can’t. Because Parker and PK and her husband Matt need her. Because her students need her. Because her clients need her. Because she refuses to sink.

And now she needs us.

In May, Parker will be put under anesthesia for another procedure. They’re nervous and afraid, but they push through. Parker is a fighter. They are all. They need our thoughts and prayers, our love and support, our good vibes and happy thoughts. Send them in abundance for this sweet family, for this adorable little boy.

Maybe for a little while, we can be the life raft that keeps them all from sinking.

ParkerHMichbelle

Click here to visit the Hammerle’s GoFundMe page.

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.