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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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.

It’s Not Soap Night

Stop standing in your highchair. Sit down! Are you done eating? Say “all done!” SAY “ALL DONE!” Why are you smearing avocado in your hair?! Stop! Stop it, Zoey! It’s not soap night! 

I always said I wouldn’t be that parent. I wouldn’t be the parent who has to leave places early because it’s bedtime, the parent who misses things because they couldn’t bear to leave the baby with find a sitter, the parent who wouldn’t have to bribe their child not to throw a tantrum. I was never going to be the parent that doesn’t go to dinner with her friends because mom guilt keeps her home with her daughter, the parent that misses out on impromptu dates late night golf cart rides around the neighborhood because the baby is asleep and she should be there if the babe wakes up…even when her aunt is there to watch her.

But I am that parent. I think. Sometimes, not other times. But I don’t actually have any idea what kind of parent I am because it varies so greatly from day to day. One day I’m gentle and endlessly patient and the next day – well, the next day is last night.

Last night I lost my temper. Lost it because I was tired and knew I had to be up far too early for another biopsy that might not yield answers. Lost it with a toddler who doesn’t mean to test my patience because she’s not even two and she (usually) doesn’t know any better. Lost it because I wasn’t focused on my daughter, I was focused on the routine of bedtime tasks.

I laid her down to change her diaper and she moved because she hates it when I change her diaper (and yet stays perfectly still when they change her at school because her school is full of wizards who use their powers to make children behave). She yelled and writhed and threw her body around angrily. Her leg went straight into the poopy diaper that I’d just opened and that poop went everywhere – on her, the mat, and me. Frustration welled up in me. I didn’t yell but I held her down firmly and said her name furiously.

ZOEY. 

And she stopped for a minute. She stopped when she normally wouldn’t because she heard something in my voice, saw something in my face that said I was going to lose my mind. Over nothing. Over poop. And for a minute, I won. But her eyes widened and her lips quivered and she lay still – scared, sad, hurt. And I did that to her. I scared her. I saddened her. I hurt her.

It wasn’t supposed to be soap night.

But she didn’t care about that. All she knew was she didn’t want her diaper changed and her mom hurt her feelings. I hurt her feelings. And my husband, seeing the meltdown that was imminent (on my end, not hers), swept in and started helping, the cool dad diffusing the tension brought by the mean mom. (And I can already see how this will play out in the future.)

I saw her start to calm down because he was calm. I saw her start to smile. I saw her forget what I’d done. And I may not know what kind of parent I am, but I know what kind of parent I don’t want to be. So I choked down my anger, put aside my misplaced frustration, and started singing “The Wheels on Bus.” And when those little hands started rolling as the wheels went ‘round and ‘round, and that smile shook the sad out of her eyes, I knew it didn’t matter what kind of parent I was as long as I let love fuel my actions rather than anger.

Even when I’m tired and covered in poop and it’s not soap night.

It'sNotSoapNightMichbelle2

Lies I’ll Tell My Daughter

I’ve always known that I’d have to lie to my kids one day. It’s one of those weird parenting moments (because parenting is all super normal) where you have to make hard decisions (because parenting is normally really easy). We have to teach our kids not to lie, while still occasionally lying to them. Then, once they figure out that we lie regularly, we have to teach them the difference between a white lie, an out-and-out lie, a lie of omission, and just pure delusion, as well as when it’s appropriate (or not) to use each. It’s very complicated stuff.

One day, I’ll tell Little Z about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny as incentive to behave to give her a sense of magic and help foster her imagination. And though I know it’s a lie, I think it’s a lie that will do her more good than harm. I hope to be a parent who is open and honest with my daughter, but I know there will be times when I’ll lie to her. Sometimes I’ll lie to protect her, other times to give her hope, and, more often than not, because I’m still trying to convince myself.

Everything will be okay. Well, baby girl, fingers crossed and here’s to hoping! A sentiment spoken to reassure and soothe, the truth is that sometimes it won’t be okay – at least not right away or for a while or on any kind of timeline that you would like. Whatever wounds you suffer will heal when they’re supposed but not before then. At 16, I suffered my first true heartbreak. People told me over and over that I’d be over it and him in no time. I wasn’t. It took me several years and two boyfriends to get that ish out of my system. I wasn’t okay for a long time. Then, one day, I was.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. Bullshit. There are lots of things to be afraid of. I’m still afraid of the dark and things grabbing my feet when I step off the bed. I’m afraid that someone will stab me as I sit enjoying a meal. I’m afraid that I won’t be a good parent and that I won’t write the book I so desperately want to write. And I’m afraid for you, Little Z. I’m afraid of all the terrible things you’ll run into in life. I’m afraid you’ll get hurt. I’m afraid you’ll get lost. I’m afraid you’ll hate me. I’m afraid of SO.MANY.THINGS. The point is that it’s okay to be afraid as long as you don’t let your fears debilitate you. Don’t let them keep you from living or loving or being yourself.

If you’re a good person, good things will happen to you. Sure, and sometimes you’ll be a good person and bad things will happen to you. Like you’ll get cancer, or lose your job, or someone you love will leave you. And there’s nothing you can do to prevent it and you’ll feel defeated and worthless. You might feel like there’s no one on your side and no one understands. Sometimes for no apparent reason, things just suck. Embrace the suck because it won’t last forever and try to find the good in life, however small or seemingly insignificant, amidst all the awful because the good is what makes life worth doing.

You can be whatever you want to be when you grow up. If this were true, I’d be a professional writer living the easy life in my Manhattan penthouse. But that’s not how life works. For some, yes, it’s as easy as pie to achieve your dreams and be all that you can be, but for most of us, it takes a lot of work. You’ll need talent, skill, perseverance, and dedication. And sometimes even that isn’t enough. I thought a big smile, passion for dance, and good attitude would be enough to make me a Rangerette. They weren’t. I thought writing a book with relatable characters and quippy one-liners would make it interesting. It didn’t. I thought waving a wand around and making up spells would get me into Hogwarts. It didn’t. If you understand that it won’t always be easy and you don’t let failure discourage you, eventually, you’ll get wherever you want to be.

Love is all you need. It is if you want to live on the street with your 5 kids and loving husband. Only (mostly) kidding. It’s a lovely and romantic notion but love alone cannot sustain us. Love is patient and kind but it doesn’t guarantee food or clothing or safety or warmth. It won’t provide you a home. It won’t cure you when you’re sick. It won’t guarantee you security. So while love of self, of others, of God is essential, it alone is not all you need. Don’t let anyone convince you that it is. That, my dear, is a trap you don’t want to fall into.

I don’t want Little Z to be a cynic like I was, at least not before some heartbreak and her own Summer of Scandal (which is an entirely different story), so I’ll tell her these lies to give her confidence and comfort. I’ll tell them lovingly and believably in the hopes that she grows into an optimistic, fearless woman who believes that she can conquer the world. I’ll tell them with a smile and a hug because I’m her mom and that’s my job.

I’ll leave out the fine print though. I may be a liar but I’m no ruiner of childhoods.

LiesIllTellMyDaughterMichbelle2

 

Note: A version of this ran on SCARY MOMMY.