Wonder

 

The drive up to see Henry’s specialists is a long one, and most of the time we need to wrassle everyone in the car and hit the road before the sun’s even come up. Clinic days start promptly at nine. We leave the house at six-thirty to avoid rush hour traffic, we drive 90 minutes (if we’re lucky) up to Park Ridge, and by the time we find parking and grab a muffin for June, it’s time to report to the radiology lab for Henry’s pre-admission ultrasound. By 9, I’m exhausted and we’re usually only still in the waiting room. Clinic days are a doozy.

Every clinic day is different, but we’ve developed something of a tradition. Every time we go to the Spina Bifida clinic, I swing by Starbucks, purchase a big-ass iced chai latte, and pull out Natalie Merchant’s Tiger Lily CD that my husband purchased at Half Price Books last year (it’s always in our car because seriously? Have you heard it? That album is great). I turn on the second track and drive into the sunrise with this song on blast. I even throw in a fist-pump or two if it’s not too early.

I love her songs. I was eight when that album came out, so it reminds me of early fall afternoons as a third grader, watching episodes of Pop Up Video and eating fruit roll-ups while I struggled to do my math homework.

I blast that shit.

“Too noisy!” June hollers from the backseat, but mama don’t care. There’s one song in particular that I have to hear.

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing 

Maybe it’s too on-the-nose. Mama don’t care. I had heard this song before in the third grade, and it was catchy, and I’m pretty sure the Pop Up Video version made my afternoon, but when I listened to it after Henry was born the entire world melted away and I grabbed my noise-cancelling headphones and blasted it because I was hearing it all for the first time. This is our anthem. And what more appropriate place to listen to it when we travel back to the place where we were first told our little boy would never walk?

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

I adore this song and it resonates in my bones more than any Haas/Haugen song at Sunday Mass. It’s become our anthem. This child will be able. This child will not suffer. He will make his way. It might not be the same way everyone else travels, but dammit, he will make his way.

And it’s haunting — if I could go back in time and tell my old self anything, I would do exactly what Destiny is doing in this song. I would laugh. At the cluelessness of the doctors. In anticipation of our joy. I would whisper in my own ear — he will be able. He will be gifted. He will make his own way. You have no idea. 

I was accused a few months ago of lying. The specifics are unimportant, but basically I got into it with a bunch of strangers in an Internet combox who were asserting that a life with spina bifida is miserable, horrible, and that abortion would be a much preferable alternative. Needless to say, I disagreed. Others chimed in, saying that spina bifida was “incompatible with life” and that I was “minimizing” Henry’s “suffering.” Obviously, spina bifida was awful, and I had no earthly idea what I was talking about. Man. I’m the worst!

Is it difficult, this road we’re driving down together? Yeah. It is. And I want to write more about the difficulties we’ve faced — as a family unit, as a married couple — because sugar-coating our journey ain’t gonna help anybody. My marriage has scars, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t.

But isn’t that what’s great about wonder? It’s a feeling of surprise, mixed with admiration. We are living this life. We’re walking down this difficult road together, our spina bifida journey. And I fully expected when we got the diagnosis — in all my ignorance — that it would be nothing but hardship and constant misery. And it’s just not. And I’m surprised. And I laugh. He is able. He’s not perfect. None of us are. But we’re able. And we’re making our own way.

And this boy? My smiley boy? So worth it.

I wouldn’t trade this fabulous life of ours, this sometimes-daunting road we’re walking down together. We’re making our own way — with love, patience, and faith. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the gold in Gringotts.

Looking for Shangri-La when you’re stuck in Toddler Land

It occurred to me lately that I’m trying to find Nirvana and it just doesn’t exist.

Every morning I wake up and rush around, trying to find it. Here is how my crazy-anxiety-brain works: If the house is perfectly clean and the children are fed and the laundry is put away and the dishwasher is emptied and nobody is crying or fighting, then my anxiety will go away. My heart will stop pounding. My skin will stop crawling. My head will stop buzzing. That’s the idea anyway. I have no idea where this idea came from because this has literally never happened. Shangri-La doesn’t exist. I mean, that’s the point, right? Once you find it, it means your journey is over. And the journey with two toddlers is never, never, never over. There is always more to clean. There is always someone whining, screaming, or peeing on the floor. And yet I keep cleaning.

My anxiety lately has been through the roof. I don’t know why. Maybe my hippie best friend is right and I need to cut out the gluten. Maybe I need to increase my zoloft. Maybe I have OCD? Maybe I have a progesterone problem. But I think searching for Shangri-La is a symptom, not a cause.

Anxiety is such a heavy cross when you’ve got two small children. As much as I love them, they make it exponentially worse. Their tiny, squeaky voices (which I adore) are just relentless. June never stops talking. Everything she says I find impossibly cute and nerve-destroying all at once. Her two thousand constant questions. Her acting out. I’ll be frantically trying to vacuum (because if I just get all the crumbs off the floor, then maybe I won’t feel like running out the door. No crumbs will mean that all order has been restored and my anxiety will magically dissipate. Right?) and June will dump a bucket full of glue and glitter right in front of my vacuum ON PURPOSE and oh my gosh, the restraint it takes for me not to scream and pitch everything out the window (including the toddler) and light myself on fire and run down the street screaming is just heroic. Instead I just scream at her and fight back the urge to cry.

Parenting: I nailed it!

I’ve had anxiety before, but I’ve never had this weird, panicky-anger, which is throwing me for a loop and making life with two small children almost unbearable. Part of me hates writing posts like this because it makes me sound like Complainey McWhiner and I definitely love my life. But I definitely do not love this anxiety that creeps up on me like a rising tide and overpowers me before I even realize that it’s there. I don’t even realize how stressed I am until mornings like this, when my heart is pounding and I’ve literally vacuumed and mopped the entire downstairs before 7 am, and I’m yelling at Henry to just STOP SHRIEKING, for the love of God, because I don’t know why he’s upset and seemingly nothing I’m doing is helping. Maybe hand-washing and rearranging all the dishes in the cupboards will help?

(Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

What’s frustrating is that I know it’s futile. It’s impossible to have a perfectly clean house AND two well-behaved, expertly-groomed toddlers. But I still keep trying. And it just rachets up my anxiety even further. Just as soon as I load all the dishes in the dishwasher, Henry will empty all of the tupperware out of the tupperware drawer, giving me something else to put away. The more I clean, the more mess they’ll make. And the less attention I give them, the more they act out. But for whatever reason, I just can’t get out of this weird OCD cleaning loop. I have to clean, and I get panicked when I don’t.

What do you do with all this weird stress-anger? How can you keep from snapping angrily at your baby when he’s upended an entire sippy cup of milk on your freshly-mopped floor? Why is a clean house even important to me right now?

Aaaand June just shit her pants. For the third time this morning. That’s three times before 8 am.

 

Calgon, get me the hell outta here.

 

An Open Letter to Judgey McJudgerson about the iPad Potty

Dear Judgey McJudgerson,

This is the picture you shared on Facebook today. You were shocked. Aghast. Horrified. Can you believe it? There are some parents (lazy jerks, I bet) who actually use these things to get their child to use the potty. I mean, just look at this thing. What’s next? Those levitating chairs from Wall-E?! It’s sick, I tell you. SICK.

Your judgey friends chimed in as well:

“That’s so disturbing.” 

“This is only for lazy parents. I would sit next to the potty and read my daughter BOOKS when we were potty-training!” 

“Wow…really? Ever heard of INTERACTING with your child instead of plopping him down in front of a SCREEN?!” 

“Whatever happened to small treats, like a sticker or a cookie? I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way!” 

“What has our society BECOME??!” 

Judgey, let me introduce you to my son.

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I know, he’s unfairly cute. Try not to stare.

Henry has Spina bifida. In about a year, we will begin something called a bowel program for him. Henry has no bowel control. I know, I know what you’re thinking: What baby does have bowel control? That’s what I thought for a long time, anyway.

You know when babies crawl around on the floor, and then they stop what they’re doing, their faces turn red, and they strain VERY OBVIOUSLY to push something out? And that “something” turns out to be poop? Those babies can control their bowels.

For Henry, he poops (and pees) pretty much all day long. It just comes right out. No straining, no pushing. No notice at all, actually, and we’re not sure how much he’s even able to feel down there. Regardless, he can’t control his bowel movements. Poop just pops out of him randomly. (Which, let me tell you, makes me feel like a super shitty parent, no pun intended. People have been known to pick up Henry, wrinkle their noses, and hand him back to me — oops, a poopy diaper! Mommy must not have realized! What they don’t know is that I just got done changing a poopy diaper five minutes ago. And ten minutes before that. And thirty minutes before that. Kids with Spina bifida tend to have lots of really bad diaper rash — is it any surprise?)

So. My point. In a year or so, we’ll have to start a bowel program for this guy, in order to keep him “socially continent.” This means that we’ll perform something called an enema, either once a day or every 48 hours or so, that completely flushes out his bowels so he won’t poop at all during the day. This will allow him to be around other kids and other parents without being the “stinky one.” Great, right?

Here’s what you don’t know about enemas: Kids who get enemas — which is most of the kids who have spina bifida or any kind of spinal cord damage — have to sit on the potty for a long, long time. Much longer, in fact, than a child with typical bowel control. Enemas flush out a lot of poop, so they take a while to work. Kids who use enemas for their bowel program can sit on the potty for forty-five, sixty, or sometimes even upwards of ninety minutes.

Judgey, when was the last time you had to get your toddler to do anything for upwards of ninety minutes? 

Will we purchase this iPad toilet? That remains to be seen.

But, Judgey, you better believe that if this thing gets my son to sit on the toilet for ninety minutes, I’m going to purchase the hell out of it. And I won’t be one bit sorry.

Know what I think? This thing is freaking great. It’s a masterpiece. Potty training is hard, with a bowel program or without, and whatever keeps your kid socially continent and potty-trained before they go to kindergarten, I’m all for.

And you know what else? I’m just gonna say it. All types of parents buy these kinds of things for their kid. Maybe they have a child who is fully potty-trained EXCEPT for poop, and getting her to sit still and poop in the toilet for more than thirty seconds is an impossibility without some screen time (I have one of those children). Maybe they have a kid with really bad sensory issues, and they need some hardcore distraction because poop just feels weird. Or maybe their kid just won’t sit still and kindergarten is fast approaching and they’ll try anything because they’re desperate.

My point, Judgey, is that there are millions of different kinds of people, and there are millions of different ways of parenting. You’ve appointed yourself the Official Worrier of Other People’s Children and Society In General, and you’ve decreed it a crime against humanity to use one of these things to toilet train, because technology will rot their brains!. And relationships will suffer. And WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?!. But if you step outside of your self-righteous little bubble, maybe you could learn to appreciate a parent whose kid hasn’t potty-trained as easily as yours. And maybe instead of judgment, you can offer compassion. Or understanding.

Or maybe just mind your own freaking business.

 

 

No love,

Wifeytini

Garage sales: The Good, the Bad, and the Get The Hell Away From Me

 

Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me. It’s about seven miles from my house, to be exact — the affluent suburb of Naperville, IL. Or, you know, wherever there happens to be a garage sale. But Naperville specifically is loaded with rich people who have way too much stuff to sell — name brands, in pretty good condition.

That’s where I come in.

(How much fun is this song, by the way? I must have listened to this song on repeat for the entire seventh grade. I’ve never sailed in my life — except for garage ‘sailing’, duh — but the song sounded romantic and dreamy and was like gasoline to the fire of my hyper-hormonal teenage daydreams. I LOVE YOU LANCE.)

Anyway.

This morning, Lou and I loaded up the car (prepared with individual snacks and drinks for both the kids) and headed to an affluent area that was having their annual subdivision garage sale. They did not disappoint. Well, some of them disappointed. But we got exactly what we came for: 18-24 month clothes for Henry, and crafts for June.

Behold:

photo-61

BRAND NEW craft supplies I snagged for June — modeling clay, sidewalk chalk, and beads. Hours of learning for only $5!

My glorious bounty, most of which still had tags on: A halloween costume, 8 pairs of pajamas, a BRAND NEW pair of Nikes for Henry, 13 shirts, 7 onesies, 2 shorts, 1 sweater, 3 pairs of pants, and a vest -- all for $20.

My glorious bounty, most of which still had tags on: A halloween costume, 8 pairs of pajamas, a BRAND NEW pair of Nikes for Henry, 14 shirts, 7 onesies, 3 shorts, 1 sweater, 3 pairs of pants, and a vest — all for $20.

 

A handsome man wearing shorts and shirts (not pictured above, but part of the $20 bounty). Both the shirt AND the shorts had the original price tags on them.

A handsome man wearing shorts and shirts (not pictured above, but part of the $20 bounty). Both the shirt AND the shorts had the original price tags on them.

 

Obviously, this is my favorite way to purchase children’s clothes. Not only is it ridiculously cheap (I paid an average of $0.52 per item of clothing!) but getting such a good deal gives you an incredible high that leaves you floating for days. Just call me the Yard Sale Junkie (don’t call me that).

 

“Buy used and save the difference!” Those Duggars know what’s up.

The ideal garage sale for me isn’t actually a rich neighborhood — rich people tend to hold onto their stuff much more tightly than someone would in a modest neighborhood. Rich people (I’m generalizing, obviously, but it’s been my experience as far as garage sales go) tend to overcharge for their items and are less likely to negotiate. On the other hand, their stuff tends to be in better condition and there tends to be much more of it. So, it’s a trade-off. But rich people garage sales are only worth for me it if the seller is willing to come down in price. Or if the seller is welcoming and appropriately social, and not a total dick.

In fact, there are a few criteria that yard sales have to meet before we even get out of the car — at a glance, it has to have what we’re looking for (bins full of children’s clothes is a good sign), and before we make a purchase, they have to be willing to negotiate.

We’ve learned that a good garage sale has those qualities — people are friendly, they don’t crowd you when you’re shopping, and they genuinely want to get rid of their stuff. But there are a few people we encountered today that are a prime example of yard sales we typically stay away from. For example:

“That table is fifty percent off, and anything inside the garage is buy two, get one free.” 

Newsflash — we’re in your garage, not a Neiman Marcus department store. You’re not a cashier, and your sales tags are just suggestions. A good way to get deals at these kinds of sales (or at any sales, really, but especially these) is to bundle: Scoop up a ton of clothes, and tell the seller what you’d like to pay for it. Rarely if ever do I pay more than $2-$3 for kids clothes — even nice outfits or fancy dresses. If the seller’s price is too high or they’re not willing to work with you, walk away (respectfully!).

“Oooh, yeah, I bought that for $30 and Preslynne only wore it once. So we’re selling it for $25 and that’s the final price.” 

I’m sorry, is this Petit Tresor? No? Then I’m not paying $25 for a pair of Baby Uggs. ANYONE who tells you what they paid for it is trying to get some of their money back — and if that’s the case, why not take it to a consignment store? Why not sell it on eBay? In my opinion, anyone who sets out to make a profit violates the spirit of the garage sale, and I’m not down for that. Neither should you be. Put down the item, smile politely, and try not to damage any of their expensive shit as you sprint back to your car.

“This is SUCH a good deal — it sells for twice as much in the store!” 

Is it, though? Is it really? Yes, I know that this thing retails for $40 and you’ve only used it a handful of times. But if it’s as new as you say, maybe you should just return it to the store? Again, we’re in your yard. And it’s impossible for me to verify how much you’ve really used this item. You could have taken a dump in this high-chair for all I know, and the drop in price is an acknowledgment of that. There’s no recourse for me if I spent a bunch of money and the item turns out to be crap, so I’m really not looking to pay more than a couple bucks.

 “I can’t come down in price. The sales tag already says $8.” 

Oh, right, the sales tag. The price that you made up arbitrarily and stuck on there yourself. You’re powerless to change it. It’s out of your control. Someone actually said this to me today. Luckily, I still got a deal by lumping a bunch of items in together and bargaining with her. But anyone who won’t work with you on price is usually just someone you want to walk away from.

Actual phrases I’ve used to help me land a deal include:

“What’s the lowest you’ll go on all this stuff?” [As it turned out, pretty darn low. Lower than what I would have paid. Which is why it never hurts to ask.]

“Can you cut me a deal if I buy these clothes as a lot?” 

[when some douchebro refused to come down on the price AT ALL for his daughter’s used clothes. You could tell he was a douchebro because he wore his sunglasses on the BACK OF HIS HEAD LIKE GUY FIERI and barely looked up from his iPhone]: “Aww, bro, don’t tell me I dug through all these clothes for nothing!” [He quickly relented, and I got a ton of clothes for like five dolla.]

“Well, the price tag says $5, but I’m sure that’s a mistake. Would you take $1 for it?” [She did.]

[After some mom started going on about how she paid $50 for some outfit that she was selling for $25] “I understand. You probably want to keep this for the memories anyway.” [Turns out, she didn’t!]

“Would you take $3 for both?” [Or insert any price here. So many times I’ve grabbed a bundle of stuff and just threw out a figure. Many, many times, people genuinely just want to get rid of their stuff. They don’t want to add up all the items you want to buy and cross-check that with what you’re offering. And to be perfectly honest, most (American) people aren’t used to haggling and it makes them uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s unethical to use all of those things to your advantage. Throw out an offer and see what they do. This is the phrase I use most often and it works ninety percent of the time.]

My best and often fool-proof strategy for ‘sailing is to have a good idea of what you’d like to pay for each item ($2 max per baby outfit is one of my yardsticks), be upfront about what you want to spend, and always be polite. Watch for the warning signs, and don’t be afraid to walk away.

Don’t be afraid to stay and bargain your way to a sweet deal, either.

I can’t wait to go next weekend.

Just a dream and a Honda Pilot to carry me, and soon I will be free. 

A letter to myself, one year after our diagnosis

This is a repost. I deleted the old one because I couldn’t get the formatting to work. I’m a sub-par mommy blogger, you guys. 

Henry, fresh outta the womb. So plump, fuzzy, and pink -- just like a little piglet.

Henry, fresh outta the womb. So plump, fuzzy, and pink — just like a little piglet.

 

One year ago, on November 7th, I thought my life was over.

I remember that day in bits and pieces — but the pieces I do remember are sharp. We had gone in for an anatomy scan, to learn the baby’s sex. We bided our time in the waiting room with the other mothers, giddy, debating the different reasons why we thought it would be a boy or a girl. We made bets. We shook on them. I can’t remember any of them now.

The nurse called us in and Lou carried June back into the ultrasound room. It was dark and cool. The nurse squirted some goo on my belly and our son popped up on the TV screen. In high-definition, no less. We all stared, in awe, while the tech took measurements. Every so often I’d blurt out, Do you see that? That’s his face! Do you see his little face? Is that a penis? That’s a penis right there, right? Pretty sure that’s a penis. Definitely a penis, I said, trying to get the ultrasound tech to check the sex.

And then the doctor walked in. Shook our hands. Stared at the screen intently and sighed. And then. And then. The most agonizing moment of my life. Had the doctor burst through the door and roundhouse kicked me in the neck, I could not have been more stunned. And hurt.

 

Our son, he told us, had a defect called Spina Bifida. Something was wrong. Something had not formed properly. Fluid on the brain. Malformation. No cerebellum. Increase of stillbirth by a factor of five. Prematurity. C-section. Clubbed feet. We don’t know. We don’t know. There’s no way of knowing. Over and over, the bad news just kept coming. It crashed over us. By the end of his spiel, I almost couldn’t breathe.

I didn’t want to terminate, per se — but I definitely wanted to be un-pregnant. Somehow. I bit my tongue, almost asking can I try again? Can I get a do-over? Can we fix this? Simultaneously, I seethed at the staff, smoldering with a protective fury. Just dare mention termination to me, I thought, just try. I felt like jumping off the table, ready to fight anyone who would suggest I abort — but at the same time feeling weak and wanting immediately to be done being pregnant. To have this go away. I remember feeling weighted down, weak and hot, sweaty and starting to shake, hopelessly trapped because I couldn’t run from the “problem” — the “problem” was inside of me. It was inescapable. Inevitable. I felt doomed.

OMFG I CANNOT HANDLE THE CUTENESS.

OMFG I CANNOT HANDLE THE CUTENESS.

Here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back: Your life is over. It’s over in the best possible way. The life you had is done, and the person you were is dead. And it’s an immeasurable blessing.

You’re stronger now. Words like shunt and hydrocephalus used to cause you physical pain. Now you throw them around like you’re talking about what to cook for dinner. Just the thought of leaving your baby in someone else’s care — a doctor’s, a babysitters — used to set you on edge. Now you have a month in the NICU under your belt, and you have a new confidence and respect for nurses and doctors, because you’ve seen the miracles they can work. You can delegate. Do what you gotta do, you say to them, instead of peppering them with questions and wringing your hands in terror. Instead of crying and thinking I’m supposed to CATHETERIZE a baby? How the hell is that going to happen?, you just do it, like a boss, on the changing table in the bathroom of a Barnes and Noble, and move on with your day. You don’t think to yourself anymore how will I ever possible handle all of this? Because you’ve handled it. You’ve walked through hell already. You’ve survived. You know that there are going to be other “worst days of my life” in the years ahead. But you also know that you have a resovoir of inner strength that is deep and wide, and you’re a fighter.

You’re also weaker. When you hear of a mom whose kid was in the NICU, your heart drops in your stomach. You ache right along with her. The smell of antimicrobial hand soap brings tears to your eyes — it reminds you of the NICU. You wince when you see videos of yourself in the days leading up to the ultrasound, because you were so happy in those pictures and had no idea how badly you were going to be hurt. You see kids running around on a playground and you cringe — your stomach knots in on itself. Who will Henry play with, you wonder, when all the other kids want to run around? Will he be stuck in his wheelchair, by himself? When you see pictures of children in other countries who have Spina Bifida — children who don’t have the same access to medical care, kids who, unthinkably, have no mommy to speak for them — the pain you have for those children is so real, so visceral, and so sharp, it takes your breath away. You feel pain differently. You hurt more. You’re wounded.

So yeah, in a way, your life is over. Because you’re not the same person. Your soul, your mind — everything has changed. Even your body boasts a new and impressive scar, still red and angry-looking, a vertical grin across your pelvis. But would you go back, if you had the chance, and give any of it up? Would you ask the doctor for a “do over”? Would you try to fix it?

 

Hell to the no.

You’re stronger than you ever thought possible. You’re more resilient than you had ever imagined. You’re older, wiser, and much less likely to take things — especially health — for granted. You’re a better person, because of this child, because of this so-called defect, than you ever would have been without him.

And the best part, is that you get to be a mother to this new, round, squishy little person. You get to fall in love with someone all over again. You get to delight in his husky little boy voice, his babbling, his cooing, the geewwwww he makes when he doesn’t want to eat his baby cereal, the little frowny face he makes before he starts to cry, the soft tufts of his hair, his fat, impossibly smooth cheeks. You get to be gifted with a million of these little pleasures, these fleeting moments, day after day, for as long as God allows him to be in your life.

What a joy, what a gift. Thank you, God. Not only for this precious person, but for this new mother I’ve become.

I would not go back and make it “better.” I would not trade it for anything. 

Hold On

One of the most trying things about toddler-wrangling is their neediness. Their urgency.

You think you leave it behind when you finally crawl out of the newborn stage, but you don’t. Not really. It just changes shape. They still have immediate, urgent needs, and so much more of them, it seems. As an infant, they would wail for food. Wail for comfort. Wail for a diaper change. That was mostly it. And then they’d sleep the rest of the day. With toddlers, there are so many more things to wail about. So many more. And they never sleep.

I just! I need! I have! A red marker! And I need! A green marker! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY HELP

Apparently, when you’re two, everything is an emergency, and everything needs to be treated with the immediacy of a level-red terrorist alert. As a result, the most commonly-used phrase in our house is hold on. I must say it to June twenty-five times before noon:

Yes, I know you need help pulling up your undies; please hold on, I have cookie batter on my hands.

Yes, I know you can’t get the cap off your marker, I heard you the first four times; please hold on while I catheterize your brother.

Please stop climbing on me, I know there’s a spider on the wall, I’ll kill it in like, two seconds, just hold on. HOLD ON.

I KNOW the Netflix stopped working, but I’m giving Henry a bath; just hold on for five minutes. HOLD ON. STOP SHRIEKING. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

I will pour you some cereal WHEN I’M DONE BREASTFEEDING COULD YOU NOT.

Unlike June, Henry doesn’t have five million requests for stupid shit, but he makes up for it with his god-awful whine. On a good day, he sounds like Beaker. But if I don’t get him what he wants quickly enough, it escalates into just straight-up screaming.

Not even crying. Literally just one shrill note.

Obviously, my anxiety goes through the roof when they’re like this. One of my old PTSD triggers, for whatever reason, is a shrill, unrelenting, loud, or repetitive noise. Thanks to modern medicine and therapy, I’m no longer thrown into an endless panic spiral. But it still grates on my nerves probably more than it should, and after thirty seconds of high-pitched screaming and whining and begging, my heart starts to pound pretty quickly. It’s one of nature’s greatest ironies — children, with their whining and their incessant needs, can trigger your “fight or flight” mechanism unlike any other. Yet raising children is one situation you can’t just flee from on a whim. Not without legal repercussions, anyway.

Oh you need dinner? BRB never coming back

And there’s an existential anxiety there, too, when they need something and they screech super loudly and I have to tell them to just hold on, hold on! When you’ve got two baby birds screeching for food, you start to feel inadequate when you can’t feed them fast enough. Because, you know, feeding them is your job. It’s like, a basic requirement of living. They’re HUNGRY, for God’s sake — listen to them! They’re starving! What kind of a mother lets her children STARVE??

Oh God, they’re gonna starve! I’m the worst!

And let’s not kid ourselves — there’s an anxiety there that no matter how many spiders I kill and markers I un-cap, I can’t give them everything they need, at all times, all at once. It’s anxiety that I’m not enough. That I just can’t do it. That I just can’t meet their needs.

Anxiety that maybe I’m just not very good at this motherhood thang.

What other job can you say you’ve waited your whole life for, and have now done for years, and still you have no idea what you’re doing? Are there any other jobs where you can mess up every single day, irrevocably, and not be fired?

I know they won’t always be like this — I know. And I’m not doing a horrible job, I get it. It’s just an anxiety I have to learn to deal with. Story of my life.

And I know that I’ll miss this some day. I know. I will miss this urgency, this constant screaming excitement. It’s overwhelming, but it’s the same thing that makes her scream with delight when she sees soap bubbles. It’s the same thing urgency that makes her run into my arms and scream mommy mommy mommy! when I get back from the grocery store. It’s not all terrible.

It’s one more two-year-old thing I’ll have to say goodbye to. Yesterday I told June to “JUST HOLD ON” maybe sixty times. Not an exaggeration. Yesterday I was more than ready to say goodbye to this particular stage of being two.

And then we went to preschool. And now I’m not so sure.

When we got there, she dashed up to the front door and judo-kicked the handicap button on the door. The door swung open and she ran inside, pell-mell, past the secretary, jabbering about her pigtails, and ran through another set of doors, down the hall, to her preschool classroom. She needed to get to class. There were crafts to be done. And songs to sing. It was an emergency, as always. Henry and I huffed and puffed behind her, trying to catch up.

Gotta get to pre-school, mom! Let’s go, mom! 

I love watching her pigtails swing back and forth as she’s running away from me down the hall. I love watching her back-pack (“pack-pack”) bounce all over her tiny body. Sometimes I love her toddler excitement. Okay? I do. Sue me.

But I’m still gonna tell her to slow down. Come back. Don’t you want to hold my hand?

Just hold on. 

Goodbye to Two

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June got mad at preschool today — really mad. For her, anyway.

June, Henry and I go to a mommy-and-me preschool type thing right down the road from our house, and all of us love it. It gives us structure, it gives Henry exposure to other kids, and it gives June some much-needed socialization. She’s usually introverted and shy to the point of catatonia. But not today.

Today we were sitting in our semi-circle with all the other kids and their mothers for story time. Instead of a story, the teacher pulled out a wooden Melissa and Doug birthday cake and we sang Happy Birthday to the three kids who had turned four over the weekend. Apparently, June was not having it. She left the reading circle, sat with her back toward everyone else, and crossed her elbows, clearly pissed.

“I NOT singing that song, Mommy,” she said. “I just NOT singing it. It’s MY birfday TOO.”

“No, sweetie, it’s not your birthday until next month. We’ll sing happy birthday for you next month. Right now it’s their turn.”

“NO.” She said, sticking her feet straight out in front of her, in defiance. “It’s my birthday NOW. I three NOW.”

And it hit me: Whoa. She’ll be three soon. One more month, and I’ll no longer have a two year old.

And, ouch, my heart. On the way home, trying to hold it together, I made a mental list of things we’ll be saying goodbye to, when two is officially over: This is the last year she’s going to reach for me to hold her when we walk down the steps. This will be the last year she’ll plop down on my lap and kiss me on the lips and say “I yuv you!” without provocation. This is the last year she’ll pronounce frustrating as fushing! God willing, this is the last year she’ll eat ONLY CEREAL for every single meal.

“Mommy, can I have some — ” NO

I’m not ready.

I want more.

I know everyone tells you not to “wish the days away,” but the newborn days suck, and I definitely wished them away. All of them. I would happily hold them in my belly until the twenty-fifth trimester so I could avoid the nursing-for-a-half-hour-every-forty-minutes stage. (Otherwise known as the is-that-blood-jesus-christ-my-nipples-are-bleeding-again-somebody-please-anesthetize-me stage.) It’s not my favorite stage. I cherish my sweet newborns, I do. I hold them and kiss their milk-lips and nibble on their cheeks when they’re sleeping. And then I toss them in their baby swing and run like hell so I can take a shower and ice my nips.

And I’ll probably get crucified for saying so, but anything before eight weeks is so boring. They’re cute and everything, but it’s just a lot of work for not a whole lot of payoff: How’s the baby? Uh, he weighs, like, ten pounds now, I think? He nurses a lot still. He really likes playing with this kleenex box full of scarves. He doesn’t *quite* hold his head up yet — but maybe soon! Wow. Riveting. All that excitement totally makes up for the ninety cumulative minutes of sleep I got last night.

Oh, yes, it will. But we parents of newborns call it “the scare ball”

When I think of being pregnant again, I inwardly groan, because pregnancy. And newborn stage. And bleeding nips. But when I think of having another one- or two-year-old, I could have a million of those and never get sick of it. Two is when some of this parenting stuff actually feels like it’s starting to pay off. Two is when you can opine on their personality instead of run through a laundry list of boring milestones.

I am not a weepy, emotional mother by any means (unless I skip my zoloft for five or six days and then let’s just say I’ve been known to binge-watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians all afternoon and cry when Kim loses her earrings in the ocean). I am not nostalgic and I never cried when my babies reached their milestones. I never told them to slow down, you’re growing up too fast! I told them to hurry up and sleep through the night, so I don’t feel like killing myself!

I am guilty of wishing the days away. I am lazy. I don’t like work. Motherhood is hard. Sacrifice is really really hard. Having bleeding nipples and no sleep and wonky anxiety hormones sucks so badly. I’m not nostalgic for these moments. Probably because I’m in the thick of them.

Truth. And I’ll scrapbook WHEN I’M DEAD.

But two is the exception. It’s kind of throwing me for a loop. It’s so very challenging and so very, very joyful. Even when I’m scolding her for throwing her underwear at me yet again, or when I’m leading her by the hand, screaming, into Time Out because she threw a toy at her brother (“FINE, I SHARE!”), and I just want five minutes where she doesn’t ask me for another bowl of goddamn cereal, I feel so much joy and love in my heart that I catch myself smiling when I shouldn’t be. I sneak upstairs where my husband’s working and relay everything naughty she’s done and hold back laughter until my abdomen aches.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I want more.