don’t talk about my kid that way

“Raging Sociopath.” “Little Criminal.” “Corrupt.” “Depraved.” “Demon Child.”

If someone said those things about either of my children, they’d be facing a very angry mama bear. Imagine my surprise to find them littered throughout an ostensibly Christian parenting book (Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond) my Sunday School class has started studying! I had so many issues with the first lesson of the study that my head almost exploded, but this is one of my biggest issues with the author’s entire view on parenting, because the way he speaks about children, I think, has a lot to do with the harsh manner in which he advocates treating them.

Can you imagine the Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me,” and who encouraged all of us to have faith like a child speaking of his beloved little children in those terms? It’s hard to imagine a Bible that says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29) seeing such terms as “building up” or “beneficial” to children.

I gather that in order to understand “sinful nature,” some people must force themselves to believe that children are basically depraved sinners. I just don’t think that in order to accept that all humans have a capacity to sin I must see my children in only those terms. While my children have their periods of selfishness (which it seems to me is pretty much the root of all evil, even in my own heart), nearly four years with them has taught me that kids have great capacities for love and empathy. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. They genuinely want to show love to the people around them. One of the highest compliments I can pay my girls is to tell them what loving hearts they have, and how happy my heart is to see them being kind to others. When I do, I can see them radiating joy. They have a capacity for selfishness, too, but the answer is not to tell myself or them that they are basically monsters. The answer is to encourage and nurture their naturally loving little hearts, and to learn from them.

I am often quoting author Thomas King, “The truth about stories is, they’re all that we are.” I’ve also read that our voices will one day become the voices in our children’s heads. The words that we use to think about and talk about our children shape the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. They will do their best to live up to the selves they see reflected in our eyes. I want them to know that I see their best selves, that I feel privileged to know them and to be their mom. Imagine my surprise to find a Christian parenting expert speaking of children in terms I'd sock a stranger for using about my kids!

can it be? a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is THREE?

EttatudeUsually, I am not one to cotton to other parents who tell those with littler kids “just you wait, it gets worse.” Because each stage in this journey has its own set of hard and its own type of beauty, and there’s no use worrying about the next stage when you are already knee-deep in the current one. But one of the best things anyone did for me was to tell me that the “terrible twos” are a myth and three is where shit really gets real. Because OMG. The last year of three squared has nearly killed us. Thank God I didn’t go through two thinking we were in the worst of the toddler years, only to get walloped by three. Three. GOOD LORD. THREE.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

This is my brain on THREE YEAR OLDS.

Three has been emotional. Three has been obstinate. Three has been irrational. Three has been straight-up exhausting. It has brought us to the edge of our patience, ability to form rational thoughts, and self-control. Three has made me want to run away screaming more than a few times. Yes, three has had some magic in it, as imagination has continued to explode and the twin bond has gotten tighter and they’ve been oh-so-eager to be big helpers, but mostly three has been the hardest year of our lives.

Claire tude.

But lately. Lately we see glimpses of the promised land: FOUR. It’s three months away, and we’re getting close enough to see some landmarks. Four seems less ruled by emotions. Four seems silly, always looking to make us laugh. Four is playful and imaginative. Four is independent and actually becoming capable. Four can make a sandwich! Four can put on her own coat! Four is getting better about putting on her own shoes! Four is really affectionate, and comes up with new ways to “show love” every day. Four is obsessed with “ballet music,” and will listen to Beethoven in a ballgown while playing with LEGO. Four loves snuggles with mommy and park time with daddy.

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I’m sure a lot of the time four will also drive us right up the freakin’ wall, but it finally feels like we’re reaping some rewards from all the hard work three has required. And if four is actually a nightmare, please don’t tell me. I can’t handle the news. I’m still recovering from three.

one perfect night

Any parent of small children can tell you: stuff usually does not go according to plan. You either learn to live with this, become flexible, and go with the flow, or you spend a lot of time frustrated that life never just GOES RIGHT. Someone will always poop their pants on the day you forgot to pack a spare outfit, but never on the days that you did, you know?

But in the same vein of my “it gets better” post, I think it’s important to notice when things actually do go really really right. It may not happen often, but I promise, it does happen just often enough that if you take time to notice, outweighs so much of the “STUFF NEVER GOES RIGHT” frustration.

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Last night we had one such perfect night, and after we got the kids to bed and fixed our ritual fancy drink, my husband and I clinked our glasses and remarked on what a great night we’d had. It started when both kids actually took good naps, so we were primed and happy as we set out. We met up with some friends with a son our girls’ age at a local pizza place, and everyone sat in their chairs and happily ate their food, which was served promptly, and no one spilled any drinks or threw any fits. The kids entertained each other with silly antics and enjoyed sprinkling their own cheese on their own pizza, and we got to chat with some actual grownups, too.

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Then we walked up the street a couple of blocks to the fanciest hotel in town, The Capital Hotel, for their annual Christmas tree lighting. The Capital does it up right– there was even a man literally roasting chestnuts on an open fire right outside the front door. The girls were given jingle bells on red ribbons as we walked in. We each had a tiny glass of egg nog. There were Nutcracker ballerinas wandering around, and my two little ballet dancers stared at them in awe. “Ballerinas LIKE ME!” Etta exclaimed. Claire got one look at the giant tree in the center of the lobby and declared: “It’s ENORMOUS!” Each girl got one perfectly iced sugar cookie, and Etta chose “a star LIKE ME!” while Claire went for a red and white candy cane.

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The girls led us up the grand staircase to the upper balcony, which turned out to be a perfect spot from which to watch the tree light up, and left us perfectly positioned to be third in line to see a wonderful, real-bearded Santa when he assumed his perch on a reserved velvet sofa nearby. Third in line is ideal, it turns out, because the kids can see other kids greeting Santa and surviving, and you have just enough time to rehearse what you’re going to tell him you want. (Claire, a jack in the box; Etta, an umbrella, a typewriter, a music box, and a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea where my kids got such retro wishes, either.) A friend happened to be nearby just in time, so we even got a lovely picture of all four of us with the Jolly Old Elf, who gave each kid a jumbo candy cane, and then we headed toward the door.

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We arrived home and they gave up their largely unfinished candy canes without a fight (shocker), got into jammies with Etta only vetoing two pairs before settling on one, and did our nightly Jesse Tree reading before stories and bedtime, which also went smoothly. By the time I was mixing us up some cranberry rosemary Moscow mules (recipe soon, I promise), I was basically high on visions of sugar plums. I know how rare a night like that is at this stage of parenting. I’ve been through enough of the opposite to know I should be thankful. If this one perfect evening with family and friends is the closest thing we get to a Christmas miracle this season, I will count myself lucky.

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I’m looking forward to this season with our girls. They are full of wonder and hope and joy and innocence, and it turns out they are capable of some pretty magical moments. And when they’re not, and things don’t go according to plan? At least I know I’ve got my cranberry rosemary mule recipe perfected…

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not so incompetent: it does get better

When my twins were babies, a woman told me "It doesn't get any better." I'm here to say it does.

“Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

That’s what she said to me as I wheeled my two baby girls into daycare this morning. “I’m sure they keep you busy. Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

Well, I guess there’s no “It gets better” project for twin moms.

Which sucks, because for the last few days I just feel like life is hard. I feel incompetent. Like, not only can’t I do it all, but I can’t even do the little bit that I want to do. The little bit that I thought was achievable.

I wrote those words three years ago today, when I had tiny twins in daycare, a husband finishing up his Pediatric ER fellowship, was adjusting to life with a heart defect after “catastrophic” heart failure, and I was trying to finish grad school and feeling like a straight-up failure.

Now I’m the one whose twins are three, and I want to punch that other mom in the face. Because you know what? It does get better. It gets better and better all the time.

When my twins were babies, a woman told me it wouldn't get any better. I'm here three years later to say it does.

For one thing, everyone in my house now sleeps through the night. It took a long time to get there, but sleep is no longer a thing I agonize about, struggle for, or don’t get. Being tired all the time is just really really hard, and it makes you into a frazzled, emotional wreck. Not being tired all the time? It’s kind of the best.

For another, I can actually leave the room and get some stuff done while my kids PLAY TOGETHER HAPPILY. They can have tea parties in princess dresses, jam out on their instruments, cook up a masterpiece in their play kitchen, color in their coloring books, work on puzzles, build with Legos, and look at books, all without much involvement from me. Not for like, hours at a time, but often enough time to take a shower or get dinner together. That makes a big difference in my ability to feel “competent” at more than just the zoo keeping of keeping two tiny lumps alive.

Also? I realized I didn’t actually want to keep doing the grad school thing, and now that I have let that go, and also let go of defining myself by academic achievements or lack thereof, I’m much happier. I don’t have to “be” anything other than who I am right now, because it turns out I’m in a pretty good place. And maybe when my kids start school next year, I’ll get more serious about pitching and working to actually make this writing thing I love so much work for me. But I think the work I’m doing raising these kids is valuable and important, too, even without an M.A. after my name.

I remember being so scared three years ago to admit that I was feeling so low. I remember how desperate and overwhelmed I felt. I also still remember the sweet comment my friend Patrick, who is a little further down the parenting road left for me:

She’s wrong. It does get easier. We didn’t have twins, but 3 in five years. I can’t do the advanced math it takes to work that out, but I’m pretty sure I changed diapers for 14 consecutive years – and the oldest is only 13 now. Anyhow… It does get better. I promise.

There are a lot of great days ahead. The day you change your last diaper is a great day. The day the Bufflo Girls can buckle themselves in their car seats by themselves is a great day. The day they learn to ride a two-wheeler is a great day. The Saturday morning you wake up and discover they have gotten up, made their own breakfast and entertained themselves while you slept in is a great day. Your life is loaded with great days ahead.

I have found that my antidote to feeling like life has ganged up on me is to use gratitude as a tool. Not the kind of false gratitude your man Daniel is talking about up there, where gratitude is measured against others having it worse, or a guilty gratitude where we berate ourselves for having it so good, but the kind of gratitude that realizes that this feeling will pass and that today, I have everything I need, even if today does kind of suck, and tomorrow is another day filled with wonder and struggle and love and work and surprise and sorrow and joy.

The truth is, some days just plain suck and that’s ok. It will pass. Every single day of our lives aren’t meant to be filled with rainbows and unicorns and hobbits. When I can manage to use gratitude to find something genuine to feel grateful about without comparing myself to others, I can usually turn my day around. And some days, the only way I can find my gratitude tool is to tell others that I’m having a shitty day, and give them an opportunity to help me find it. And that’s a pretty joyful thing.

We’ve already had a few of those great days. And part of the reason I can celebrate them now is that I’ve been through the sucky days, too. I have struggled and grown and received so much grace in this process, a reason to be grateful for even the really hard days, too. Because I know that what I have and who I am? They’re enough. They’re not perfect, but they are GOOD. Even on the hard days. And especially on the good days.

So, now, when I see a mama struggling with little ones, I remember NOT to be the Debbie Downer with the three year old twins. I want to be the one who says: “I see you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s overwhelming. I know it’s beautiful and huge and heart-exploding, too. You’re doing enough. You are enough. And it will just keep getting better and better.”

 

I’m a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad shows exactly why.

I'm a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad campaign shows why. | erniebufflo.com

Last week, my girls got their first non-baby dolls. They’re some Disney Princess toddler dolls they fell in love with Sam’s Club, and I’ve already roped their grandmother into sewing some clothes for the dolls by oh-so-helpfully sending her some links to some patterns. I foresee many hours of doll-playing in our future, and I know that soon enough, when they are a little bit older, it will be Barbie time.

This may surprise people who know me, a person who has been known to actually walk around in a tee-shirt that says FEMINIST across the chest, but I’m absolutely going to let my girls play with Barbies. Yes, I agree that Barbie presents a certain impossible beauty standard that is problematic and should be discussed and maybe even changed (hey Mattel, is fixing Barbie’s waist-to-hip ratio too much to ask?!), but I also think Barbie offers girls something no other toy does: the ability to imagine and enact narratives about adult life. Baby dolls facilitate one kind of play: parenting, which is wonderful and valuable, and all kids should get the opportunity to pretend-nurture and act like their parents, but it’s still limited. But Barbie? Barbie is a blank canvas. Barbie can be anything, and by extension, so can the child bringing her to life.

I really believe that I’m a writer today in part because I played with Barbie. She allowed me to create stories and dramas, to write dialog before I ever knew that was what I was doing, and to participate in what sci-fi types might call world building. I even did literal building, constructing furniture and houses for my dolls out of things around the house. I can still remember exactly how we made a Barbie couch out of rolled kitchen towels. Through Barbie, I imagined and enacted conflicts and their resolutions. Through Barbie, I imagined all sorts of jobs beyond just a dolly’s mommy. I look forward to my girls one day doing the same, and I think maybe when they’re 4 or 5, they’ll get some Barbies, including many of my own that my family saved for me.

All of these memories were stirred up when I saw Barbie’s new ad campaign, and it seems they’ve realized and decided to highlight what I always thought about Barbie: she is a vehicle through which children can explore the possibilities of the adult world. The ad is pretty breathtaking:

What about you? Did you play with Barbie? Will you let your kids play with her?

 

*Note, this is not sponsored by Barbie. I just have fond memories of the toy, and had been thinking about my girls and dolls when I saw the video shared on Twitter.

um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.

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I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.

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Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.

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To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.

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We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

i took a walk

My girls have fallen in love with “the puppets,” by which they mean The Muppets lately. No, this isn’t some sort of tie-in with their new show that apparently premiered this week, because I haven’t seen it, and I’m not on the Muppet payroll. (Although, Kermit, call me!) We have a few Muppet movies on DVD, and they’ve been watching those, particularly the newer one with Jason Segel that came out when I was pregnant with them, which Jon and I saw in the theater, which I totally SOBBED through because I was hopped up on double twin hormones and feeling very nostalgic. Anyway, one funny thing that the girls have picked up on from the movie is a song Amy Adams’ character sings while eating alone about “having a me party.” When we were out to lunch the other day, they saw a woman dining alone, and asked me if she was having a “me party.” And I’ve heard them say to each other when they feel like they need a little space or alone time, “could you please leave me alone? I need to have a me party.” I kind of love it. Both the phrase and the fact that these tiny people are self-aware enough to know that they need some alone time once in a while. And I love that it’s phrased positively, like a party, instead of negatively, like loneliness.

As a mom of three-year-old-twins, I don’t get a lot of me time. You know how society is always making us think we need to “do it all” and asks us how we “do it all” and creates a lot of insecurity around “all” and even though we know it’s a giant, soul-killing lie, we just keep buying into it, anyway? We all know this, and yet we keep on tap dancing, juggling flaming swords, just praying that we don’t get maimed too bad when it all falls down.

I’m tempted to say something like “Can I be real?” and make a candid admission, but here’s what I’m really going to say: you don’t need to ask permission to be real. You don’t need to sneakily confess that you’re not doing it all. Because deep down you know no one is, and you know that’s just life, and there shouldn’t be guilt there. I can’t even figure out how to do MOST OF IT, let alone all of it, in one day. I can be a few but not all of the following in a given day: a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good cook, a person who exercises, a person who writes, a person who took a shower today, a person with a clean house, a person who makes time for her spiritual wellbeing, a person who gets enough sleep. Which is why I just love love loved this post, “Limiting All” by a woman whose voice I have really come to love lately, Amanda Magee. In it, she writes, “Unclench your hand, let everything fall down, if for no other reason than to give your arm a rest and to regather the things so they fit better in your hand. We are all sitting precariously on towers of our own making. They don’t have to reach the sky or carry the world, they just need to hold us and that starts with us accepting that ‘all’ is not something we even want.”

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So, a great gift my husband has given me the last three days is he’s given me some “me party” time. I know that we both want each other to take time to nurture ourselves, but work schedules and actually taking advantage of the time we do have doesn’t always work out. But this week, it has. Namely, for the last 3 days, I’ve gotten out for 45 minutes to an hour to just take a walk in the lovely finally starting to cool off weather, basking in the sunshine, earbuds and a podcast in my ears. Because while I love doing Zumba in my den, it’s just SO FREAKING NICE after basically being cooped up in air conditioned spaces for the last three months, to get some fresh air in my lungs and just be by myself and listen to stuff that feeds my mind.

The view halfway through my walk.

The view halfway through my walk.

Taking care of my mind/body is something that often ends up on the back burner, because I am taking care of small people, trying to nurture relationships, and also trying to squeeze out time to do the thing I love the most: write. But the thing is, a lot of the time, I feel like all my creative energy gets used up in the course of just trying to create my best self with which to interact and parent my children every single day. I mean, I’m literally writing the character I inhabit all day every day, trying to put affirming, patient, peaceful words and thoughts in my mind and my mouth, trying desperately to construct the reality I want them to live in. And since I’m a person who writes about my life, sometimes being actively in it makes it hard to also observe it and package great insights wrapped in words. I know it’s hip to talk about living your life as if you’re writing a story these days, but man, that’s how I see my world. I’m writing a story with my life all day, and sometimes that leaves very little headspace or energy for actual writing. Which then creates guilt because my writing is this big key piece of my personality and sanity and wellbeing.

So, anyway, these last three days, I’ve walked a total of 8 miles or so, and I’ve been listening to interesting things along the way, and today as I was trucking along, I was straight up moved to tears listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking to Rob Bell on his Rob Cast (episode 36). You should really listen to the whole thing, because it’s super special, but the part that made me cry as I walked was when a mom of a young child asked Elizabeth about finding the time to write in the midst of motherhood and all the fatigue and busyness that comes with it. And she basically told the woman that she needed to give herself permission to not be writing right now, and to take care of her “animal body” as much as she could, by getting enough rest and being kind to herself. And at that moment, the piece of me that feels guilty that I don’t get to do more writing, guilty that I so often open this page up with empty hands and nothing to offer, guilty that I can’t even do MOST OF THE THINGS in one day, that hard little piece of me broke open a little bit, and some light and some air got into my soul, the same stuff I’ve been basking in on my walks.

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Intellectually I know I can’t do most of the things in the same day. And I need to let that be OK in the season I am in right now. I will write when the planets align, and when I have something I need to say, I will fight to make the time to do it. And when I need to take care of my animal body with a long walk in the sunshine and something inspiring in my ears, I will accept with pleasure the gift of time to do it. Today, because I have accepted that gift, my legs are a little sore, and my heart toward myself is a little softer, and I found the time to write way too many words about it, and there’s banana bread cooling on the counter. That’s not ALL, by any means, but it’s enough. And I’m so much more interested in enough.