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!

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.

serenity now

Serenity Now: how parenting is like being a super hero in training

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that having children is like becoming a super hero. Not in the get exposed to nuclear waste and suddenly find yourself in possession of amazing mutant powers sense, but in the receive a call to greatness and head off for some really intense training with some kind of fighting master who kicks your ass and teaches you to calm your inner storms and harness all of your strength in the service of something greater. Only in this scenario, my ninja masters are about 3 feet tall and their methods seem a little questionable. Like, they might violate the Geneva Convention. Luckily they’re really cute, because they push me to just about all my limits at least 10 times per day.

I never thought of myself as a super patient or gentle person, but when I think about how much those powers have been tested and grown in the last 3 years of this bizarre baby-led boot camp, I might as well be a super human in comparison to my former self. I don’t always get it right, but luckily my little teachers are very patient and determined to keep testing me until I learn.

They’re so good at it, in fact, that I’ve thought about lending them out so that others can get this sort of zen training themselves. Every time I drive past the ecumenical meditation center, I fantasize about dropping off my two little zen masters to give the folks inside some real mindfulness training. Finding peace in a tranquil room while listening to the soft sounds of a babbling brook? That’s the easy level. Finding peace while two master interrogators pepper you with questions every 36 seconds is some next level stuff. Finding it while someone needs to potty, the other is starving, they’ve just gotten into a hair pulling match over a dollar store toy, you’re 10 minutes late to get somewhere, you haven’t had time to feed yourself all morning, and suddenly everyone hates everything they’re wearing and YOU GAVE ME THE WRONG CUP, MOM, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE…well, that’s super hero type stuff.

Most days, these little fantasies make me laugh. When I think about all the ways even my most exasperating moments in parenting are helping *me* to learn and grow, it’s easier to feel something closer to appreciation than desperation. It especially helps to think of myself as Batman and the girls as my little martial arts masters. Because I may not be Super Mom yet, but every day, I’m learning a little more.

it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Kids in restaurants have been a hot topic lately because of a restaurant owner who definitely acted like a jerk over a kid who was maybe or maybe not acting like a jerk while the parents maybe or maybe didn’t do something about it. Until some third party describes what really went down in that situation, I’m not making any judgments about it.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

However, as someone who loves food and likes eating out and also has two small humans who often accompany us when we eat out, I did want to talk about eating out with kids. Part of my job as a parent is raising my small humans to be good citizens, who know how to navigate social situations, who know how to act in public. Eating out is part of that. And you can’t learn how to do that until you actually do it. Our kids have been going out to eat with us for all of their three years of life. The best times were probably when they were infants. We could put them on the floor in their baby buckets…I mean, car seats…and they’d sleep the whole dang time while their tired twin parents guzzled cheese dip and margaritas. Local Mexican restaurants and an Oyster Bar near our house were two favorites. As they got to be older babies and early toddlers, we played to our strengths: we went to noisy places, the types with high chairs and kids menus, and we went EARLY. We took toys and sippy cups, and when they fell apart, we took their butts right out, sometimes even all the way home, although that was rare. Now that they’re three, they’ve had years of practice eating out, and also years of practice of being expected to sit in their high chairs, eating their food, at the table with everyone else, until everyone is finished for dinner at home every night. I can’t remember the last time we actually had a bad experience in a restaurant.

Now, we don’t just have to stick to “family restaurants,” but can even go to places with like, actual table cloths and stuff, like in that picture from Forty Two at the Clinton Presidential Center, which may seem fancy, but also has a very courteous wait staff and a GREAT kids’ menu. Strangers have actually remarked to us on several occasions how cute and well-behaved our children are in restaurants, and we smile and tell them thank you, it took a lot of practice, and if they weren’t being cute and well-behaved, we wouldn’t be staying long.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

We love the patio at US Pizza. The girls love their spaghetti and meatballs, which can feed two kids for $3.50, and we can walk there.

The way I see it: no one else should ever have a bad time at a restaurant because my kids are being annoying. Generally, if a place has high chairs and booster seats, I assume my kids are welcome, and I expect that they will behave appropriately– otherwise we won’t be sticking around. We don’t take them to bars, though we have taken them to a local brewery, Lost 40, where they enjoyed the heck out of drinking water from little flight glasses and eating cheese dip and bratwurst. (Jon happens to love their beer, so we always have a keg from them in our kegerator at home.)

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

Etta at Lost 40.

I think the best statement I’ve ever seen on kids in bars was on the menu of a place called The Bird where I had one of the best burgers of my life in Jackson, Wyoming.

Kids in bars and restaurants, some guidelines

I probably would not take my kids to The Bird, because we like having high chairs, and because it really is more of a bar than a restaurant. Once they were old enough to not need a booster seat? Maybe. But I like that they make their standards clear, and I realllllly loved that burger. I’d hope that if they did have a kid or parents who were “messing up,” they’d just politely ask the family to handle the situation or leave, without, you know, screaming at children.

on babies in bars and kids in restaurants

For the record, this is the amazing burger and amazing view at The Bird. A literal cheeseburger in paradise.

Parents want to be able to eat out. Kids need to be able to eat in restaurants in order to learn how to act in restaurants. Obviously kids will mess up along the way to learning how to act, and it’s on the adults around them to model correct behavior, like asking people to leave *politely* if they’re being a disturbance, like getting the heck out of Dodge if your kids are consistently being obnoxious/tired/emotional/loud. If everyone did that, everyone could have a good time not just at The Bird, but in every restaurant.

saving my sanity with a box full of healthy snack options

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Little kids don’t have many opportunities to make their own choices. In my house, I usually decide what’s served for meals, what they wear, where we go, who we see, when they nap, and on and on all day long. I’m also always having to tell them no, stop that, don’t do that, slow down, be quiet, etc. So, when I have the ability to offer them a choice without it being a lot of skin off my nose, I try to do it.

Now that my kids are 3, I’ve been trying to cut down on constant snacking. They get breakfast, rarely a small mid-morning snack, lunch, post-nap-snack, and dinner. The days of constantly feeding them bites of stuff all day long are over, because I can reasonably expect them to eat most of a meal. Recently, however, post-nap-snack had turned into a sore point in my day. Claire especially had gotten pretty demanding, wanting more to eat than I wanted to give her, usually leading to her not eating very well at dinner. She also would want the same not-so-healthy snack foods that I would buy for occasional consumption every single day. I’d offer one thing, and she’d pitch a fit demanding a different thing

Then I remembered seeing different things on Pinterest about creating a box of acceptable options and offering kids a limited choice of snacks. One naptime when my husband was home, I took a blissful kid-free trip to the store and rounded up a bunch of healthy snack foods to create two snack boxes, one that lives in our pantry, and one that lives in our fridge. Now, when my kids wake up from nap and feel a rumbly in their tumblies, I just pull out one of the boxes, and they can have one of anything inside. We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been working fabulously, for the most part. They seem to enjoy exercising their little wills over something, and since I’ve already narrowed their choices to things that won’t ruin their dinner, I don’t have to stress about whether or not they’ll still want to eat at mealtime. I usually set the box in front of them and they know they can only choose from the box, which prevents them from demanding something else they spy in the pantry.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Currently, the pantry box holds bags of almonds, small containers of trail mix, apple sauce pouches, yogurt raisin boxes, seaweed snacks, and pretzels with peanut butter. The fridge box has white and yellow cheese sticks, carrots and hummus, yogurt, and apples. Other ideas include: salsa and chips, cottage cheese, dried fruit, fresh fruit, fresh veggies, fruit leather, and granola.

making sanity saving snack boxes for toddlers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

I’ve noticed an added benefit to the snack boxes: now when *I* feel like I need a snack, I’m more likely to choose one of the readily available healthy options too. It’s also handy for pulling together packed lunches when we need to be able to eat on the go.

Have you instituted anything similar?