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?

when one twin can potty train and the other can’t

potty training twins when one has spina bifida

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing and trying to decide if I should or not. A major reason I want to write about our lives with spina bifida is so that others can be encouraged, and also so people without SB or other disabilities can see that this life we’re living isn’t “special,” but just life. But the truth is, sometimes SB is a big bump in our paths, and I need to be able to write about that, too.

I’ve also hesitated to write about potty training because I want to respect my kids’ privacy. I don’t want them to ever feel bad about or be teased about things I’ve written about our lives. I would never post a picture online of them on a potty or something. But I feel like I need to write about this because it’s been such an unusual problem. I also feel that potty training woes are pretty universal and any kid who dares to tease one of my girls about using the potty should probably ask their parents about their own potty misadventures.

The girls are now past 3, and though Etta has made strides in the potty learning department, I can’t say that either of my kids are potty trained. And the intersection of their personalities and this milestone and the speed bump of spina bifida has made the whole situation oh so complicated.

Claire, ever wanting to be a big girl, always asking me if she’s old enough to drive the car and when her boobs are going to grow in and when she’s going to be tall like me, would love to be able to be a big kid in just about every respect, including the potty. However, like most people with SB, Claire has disability in her urinary and GI tracts. She, like many people with SB, uses a catheter to empty her bladder and takes medicine to keep her dry in between caths. In the future, this is how she will manage her bladder, slipping into a bathroom to discreetly use a cath, and no one but her will have to know. For now, though, she can’t catheterize herself, so we do it for her every four hours. Most people with SB also get on some kind of “bowel” management plan that can involve nightly enemas to keep them dry during the day, medications, and even surgeries. We have an appointment with GI in August to start figuring out what Claire’s bowel management program will be, but it is our hope and belief that she’ll be able to be diaper free and will be “potty trained” to the degree that she will be able to cath and do whatever bowel protocols she needs to do to stay clean and dry during the day. But none of this progress is as fast as she’d like.

Etta, usually my independent little spirit, has decided she is just not ready yet to take the potty leap. If you ask her, she will say, “maybe tomorrow.” This has been her approach to many milestones. She didn’t walk until 14 months, when she was good and ready, skipping the toddling-and-falling stage of many early walkers and graduating straight from cruising to walking. Her speech development also seemed a little delayed for a while, and our pediatrician was even talking to us about referring her to a speech therapist, but her verbal skills have taken off recently, and we have no concerns. I’m a little frustrated that she hasn’t shown more interest in the potty, something I’ve been trying to get her to do since she was 18 months old, but I have confidence that my girl does things at her own pace in her own time.

Faced with a reluctant potty user, many parents try to motivate their kid. This can be something simple like telling them it’s time to be a “big kid” and buying “big kid” undies and doing other “big kid” things. Except I can’t do that, because I’d be simultaneously telling Claire that she is not a “big kid” since she can’t do these things. Some parents do boot camps or sticker charts, rewarding kids for potty progress, but then Claire would wonder why she can’t have treats and rewards, too. She actually cried at Bible School when all the other kids in our group had potty breaks and she didn’t get to use the potty.

I do what I can to affirm to Claire that she’s a big girl of whom I am very proud even though she doesn’t use the potty. I want her to know that what I’m proud of in her is her loving heart, her inquisitive mind, her infectious laugh, her affectionate nature, her nurturing spirit, her tenacious soul, and all the other things that make her who she is. I don’t want her to ever feel that she is anything less than a whole person, regardless of tools like AFOs or catheters or enemas that help her take care of her body in the ways she needs. At the same time, I’m at a loss of how to motivate her reluctant potty training sister without making Claire feel less-than.

I’m sure one day this will seem less fraught. Claire will have a potty system that works for her. Etta will eventually be a potty user. But in the meantime, this feels tricky.

 

threenager

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Back when we were first entering the twos, people started warning me: “Don’t believe the Terrible Twos thing. Twos are fine. Threes are terrible.” For the most part, I didn’t mind the twos. Yeah, they developed attitudes and the ability to say NO! But I was mostly too enchanted with their growing verbal skills and emerging personalities and ability to walk and fetch things to be too bothered.

Now that I’m a few months into three, I think people were right. THREE, MAN. THREE SQUARED, ACTUALLY. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Two-year-olds can be defiant, but three-year-olds are committed and they won’t shut up about it. They’ll give you a monologue manifesto about why you wanting them to put on their shoes/eat that thing they asked for and then decided they hate/use the potty/hold a hand/stop stealing toys from their sister/stop WHININGOMG is the most ridiculous thing in the world. And then they’ll put a hand on their hip, give you the stink-eye, and go HUMPH! for emphasis.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Claire in particular seems to embody another three-year-old stereotype. She’s a “threenager.” Three going on fourteen, I kid you not. She’s moody and sassy, yes, but she also desperately wants to be older. Here are three things that keep happening again and again.

I must, I must, I must increase my bust…

That was a line from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, a book I loved at 13 and which seems to speak to Claire’s soul already at 3. She’s amazed by boobs. She admires them, she asks me about them, and she compliments me when I’m wearing particularly cute boobs, by which she means a sports bra, particularly my neon pink one. And she asks me daily if her boobs are coming in yet. Nope. Probably not for another 10 years, kid, and then, considering your genetics, probably not by much, anyway.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Steal my kisses

Claire has also recently developed an affinity for “wip-stick.” Her mama happens to love a bold lip color, and she is always complimenting me on my color choices. And then she demands a kiss, on the lips. How sweet, you might think. But it’s not about showing affection. She’s hoping some of my lipstick will wear off on her lips, so she can wear it too.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Learner’s permit

It’s normal for little kids to be interested in cars. We have a lot of toy cars, but to Claire they’re about as satisfying as when she said she wanted a “baby” for Christmas and she had to keep correcting people, “not a doll, a real one.” Claire wants to DRIVE. Every day when we get in the car, she asks me if she is “tall enough” to drive yet. Nope. And you’re not nearly old enough, either, kid. She has to settle for the race car carts at the grocery store. Which she drives like a crazy New Yorker, hollering “BEEP BEEP! OUTTA MY WAY!” to the folks just trying to shop. I blame the book “I Stink!” about a grouchy big city garbage truck for that one.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

My little threenager isn’t all sass and shenanigans, though. She’s also full of sweetness. She appears to be a natural-born nurturer and has been dubbed the junior babysitter of our playgroup. She’ll gently and expertly hold all the baby siblings, fetch their pacis and diapers for their mamas, and happily hand them toys and blankies to play with. Mostly, she’d rather play with the babies and chat with the mamas than play with her same-aged peers. She also takes excellent care of her own mama. She’s always asking me how I’m feeling, stroking me gently, giving me giant bear hugs, and picking random moments to whisper “I wuv you, Mom,” and totally melt my heart. She pushes me to my limits, confuses the heck out of me, and totally has my heart.

vacation, all i’ve ever wanted

I think it was back in February, when winter still seemed interminable, that the girls had a particularly terrible day and Jon and I looked at each other and decided we needed a vacation to look forward to. Within days I had booked a week at a beach house on the Gulf coast. We invited two other families and began excitedly looking forward to taking our kids to the beach for the first time. I got through many a hard day by reminding myself “in May, you get to go TO THE BEACH.” And now that week is upon us. This is how I feel:

This is 7 years, two babies, and several pounds ago, but you get the idea of how I feel about the beach.

This is 7 years, two babies, and several pounds ago, but you get the idea of how I feel about the beach.

I am looking forward to a very low-key time of hanging out, splashing around, and drinking icy beverages within sight of the ocean.

I’m also doing something crazy: attempting to take an actual vacation from the internet. Not like, ZERO internetting, because I know myself and yes, the house has wifi, but I’m going to like, temporarily delete Twitter from my phone and try not to be so internet addicted for a week. I’ll still be Instagramming, though, because it really is my favorite slice of the interwebz.

Got any last minute beach-trip-with-little-kids tips I should know about? Are you looking forward to any travels this summer?