Category Archives: toddlers

It Goes So Fast…I’m Holding On

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My two-year-old requires that I spend about half his nap lying with him/nursing him. Well, not requires it, but that’s how it’s always been. And if I don’t come to him, he will take a shorter nap and probably be cranky. So when he stirs, I come. I check Facebook, maybe try to write something (thank god for the “Notes” app on my phone), close my eyes for a bit.

At this point in my life as a parent (8.5 years!), I don’t really think about my  “parenting” choices, at least not in the way I used to when my first child was a baby. I obviously err on the side of crunchy/attachment parenting. But I don’t really think about it. What I do or don’t do is just…whatever. Just part of life. Nothing to be pored over or analyzed. It basically works, and if it doesn’t, I’m too tired to question it.

But it occurred to me this afternoon that there are a ton of parents out there who don’t or wouldn’t or simply can’t spend half of naptime lying there with their children. Some are working mothers, some have other kids to be with during naptime. Some have kids who have teddy bears, pacifiers, or blankets to cuddle with. Some just don’t have kids who need as much sleep assistance as my kid does. I totally get that. Every mom and kid does what works for them.

It was recently “Pajama Day” at my older son’s school. He was supposed to come dressed in PJ’s, with a favorite stuffed animal. Like his brother, he never had a teddy bear or another security object.

My son said, laughing, “I guess I’d have to bring you to school that day, Mom.”

He doesn’t sleep in our bed anymore (yes, they do eventually stop) but we lie together each night before he falls asleep and his dad or I (usually me) stay with him until he’s out.

My 2-year-old requires much more of me still. Naps, all night his body next to mine. I realize this level of need, sleep interruption, and closeness is not for everyone. I forget how strange it is to some people only because I have been parenting this way for so long and it feels like second nature to me.

Can I tell you why I do it? Yes, it started partly because I’m lazy, and going to my babies anytime they cried was easier than figuring out a different way to soothe them. Yes, I believe in breast as soother as well as nutrition source. Yes, it was just my instinct to do it.

But I also do it because I’m holding on. I’m holding on to their childhoods by holding onto them. My eight-year-old barely even wants to cuddle before bed anymore. I’m lucky if I get a second of it. Before I know it, he won’t even want me to lie near him. He’ll just go into his room, shut the door, and collapse into bed.

My two-year-old, though. He lets me hold him. He wants that. He’s small enough to still curl into me. His damp head in the May night still smells a little like a baby. OK, a lot. And I just don’t want to rush it. I can’t. It hurts my heart to think it will end. I know it will. I’m certain of it.

So, even though I sometimes get frustrated when my “off” time is interrupted; even though I sometimes feel touched out; even though I sometimes wish I could sleep alone, I go to him anyway. I lie there in the dark, mostly just waiting, sometimes just resting, often zoning out on my phone.

I’m taking him in. I’m stopping time for a second. I’m holding on.

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Spring Flowers & Sleepless Nights

This week was tired. This week was first spring flowers. This week was sleepless. This week was happily digging in the dirt. This week was new beginnings and tired ruts.

This week blessed me, and tested me. This week is over, and for that I am grateful.

My two-year-old did this weird thing where he alternated nights either sleeping like a log, or waking up like a newborn.

Half of the days this week I looked like this. Tired, haggard, beat.

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The other days we woke up and played happily in beautiful, bright spring.

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I have had this thought all week: parenthood is messy. It’s unpredictable. And all I can do is get better at accepting that.

I know my two-year-old is inching toward more of those good sleep nights. I know nightwaking in toddlers is normal (breastfed or not). I know I could try this or that technique to accelerate the process. I know it might work. I know it might fail.

Having gone through all these stages with my older son gives me a helpful perspective: no matter what you do or don’t do, all the stuff you are hoping will get easier (sleep, potty training, weaning, tantrums, etc.) has a way of working itself out in the end.

I still don’t know a lot about being a mom. I have only been at it for 8 years. But I know that some days I’ll be exhausted to the bone, and other days I’ll be running through fields of wildflowers with my kids (wouldn’t that be nice?).

So here’s to diving into the chaos. Letting go. Knowing that we know nothing. Accepting what is.

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Speaking of those hard days of motherhood, check out this piece I wrote for Scary Mommy. It’s all raw emotion, and I’m proud to have it featured on the site: On the Dark Days of Motherhood.

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30 Reasons My Toddler Wakes Me Up in the Middle of the Night

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You could say I’m a lazy parent when it comes to nighttime. I’d rather have my kids in my bed than have to get out of bed and tend to them. Probably at this point, my toddler would sleep better if he didn’t have me near him to bump into, and to remind him of his boob addiction. But, alas, every attempt at nightweaning that I have tried (OK, I don’t try very hard) just makes the two of us more exhausted, and when I’m exhausted, I just give up.

Then, there are a few precious weeks of decent sleep, and I think, “This isn’t so bad. He’s practically sleeping through!”

But then the crazy begins again. And I’m so tired I pour orange juice in my older son’s cereal (he used wake up as much as his brother, and now sleeps like a log, so there is hope). And I write a post chronicling all the many reasons I have been woken up in the middle of the night by my toddler in the past week.

Here it goes…

1. It’s too hot.

2. It’s too cold.

3. He wants to show his grandma the part in the book where the crane lifts the ice cream truck up into the air.

4. Boob.

5. Seltzer (is mine the only toddler who drinks seltzer?).

6. The seltzer I gave him an hour ago lost its fizz.

7. Water.

8. The water’s not cold enough.

9. Boob.

10. “I just need you, mommy” (stop melting my heart when I want die I’m so tired).

11. He wants to go back to the wedding we went to three weeks ago.

12. “Where’s Daddy?”

13. We need new batteries for his toy drill (thanks for the reminder, buddy).

14. Boob.

15. Other side.

16. “There’s no milk left, Mommy!”

17. “Where are you, Mommy?” (as I mentioned, I sleep right beside him).

18. “Don’t take me to the place where there are snakes” (this was many months ago, and he showed no fear at the time).

19. “I want a lollipop!” (half-awake, half-dreaming).

20. Kicking me in the head.

21. Kicking my husband in the head.

22. Kicking his brother in the head.

23. Can’t find his socks (he never wears socks to bed).

24. “I just need your milk, Mommy!” (I have been playing dead for the past few minutes).

26. “Can I please have your milk, Mommy?” (heart melts again—and where did this kid learn manners?).

27. “I want to watch TV” (NO!).

28. “No, Mommy, it really is morning.” (Have you ever tried arguing with a  two-year-old?)

29. “I want a granooool-ya bar.”

30. At 7am, when it really is time to get up, and I’m attempting to untangle myself from his arms: “I just want to sleep, Mommy.”

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Shine Your Light. Stamp Your Feet. Rock On.

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My two-year-old is entering what some might call a developmental leap or a growth spurt or a wonder week or a . . . whatever. To me, it’s just another week of extreme fatigue and frustration mixed in with oh my god this is all rushing by so suddenly I can’t breathe I love him so much.

How do I know this thing is happening? Well, it started with sleep. Or, ummm, lack of sleep. As in, “it’s 2am and I want to play and watch TV and pull on your lip and pick off the skin.” (I know it’s gross, but that’s really what he did.)

And then came the 4:30am wake-ups, followed by the mornings lying on the floor crying when we said he couldn’t have a lollipop for breakfast. Or lunch. And then when he finally did get one, the lying on the floor crying that he couldn’t have three.

You get the picture.

Now sleep is better, but the growing, the changing, the explosion in his brain and his body—it’s still very much happening. He’s going to be two-and-a-half next month and if I remember correctly from when my first child turned two-and-a-half, this is when the fun stuff begins. And I mean this genuinely, in a way.

Yes, he is testing boundaries. Yes, he is running up the block from me when I tell him he needs to stay. Yes, he is walking onto the snow banks when we are trying to get his brother to school on time. Yes, he is trudging through the snow-filled empty lot next to our house even though it’s 3 degrees and he’s not wearing boots and I just don’t have the energy or the stamina to go fish him out again.

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But the reason why is because his world is expanding. There is a beautiful world out there of snowy freedom and frozen frolicking. Before, he took the narrow walk to school, but now he’s captivated by all this sparkling stuff in the periphery of his vision.

Don’t we all remember those desires for true and utter abandon? When we just wanted and wanted and didn’t give a damn about what anyone else thought? That’s when we fell in love. That’s when we discovered poetry. That’s when we hiked through the mountains alone. That’s when we dove into the lake naked at night at the very end of August.

Oh, he wants and he wants and he wants. He is luster and light and longing. He doesn’t care if we have time for it, if he’ll catch frostbite, if his mother has been surviving on 5 hours of broken sleep for days, and just can’t chase him again. His passion is too high right now.

It will die down. We will find our way to talk about when it is and isn’t appropriate to have candy or snowy adventures. I will be relieved and rested again.

But all of it breaks my heart a bit. I wish I could just let him have everything he desires. Of course I know I can’t. I know it is my job to lovingly show him the boundaries of this world.

I look at him, two years old, with the fire beginning to ignite in his heart. His body pulling and twisting out of my arms. His is the passion we must all remember we have, even as we learn to be measured, cooperative, kind-hearted citizens of the world. He is our reminder never to forget this incredible charge we all have buried somewhere inside.

When I pick him up for naptime, as he drifts off in my arms, he calls out mommy, mommy, even though I am right there, holding him tight. All morning he was unleashed but now he is tethered to me, his hands encircling my head and gripping my ponytail.

Oh the moving away, and then the gathering in that happens on and off throughout childhood. Two steps forward, one step back.

This morning he shouted that I must “go away” as he bounded onto an island of snow on the way back from dropping off his big brother at school. I shot this photo of him, and only noticed later how the morning sun shone a spotlight on him.

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Oh, my daydreamer. My tender, unhinged, bright, fierce soul. Here we are. I am spending my days witnessing this trembling in you. These desires you don’t quite understand yet, and certainly can’t control. I am tired. But I am trying to let you feel it all. I’m trying to let you be as free as I can. I have these few extra minutes to stop on the side of the road. I have these few extra mornings. I have these last shreds of patience.

So shine on, dear soul. Stamp your feet. Shout it. Rock on. I’m here watching the show. It’s a good one.

Mama, Open Up Your Hand

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Right now, my life is narrow.

The narrow walk to school through the snow, one boy behind me, the other ahead. The narrow train tracks that we walk beside, the narrow tunnel we walk through.

The narrow morning hours I spend alone with the two-year-old. His small, hunched body pushing a school bus through the narrow space below the heater. The narrow window where we watch the pigeons waddle through the snow, their narrow beaks pecking hungrily at the bird feeder.

The narrow hallway where I walk him in the baby carrier, his eyes narrowing, drifting off to sleep.

My time is narrow too. The narrow first 45 minutes of his nap, where I try to squeeze in some time on the yoga mat, a few minutes of writing, a couple nibbles of chocolate. And when he invariably calls for me mid-nap to lie with him, I slip narrowly into the room, like thread through a needle. I edge my body into my narrow spot on the bed, narrow streams of winter light coming in through the blinds.

We haven’t left the house in weeks, it seems, the white walls narrowing us in. The viruses, the snow, the ice. The viruses, the snow, the ice. On repeat. The endless loop of winter woes that narrow the muscles in my neck and shoulders. It’s as though our life outside the house—the one with breathable, open air, boys hanging from trees, warm, wide sidewalks, and earthy scents to inhale—just never existed. My memories of it narrowed, cinched shut, devoured.

But then that moment happens. You know the one. The one that reawakens you, adds a spark of warmth and light to the sometimes lonely, thankless life of motherhood.

The two-year-old is playing with a bag of buttons. Different colors, shapes, sizes. He likes to sort them into narrow piles and rows. But now he tells me, “Mama, open up your hand.”

“These buttons are for you,” he says. And as though he knows exactly which buttons I would pick myself, he gives me pearly white, crimson red, abalone blue, royal purple.

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And something opens in my narrow throat. Something is let in. Joy, I think. Yes, joy.

Joy that this little person—who I spend hours lifting, wiping, dressing, feeding, nursing, putting to sleep, and back to sleep—could, throughout it all, be somehow absorbing my essence. Could know so effortlessly what I find beautiful. Could know what I long for on these long winter days.

Pearls like the ones I wore on my wedding day. Abalone like my father collected in jars for me. Crimson red and royal purple—my favorite colors, in my favorite shades.

There is relief, too, in the opening. A breath let out. A release. The knowledge that these days with him aren’t for nothing. These narrow days, these narrow hours, minutes, seconds—oh, they are worth it. Endless, but with small miracles scattered along the way.

And yes, five minutes later the buttons are spilled in a pile on the floor, along with the juice he’d begged me for and I’d reluctantly given him. His diaper needs to be changed, and the next endless loop of lunch/nap/after-school-pickup is upon us.

I have learned over the years that it is the briefest, narrowest moments of motherhood that provide the most meaning. They are like intense bands of light blasting through the darkness. And you must embrace them, and seek them out. You must open yourself up.

And even if you don’t, even if you can’t find it in yourself, you will be opened. Your children have an uncanny sense of when you need it most, and they know so well how to pry open your hands, fill them with gifts.

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I Am Waiting to Cut His Hair

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I realized this as I watched him sleep last night, his hair matted gently over his ear.

It’s long in the back, and its blond wisps sometimes fall in front of his eyes, but I can’t cut it, not yet.

It’s his baby hair: mossy, fresh, and oh-so delicate and wistful.

And if I cut it, he might grow up too fast.

I’m superstitious like that.

I know, I know. I have no control over any of this. He will grow up. No matter how I hold onto him. No matter how long I let his hair grow.

I remember when I was first pregnant with him, three years ago now, in the deep cold of January.

I was petrified. I really was. A panic that spread throughout my body.

I loved my first child so singularly. It was a supreme love, a kind of love I had never felt for another human being before.

I waited for five years to have another child—that is how vast and consuming my love for my first child felt.

I was convinced that I couldn’t love another child the way I loved my firstborn. Everyone told me I would—that there was enough love to go around—but I didn’t believe them.

The initial shock of his body growing in mine waned, but the pregnancy was still tinged with fear. Fear of love. Fear of having enough room in my heart for another child.

Oh, but he insisted himself into my heart. As soon as he was born, with his large, wondrous eyes, I fell for him. Hard.

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His eyes said, “Here I am. There is nothing to be afraid of. I was meant for you.”

Yes, he was. There was no other word that popped into my head besides “familiar.” He felt familiar to me, like I’d always known him.

My love for him wasn’t extra; I didn’t need to open myself up to him. I realized right away that my love for him was the same love I felt for my first son. There was this endless pool of son love I had in me. An ocean, a pulsing, flowing universe of boy-child love.

He had been there the whole time, in my heart, waiting. But I hadn’t believed it.

Maybe that disbelief is why I am so reluctant to cut his hair, why something as insignificant as whether to do it next week or next summer feels so significant to me.

I don’t want to lose the familiar in him. The earthy, newborn scent I savor any chance I get.

And you know what? I won’t cut it, at least for a while. Let it fall in front of his eyes. Let those small, feathered fingers brush it away. Let my heart swell just a few more seasons as I gaze at that lit mop of gold hair.

Who cares if I cling, just a bit, to his babyhood?

He taught me to relax into love, to trust it implicitly. And I want to stay here with him a little while longer. To melt into his soft, easeful love—inhaling, exhaling, and inhaling some more.

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Diary of a Fever

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3 a.m. is his hot hand pawing my face, mumbling “Mommy, come here,” though he is already in my arms, asleep.

4 a.m. is my stomach turning, and my heart pounding in my chest when I realize—yes, fever.

4-6 a.m. is up every 20 minutes, my hands reaching to his temples to gauge how the fever has ebbed and flowed.

6 a.m. is his body stumbling out of bed, not quite steady on his feet.

7:15 a.m. is me begging his big brother to walk to school with our neighbor and her daughter, whom he is friends with but is embarrassed to be seen with in public (ewwww….girls!).

8:10 a.m. is standing on the rain-soaked welcome mat in my socks as my older son shuffles off to school, the baby crying for me from inside the house.

9:15 a.m. is scrolling through pictures of school buses, garbage trucks, and dump trucks on Google Images while the baby sits on my lap and I feel his warm head under my chin.

9:40 a.m. is holding him while he throws up mucus, tinged purple with elderberry and vitamin C.

10 a.m. is him asking happily for breakfast, and the relief I feel in my bones when I watch him eat and drink.

10:30 a.m. is sitting on the couch watching Thomas, a towel between us in case he vomits again, my laptop opened to the essay about God I am trying to write.

10:45 a.m. is his eyes fluttering shut after the second episode and me carrying his heavy, drooping body to bed.

11:15 a.m. is gobbling down eggs and avocado before I am called in to lie beside him.

11:30-12:30 p.m. is the fevered nap, the light jerky sleep, his hand on my chest, his body waking if I move a muscle.

12:30 p.m. is his disoriented cries as he wakes up, throws up a little more mucus, and asks for a story.

12:45 p.m. is me walking with him in the baby carrier, swaying and singing a made-up nonsense song that is probably meaningless and definitely off-key, but which sounds beautiful to me.

1 p.m. is his body cooling off in my arms, and realizing that this, this is the point of it all.  All the endless days—sick, well, easy, hard.  Only I can do this for him.

2 p.m. is waking up, not realizing I had fallen asleep, remembering the unwashed dishes in the sink, the toys and drinks left out, the unvacuumed floor, the unanswered email, and the unfinished essay.

2:30 p.m. is the police siren outside as he wakes up and nurses, but his cooling body telling me he will be better, he will be fine.

3 p.m. is an attempt at a game, which makes him more sleepy and irritated, so he collapses in my lap and we watch videos of The California Raisins on my phone.  (The California Raisins?  Yes, that. Long story.)

3:30-4:30 p.m. is tofu—he ate tofu—be still my beating heart he’s eating again!

4:30-5:30 p.m. is Daddy and big brother home, their loud laughs, talk of the day, scrounging to get homework done, all the hustle and bustle, while the baby and I sit quietly in the den, and I inhale the grassy scent of his hair, its baby-softness on my lips.

5:30-7 p.m. is laying out tomorrow’s clothes, preparing lunches, putting away dishes, getting the baby into a new diaper (did I do that since the morning?), and holding his hand while his body heats up again.

8 p.m. is Tylenol to bring down the fever so he can sleep, carrying him to the bedroom, and nursing him (so easily) to sleep.

8:30 p.m. is my older son crawling in beside us and recounting his day: the walk to school that wasn’t that bad, the whale diagram that he loved drawing, the wondering why his basketball coach had him sit out of the game for a few minutes, the musing about what’s in store for tomorrow.

9:00-9:30 p.m. is me trying three times to get out of bed, but the baby will not have it—he sits up, dumbfounded, looking for me as soon as I get up.

9:31 p.m. is realizing I have been calling him “the baby” for this whole post, though he is two years old.  And so what, of course he is, especially when sick, and I remember all those newborn nights when we literally couldn’t put him down, and we took turns holding him while we ate, bathed, brushed our teeth.

9:45 p.m. is finally being able to sneak away for a quick snack, toothbrushing, and to prepare myself for another feverish, snotty, sleepless night, the kind of night I used to dread, but have grown into as a mother.

9:55 p.m. is eating cinnamon toast (the first time I have eaten sitting down today), and wondering what has changed these past few months to make me feel less terrified of the unpredictable chaos of motherhood.  How on earth have I learned—sometimes—to embrace it?

10:15 p.m. is crawling in bed beside him, his body cooled off by the Tylenol, the heat of the fever sweating into his hair, his small arm lifting, then falling heavily across my body as I nestle in beside him.