Enjoying Every Other Moment

I dread going to mass on Sundays.  I know it's going to be an all-out battle from the minute our boys wake up and figure out what day of the week it is to the donut store drive-thru window post worship service.  The fact that it's my only chance all week to wear dress-up clothes pales in comparison to what I have to put up with for an hour.

One hour of holding a squirmy baby on my lap.  Sixty minutes of reminding my 4-year-old to "sit up like a big boy".   Three thousand six hundred seconds of shushing my boys and reminding them to keep their hands to themselves.  Telling Knox at least four times to stop shoving Lil' C off of him after the fifth time I have warned Lil' C NOT to lean on his brother.  Saying to Slim after about the third hug, that I have had enough (we can be home all day together and he will not even come near me).  By the end of mass I am all touched out, my hair is a mess, and at least one item of jewelry I am wearing is broken.

Two Sundays ago, I was walking out of mass carrying a twenty pound bag on one arm and a seventeen pound baby in a car seat on the other.  The cold Midwest wind was blowing, and I just wanted to get to the car.  Instead, I had a little boy on one side of me holding onto my coat, and another little boy on the other side of me offering to "help" carry the car seat.  Both were actually pulling me backward.

And that's when I lost it.  I started yelling about how I was all touched out and why did they never want to help me at home.

A mom with two older children turned around with a sympathetic smile on her face.  "Enjoy it now because when they are thirteen they don't want to hug you anymore."  She put her hand on her son, and he visibly rolled his eyes.

A few days later, I came across a post by Glennon over at Momastery about NOT enjoying every moment.  Now that post is spreading through the Internet like wildfire.  You'd have to be living under a mommy rock not to have read it.  Or not be on Facebook, which is really the social equivalent of living under a rock.

Although eloquently written, she doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know.  We know that we don't have to enjoy the tantrums in Target, the sibling battles, the four times we get up in the night with a teething baby, the eighth time we've been in our cluttered mini-van on any given day, or the embarrassing story our child told his teacher about us.  We know this because we talk about it all the time.

But what Glennon wants us to know is that it's okay to give ourselves permission to not enjoy those moments.  To not give in to the mom guilt that says we have to.

And also to realize that someday, it will be us telling the young mom to "enjoy this now" because we will be able to look back with enjoyment on our own mothering.

We can do that now.

When I look back to when my twins were babies, I barely remember the cycle of nursing, burping, nap, get something done, groggily repeat times twelve every day.  What I do remember is holding both of my precious, desperately wished for babies and feeling so full.  I remember reading to them and singing to them and going for long walks pushing them in the double stroller.  And I remember feeling so proud I could do it.

When I look back to when Knox was born, and I had three babies under the age of two, I don't remember feeling overwhelmed.  I remember being better at being a mom, doing it better. And it feeling so comfortable.

I won't remember the battles over potty training, toy clean-up, or healthy food choices.  I won't remember the times my boys told me no, talked back to their dad, or fought with each other.

I will remember the times we cuddled while reading books, and I'll remember movie night.  I'll remember the sound of their giggles and the times they told me I was the best mom in the world, even when they didn't want anything.  I'll remember all those hugs in the middle of mass, and I'll remember how all of my boys were sweet and helpful with their baby brothers.

I won't remember how Baby E was a terrible sleeper, just like I don't remember any of the other boys' sleeping patterns.  What I will remember are all the cute things they did that were uniquely theirs.

Like how Joey used to curl his toes when he was playing so hard with his toys.

Like how Slim used to sit under the coffee table and read books all afternoon.

Like how Knox used to get stuck under couch because he would crawl backward.

Like how Lil' C would giggle every time I read him The Foot Book and Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

Like how Baby E holds his toys between his feet and gets so excited when I take his clothes off for his bath time.

The happy moments are the ones that remain.  The last best moments.

During my single and newly married infertile days, I used to sit at mass and stare longingly at families and ache to have what they had.  And now I have it.  I have everything I ever wanted. 

And I'm going to enjoy every (other) moment of it.


Anatomy of a Date Night

Any married couple with children knows how elusive time alone with one's spouse can be. 

Some days Hubby and I barely say three words to each other. When he comes home from work, I hardly have time to give him a peck and ask about his day before three little boys bombard him, all clamoring for his attention.  We can forget having a conversation at the dinner table.  While I feed the baby and try to get Lil C to eat anything, Hubby is trying to keep our older two at the table.

After dinner there are clean-up and bedtime routines and a baby to put to bed. By the time the chaos dies down and everyone is asleep, Hubby and I are both so tired, so desperate for a little quiet time in our own heads, we often retire to separate rooms of the house to watch t.v. or work on our computers.

When we were first married, we made pact that we would go out on a real date every month. One month he would plan, the next I would and so on. It worked for a while, until we got busy with our twins, and then we moved across the country.

And then we had more kids. And then cancer. And then we were grieving. And then I was pregnant, again. You get the gist.

There is never going to be more time Life is never going to slow down.  Hubby always says, "It's just going to keep getting harder." The past eight years have taught me this is true.

But, regardless, I knew we needed a night out. So, I secured a babysitter and planned a nice dinner for Hubby and me at a trendy restaurant in an up-and-coming part of town. I even wore a dress! We were both looking foward to that much-needed alone time.

What follows is a break-down of our evening.

6:15 p.m. Forty-five minutes after our original reservation time, we are finally in the car. Forty-five minutes is the exact amount of time I spent on the phone with the Geek Squad trying to make an appointment. With a fussy baby on my hip.

6:40 p.m. We arrive at the restaurant, on time for a change without kids in tow, and are shown to a quiet table.

6:55 p.m. Hubby is drinking a margarita and I a mojito while we nosh on chips and guac, no double dipping.

7:00 - 7:45 p.m. We enjoy a delicious dinner and uninterrupted conversation. We remember what it feels like to be a couple. Unfortunately, our service is great, and dinner is over way too quickly. It is a beautiful winter evening, so we decide to walk to a dessert bar to kill some time. 

8:00 p.m. We share a decadent piece of chocolate cake and sip lattes as we people watch, a lovely stall tactic. We check our watches and wonder aloud if all the boys will be sleeping when we get home.

8:30 p.m. Feeling certain enough time has passed, we decide to head back home.

8:35 p.m. Mini make-out session in the parking garage elevator.

8:55 p.m. We are home, and two of the four boys are still awake. Hubby and I change clothes and cuddle with Knox and Slim, knowing a little Mom and Dad time will help put them to sleep faster.

9:15 p.m. Knox is asleep, but Slim is wide awake, and brings his Pillow Pet into our bedroom. We know what that means. Hubby gives him the standard line, "It's late, you need to get into your own bed and go to sleep."

9:16 p.m. Hubby and I are in bed together...reading - he a book on his IPad, me a blog on my laptop.  Hubby knows I will not engage in any sort of lovin' if there is even the slightest chance someone will walk in on us, and I will have to explain what we are doing.

9:22 p.m. Slim comes in to ask us, for the 50bajillionth time, if we can go to China sometime (for some reason he's obsessed with China right now). We say, "Go to bed!"

9:30 p.m. Slim is rummaging around in the hall closet. Hubby yells from our room, "Go to bed!!"

9:40 p.m. I go downstairs and make sure the kitchen is all cleaned up, and pump some breast milk for Baby E. I hear Slim's footsteps enter our bedroom above the kitchen, and hear his and Hubby's muffled voices.

9:55 p.m. I return to our bedroom. Slim is in our bed cuddled up next to Hubby, fast asleep. I carry him to his own bed.

9:56 p.m. I return again to our room and power down my laptop.

9:59 p.m. I hear hysterical crying from the bathroom down the hall. It is Lil C, who didn't make it to the bathroom in time. His pajamas are soaked, as are the bathroom rugs. I wash him off and help him change his clothes. I put him back in bed with a kiss, and take the wet clothes and rugs to the laundry room.

10:08 p.m. I crawl into bed, and Hubby sets aside his IPad.

10:09 p.m. I hear Baby E's cries through the baby monitor. Hubby sighs and says he's going to sleep.  We give each other a peck good night, both frustrated that our night didn't end as we'd hoped.

10:15 p.m. Our "date night" ends like every other night at our house. Three little boys are fast asleep in their beds. Hubby falls asleep alone in our king-sized bed. And I sit in the dim light of Baby E's room, nursing him until he falls back to sleep.

Oh well. There's always next month.


Swooshing Down the Other Side

I love quotes.  I love them because they are written by writers and thinkers and doers and planners.  I am all of the latter, except one. 

I'm not much of a doer.

I write, I think, I plan, and I dream in my head. But when it comes to doing, I hem and haw and make excuses and allow my inner critics to stall my progress.

The reason I don't go to Boot Camp at the gym?  It seems too hard. I'd have to stop, and I'd look like a wimp.

The reason I don't ask a new mom friend for a play date?  She and her kid probably have all of their own friends anyway.  Why would they want more?

The reason I don't really focus on my writing and submit more articles for publication?  I've already had a few rejected and besides, I could never make a living off of my writing anyway.  It's not that good.

And on and on.

While some would call this being negative,  I call it being cautious.  If I don't try, I won't be embarrassed.  If I don't ask, I won't get hurt.  If I don't submit, I won't be rejected. 

Basically, if I don't do anything, nothing will happen.

And as I've learned in 40-some years, that's not a way to live one's life.

I have lived my life in fear that something bad will happen to me.  But, in looking back, nothing ever did.

Though, nothing really great ever happened either.

I'm not talking about people.  Obviously, I love Hubby and my sons and my family and friends, who are all truly wonderful. 

I'm talking about goals, because I do have them.  Not just New Year's Resolutions, but real, tangible goals.

Today's lesson in my writing class was called "The Ultimate Motivation Exercise."  We were supposed to write the titles of the chapters of our lives, even the ones we've not yet lived, keeping in mind how we want the stories of our lives to be fulfilled.  Then we were to write a far-fetched, but desirable goal and our list of steps to obtain it.

This left me stumped, and truthfully, I'm still stumped.   My life before marriage was pretty boring, and even since, I'm just here, doing the mom job. 

And as far as the add-on, I find all of my goals in life to be, well, near-fetched; that is to say, quite obtainable.  But obviously, I just need to try.

And then, I reread a quote, that, ironically, I posted to my Facebook wall today:

"Most of us try to avoid hills, but what's so good about that? Think about it: flat tires, flat hair, flat chests, flatlining. Life happens on the hills. They're opportunities to prove to yourself that you're stronger than you ever imagined. If you never attempt the ascent, you'll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side." (adapted from a quote in this month's Self Magazine)

I've never really thought about it before, but life does happen on the hills.  And I have spent mine avoiding those hills...for the reasons I mentioned above and so many more.  Hills are hard.  Who wants to run, bike, climb or live on a hill anyway?

A lot of people.

Working out on a hill provides the best resistance.

Living on a hill provides the most breathtaking views.

And ascending the hills of life provides the best lessons a person will ever learn.  Obviously, I never chose the infertility and cancer hills.  They came to me.  But they gave me perspective, empathy, and a deep respect for people and relationships. And they certainly proved to me that I was stronger than I ever thought I could be.

And I made it to the other side all right.

There was a very steep hill in my neighborhood growing up that was a bitch to ascend whether on foot or on bike, but at the top of that hill was my best friend.  So I ascended it almost every day because I knew at the top would be side-splitting laughter. And riding my bike back down was a thrill.  It was worth the climb, and the swoosh was always fun.

I want that swoosh again.  I want to know what it feels like to have the wind in my hair, to have excitement in life, to tell the inner critics to "F--off."  To have somebody say, "We would love to pay you for your story."

But I can't know that feeling unless I try.  Climbing up the hills will be a bitch, and I might not always make it, but when I do, I will love swooshing down the other side.  I can't wait for the ascent!


Always Check the Pockets...And Other New Year's Resolutions

It's that time.  The start of a fresh new year.  Time to step back, or step up, and make some changes that have been a long time coming.  I've been thinking about what my new year's resolutions should be for some time now, and a certain recent "laundry faux pas" helped me to really put them into perspective.

It's been unseasonably warm here in the Midwest, and I thought the holiday break would be a perfect time to wash the boys' winter coats.  When they came out of the dryer, they had red crayon marks all over them.  They looked like evidence in a crime investigation.  It was so typically me to be in a hurry and not check the pockets, to want to just "get it done" but not do a thorough job.  I had a lot of time to think about this as I was scrubbing the crayon marks out of my dryer at 2:30 in the morning.

Certainly, the past two and a half years of my life have been no piece of cake.  First, there was my son's illness and his death.  Then there was the depression that came after it.  Then, the unexpected pregnancy.  And finally, the battle to regain any shred of my former self.  I feel like these years have been such a waste, like I've only been going through the motions of life.  And pretty half-assed at that.

But while sticking said ass out of my dryer (did I mention that it was 2:30 in the morning?), scrubbing out every last remnant of that freaking red crayon so I wouldn't have any more ruined clothes, I thought hard about what areas of my life really needed work.  I came up with my New Year's Resolution List.  Besides resolving to always check pockets before laundering clothing, in 2012 I will:

1. Get Healthy.   I have always considered myself to be a healthy person, but in taking care of five other people, I have put my health (and often my sanity) in a distant sixth place.  So now here I sit, twenty pounds overweight, at risk for diabetes, and unhappy with my appearance.  Getting in shape should be easy, right?  Just make it a priority.  I have a gym membership, a treadmill at home, and a binder full of toning moves that don't require any equipment at all.  I know how many calories I need to continue nursing my baby and maintain healthy weight loss, and I know what trigger foods to avoid.  Lose weight, exercise, get in shape. Check.

2. Try six new things this year.  This one is in honor of my son, who had a precocious spirit of adventure for a five-year-old.  He loved life and approached it with gusto.  I, however, tend to be extremely cautious and a "status-quo" type of gal. My motto has always been, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'  But really, that's no way to live a life.  After all, life is meant to be lived.  Last year, my one new big thing was creating this blog.  Since it took me seven years to do that one, I figure one new thing every other month ought to be challenging enough for me.  I already have a few things in mind.  Check.

3. Spend more time with my kids. This one is a no-brainer.  I need to spend more time playing games, reading, riding bikes, teaching, or just being with them.  I used to feel like such a great mom, and then life kept getting in the way.  More kids, more laundry and more messes.  More problems, illnesses...and I can see the toll it's all taken on the boys.  I can see how they light up and shine when they get special attention.  It's what they need.  Frankly, I need it too, just to avoid some awful "cats-in-the-cradle" moment twenty years from now.  Quadruple check!

4. Spend more time with Hubby.  Also a no-brainer.  Sometimes I think, 'the poor man'.  The only person who takes a backseat to all this madness more than me is him!  With every baby we've had, our marriage has taken a hit.  That's five big hits (six if we count our son's death, but who is counting?).  There's always a period of rebuilding after I'm done nursing and spending every waking, and sleeping, moment with a baby attached to me.  After Joey died, we didn't really have time to rebuild before Baby E came along.  We need rebuilding on so many levels - talking, intimacy, dates, even just doing sweet things for one another like cooking a favorite meal or enjoying an activity together. Check.

5. Write more and more often.  I can't deny that writing has been my passion since I was about ten years old.  It's sad that it took me thirty years to actually start doing it!  I have to make up for lost time.  I have already begun by continuing this blog (as sparse as my posts may be).  I am also taking a writing course and am signed up for another one in February.  I want to see where my writing will take me and my readers. Check.

These resolutions are really just items on a list.  And it's not actually about the list either.  "Always check the pockets" may be sound laundering advice, but it's much more than that.  It's a metaphor for always doing your best.  It's about living life with no regrets.  I don't want to look back and say, "If I had only - " or "I wish I would have - 'If I had only eaten better and exercised more, I wouldn't be one of the 42 million women with cardiovascular disease.'  'I wish I would have tried this new class or that new hobby.'  'If only I would have spent more time with my family or tried to get my writing published.'

I once said that I am a "Monday person."  If I screw up on my goals, I can always start over again on Monday.  But I need to stop thinking of life as an endless series of Mondays.  The fact is, there may not be another Monday.  There may come a time when it's too late for a "do-over."  It's time to stop doing things half-assed and do them full-assed (and smaller-assed).  The new year is now, and every day is Monday.  It's time for me to repair the damage the last two and a half years has done to me, physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It's time to start living a life filled with love and adventure, passion and promise.  It's time to start living a life with no regrets.
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