An Apology To My Firstborn Child

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My dearest firstborn son,

I’m sorry I focused so much on your stupid sleep schedule. Some of my worst moments as a mother were trying to get you to take a nap that first (and second… and third year). I yelled. I cursed. I cried. Or I left you crying. It seemed so important at the time. You NEEDED sleep. What you didn’t need was a crazed lady yelling at you to sleep. I’m really, really sorry about that.

I’m sorry you spent so much time with adults. I’m an only child and daddy’s family lived far away so there weren’t a lot of cousins. Plus, I hadn’t perfected the art of mommy friends yet, so you spent a lot of time as the center of adult attention. I wonder now if that’s why you’re such a serious kid. I suppose the world needs all those responsible firstborns to keep things running smoothly, but I worry sometimes that I robbed you of some of the silliness of childhood.

I’m sorry I fed you all that bland baby food – even if it was homemade. Your little brother ate what we ate from the get-go and, as a result, he seems to have a much more adventurous palate. For months, you ate nothing but unseasoned sweet potatoes and carrots and peas and any other vegetable I could fit in my Beaba Cooker. I’m really sorry for that. I’m hoping one day you’ll overcome your fear of spice and learn to embrace your culinary wild side.

I’m sorry for dragging you to every stupid baby activity I could find before you could even sit up. Truth be told, I was desperate for adult interaction and you were an easy excuse.

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I’m sorry for all the overzealous discipline. We spanked. We yelled. We doled out way more than our fair share of time outs. Daddy and I were rookies. That’s the truth. We hadn’t yet learned the subtle art of choosing our battles and adjusting our expectations. You took the brunt of that and I’m so so sorry.

I’m sorry that you still carry the burden of our learning curve. You’ll be the one we figure out how to manage homework with … and curfews…. and college applications. I have loosened my grip on being the “perfect” mother, but I still feel the pressure of all those firsts with you.

You see I want to get it RIGHT precisely because I’ve messed up so much in the past with you. I feel like I owe it to you. You gave me the greatest gift possible. You made me a mom. In the most intense way possible, YOU are my baby.

That’s a lot for one kid, and I know that. I’m sorry.

Thank God for your siblings.

Love, Mom

Related post: 15 Differences In The First Child Vs. The Second

Teaching My Kids That Actions Are Louder Than Words

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Earlier this week, my husband and I both had a later than usual night at work. On the drive home, he called and reminded me we hadn’t made it to the grocery store the previous weekend and the house was devoid of food. Well…barring food of the cat and dog kind, the end two pieces of what used to be a loaf of bread, and half a jar of Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter.

“I can stop by McDonald’s,” I told him, “I know we don’t like it, but the kids do and it’s cheap and fast?”

He agreed, and there I was in the drive-thru line of a place I don’t like to be. Because Styrofoam. And high sodium. And low wages. And chemicals. And rain forests. (I’ll stop now before I give myself another Gen-X guilt trip.)

After I paid for my food (apparently ordering for 5 is an overload on the McDonald’s system) they directed me to a spot out of the line to wait for my order. I’d begun to roll up my window (it’s a manual – we’re on a budget, yo) when an older gentlemen approached my car.

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“I don’t suppose they put an extra burger in your bag, did they?”

“No, they didn’t. They haven’t even given me my food yet.”

“No worries, ma’am. God bless and I hope you have a great night.”

He walked a little further down the parking lot and sat down next to a bag that had been around since 1972, maybe 1975 – but I’m not going any later than that.

Two of our three kids were sitting in the back seat, Mr. Schmee (14) and Tomboy Princess (10). Not more than a few seconds had passed when the older of the two said, “Mom…”

“Yeah, Mom…” echoed the youngest.

“I know,” I replied. “I need to wait here for our food. Mr. Schmee, can you handle this?”

“Of course, I can.”

I handed him a $10 bill, which he grabbed and then walked over to the gentleman.

With my window still down I heard him say, “Let’s go get you some dinner,” and they both walked inside.

A couple of minutes passed; simultaneously, an employee brought out our order and Mr. Schmee got back in the car with change.

I pulled out of the parking lot and told Mr. Schmee thanks, and the youngest piped up, “I hope he finds someplace warm to sleep.”

“Me too, little bit.”

“But at least he’s not hungry anymore.”

“Yep,” I reply, “at least that.”

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This is what makes me the most proud of our children. They aren’t the smartest. They forget they have homework. Nightly. They aren’t the most athletic. They can’t clean their rooms. They aren’t the most talented. They aren’t prodigies or wunderkinds. BUT – they are insanely and beautifully compassionate.

They don’t see “them” or “us.” They see “we.”

They don’t see “black” and “white.” They see “gray.”

They listen to news radio with me and ask questions, trying to make sense of the turmoil in the world. This despite the many times I tell them most of the turmoil makes no sense.

They love love. They hate hate. They long for the same utopia I longed for at their age. Thoughts that faded as I grew older and reality began to tear at the fabric of my dreams.

Maybe not as much as I fear, though. People are constantly looking at this generation and “weeping for our future” – but I look at my kids and think, “We are leaving our legacy in some pretty capable hands.”

My kids know compassion, not because we told them, not because we read a book about it…but because we showed them.

As parents, our actions will be the loudest legacy that we leave.

Related post: His Name Was Tom

This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion Campaign.

7 Things I Underestimated About Motherhood

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If I could pick one word that described my outlook on parenting before becoming a mother for the first time, “clueless” would be that word. I had a nine month old niece at the time I got pregnant, and while changing her diapers every once in a while was fun, so was giving her back to her mom when she cried.

I underestimated a lot of things while prepping and planning for a family, including how long it would take me to get pregnant. But that was just the beginning. Here’s what else I underestimated about motherhood…

1. What “tired” really means. Have you ever known exhaustion like the first two years of your kid’s life? And then add a kid, or two. I don’t even know if I’d call it exhaustion anymore. I mean, I’m f*cking delirious!

Before kids, “tired” was the morning after a wild night out, or pulling an all-nighter, cramming for an exam. I nursed myself back to my spunky, energetic self by sleeping 12-14 hours straight. I’ve never, ever seen that kind of sleep since having kids, and never will.

I wish I could just be “tired.”

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2. Having “nice things.” Look, I don’t know if I’ve ever had nice things, well actually I do know, and I HAVEN’T! I met my husband in college and before I ever got a job that paid decent, we were engaged and knocked up three months after we said “I do.” So if I wasn’t paying for a wedding, or saving for baby, maybe I could have bought myself something “nice.”

Now that our kids have arrived, DAMN they’re expensive! And the few things I have bought that I thought were nice have been turned into a urinating target, a vomit catcher, or a surface to wipe Hot Cheetos fingers on.

Maybe in ten years.

3. The power of backwash. Before I had kids, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the eerie similarity present between drinking from the same juice container as my son and a mommy bird feeding her baby bird its breakfast.

But I now refuse to share a beverage with any human under the age of four. Not because the little varmints carry more germs than rodents, but because their ability to suck and swallow through a straw at an acceptable rate is non-existent. Like, I will literally stay parched and dehydrated for however many hours necessary before sharing, or consuming any drink that my two year old is regurgitating his last bit of PB&J into with a side of grape chunks. No thanks!

4. The term “lazy days.” Lounging on the couch with my honey bunny, wrapped up in a blanket together while watching 5 movies back to back with make-out sessions in between was a reality once. It feels like a lifetime ago and yes, sometimes I cry about it.

The term “lazy days” now, means staying home, because I’m too lazy to deal with my children in public. It’s the day we all stay in our pajamas, the kids run around screaming and wrestling (as usual), and my husband and I share glances throughout the day sharing each others’ pain of exhaustion. Then we order pizza and eat our feelings.

5. The power of a cardboard box. Do I really need to explain? I’m embarrassingly pained when filling out the birthday invitations each year, knowing the amount of junk we are about to receive will either be played with once then abandoned, or be donated on my next Good Will haul.

Invest in cardboard, people. It’s the best jungle gym, race-car, fort, and imaginary anything for the first three years of life. I used to actually store things in them before having kids. What a waste! They could have been birthday gifts!

6. The act of “self -care.” Before kids, my manicures and pedicures were done every two weeks directly on my way home from work. I didn’t have to race home to cook dinner and get first grade homework done.

Long, hot showers were a thing back then too. Well, showering in general was a thing. Ah, I miss it. I should really try to work shaving back in as a habit. My husband would appreciate that, I’m sure.

One Saturday every three months were my $130 (with tip) cut and color days. Let’s just say these days, I’m really milking the ombre look. Now, Saturdays are reserved for soccer practice and budgeting our finances where my husband reiterates that we still can’t afford my “pre-baby self-care.”

“But maybe next year, honey,” he says.

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7. What it meant to be “inconvenienced.” It was inconvenient when my college courses clashed with my work schedule. It was inconvenient when I had to take a longer route to my boyfriend’s dorm because of the construction on Hwy 1. And it was inconvenient when I was forced to watch my sister’s dog the one weekend I wanted to go party with friends in San Diego.

What I didn’t know was just how inconvenienced my life would feel once the babes popped out.

Now, to be inconvenienced is to have stitches in your vagina that refuses to heal, because there’s no such thing as “rest” for a new mom. Inconvenienced when you don’t eat dinner until 11:00pm, because your child wanted to eat yours instead of theirs. It’s when your world revolves around the needs of another human being, and you come second, or third, or fourth…or ever?

…well, you get the idea.

Related post: 10 Things I Said My Children Would Never Do

The Insanity of Goody Bags and Thank You Cards

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If you’ve ever assembled 25 goody bags for a kid’s birthday party or sat with your seven-year-old while he gave himself a hand cramp writing out the same two sentences on 25 different cards, then you are probably familiar with the irrational urge that so frequently accompanies these mundane tasks: The desire to slam your head in a door. Repeatedly.

Yeah, those damn Goody bags and thank you cards. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Here’s what I think: I think there’s a top-secret order of overachieving moms whose mission is to antagonize ordinary moms by creating asinine social expectations to which no normal human could conform without copious amounts of illegal narcotics. This exclusive organization is sponsored by Hallmark and that Chinese toy company that makes the tiny army men with parachutes (the ones that tangle up the first time your kid plays with them and you have to toss them in the trash while your kid sobs).

The order is probably officially called “The Committee to Create Social Expectations for the Subjugation of Ordinary Motherhood” (because they like to keep things as complicated as possible). They call themselves “The Social Expectations Committee” for short.

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Ordinary mothers are not invited to meetings of The Social Expectations Committee, obviously, which is why stupid ideas like goody-bags and thank-you cards always pass the vote. If a few ordinary mothers were to infiltrate such a meeting and the topic of goody bags came up, here’s what would happen:

One of the ordinary moms would kick over a metal folding chair and shout “You mean to tell me that after I drop 150 bucks on a grass-killing bounce-house you want me to pony up another $50 to provide a bag of junk to each child in attendance?” Then Committee members would eyeball each other nervously and say, “Umm, why… of course, dear, how else are we supposed to make all the other moms feel incompetent and inferior?” Their speech is as yet unguarded because they still haven’t figured out that ordinary moms have breached the perimeter. The ordinary mom would respond, “Yeah but what if I already spent a shit-ton of time cleaning and decorating my house on top of entertaining and feeding the guests? Wouldn’t that be enough?”

At this point the Committee would realize something was amiss because real committee members don’t say things like “shit-ton.” So they would quickly put the matter of goody-bags to a vote before things got out of hand. “All in favor?” someone would declare, and all but the ordinary moms would raise their delicate little arms. Meanwhile the ordinary mothers would begin screaming things like, “I will not approve of this tomfoolery!”

The ordinary moms would totally lose their shit and put the Committee members in headlocks until they agreed to strike goody-bags from the ballot. Committee Security would show up just in time to escort the ordinary moms out on the grounds that, in the last Committee meeting (which the ordinary moms didn’t even know about, duh) a provision passed which expressly forbade headlocks during Social Expectations Committee meetings.

This is a crying shame because that would mean the ordinary moms would miss the vote on thank-you cards. But if they had been permitted to remain present, they would’ve responded thus:

“Do you hate the planet? Or is it just trees specifically that you hate? Because I really can’t think of a stupider use for paper than making cards that get thrown away the instant the receiver is done reading them, if they read them at all. The only logical conclusion is that you hate the earth. ARE YOU PEOPLE INSANE?”

By this point, metal folding chairs would be flying across the room and security would be tasering moms left and right, heedless of Committee membership status. The unholy pandemonium caused by the ordinary mothers would leave The Committee to Create Social Expectations for the Subjugation of Ordinary Motherhood in such a state of upheaval that none of its members would ever dare to reconvene.

Yay! Ordinary moms win!

Except… they don’t win. Sadly, all of this is a sweet delusion. Ordinary moms clearly don’t get invited to these super-secret meetings of The Committee to Create Social Expectations for the Subjugation of Ordinary Motherhood where huge, life-impacting decisions are made without our knowledge or consent.

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But we’re here now, right? Let’s join forces. We may be impotent as individuals, but united we can affect change. It’s time to exert our stalwart determination to bring an end to the ridiculous social expectations that have surreptitiously crept their way into our most sacred celebrations.

I henceforth and forevermore declare: I will never prepare another goody bag nor make my child write out 25 thank you cards! I will, however, rent a kick-ass bounce house, bake the most delicious strawberry cupcakes you’ve ever tasted (okay, it’s Betty Crocker, but seriously, fucking delicious), order ten pizzas, and entertain your kid for a few hours.

And when you come back from your mani-pedi to pick him up, I’ll wrap you in a sincere, no-bull-shit hug and you’ll get a verbal “thank you” from both me and my kid.

And because you’re an ordinary mom too, you’ll say, “No, sweetie. Thank you!”

Related post: Top 10 Worst Birthday Party Parents