Tag Archives: lessons my challenging children taught me

One *

When I first had two children, I used to go to big box stores like Costco and Superstore as a form of meditation. Oh sure, I did the shopping while I was there. It was a pleasure to do so, I volunteered for it, because my daily life was executed in a cloud of constant noise and need. At the big box stores, no one needed me. I wandered, silent, picking things up and putting them down, following the list, crossing things off. It was as good as a nap.

Actually, it was BETTER than a nap because at the end, there was food to eat. I could never nap when the children napped because it was a waste of time. At the end of a nap all you are is rested, maybe. Maybe not! Maybe you’re just mad that you couldn’t sleep longer. Naps are a wild card. And then, you haven’t done anything. You’re right back at square one, but with worse hair.

I will never tell anyone to sleep while the baby sleeps, I swear it.

Anyway, that was five years ago. (almost to the day!) Today I went to Costco while Eli was at preschool. I didn’t especially want to go. I would rather have gone for a run, which is what I’ve been doing every preschool class for weeks, or to the library, or stayed home to work on the slowest short story revision ever. But, we were out of peanut butter and multivitamins and nearly out of coffee. It would need to be done this week sometime and would I rather go with Eli? No I would not. Would I rather go on the weekend, with TWO children? NO I WOULD NOT NO NO NO.

Very little makes me feel more like an adult than having two hours free and choosing to go to Costco for the simple reason that it needs doing.

I don’t miss being the All Important Sun-Like Mother of Two Needful Beings. I really like that my kids are now mostly reasonable small people who can butter their own bread. But I do sort of miss that I used to think shopping was a magical, spa-like experience. Now it’s just a chore — albeit one that nets me coffee and really tasty pesto.

* so titled because one of my biggest stumbling blocks in posting to this blog has been choosing titles. Seriously, I have ten drafts that I could publish right now except then I’d have to think of titles. I’m not saying I’m rational! I’m just saying the titles will be numbers unless I can think of something better.


I have a mole on my chin. One day, many (probably twenty) years ago, it grew one hair, which I plucked when it was long enough to pluck. A few months later, I noticed it was back and pulled it again. Eventually there were two hairs together, then four. A cluster! I remember the day I pulled one of the hairs out and was thrilled to realize it was silver. Silver chin hairs! I like silver hairs.

It has recently come to my attention that my chin hairs are growing at an increased rate of speed. It used to be months between pluckings and now it is weeks. Possibly I have plucked more than once in two weeks. I don’t know what this means and I don’t really want to know. I do enough late-night googling as it is.

When I get right up close and look at my chin hairs to pluck them–the lovely pressure and strain of the hair coming out of its follicle is so satisfying–I see other hairs on my face. A few of the other moles grow hairs as well. There is a place on my neck, just under the jawline, where a hair grows quite inobtrusively for [x amount of time] until one day it is long enough to curl up over my chin. Hi. I’m your neck hair. I am what stands between you and a career as a supermodel. What is it doing that whole time I don’t see it, I wonder. I have looked for it before and not found it. It’s only found when it’s exactly the right length to be found, at which point I dutifully yank it and marvel at its length. How does something get that long without me noticing.


When I came to parenting, I was not a physical nurturer. I cared about people, but not enough to go out of my way and sacrifice my own comfort for theirs. Dirty, sick, grouchy people, those are not my people. Sad, anguished, angry people, I am good with those. I will be your emotional rescue. I do not want to clean up your vomit. I would rather listen to you talk about your ex-whoever for a week than clean up your vomit.

The thing about parenting is: against the limits of your own comfort level, nurturing is how you pass the day. Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get.

I remember the tragedy of the first snotty nose, the first shoulder barf, the first moaning, feverish face against mine, coughing in my nostrils, me thinking, “OH GOD I CAN’T MOVE AWAY BECAUSE SO PRECIOUS BUT I SO WANT TO MOVE AWAY DON’T COUGH ON ME SICK BABY.” They were all these walls I had to climb and get over, this “taking care of people” “whether you want to, or not” thing. Not to roll over and put a pillow on my head when I hear someone crying in the hallway, but to get out of bed and deal with it.

You do it every day and you don’t notice that you’re getting better at it until you are doing it without thinking. It gradually gets less hard, then easy, then subconscious.

After a nice, calm holiday season, we spent half of January ill with something or other, something else in February and the past week in the house with the ‘flu. Arlo (and later, Eli) was weak and feverish and coughing and I turned into robot mom: here’s a tissue, here’s medicine, here’s the TV remote, here’s a book, here’s more tissues. With little of the old panic or dread, I gave myself fully to caregiving, became The Mom Who Cares.

Every day. In the house. With sick children.

And I know that people do worse, do more, do more with worse. Other than the whole no-school thing, I didn’t even notice that a week had passed until the first morning we walked Arlo to school and the air felt like a beautiful salve against my skin. Being outside and walking down the street was such a gift and I realized that I hadn’t had that gift in so long.

Was this why my head had ached all week, why I had felt as though I might be getting sick but maybe not after all, why I was so tired, despite not doing anything. Because I hadn’t been..outside? Because no, I hadn’t done anything, except look after other people for a week, with the occasional break to stare at the Internet, waiting patiently for it to yield something wonderful or even just less annoying because everything was annoying and no, it wasn’t me, it was everyone and everything else. In the world. Everywhere.

I was surprised to realize I had forgotten about myself. In a way it’s good to know that I can step up and nurture if needed. In another way it’s scary that I could morph so quickly into someone for whom self-care becomes news. If I was a nurse I would be the chain-smoking, tequila-drinking kind. The pill-popping kind who is fine, fine, until she isn’t. What happened?


My chin hairs are invisible, until they are not. They appear, as if by magic, under my fingers as I write with my right hand or read things. They grow quietly and appear fully fledged when they are ready, a surprise, though not an unwelcome one.

My Parenting Career as a Track and Field Meet

The first three months were the marathon. People threw water and food at me and I tried to consume it while still moving and not throwing up. I didn’t sleep, or I slept the sleep of the perpetually interrupted; one hand on the diapers, the other draped artfully over my giant boobs.

The first baby’s first year was a series of 5K runs; seemingly endless but at the end of the year, as I got more proficient, they seemed suddenly so short. The more I did, the better I got. By the end of the year, I was even smiling as I ran.

Toddler life was the shotput. Haul off and try this technique. That one doesn’t work. Does this one work?

Toddler life plus pregnancy was whatever event I come in tenth at.

New baby plus toddler = triathalon. All the marathoning, plus I’m on a bike now? And also swimming? I’m changing my clothes a lot. Also I was wet and sweating and exhausted all the time, and changing my mind every three kilometres/minutes about whether it was the best or worst idea to have children.

Then I was doing those 5K runs again, but with a 9 month old bouncing against my chest. There was also some javelin tossing to get my preschooler to come back from the side of the road because I couldn’t be there to grab him because the baby was eating dog poop off the grass. No, not really.

Since both children became verbal and not-idiotic w/r/t eating poop off the grass, I stopped doing as much running after/for them so I thought the track meet was over but actually I am still tired a lot of the time and I realized two things: 1. mental exhaustion can be just as bad as physical. That’s the kind that comes from talking all day and explaining things and trying to disallow behavior while still allowing feelings except you might also have some feelings NOT THAT ANYONE CARES and also the thing with two children at different ages is if a 4.5 year old says “I’m going to smash your face into the cement,” you DON’T react because he’s just pretending to be a tough guy, but if the 6 year old says it you have to pay attention and take his brother’s face out of his hands. Re: the cement, not OK.

So 2. school aged children are the hurdles event. You’re concentrating on getting around the track and then another hurdle appears in front of you and you have to use some crazy random thigh muscles/psychological technique to get over the stupid thing and then you hurt for a week because who uses that muscle? Nobody who isn’t twenty years old! Or, if you don’t clear the hurdle, you fall on your face and cry. Get back up. And keep running, around that dusty track, leaping when warranted, enjoying that you are in the best shape of your life.*

* Or possibly just a few years from a full physical breakdown. Ha ha ha! Probably not.

Part Two: Less Complaining, More Getting On With It

After I wrote yesterday’s post I wanted to punch myself in the teeth. There is nothing more irritating than a person who whines about writing and time management. Unless it’s a person who does that, like clockwork, three times a year. So, this post is both a part two and not. Same sort of topic, but no grand epiphanies about time wastage because guess what: I already knew I waste time every day.

This morning, Trombone (age 6) and I had an argument.

In the morning, after breakfast, the children are allowed to watch some TV before it’s time to go to school. Usually this ends up being about half an hour of TV, sometimes more if they get up earlier. We used to do it this way: we would eat, they would watch TV while I showered & got dressed, then they would get dressed and then we would leave for school. Except it started to be this way: they would watch TV while I showered and got dressed, then they would ignore me and dawdle and not get dressed and we would be late.

Also there would be much sterness of tone and sometimes shouting. All of which would lead to me getting him to the school door, saying goodbye and instantly regretting the entire morning because what if there was an earthquake? What if the school burned down? What if the last thing he remembered of me was my horrible witch face hollering, “GET YOUR BOOOOOTS ON FOR THE LOVE OF SAM.” That would be unfortunate.

I had a brilliant idea. I would ask the children to get dressed after breakfast but before the TV time! This way, they would have an incentive to get dressed more quickly AND when the TV went off we would all be ready to go. How brilliant am I, I asked myself, and myself answered, very brilliant!, and so I explained the plan to Trombone and Fresco. At first they were reluctant, then they did it for a few days, and it worked brilliantly.

One day last week, when Trombone reached for the remote control right after breakfast, and I reminded him that he would need to get dressed first, he turned on me. He started sighing and moaning about how unfair it was and how he liked the old way better and WHY did we have to do it this way, WHY? No really, WHY? WHY? WHY?

I explained why. But he didn’t really want to know. He just wanted to complain. I told him I understood why he was complaining but I thought the new way was working. He said it wasn’t working, that he hated it, that it was the worst way ever.

Meanwhile, Fresco arrived back downstairs, out of breath, completely dressed and ready to watch TV, in the unassuming yet totally calculated way only a younger brother can pull off.

“I like this way,” he said brightly.
Trombone shot him the stink eye and stomped upstairs to get dressed.

This morning Trombone started the argument again but since I knew how it was going to end I didn’t participate. I left the remote on the table and told them they could watch TV when they were dressed and then went upstairs to write in my morning journal. For ten minutes, Trombone ranted and raved at his brother, the walls, God, and everyone about how unfair how mean, how it was the worst idea ever and someday SHE will KNOW how bad an idea it is, really. Really! Ten minutes. And I was sitting upstairs, half listening to this, thinking: if you had put your pants on five minutes ago you’d be well involved in a Power Rangers episode right now. Dude. Why are you wasting your energy fighting when you could be watching TV?

Aha! I thought. Wait!

If I didn’t waste my energy fighting myself (and blogging about it,) I could be writing. And if I spend my time writing, I will have written stuff to show for it.

So I am going to try getting out of my own way. Don’t fight it. Just do it. Because if there’s an earthquake today, do I want my last image of myself to be me going, “Whyyyyyy do I never have any tiiiiiime?” in my horrid whiny voice? No I do not!

(These children can hang upside down from rings because they didn’t give up after the first try.)