Lessons of Motherhood in 5 Years

Almost five years ago, I posted 5 lessons I had learned about motherhood in 5 months. Looking back, they were pretty simple lessons and not all that profound. I had a steep learning curve in a child like Zoey. But even then there is only so much about parenthood one can glean within the first 5 months. But these lessons were initial stepping stones in our journey together. I was so grateful for growth in my life-changing experience as a new mom. I still have a lot to learn, but I am now sharing what the past 5 years have taught me about motherhood. Let me know if you can relate to any of them!

My Top Five Lessons I Have Learned in Motherhood

5. Understanding the general timing of major milestones in my child’s life is helpful, but too much comparison can suck the joy out of the experience.  

There will never be another Zoey, or another David, or another Jacob as they each exist in our family. I definitely want to know when I should have cause for concern when it comes to their development and growth. However, if I am constantly comparing them, that information quickly mutates from knowledge to worry.  I become worried over when they crawl, how many words they are speaking, or how well they share with the kid next to them. It then becomes too easy to gloss over each individual’s characteristics that makes each one of them unique. And I worry that they aren’t like those around them.

In response to this lesson, there are many things about Jacob that I’ve stopped counting. I notice every day how much closer he gets to another tooth growing in, but I’ve stopped looking at the numbers. At first I thought I was being a typical mom of three kids, where the third one doesn’t have his baby calendar filled out nearly as much as the first and second kids. Granted, there probably is a bit of truth to that. I’m not as eager to jot down every new word and food this time around. But more than that, I’ve realized that, at least for me, comparing numbers sucks the joy from the experience for me. Yes, it is helpful to remember the general timeline when it comes to baby-proofing the house again. I appreciate having an idea of when to expect certain new skills to develop. But ultimately it doesn’t really matter if Jacob learned to crawl before or after David did. I was just as excited to witness each of them crawling for the first time, when they were each ready for the task on their own. To be in constant comparison mode is to stop appreciating them for who they are individually. Zoey had what I called a face-plant shuffle. Her head was on the ground for the first few months of crawling. I loved that David army-crawled for his first few weeks. I also love that Jacob’s movements looked more like a beached dolphin than a traditional crawl. They probably all crawled within a few weeks of each other, at around six months. But I gained no more joy in pausing those memories to try to calculate which one crawled first. So I’ve stopped doing that lately.      

4. I stress too much and kids are resilient. 

My youngest especially has a recovery time of about 2 seconds when something bad happens. Even my complex 5 year old has finished crying after about 5 minutes, regardless of the severity of the offence. I recognize that not every child has this sort of temperament, but I have learned that I am upset about something far longer than my kids ever are. Some times I need to just get over it. For example, if my son pulls my hair, he has a rough hour ahead of him while I think about how I am ruining my son for the girls in his class, possible girlfriends, and maybe even his potential wife by not getting a handle on his bad habit of pulling hair. However, if he pulls Zoey’s hair, she will scream, push him away, and two minutes later they will be playing together again as best friends. She’s a much better friend than I am.

3. Poop stinks. 

Like really really really badly. I can’t stand the smell of poop. Anyone who has used Miralax or Senna to help regulate digestion issues on a regular basis can feel my pain. I’ve have grown to the point of detecting poop within seconds of entering a room, usually my kids’ bedroom. My tolerance of poop has had to grow as my kids get older. There just isn’t any other option if we are going to keep them under the same roof. As they get bigger, the smells grow too. God forbid that it would all travel directly into the toilet. So lately I have become much more efficient and consistent with cleaning. Just make the poop smell go away.

2. Control is an illusion. My current plan is containment and consistent consequences. 

I can’t control every time that my kids decide running or skipping is their preferred method of travel. For their safety and my sanity, I have consistent boundaries in place around our yard that they are not allowed to run beyond. If boundaries are crossed, consequences are met. This is also reasonable preparation for adult living, where we are permitted to do many things, but there are consequences to every action.

and the number one thing I have learned over the past five years…

1. My time with my kids is most enjoyed when I allow myself space to grow with them.

 Here’s what I mean. It takes a certain level of tenacity and grit as a new mom to walk through pregnancy, labor, and delivery. I think most of us know beforehand that a we need to work to a certain level in order to contain, grow, and release a healthy human. What I have continued to learn is that the work and growth can’t stop at delivery. This includes both baby and mom. If we allow ourselves to flourish as moms in our understanding of, our knowledge of, and our patience with our child(ren) as they grow, our experience is so much more enjoyable because they better equip us for the next phase. My biggest failures and causes of depression have been when I assume that what has worked before is going to work now.

Our kids are constantly growing and changing. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to respond to each phase and decide how we can best meet each of their changing needs. Whether we stay at home all day, or spend spare hours as we can after working, our parenting skills need time and space to grow if we are going to continue enjoying our ever-changing kids. It’s hard to appreciate the strong will of a two-year old when we have a newborn mentality. Likewise, it’s hard to appreciate the independence of a five-year old when we are still reminiscing of how sweet she was when she let us dress her up every day. Moms are born the day their children are born, and I need to grow in my parenting as my children continue to grow. This doesn’t just make me a better mom, it makes me a happier mom.

Let’s Wrap it Up

Most days I love being a mom, and most evenings I can’t wait for bedtime. That’s just the way it is. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be a perfect mom, as much as I might have wanted it in the beginning. I am content to do the best I can with what I know, to continue learning, and to try to forgive myself as often as my kids forgive me. Life is good when we can remember to live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.

5 New Things Zoey Has Been Hearing

We have been hearing a lot of new things in our home lately. Many of these are in direct response to Zoey’s most recent appointment about her hearing. A little over a week ago, Michael and I took Zoey to pick up her hearing aids for the first time. We had a few quick lessons in cleaning, caring, and placing them. The audiologist then handed me a ringing, bright pink bundle of tubing and casing to place on Zoey myself. Sidenote: sometimes I build myself up for the responses of my kids throughout the day. Often they aren’t nearly as excited about something as I am. This was not one of those times. I was truly not prepared for that first week at home with Zoey and her new hearing aids. Here are my favorite 5 things that I heard from her for the first time in those seven days.

5. I am now hearing noticeable distinction in her phonics. This month we are reviewing single-letter sounds with a new curriculum. Zoey has been able to recognize the differences between the letters for awhile. However, her version of many letters and short vowel sounds had been very similar. More recently, she is learning phonograms fabulously now that she is able to clearly hear them. For those interested, I will have much more to say about the language arts program we are using once we have made some more progress through the first book. Today we completed Lesson 10, and thus far it has been a huge success.

4. We have heard a much easier attempt at every letter in the alphabet. Twenty-five out of twenty-six letters are completely clear now, albeit after a bit of repetition.

3. I am usually hard-pressed to think of a time when she has used more than three intelligible words together in a sentence. While at the clinic, the audiologist gave Zoey a teddy bear with a cape and felt hearing aids at the same time as her own. Later that weekend, one evening she explained to me that it was, “Super Bear with Super ears, like my Super ears.”

2. She has discovered a new layer in real animal sounds (as opposed to imitated voices from story books).  My awareness of this new development first came when we were outside in our yard. The older two kids were climbing a tree in our front yard while the baby napped, and our border collie was keeping guard in the fenced-in backyard. This is a common arrangement of late, and even in her older age, our dog remains ever vigilant and loyal to her territory. We live in a dog-filled neighborhood, which means inevitably there is some sort of interaction going on every day, yet somehow the noise must have continually escaped Zoey until this moment. She stopped mid-climb to exclaim, “I hear Salem barking!”

and my #1 memory of Zoey’s first week with hearing aids…

1. Immediately after I placed a hearing aid for the first time, still in the audiologist’s office, I looked at Zoey once the little battery light started blinking. I asked if she could hear me better. She looked straight into my eyes (which rarely happens) and with genuine excitement exclaimed, “Mama! I hear you talking!” I think we were all a little teary-eyed for that one.

Stories That Honor Dads and Encourage Sons

Let’s talk about our culture’s perspective on dads. It has come to my attention (over and over again) that too often dads are left out of the limelight when we talk about families and parenting in the home. Moreover, most media coverage continues to trend toward painting fathers as clumsy and backward characters in the best of light. It quickly spirals downward from there, with very few diamonds scattered throughout miles and miles of darkened corridors. Not only is this damaging to dads who genuinely care and are rocking (see what I did there? Rocking?) the parenting journey; but it also hinders the potential of our sons to be caring fathers. Did you know there are well-written stories that honor dads? I think we can do better for our families by avoiding stories that degrade dads, and instead highlighting the better examples of fatherhood done right.

Below I’m sharing a few diamonds (or books and movies with inspiring dad characters) that we have stumbled over in our search for positive dad role models. Can you think of a few to add to the list? If you have your own favorite book or movie, for any age group, that honors the role of fatherhood, let us know about it in the comments! In honor of Father’s Day approaching, let’s get intentional about lifting up our dads and future dads. Here are a few titles to get us started.

  1. My Father Knows the Names of Things by Jane Yolen (Juvenile Fiction)
  2. Gifted (new drama release rated PG-13)
  3. Caddy Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (Juvenile Fiction)
  4. The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings (Fiction)
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Fiction)
  6. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (Juvenile Fiction)
  7. Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Juvenile Fiction)
  8. Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Juvenile Fiction)
  9. Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers by Ralph Moody (Juvenile Fiction)
  10. Lone Pair of Blue Jeans in a Sea of Yoga Pants: The Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad by Brian “Pete” Craig (Parenting Nonfiction)

Still Frequent Customers

It’s funny how time and experiences change our perspectives. I remember the times when I used to post about every doctor’s appointment for Zoey. I posted about our questions, every medical procedure, many of the tests and treatments, and every so often, a few solid answers. My way of processing this sudden upheaval of Cranio to my organized and planned little world was to document all of it. List it, capture it, question it, follow prescribed treatment, and return for follow-up as needed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Move toward the bigger corrective surgeries, pass through the long days of waiting in a foggy haze, and continue with recovery. More tests, more questions, more plans. At some point it became our new normal. I was able to continue on with less hoop-la and without the intentional driving of a new Cranio Parent, at least most of the time.

The calmer season that follows the initial year or two of constant upheaval is very common for Cranio families. Many speak of it as being “on the other side,” particularly when they are fully treated for the remainder of their child’s life after a single, albeit heartbreaking procedure. I think this concept is a big reason why many personal blogs and pages devoted to craniosynostosis fall by the wayside once a Cranio baby reaches her 2nd birthday. The craziness has subsided and everyone just wants to move on with life as normally as possible. I get it, really I do! I am so thankful that regular life continues and the daily stress of this diagnosis doesn’t usually last very long. Granted, not all Cranio cases are quite as simple, with their medical folders gathering dust as children collect pencils and notebooks for school. We are among those who, even after 5 years, still have many questions concerning what our Cranio baby will be able to accomplish in her life time. We are learning that our answers will largely come only as Zoey tells us what she is able to do, and as we slowly stretch her limits and encourage her to reach higher. There are simply not enough others like her who have already been documented to set forth a regular pattern, so she is forging her own path in every area of life. Really, everyone must do this to some extent, but I find it interesting when even medical professionals refuse to lay any claims on a predictable path for her.

I am very grateful that the circus of appointments are less frequent these days. They still continue in spurts though, regardless of how little attention I bring to them. We have already faced Zoey’s 4th appointment of 2017 with her Pediatric GI surgeon. The novelty has long worn off, and the struggle is real to cart 3 kiddos under 5 through a hospital for an appointment and routine KUB X-ray. Zoey has some differences in her digestive tract that need monitoring occasionally, which may or may not be related to her Cranio diagnosis. When we do go, there is still a feeling a familiarity. Some nurses think Jacob is David because there is no way my second little baby is already 3 years old.  Others have crayons and paper on standby for Zoey.  I now force a big smile every one of the 3-4 times someone in our path comments on how I have “my hands full.” When I’m not stressed out, I really do love having a loaded up double stroller, complete with sticky fruit snacks in the cup holders and sweatshirts piled in the basket. It’s exhausting and demanding. Every so often I get it right, and I am so proud of myself for the tiny battle I have won. This includes a previous visit to the outpatient waiting room when Jacob pooped through two layers of clothing onto his carrier car seat while waiting in the stroller. It was an unexpected blow, but thank God I was ready for it. I had a complete extra outfit, a good supply of wipes, and even an extra burp cloth to lay on the clean, damp seat for him. I was just buckling him back in when the technician called Zoey’s name for her x-ray. You know, no big deal.

I have many more failed attempts than successes, but let’s face it: I want to scroll back through these days and remember that I got it right a few times too. So here is proof to Future Me: you know that one day at St Mary’s Hospital in the outpatient waiting room? Not all of them, but that one day? You rocked the 3 under 5 years old thing with the double stroller going solo that day. #focusonthegood

In light of all this, I’d like to revisit the bigger question of why it is that we are still actively blogging as a Cranio Family. First of all, my husband is thus far the only published Cranio Dad on social media. Go ahead and Google “#craniodad” and let me know if you find someone else. We would love to connect with him! I am among a few other moms who publically write about their experiences with Cranio, and a much smaller number who are still actively writing on their own pages after 2 years.  No one else is writing as a married couple that I have found, especially in regards to family living. We write together because we want to provide a more holistic view of family life when it is affected by Cranio, for the short-term and longer-term.

After 5 years, I continue to write about Cranio primarily because Zoey continues to surprise me, to encourage me, and to shine in new ways. Her story is unique and deserves to be told on a scale as large as I can offer to as many people as will listen. Her life speaks hope in a way that very little else can. I also write because our world needs to recognize more Cranio babies thriving as toddlers and students, and even into adulthood. So many social media stories stop after the scary skull surgeries. Yet most often there is an amazing collection of lives that continue on in an affected family. These families are forever softened to the once foreign diagnosis of craniosynostosis, and often to every other child with a complicated medical history as well. There is more to tell about how Cranio affects us, and I want to offer our family’s continuing story. Lastly, I write because others need to hear the positive stories lived in the aftermath of Cranio. Too many families are terrified of the vague unknown. Too many parents allow fear to change their family decisions so that they change jobs or don’t have any more children, regardless of what they wanted before their Cranio child entered their lives. I recognize that fear. I lived in that same fear for about 8 months after Zoey was born. I feared that I would never have the large family that I had always dreamed of. I feared that I didn’t have it in me to function as a parent beyond the demanding needs of Cranio. How could I handle it physically, emotionally, mentally? What if my second child had Cranio as well? I had so many questions, and the unknown was paralyzing. One of the most reassuring responses I received at that time came from a sweet daughter who is one of five children in her family. I think it was the second child who was born with Cranio, and their mom continued to have three more children afterward. This daughter’s response was so confident in speaking to my desires and fears as she commented, “Don’t worry, you will have more. It will be amazing.” I can’t really explain it, but I refused to let my fear of inadequacy cripple my dream of having more children once I was able to read such an affirming comment from this perfect stranger. I want to offer that same hope to others. I want to remind Cranio families that there is life after the diagnosis. There is family after the procedures. Despite how much our perspectives may change, the world continues to turn after the Cranio hurricane hits. Don’t let it crush you, but allow it to shape you into the next phase of who you become as individuals, and as a family. Don’t worry, it will be amazing.

 

 

Fighting So We All Win

The Ugly Truth

I love being a mom, but I have found that motherhood too often brings out the worst in me. Can you relate? In these worst of times, sleep-deprived emotions run high. I spew out an endless stream of directions toward the general abyss of The Offspring, like random spit-wads toward a chalkboard. If I just keep fighting, eventually something’s got to stick, right? But it doesn’t. My breaking point too often results in losing my temper and banishing everyone to their rooms while I complete whatever it was I had wanted them to do in the first place. It’s all very exhausting and not very helpful for anyone.

A Moment of Epiphany

Today I found myself nearing this cycle of self-destruction, when I was reminded of something with which I had encouraged other young moms last year. If you read Ephesians 6:12,  the message reminds us that, ultimately, our struggles should not be aimed against humans, but rather fought together in unity. This includes struggles with our kids. When we refuse to drive until all seat-belts are fastened, or administer prescribed medications that taste gross, we are not fighting against our children, we are fighting FOR them. We are fighting for their best interest, for their health, and most importantly for the development of their good character. As I was reminded of all this, I had a flash of insight.

Do my kids know that I am fighting for them?

When I am struggling to stay consistent in having my child accomplish a menial task every day, have I ever stopped to let him know that this is so that he can learn to take care of himself? Have I ever connected the dots between their personal growth and their chores? I realized I had never explained why those dishes need to make it to the sink after lunch. I’m not advocating that toddlers should always be granted full explanations in order to respect authority. Still, as I thought about it, I had to admit that they had come to see many of these tasks as a “me vs them” battle, and they have been determined to dig their heels in. I can’t imagine where all this stubbornness comes from, haha! It must be their father, because I am the most easy-going person. Ever. All the time.  

The Application

So today, I stopped mid-spew and started over with our 3-year-old, David. “Hey David! Did you know that I’m asking you because I want you to win at this? I want you to be able to do this all by yourself. I’m not against you. When you win, I win too. Do you want to win this job with me?” As people, if we are to ever continue with strong relationships, we need to stop every once in awhile and remember that we are on the same team. Children are no different in this need than adults. Our kids need to know that when they obey, we all win. We don’t want them to lose at life, we are rooting for them! The opposite is true too. Think about it. Sometimes the harshest disservice we can do for our kids is to ignore an unhealthy behavior. When they lose, we all lose.

The Response

I’m not saying that remembering this frame of mind suddenly makes parenting easier. But I have found that it has helped me to maintain a healthier consistency that remains flexible to building stronger relationships with these crazy little people. Going back to my story, David’s response was so sweet! He jumped up from his pile of blocks to put his plate in the sink, exclaiming “Yay! I want to win!”

So do I, Little Man, so do I.

Home Garden Preparation: Seedlings and Tilling

I am excited to report that we are in the midst of preparing for our home garden again this year! You may remember that last weekend we broke down the raised border from last year’s garden. This weekend we planted our seed starters and tilled the soil over the new garden space.

On Saturday morning, we sat down together as a family in our living room to plant our vegetable and flower seedlings for the home garden. Why were we inside? As I mentioned before, Michael and I were still recovering from what was most likely the flu. Even the thought of corralling the kids aCranioDad showing Zoey and David the seedling trays for the home garden.way from mud puddles and the road while trying to provide Preschool Seed Planting 101 was exhausting. Hence, we limited them to a rag rug on the floor and stayed in pretty much one place for the entire duration of preparing our seedlings.

We used some helpful little kits that included soil pellets, trays, loosely-fitting covers, and a few labeling guides for the trays. We also added our own Popsicle stick labels to help organize our seeds. We planted tomatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, peppers, green beans, and cucumbers in the vegetable trays.


We also gave the kids a bucket for some Marigolds, and a separate starter tray for sunflowers. The kids enjoyed watering and planting their flowers almost as much as getting dirty.

Tilling the home garden.Supervising the home garden.
That afternoon we ventured to the backyard for some much-needed fresh air. Michael continued with tilling and expanding the plot for this year’s vegetable home garden. If you haven’t yet, you can watch more of this stage in our video: How Does Your Garden Grow? – A DIY Adventure in Tilling.

After our thrilling and unexpected success last year with zucchini and cucumber, we are preparing to roughly double our garden size. The soil isn’t completely ready for planting at this point, but we are now a few steps closer. We estimate the seedlings will be ready for planting in early April, which gives Michael a few more weeks to build a new protective border around the tilled soil.

    Sickly Seven 

    My update this week is rather short and uncomplicated. We were all sick. 

    In case you are wanting some more details, this week was our first “one off” of 2017 in our six weeks on, one week off homeschool cycle. I had meant it to be dedicated to potty training and some prepping for an intro unit to world geography. Instead, Michael was sick, I got sick, and the kids all got sick. It isn’t the flu or stomach bug, but the kids and I all caught the same thing. Congestion, fever, sore throat, and general shakiness. This is the first time it’s happened for us, but the 5 of us were all wiped out in a matter of days. We are now in various stages of recovery, and I am still trying to get back on track from the loss of productivity in the house. As I write we are at the end of my first open prep week, no one is completely well, Jacob is on Day 2 of fever and congestion, and very little has been done in advancing my original goals. Since we are also in the thick of garden prep this month, I may assign this unit’s science theme as “gardening” and address my other plans later this year. 

    Stay tuned for more exciting news about our garden! 

    ‘Tis the Season for Sickness and Garden Prep

    Michael has been hit hard all month with ear infections and sinus infections. I was just celebrating because we had dodged the stomach bug bullet that seems to be going around our area. Unfortunately, this morning the kids all seemed to be fighting something as well, with low-grade fevers and a general lethargy that is seldom observed in our house. Hopefully this was just a minor event and they won’t get hit any harder tomorrow. 

    A big highlight came when Michael’s dad and stepmom stopped by this morning for a quick visit. These times always seem far too short, but we really appreciated their effort in coming to the sick house since we weren’t wanting to further contaminate our extended family with any germs we had accumulated. Thank you so much for hanging out with us!!

    Energy levels picked up a bit after lunch, and we all spent some time in the sunshine, working out in the yard. Michael pulled up a good portion of last year’s overgrown vegetable garden to repurpose the leftover lumber. The plan is to expand our garden a bit with new materials since we had so much success with it last year. Today we were able to re-use some railroad ties from the old border to line our driveway. Our lot sits on a hill that slopes toward the front of the house. This causes a lot of standing water to accumulate in the front yard when there is heavy rain, so we’ve been channeling the excess along our driveway in a small, open trench. It’s functional, but more of a work in progress as far as gathering any curb appeal. Hopefully the railroad ties are a step in that direction. Our thought is to fill in the trench with some gravel. What do you think?

    The kids were more interested in exploring on their own than contributing to our effort, but I managed to get a few minutes of video with everyone helping out. It should be posted in the next few days.

    Dear CranioDad

    We just dropped you off at the airport, and already I miss you. I turned on an Amazon bluegrass station once we got home, since it always reminds me of you. This was one of the first songs that I heard, from Nickel Creek:

    “You got to leave me now, you got to go alone

    You got to chase a dream, one that’s all your own

    Before it slips away

    When you’re flyin’ high, take my heart along

    I’ll be the harmony to every lonely song

    That you learn to play
    When you’re soarin’ through the air

    I’ll be your solid ground

    Take every chance you dare

    I’ll still be there

    When you come back down

    When you come back down
    I’ll keep lookin’ up, awaitin’ your return

    My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn

    And I won’t feel your fire

    I’ll be the other hand that always holds the line

    Connectin’ in between your sweet heart and mine

    I’m strung out on that wire
    And I’ll be on the other end, To hear you when you call

    Angel, you were born to fly, If you get too high

    I’ll catch you when you fall

    I’ll catch you when you fall

    Your memory’s the sunshine every new day brings

    I know the sky is calling

    Angel, let me help you with your wings
    When you’re soarin’ through the air

    I’ll be your solid ground

    Take every chance you dare

    I’ll still be there

    When you come back down

    Take every chance you dare,

    I’ll still be there

    When you come back down

    When you come back down”

    Needless to say, the tears flowed quickly. I’m so excited for you, and excited with the fire that this conference fans in you to be a better dad. But it’s still never easy to be without you.

    Swingin’ in the Sun

    Today feels a lot more like spring than winter. We are enjoying some warm sunshine this afternoon. Littlest is asleep in a wrap and the older two are mellowed out with some calming outdoor fun. (Yes, this is their calm.) I want to get in every drop of sunshine I can before another cold wind blows through.