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.
For far too long we have been off the radar. We have been working hard at creating a new format for our vlogs, and those should be starting again soon. Kati has been doing an awesome job juggling all that there is to do taking care of a house full of children. I have been working towards launching a dad’s group here in Richmond, more preparation on a book that I am writing, projects, and more projects. Sleep has long since been a common thing for either of us.
Averaging, still, three hours of interrupted sleep has been my thing so long that I think I am going to make business cards that state it. At current, it is not due to the (almost) eight month old Jacob, or the potty-training three year old David, or even the amazing and full of life five year old Zoey. Life. It is the time of year where projects are the thing to do. Also, scraping every moment of family time that we can. Sure, there is the awesomeness of the days lasting longer. That SO helps when you tell your kids that it is time to go to sleep. David, in particular, has gotten great about pointing out that the sun is still up. This means that it is not bed time, right?
“Every mountain top is within reach is you just keep climbing”. Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond
But, there is a ray of hope. There is a glimmer of light cresting over the pinnacle of this phase of life. We can see the cairn that we have been building in this place, as we face the light. The work that we have done, the nights that we have spent working, are coming to an end. Soon, we will be at the peak, facing a new dawn, and a slope that we can coast down.
There is more to come. Hopefully it is all awesomeness. There will, undoubtedly, be many more summits ahead of us. But, and this may be the lack of sleep speaking, I think that we can take them on. Thanks for hanging in there with us.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.
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.
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 away 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.
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.
I’ve been thinking about the phrase “God never gives us more than we can handle” and I don’t agree with it anymore. There are a lot of things that we can’t handle alone. I think God intentionally allows situations that make us realize how much we need Him and need other people. My love might have fueled a lot, but it has been channeled from the ultimate source of Love, and supported by craniodad, family, and so many friends. It has been more than I could have ever handled on my own, and I think that is more the point in celebrating our journey together.
I haven’t been strongly affected by someone with Autism, but I do connect with the idea of pushing myself to purposefully engage my “different” daughter in public places, really for the sake of everyone, not just her. In our case, she is a social butterfly and I’m the one who is learning to filter and educate undesired attention. Maybe that will change as she gets older, but for now she is eager to play with anyone who isn’t whispering and staring. Sometimes
I need to just get over the hurt enough to create a more inviting atmosphere in the moment. I needed this encouragement today.