Turning the Tide – The Twins are One!

The most important things are somehow the hardest ones to get down on paper.

My babies turned one year old. You guys. One.

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My darlings (Gabby left, Lucy right), day one.

Bottles. Pumping. Newborn diapers. Midnight feedings. Swings. Play mats. Burp rags. Bouncy seats. These things marked our reality for a certain set of months.

The girls’ infancy was glory unfolding. Perfect pink hands curling and uncurling like sea anemones. Slow blinks, dark eyes working to focus on our faces. The sweetest smells of milk and baby wash. The ease of holding, yet somehow feeling held ourselves. Two babies. We couldn’t stop repeating it.

But their infancy was a work like none other. There were days that felt like the sun was stubbornly stuck at 3:43 pm. There were some months I remember only in fog and through pictures, because I spent them stumbling out of bed in two hour increments every night.

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My specialty: folding tiny clothes

Everyone tells you “it’s a stage”, and “it’ll pass”, and “you’ll never get these days back.” This is about as helpful as starting a road trip and seeing your destination on a highway sign: New Orleans 1800 miles. You still have to drive every single one of those miles, yellow lines flashing in your wake.

You have to break it down.

In one month, the newborn clothes will start getting tight. In two, a schedule will start guiding your days. Smiles will play on the edge of his lips. In three, she will start holding her head up, no longer an infant. At four, the clothes become tight again, and the drawers need to be cleaned out. In five, sleep may become elusive as they grow. At six, a glimmer of change, a flurry of arm and leg movements.

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Gabby’s favorite toy: Daddy

Seven, solid foods. Sitting up. More drawer cleaning, more clothes. At eight, there may be teeth starting to arrive. In nine months you’ll put away a few bits of baby paraphernalia – the bouncy seat, which they wiggle out of, the swings, which are boring. You become their favorite toy. In ten you’ll start debating whether or not to grab baby and car seat, or just baby, because the combination of weight is enough to break your arm. Eleven – movement. So much movement.

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Mama! Look! Fingers!

And suddenly at twelve months, she is big. You put her down at the end of the day and wonder just how it was you made it from here to there in a manner of months. The baby has become a person. A person with (very) vocal needs, great belly laughs, and keen interest in the surrounding world.

It is as though time is based on desire. The more you want, the faster the minutes pass. The harder the hours, the more everything slows down to the second. Tick. Tick. Which means that maybe, just maybe, though we can’t control time, we can control our perception of it.

Perhaps then the key is simply a matter of want.

It’s okay not to want to change diapers and launder blowout-stained clothing. It’s also okay to wish his head would rest forever on your shoulder. It is this combination that moves the days forward – motivation and movement, reverence and rest.

***

IMG_4732 (800x533)We didn’t throw a giant birthday party with themed gifts and pinterest-style decorations. To be honest, I’m not good at that kind of thing, nor do I have the time to care. So my mom did the work of invites, and I blew up a few balloons, hung them on a Happy Birthday sign, and combed everyone’s hair. My family gathered in the yard at my parent’s farm, ate amazing home-cooked food and adorable cakes kindly made by my sister in law, opened presents, and played with the kids in the sprinkler.

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Lucia -1

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Gabrielle -1

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Ellis -3

It was summer and it was lovely. Really, really lovely, according to all three of my girls. And that, my friends, was all I wanted.

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The trenches of babyland – 4m vs. 6/7m

Note: Hi friends! I started this deep-in-the-babyland-trenches post in November. Yes, it’s the end of February. The last few months have been the hardest mothering of my life. But here are some of the technical things that were happening for the babies at four months, and now at 6 and 7 month. Sorry – it’s totally a posterity post.

Ugh. I can't believe mom is still talking about us at 4 months.

Ugh. I can’t believe mama is still talking about us at 4 months.

4M According to the professionals: Gabrielle – 14 lbs, Lucia – 13 lbs

6M According to the professionals: Gabrielle – 16 lbs. Lucia – 16 lbs

4M Motor: the girls are starting to move. Half rolls, inchworming, and sitting up in their bumbo seats are a few of the major accomplishments. It is exciting, until I remember that this is all precursor to crawling and walking. They are also pretty interested in their hands, and any toys that we put in their grasp. They are big fans of the Velcro wrist rattles and plastic rings. Gabby may also prove to be a thumb sucker.

6/7M Motor: We are now working on sitting up unassisted, which equates to slowly falling over most of the time. We also practice standing at the activity table and the ottoman.  The girls solidly love to hold things, and will grab anything in their reach. Toys, carrots, and fistfuls of mama’s collarbone skin are the preferred items.

Brown chair comparisons - Four months

 Four months and we got things to celebrate y’all!

4M Eating: This one is big news, folks. We finally mastered the art of tandem breastfeeding. Right around 3 months, I noticed they seemed to be equally as full whether bottle or breastfed. I opted to forge ahead with breastfeeding and start phasing out the bottles. As of this month, the only time they get a bottle is if I’m away for the evening.

In other news, we started solid food. I know – it’s a little bit early. But our doctor gave me the go-ahead for single-grain rice cereal, which I mixed with formula since I’m not regularly pumping anymore. On hungry nights, I mixed the cereal with four ounces of formula. On average nights, I left it at two ounces. The first few feedings were super messy, but after a couple of weeks, they both got the hang of the spoon.

Eating. Yes. We love eating.

6M – Eating. Yes. We love eating.

6/7M Eating: Still breastfeeding. (Hooray!) It’s more challenging the more they move, and tandem feeding is bit like feeding an octopus. We don’t always do it anymore. Luckily, the older they get, the quicker they get. I totally forgot that about breastfeeding, but it’s really great. Meanwhile my milk supply has kept up, so we forge on.

As for solids, we discovered that rice cereal gave the girls gas, so we gave that up after a month of fussiness. Onto bigger and better things, like bananas. Did you know bananas have tryptophan (the same sleepy chemical residing in turkey)? Me either. But now we eat a pureed banana every night before bed. Daytime snacks are mostly fruits and veggies – pureed or whole food (jicama sticks, carrots, celery, and apples go over well.) We also love yogurt. Wow do we love yogurt.

4M Sleeping: Sigh. They were doing really well sleeping seven hour stretches at night… until now. I don’t know if that had anything to do with switching to breastfeeding, but it’s something to note. We usually get up once, if not twice, to eat between 10 pm and 6 am. (This is also where I am super thankful we can breastfeed – it’s a little less of a production to slide into the arm-chair in their bedroom instead of standing at the stove warming bottles with two screaming babies in my arms.)

I think we are going to switch to separate cribs soon. Sleep training twins will probably be a whole different ball game, but I think it’s time to try.

6/7M Sleeping: Sigh again. The girls are getting better at sleeping through the night, but it wasn’t without two months of full-blown, hour-long, cry it out scream fests at 2 and 3 in the morning. We are slowly getting past that stage. The challenge now is working with each baby separately. One or other has started to sleep through the night, but the other one usually has different plans. Someday…

4M Postpartum update: Thankfully, the body is starting to get back to normal at this point. I can wear almost all of my pre-pregnancy clothes (except the ones that were really fitted in the stomach) with relative comfort. My stomach continues to reduce, although the shape of it is still a little off kilter. I try to squeeze in two or three 20-minute segments of yoga off of You Tube (search yoga and knock yourself out – there are hundreds of video classes to try) per week, although Ellis makes this a challenge. Apparently yoga time is synonymous with horsey time.

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Thank you, polar vortex. This is the reality of what I face for outdoor exercise these days.

6/7M Postpartum update: Feeling pretty much the same as at 4M. I haven’t lost any more weight that I can tell, and I think my body is holding on to a little extra while I’m still breastfeeding. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. Exercising sans gym during this particular Minnesota winter limits me to snowshoeing, walking, or doing exercise videos…in the dark. Ugh. Someday it will be green again.

I don’t own a scale, so I’m not sure where I’m at with weight. I’m also usually the one holding the camera, so I don’t have any pictures to compare. It’s kind of like I had twins, and then photo evidence of my existence stopped. 🙂 Anyway, I’m trying not to consider the breast-feeding year a time to get serious about weight-loss. After that, I’ll be happy to pick back up with a regular lifting and cardio routine, but until then, the body gets a little more grace. Besides. Carrying thirty-two pounds of baby and down the stairs numerous times a day has to count for something.

Embrace it?

Two weeks ago, we got a decent amount of sleep and it wasn’t freeze-your-face-off cold, so we did baths, dresses, scrounged out some hair bows and shoes, and went to church. After the service, I was lamenting with a friend about this current, sleepless phase of life. She looked at me, smiled, and put her hand on my arm. “Someone once told me that whatever phase my kids were in, I should just embrace it.”

My internal hackles shot up. I finished listening to her story, and I think I even smiled Minnesota nice. But all the way out the door I ranted to myself.

Embrace it? Embrace the fact that I haven’t slept more than 3 consecutive hours in over two months? Embrace the bone-tired ache that accompanies me through most of my days? Embrace what must look like some horrible comedy in the middle of the night – the crying baby, the startled eyelids, the tensing of every muscle, the parade of untangling myself from the covers, struggling with my bathrobe, and stumbling in to whoever is crying before the rest of the house wakes up too?

Embrace THAT?

***

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6 months and chubby cheeks (Gabby left, Lucy right)

On average, the girls are still waking up at 12 and 2. And sometimes at 3. I don’t really know what to do at this point. I’m not feeding them in the night anymore, (both girls hit the 65th percentile for weight and 70th for height at their 6 month appointment – clearly they aren’t starving) so it’s just a matter of calming them down and getting them back to bed.

Ellis is also joining the middle of the night fun. The other night, Jason heard noises across the hall around 3:40 am. He went to her room only to find every light on, and Ellis buck naked, jumping up and down on her bare mattress. Her reason? She was just happy, daddy.

Apparently everyone just needs a little calming down lately. The days may be getting longer, but the darkness still slides too quickly into the afternoon. I’m never ready to start the evening’s tearful tango sessions all over again.

Which is exactly what I was doing, two Sundays ago, somewhere in the middle of the sleeping hours.

My bare feet were cold. My ponytail was somewhere off the left side of my head circa 1986, and in my haste to get to the baby, I had put my bathrobe on inside out and couldn’t tie it. I had some sort of back and forth sway motion going, and Lucy was fighting going back to sleep, her hot little fists alternately waving and gouging into her eyes.

I thought to myself, “Ha. Yes. Embrace it Rachel, just emBRACE the moment.”

And then I stopped. I want to say I had some sort of beautiful, shining epiphany. You know. The moon, the comforting sounds of the house, that kind of thing. But I didn’t. Nothing happened. I just realized, in the stupor of being half asleep and half awake, that I was probably overreacting.

That in the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t so bad.

So much of how I see things depends on my perspective. And when I’m half awake most days and nights, my perspective is pretty puffy-eyed and narrow.

Sure, not sleeping sucks. Literally. It sucks every last bit of energy of my living soul and by 4:30 pm every day, I’m on zombie autopilot. But still. I’m up because I have babies. Healthy (albeit not sleeping) babies.

Not so bad.

When things are difficult, I think I have a tendency to mentally hang on the hardship of it all. It’s as though quantifying the difficulty gives me a pass, for the time being, to do X. Or not do X. Anything, really. I don’t feel like I have to hold myself as accountable when circumstances are not in my favor.

But that’s not what good character is, or does.

So every time I leave the babies’ room at night, I pray “please let them sleep”. And then I add “and when they don’t, give me strength.” Just because I didn’t rest does not mean tomorrow won’t lighten the horizon. Ellis will need breakfast, the babies will wake with their own set of demands, and life will explode into chaos in a very short time span if I can’t gather myself up and go on.

Excuses be danged.

***

Meanwhile, “This week has been a disaster, Faye.” (Yes, we recently watched What About Bob?)

It disarmed me starting off – seven hours of sleep in a row on Sunday night. Glorious. But Monday and Tuesday passed in blurs of (what I’m guessing is teething) rage, which totally cancelled out any victory in the seven consecutive hours. Maybe I’m just spoiled – the girls are normally very mild and easy during the day. This week, not so.

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A not so happy moment

I’m talking SCREAMS. And in case you weren’t aware, apparently my girls all have the lungs to be opera stars. These are the red-faced, squint-eyed, inhale with all your power and blast out the most horrible manner of noise possible for a human being to make type screams. The don’t put me down screams. Don’t feed me screams. Don’t stop feeding me screams. Don’t change my diaper screams.

It’s daunting at best, demoralizing at worst.

Whatever that was about, we all caught a break and had a better day today. And tonight, everyone was sleeping by 8:30 pm. Jason included. (The poor guy can’t get enough uninterrupted sleep to combat a month-long battle of being sick.)

I’m not going to lie. I simply can’t embrace this week. That feels a little like opening my arms to a hungry, stink-eyed grizzly. But I will keep trying to remind myself that with a little perspective comes the reminder that it’s also not that bad.

And sometimes, that’s all any of us can hope for.

A litany of I’m sorry and thank you’s

sorry-650x650To the gas station clerk about to close when I come busting through the door at 10:02 pm and make a beeline for the milk cooler: I’m sorry, and thank you. Breakfast time is a lot less stressful when there’s no one crying about dry cereal.

To my chickens: Thanks for understanding that half the time I can’t physically get out of the door of my house to let you out of the coop until after 10 am. Please don’t hold it against me. And please start laying eggs soon.

To the friend across the table: yes, I see my daughter chewing on her silverware and putting obscene amounts of butter on her bread. But more importantly, I see you. And I want to talk to you. We may have to remind ourselves to focus five times a minute, but our time together is worth it.

To the person on the phone: I’m sorry it sounds like I have Tourrette’s Syndrome. Wow, really? I think – STOP PUTTING YOUR FINGER IN THE BABY’S EAR – we can do that. I promise I’m listening. I’m just also playing referee.

To my husband: Buddy, someday soon I will be able to wipe the sleep out of my eyes, join you for breakfast every day, and have a real, uninterrupted conversation. It’ll be like a date every morning, except that I might also make the coffee, scramble the eggs, and will more than likely be wearing fleece and stretch pants.

To the grocery store checkout lady: Yes, I’m telling you that before my daughter ate the majority of one banana, the bunch weighed two and half pounds. Thank you for trusting me.

To anyone entering my home: There may be dust lions in the corners, lady bugs on the ceiling, and soap rings on the bathroom sink. I have learned to stop stressing, do what I can, and be patient with the rest. I hope you can too.

To the highway patrolman: Thank you for the warning.

To my Ellis: Thank you for climbing on my back when I do push ups, pinching me in the bum with the salad tongs, destroying every block tower I build with you, and telling me to CALM DOWN. You keep me laughing.

To the people behind us in church: I’m sorry we’re distracting. I’m sorry we’re almost always late, make a fair amount of noise, and rarely stop moving during the service. We love being a part of this community, and we are thankful for your graciousness.

To our parents: I know your time is precious, and the fact that you choose to share it with us so often inevitably means a sacrifice of something else. What you may not know is that your granddaughter thanks her Jesus for you at almost every meal, and we do the same whenever we think of you. PS. We owe you a million cherry pies.

To my classmates, professors, and writing group: A majority of my subject matter now seems to be about babies, mothering, and crap I probably should have known before starting this parenthood journey but am now stuck clumsily learning along the way. Thanks for understanding that sometimes writing has to come from where we’re at.

To my Gabby: You are precious, happy, and full of smiles. I’m sorry your sister is forever lying on your stomach if we nurse because you happen to be an extra inch longer and she fits better in the crook of the arm-chair.

To my Lucy: You are treasured, spirited, and always ready to snuggle. I’m sorry your sister’s squalling is usually what you have to wake up to. If it’s any consolation, it means you get to eat more because that’s the best way to calm you down.

To the UPS guy: I’m sorry I answered the door last week in a princess dress, plastic jewelry, and baseball cap. I hope you had a good laugh later.

To You: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that someone, or something, has made you and I want to apologize for everything in our lives that isn’t perfect. Isn’t straight. Isn’t plumb. Isn’t clean. Isn’t smart. Isn’t fair. Isn’t pretty. Isn’t on our terms of time.

Because even for all that, we are wanted.

For all our messiest messes, we are still full of worth.

For all our self-perceived shortcomings, we are still wonderful.

And for everything we HAVE to do make it through the day, there’s always more to who we ARE. No apologies needed.

More than being present

I have a chalkboard in my kitchen. It’s one of those Pinteresty decorating ideas that I totally fell for, because I love words, and more importantly, I have a kindergartener’s obsession with chalk. IMG_20131016_221806_390

Earlier this summer, I wrote a verse from 1 Thessalonians on the board. In a way, I did it as a sort of challenge to myself. The verse read “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.” It seemed like the formula for living present and aware. I figured the timing was about right, because I was already feeling all sorts of pregnant crazytown and it would be good to see a reminder about resetting my focus when things went haywire.

The idea of being present has become a little bit of a catchphrase. It’s all over those inspirational wall sayings on Facebook. It’s in the quarterly newsletter from my local healthcare provider. It was even a story in my REALSIMPLE magazine this month – “Ten ways to be present NOW.”

Don’t get me wrong. Being present is really important. But should it be the end stop? I guess I don’t want to show up to something just to be there. I want to be transformed in my awareness.

If I’m present in my happiness, I want to filter that happiness into some sort of creative act later. If I’m sad, I want to remember that other people get sad too so I don’t feel so alone. If I’m angry, I want to figure out how to curb it without damaging anyone or anything around me.

All the snowboarders and thrill seekers in the world might disagree with me, but I think there’s more to experience than just the actual experience. What if I experienced to relate, to encourage, to emote, to praise? What if I took those things back into the community I lived in, and put them to work?

When I whipped out the best cursive I could muster and scrawled down that bible verse, I told myself I was ready. I was going to do more than just be present when the babies came. I was going to be transformed by it.  I was going to search out the GOOD in the moment, trace it back to its Creator, and then give thanks for it.  

Now let me be honest. It’s all fine to lay out my good intentions, but it’d be another thing entirely if I let you think I’d learned how to be Mother Theresa overnight because of a dusty bible verse on a chalkboard.

Being “joyful always” is not my natural first choice emotion when I’m scrubbing yellow mustard poop out of the outfit one of the girls was supposed to wear. “Praying continually” doesn’t happen when I’m blind with exhaustion. And “giving thanks in all circumstances” was the last thing on my mind when the doctor called to tell me Lucia failed her newborn hearing test and we needed to get her re-screened right away.

But I’m trying. And in the middle of it all, sometimes, a tiny part of me changes.

***

Yesterday the girls turned three months old. And you know how sometimes, you look at mile markers and think, where did the time go?

I know exactly where it’s gone.

I feel every single one of these three months. Nothing has been a blur. (Well, okay. Maybe the diaper bill.) There have been moments of deep and crazy love, and moments of completely disheveled how-am-I-going-to-handle-this insanity.

I feel these months in my feet the way I did when I worked at a bridal shop that didn’t allow anyone to wear shoes in the store. I feel them in my newly re-muscled arms. In my ravenous appetite and never ending water bottle refills. I feel them in my conversations, which constantly tread water around the topic of babies. I feel them in quickly whispered prayers that I breathe over the girls when I lay them down to sleep.  I feel everything.

The past three months have been an exercise in dealing with all this feeling. But perhaps the hardest thing for me to acknowledge in the middle of all this change and miniscule amounts of transformation is this:

I feel a lot better when I have help

Whether I ask for or simply accept it, help makes everything less overwhelming. Help makes the present something I can enjoy, instead of something I rush through so that I can get everyone to bed.

Ellis has a new phrase lately. “I do it myseff, mama.” Pretty standard among toddlers, but the first time she said it, I had to try not to laugh out loud. Of course she couldn’t put her hair in a ponytail by herself, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try.

And fail.

And then holler, hot-faced and cranky, for help.

I laugh, because I’m the adult version of my daughter. I maybe have a teensy little problem with being independent, self-sufficient, and a measure too stubborn for my own good.

But maybe, just maybe, I’m learning to get over doing everything “myseff” so that I can teach my daughter to do the same. I’m learning that over-independence sometimes ruins any chance of being transformationally present. I’m learning to lean, to accept, to ask so that I really can practice what it means to be joyful always.

Pray continually.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

 

PS- three month pictures forthcoming.

 

Present duty, present pain, present pleasure

IMG_20130918_095101_164Sorry, no post last week. We are in the middle of two really happy events – both Jason and my youngest brothers are/have gotten married back to back this month. That means last week I spent two days straight doing laundry, packing clothes, checklisting for a six hour road trip to South Dakota, etc. and the things I normally tried to sneak in (writing, eating lunch before 3 pm) took the last seat on the bus. And this week, I busted out my former life skills from working in a bridal shop and made a ribbon lined elbow length veil for my awesome future sister in law.

I also learned that putting said veil in the dryer FOR TWO MINUTES to try to shake out the wrinkles in the tulle will melt the whole dang thing.

Life lessons. IMG_1699

***

This week the twins are two months. Time passing, my how they’ve grown, etc. etc. Here’s my biggest PRAISE for this phase. We are all Sleeping. Through. The. Night. As in, they go to bed around 10:00 or 10:30 pm, and wake up pretty consistently at 5:30 or 6:00 am.

This feels a little like I’ve hijacked an ice cream truck and have a whole summer’s supply of those really bad for you but really good waffle cone drumsticks with the fudge drizzle on top. It’s amazing.

Here are a couple of mug shots from their recent photo documentation. My favorite might be Ellis “helping” by pointing out Lucy’s facial features while I’m trying to take pictures.

In other news, we had the two month check in this week. The good news is that the girls are starting to catch up to one another in weight- Gabrielle was at 10 lbs 14 oz, and Lucia at 10 lbs 1 oz. The bad news was that they had their shots. There are a lot of awful things in this world, but pinning down your infant on a hard clinic mattress and watching her get poked with a bunch of needles is pretty rough. Then again, coming down with whooping cough or some other Oregon trail-esque disease is way worse, so I count the shots as worth it.

***

 My friend Nate posted a great quote on Facebook the other day, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

From “The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis”
TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.
12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain —enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

I used to have a pretty big beef with the monotony of routine, but these days it saves my life. And as much as I feel like a fun-sucker to say it, the sweetest days can often be the ones with nothing going on. Those are the days Ellis climbs in my lap and we read story after story before nap time. I get to sit down on the couch with each baby individually and schnoogle with them. Laundry gets down, the chickens get let out, and some sort of creativity in the kitchen usually occurs in the form of supper.

Sounds a little like do the present duty, huh?

I completely love getting out and seeing friends and something other than my four walls, but no joke, it takes serious effort and lots of time. It’s like convincing yourself it’s fun to eat an orange. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t peel an orange properly. I usually end up hacking it open with a knife. And those little plastic orange peelers? Not helpful, unless you count squirting yourself continually in the eye with acid juice “help”. But the perfectly sweet, heaven-sent interior… that’s something entirely different. And it’s always worth it.

Do the present duty—bear the present pain —enjoy the present pleasure

At home or outside of it, I find myself doing all three of these, which makes my mind wander to a line from my grandpa’s favorite hymn Day by Day. Lovingly, it’s part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.

I think these writers were on to something.

***

I ended the week listening to the newest Civil Wars album and holding my girls. Jason was chaperoning the elementary crowd at the homecoming football game (herding cats), but since the weather was calling for rain and the game started at Ellis’ bedtime, I kept the pink brigade at home and did a round of baths for everyone. And for a couple of hours after everyone was fed, bathed, and laid down, there was peace. Rest. Quiet. All of which I appreciated more because of their opposing activities during the week.

It was a moment of pure and present pleasure, and it fell over my shoulders like my favorite nubbly old sweater that I pulled out this week because apparently it’s cold now.

And all I can really say here is amen.

Welcome to the mom scene

This Thursday, I explored new territory.

Yep. I went to my first mom’s group.

I’m a little late to the stay-at-home-mom scene. I’ve been working up until this point, so I was the one who had to politely decline morning bible study invites, midweek play dates, and spur of the moment trips to the zoo.

It was hard at first, being THAT mom. Feeling somehow disconnected from my daughter. But slowly I learned to give myself grace. An allowance for our circumstances. And to do the best I could with the time I did have with Ellis.

But today I saw things from the other side of the fence. Literally.

The mom’s group met at Sundance Mission Stables just north of Scandia. While the older kids were taught a lesson in grooming horses, the mamas with babies and toddlers in tow congregated in the horse barn with Barb, the owner. Barb had a single horse on a lead rope, and she asked each of us if we wanted to lead the horse around the ring, back it up, turn it around, etc.

As the women took their turns, it was evident many of them had never been around horses. Barb took this opportunity to connect how they asked the horse to obey with how they asked their children to obey.

Some of the women were timid. Some had difficulties asking the horse to back up. Some were not sure whether to lead or to follow the giant creature gently plodding the dirt ring of the enclosure.

And in the back of the group, I stood there thinking, “I’ve SO got this.”

I grew up around horses. I participated in horse camps, riding competitions, and even took English dressage lessons for a summer. If there’s one animal I know a lot about, it’s a horse.

So when it was my turn, I confidently walked up to the horse with Ellie on my hip, patted his nose and neck for a moment to introduce myself, and then firmly took the lead rope and led the horse around the ring.

After putting the horse through his paces and arriving back to Barb the facilitator, I expected to be congratulated. I was confident. In charge. I made sure the horse did everything it was supposed to.

Barb smiled and said, “Well, I can always tell a lot about a mom’s parenting style by the way she approaches the horse. This assertive, or even aggressive method certainly gets the job done, but leaves the door of resentment wide open for children later if they are not given a little more space, or rope on the lead.”

Aggressive? Assertive? I was thinking more like “Wow, she was great with that horse. See how she was calm and in control?”

Hm.

I smiled it off, made an offhand comment about having a little horse experience, and let the next mama take her turn. But inside, I felt off kilter. Me? Aggressive? Seriously? How does she decide this from how I walk a horse around the ring? Is she some sort of parenting guru? I’m so even keel. Kind. Calm. I DO NOT GET MA…

Oh. Right.

I am the parent who responds immediately with a raised voice if my daughter is doing something she shouldn’t. And I’ve done my fair share of shoulder-hauling to the timeout step in our house, and yes, I’ve spanked my daughter when she’s bitten me (it’s the only swattable offense in our house these days.)

I’ve also questioned how effective any of this really is. (Seriously. If my daughter puts herself in timeout when I point to the stairs, I might need to rethink things.)

***

Afterwards, I met some really great people, reconnected with an old friend, and breathed a prayer of thanks for the mothers that were prepared and brought more than an air temperature 32 ounce water bottle for their toddlers at snack time.

(I thought I was doing pretty good to remember the water bottle.)

The more I am faced with these everyday challenges, the more I realize I have a lot to learn about what children need. (Uh, snack food, for starters.)

But more so, I think I need a little more calm to balance my firm hand. A gentle voice instead of an angry one. The patience to get down at face level and talk a situation through instead of immediately resorting to time out. Don’t get me wrong. All the latters have their time and place. I just need to figure out which and when.

Preferably before the twins turn two. Which means I have a long ways to go.

***

Do you have a preferred parenting tactic for toddlers? I’d love to hear it. Really. Truly. Comment away.

PS – In other small accomplishments, I figured out how to completely collapse the stroller, and then forgot again when I had to leave and ended up manhandling it only half folded into the back of the van. I think I also got manure on my shirt in the process, but I’m just chalking that one up to the hazards of mom’s group on a farm.