On birthdays and differences

I am so happy to say that my heart has endless space and capacity to love both of my girls.

But they are different.

Their personalities are so different and they arrived at different times in my life and they bring out different aspects of me as their mother.  This makes mothering them fairly, equally, so very challenging.

E is now three and regularly runs and jumps into my arms with abandon. When she hugs, she clings, like a monkey or a leech, legs squeezing my side, fingers grasping at my flesh and hair if need be.  She rarely wants to let go first.

Z doesn't usually want a hug, more often than not she shrugs me off roughly as if my arms are a fly to be swatted. One could point out that she is 6 now, getting a little big for constant snuggling. But she's always been like this, she just hasn't always been big enough to shrug me off so successfully. Sometimes I neglect to notice when she actually needs a hug rather than a firm talking to.

And so E becomes the one I hug and cuddle and Z becomes the one I Expect More From. Do the older and younger always fall into these roles by virtue of their birth order? Or are they made this way by it?

Lately I've been purposefully seeking out moments to hug and cuddle Z and am often surprised to find that when I pay attention and the time is right, she melts into me in ways I had forgotten were possible with her. I shouldn't be surprised by this revelation but I am: she needs cuddles too. Her moods must be read carefully and correctly but when they are, she can snuggle with the best of 'em.

I'm also seeking out moments to expect more from E. As the younger sister, she is often excused for misbehavior we would never accept from her older sister.  We remind her older sister often that E is "only three" and still learning how to communicate and share and follow the rules. E hears all of this of course, and yesterday when I told her not to jump on the couch, she smiled sweetly at me and said, "But Mama, I only THREE!"

Riiiiight. This is the lesson I have inadvertently, but clearly, taught her.

We had a mellow birthday celebration for E this year. It was small, we didn't invite the entire neighborhood in addition to all the families at my husband's workplace. We just invited two friends to a nearby farm and bounced and fed animals and ate strawberry cupcakes. It was very different than Z's huge birthday bash, but it's okay.

(I hope it's okay.)

I want to be equal in my mothering of them but struggle mightily when their needs and behaviors swing wildly and inspire very different reactions from me.

At least they both resemble me.



She is so big. She jumps at me with abandon and an overabundance of trust. She leaps first, looks second. Or never. She is a menace on her scooter. Her physical fearlessness terrifies me and inspires me equally.

She is little. After dribbling a basketball for the first time, she runs to me in triumph, makes sure I know, I saw.  She needs me to hold her - and her accomplishment - for a minute before rushing off to do it again.

She can climb the pulls on her dresser like a ladder and sing her ABCs (with "Elmo" in there instead of "l, m, n, o") and count to twenty (only missing a few numbers!) and hang with the older kids (and try to boss them around) and brush her own teeth (poorly but don't you DARE take that brush) and she's totally definitely THREE.
And wearing the dress I made her for her birthday!
Did you read this post over at Dooce? I laughed out loud and clutched my laptop to my chest in relief. Three is our dreaded year, too. Z completely and totally fell apart when she was three. She was defiant, unreasonable, cranky, whiny, and stubborn and no, I really haven't run out of adjectives but I'll stop there anyway. She was also moving across the country and greeting her new sister all while her mom was slowly but surely falling apart at the usual seams and some she didn't even know existed.

When Z went through three, I didn't know what three was like so I assumed that we had broken our child. We broke her with the move AND the baby sister and she would never be the same.

So it is almost a relief that E is challenging now. There are no baby sisters, no major multiple upheavals in our home and still she is defiant and unreasonable. Whiny and stubborn. Dropping her nap and resisting bedtime. Right on time.

Three. Oh three. It is a very good thing they're still so darn cute.



I had a bad day last week. Nothing special really, could've been any old day but it became a Snowball Day, the kind of day where every issue seems to snowball until my child's minor temper tantrum becomes Further Evidence of My Failure as a Mother and Her Future as a Adult Malcontent.  
I realized that I snowball these things, of course. It's not like it happens all on its own. When things are going poorly, I pack and roll and shove that snowball downhill with a running commentary in my head, every word adding more and more snow.

Oooh here we go again. I'm pretty sure the parenting books say I should have nixed this behavior, like, THREE YEARS AGO. How will she survive in the world if she acts like this in front of people who don't love every single hair on her head and even the ones on her back and up her nose? I suck at this mothering gig but also where's my medal for dealing with it EVERY DAY? Oh yes, and here are the complaints about the dinner I so lovingly planned and bought and cooked and she won't eat. She'll get some horrible disease as an adult because she never once knowingly touched a green vegetable to her mouth as a child blah blah blah

And then I feel guilty for feeling so terrible, because I am just so lucky.

Yeah. Sometimes it's not so fun being inside my head.

I've been wrestling with this for so long, this guilt over being fortunate compounded by more guilt when I'm unhappy despite all my good fortune. How ungrateful I am!

Obviously, I get nowhere with these thoughts or, at least, nowhere useful.

Whenever I'm having a hard time in my life, feeling stressed, overwhelmed or sad, I've always tried to shut down the crappy feelings and squeeze gratitude from my pores. When I am at my lowest, I've made myself list how lucky I am, how many reasons I have to be happy. This is supposed to be a gentle reality check and bring fresh perspective on my blessed position in life.

It does not feel like that. It makes me feel worse, each and every time, in a downward spiral of misery and guilt and shame.

Lose LOSE!

Then it dawned on me: when things are hard, I can simply let them be hard - but only factually. I can list them, dispassionately and without editorial comment. I can accept that I am struggling and will just have to muddle through until it gets better.  I do not force gratitude, but instead allow myself to simply list the suckitude.

So the former internal commentary now, forcibly, sounds like this:  She's still having a hard time with transitions. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can. She's still struggling with disliking most foods. I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.

Also, sadly, I realize I rarely give my positive emotions (I have a few! I do!) a push of their own.  When life is okay, I've begun seeking out those tiny moments of joy that can slip by so easily and try to magnify them and give them their own running commentary, a packed snowball PUSH of positivity.

Do you already do this? Why don't I already do this?

When holding E on my lap and reading to her, I make myself notice the scent of her hair and the feel of her soft hand on my forearm. I pause and focus on every positive thing I can think of:  I love this moment so much. I love HER. I love reading to her and how close we are and how smooth her skin is and how connected to her I feel. Every book we read deepens our bond and engages her brain. I let every single bodily sense flood with intensity and try to stay with those feelings and that moment as long as possible. My running positive commentary often feels... forced, odd, unusual.

This is sad, yes?

When listening to the girls agree and play together in the backseat of the car, taking turns and helping each other, I actively stop and breathe in and purposely think: They are working together. They love each other. They are learning how to communicate and share and appreciate one another. They have goodness and manners in them. I have taught them good things.

This intentional deep focus and positive extrapolation on the good stuff seems to make the positivity last, it gives the next hour or so a slight glow. If I gather enough of these moments, and try to snowball them, the other times, the times that could add up to despair or madness, seem to happen less frequently, even though, of course, they are probably just as frequent as any other day.

When they do occur, I will continue to love her through it, as best I can.



My parents came to visit for Z's sixth birthday blowout. It was lovely having them here, as usual, and my mom was especially helpful to me as she is unparalleled as both a dishwasher and "Let's Play FAMILY!" playmate.

At the end of their time here, my mom joined us for our Sunday afternoon kite-flying. She watched at first, cheering on her granddaughters efforts like the proud grandma she is.

When Z offered her a turn to fly the kite and she demurred, saying "No thanks, I'm too old for that."

And a few seconds later, she muttered, "AHRG, I'm not THAT old,"and took off running with the kite.

I've never been more proud of her.

She continues to inspire me as both a mother and a woman and I am sad that her birthday lands on Mother's Day this year as it makes it harder to celebrate her separately as both.

Oh well, Happy Birthday AND Happy Mother's Day Mom. You are the spriteliest 70 year old I know.

I didn't get a picture of her flying the kite, but man, is the image ever burned into my brain.



I've been trying to meditate.

I guess I can drop the "trying", that's implicit isn't it? Meditation is not easy for anyone I know. Maybe once you've been doing it for many many years, maybe then you no longer "try" so much. So actually, leave "trying" in there, it's essential to explaining what it is I'm doing. If I'm doing anything by sitting still and listening to my breath and watching the cloud thoughts come in and out with startling frequency and intensity, it's "trying."

Sometimes I listen to recorded guided meditations but often they just piss me off. This morning's was about how with every breath, you are becoming a better and better version of yourself and you can do anything you put your mind to. I'm not sure why it annoyed me so much, but I guess, at the moment, acceptance is a more enticing concept to me than self-improvement. What I'm looking for when I meditate is that illusive quiet mind. One that doesn't ring with self-judgement. One that doesn't race and pace at times of stillness.

Can this life I'm leading, this moment I am in, this body that I have, this person that I am, be enough? Right now?

I've been trying to lose weight because I no longer comfortably fit in any of my shorts and most of my pants. I have upped my exercising, adjusted my diet, doing all the things that have worked in the past, and still the scale doesn't budge. I know that I can lose those inches, those pounds, but it's looking like it would take sacrifices I'm not willing to make. It would be like a part-time job, a major commitment of time and heart and brain space. Maybe I should accept that my aging body is just a little bigger and go buy myself some bigger pants already? Or is that a slippery slope with no end?

I have been trying to write fiction, for the first time since college. So far it has resulted only in a few terrible pages and a heaping pile of terror and self-recrimination.  Maybe I should give up on the literary dreams I not-so-secretly harbor and find something else, something more reasonable, to focus on? Or am I being too easily defeated?

I've been trying to potty train my almost three year old. After a few initial successes, it's.... not happening. So now I'm trying to figure out where we can fit a cube fridge in the tiny downstairs bathroom where I spend at least half of my daylight hours.

I have been trying to figure out what I want to do with myself once the girls are in school next fall. I feel simultaneously like Everything is possible! And also I'm too old and too set in my ways and my mind is too mushy for me to ever do anything besides laundry and picking up Barbies for the rest of my life! I had a dream last night that one of my favorite mom bloggers and I were hanging out and she asked me if I "really wanted to stay home, like forever? Or did I want to work at some point doing something meaningful?" and I curled up into a fetal position and cried as she walked away from me.

Nice, dream mind. Thanks for that.

I feel like I'm at a crossroads. I am facing a summer with only scattered summer camps and activities for the girls. I need to put on my Julie McCoy, cruise director cap, my best SAHM self.  I want to enjoy my girls and create joyful memories for us all. It is up to me to create the space and structures that will allow that. This is partly why I'm home with them, after all. I'm trying to rise to the challenge of an open, minimally-planned summer.

But then, after the summer is over, Z will be in First! Grade! and E will be in morning preschool five mornings a week. I will officially have more "free" time on my hands than I've had in many years.

Five bucks says I will squander that time like a pro.

I have conflicting goals when I imagine having more time on my hands. Part of me immediately focuses on our home, and all the organizing, gardening, decorating, crafting projects that I could devote myself to to make our lives, our little home, richer. The competing desire is to GET OUT. Get out of my house, get out of this little life. Get out into the world. I do have a building, conflicting, desire to work outside the home.

What I know: I want to find some part time employment eventually, once the girls are in school and need me less. I want to serve others. I want to earn some money, engage my brain, connect myself to my community.

I want to just know what the next step will be. I want something to fall into my lap and announce itself: Here I am! Your true calling! You are meant to serve love and goodness in the world by.... ! I fantasize about this because I bravely believe in things happening in their own time and can patiently wait, because I am lazy, because I am scared, because I am unsure where to start so how about I start by waiting and watching and wondering?

I am trying to accept where I am, while pushing myself, ever so gently, toward something more.

And, all the while, I am trying to meditate.

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