To My Little One

Tonight we set up your bed.  It is a portable, cozy bassinet that folds small enough to be tucked into a carry-on suitcase.  I think you’ll be snug there, beside us.  Now, though the walls around you will change, at least your little bed will stay the same.  Your life may be like that bed though, portable, but always close to us.

Daddy kindly emptied two of his three dresser drawers for you.  He scrounged up more hangers and piled things on shelves in the closets so I could place little stacks of your clothes within easy reach.   Such tiny little socks you have.  We want you to know we will make room for you.  We will rearrange our plans and ideas so that your little feet can march through our hearts comfortably.  We will juggle and shift so that you fit just right.

I erased about 400 pictures off of the camera so we’ll have enough space on the memory card for the first few days of your life.  People say parents stop taking pictures after the first child or two, but I plan otherwise.  We will still celebrate  and document your smiles, your grimaces, your little teeth poking through, your first steps.  That is until you run faster than my shutter can keep up.

IMG_7904Your brothers are excited to meet you.  They ask me often when you are coming.  We made you birthday breakfast yesterday and toasted to your coming, celebrating that you’d soon be with us.  You, unfortunately didn’t grace us with your presence yet but since we found out about you we decided to make a party out of it.

Micah is rather concerned that you don’t have socks on your feet.  He doesn’t want your toes to be cold.  You know his voice, the one that sings you “Shinkle, Shinkle Little Stawr” to make you feel “SOOO happy”.  And he’s waiting to pounce on you with nuggles and tisses.  He will have to get used to not being the baby but he will love you tenderly and care for you deeply.

Lucas assumes your coming is imminent.  “Maybe he’ll come RIGHT NOW!”  All the Grade 1s cannot believe you aren’t here yet.  He is older now and wants to hold you all on his own and read you stories.  He wanted you to be a girl at first so he could protect you but now is quite happy that you, as a boy, can join his rescue squad and Lego Building team.  He will, nevertheless, be a fierce protector for you and a relentless teacher.

I know now, on the inside, it must sound like a lot of commotion out here, and you get elbowed a lot during story time.  That may not change actually but I hope you’ll grow to love it.  I hope the commotion grows just a little bit louder with your little voice in the mix, laughing and jabbering and collaborating.  My dream is that you three boys will be best of friends.  No one will understand your third culture life the way your brothers will.  You can have secret languages wherever you go and built in friends and protectors.  It is my prayer that you three will band together, a cord of three strands.

We didn’t know if we’d have you.  Were three kids in the same room too many, three car seats in the back of a rental car too hard, three little people too hard to juggle in airplanes and customs and other countries?  It is easy to make you fit in Canada, easy to spread out but overseas it isn’t the same.  But God knew.  He knew you’d fit perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece in the picture of our family.  And we are so very glad.

You are taking your time coming.  We thought you’d be here early and now the days keep ticking by.  But for now, my body is your home and you are welcome to stay as long as you are comfortable and safe.  That’s the way it will stay.  You are always welcome to find safety in my arms, Little One.  Day or night.  Little or big.  That’s my job and my delight as your Mommy.

Our departure date will have to shift now.  We can’t get our paperwork and your vaccines in the time we have left.  But we’ll continue to wait–for you to be born, for you to tie your shoes at the door, for you to choose which flavour ice cream you’d like.  I know many times we’ll rush you when we shouldn’t, but we’ll try to be patient and let you take your time.

Little One, many are praying for you and loving you already.  You are blessed to be anxiously waited for.  We can’t wait to meet you and kiss you and find out just what a treasure you really are.

Love Mommy

XOXO

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Just You Wait: An Open Letter to Parents of Teenagers from Parents of Small Children

You choose the worst times to say it—those spinning, giggling moments where if a camera was on fast shutter speed, every frame, every angle would catch the joy.  Either those moments or the ones where weariness seeps into everything, with the squirming, whining, lightening-fast hands in the checkout line.

tantrum_in_shopping_cartIn these frames, no amount of Photoshop can soften the frustration, the shadows like half moons under our eyes and their fingernails and our souls.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” you say, standing behind us in line, standing over our park bench, as you walk by our booth at the restaurant.  “Eventually they will be teenagers and then you’ll know what parenting really is.  Just wait.”

You need to know, parents of older children, parents who have teenagers, parents whose little ones are all grown up, these are not helpful words to us parents of small children.

When you say, “Enjoy it while it lasts,” and when you say, “Just wait,” you are either raining on our parade or pouring salt on our wounds.  And in case you don’t remember, most days with little ones aren’t parade sorts of days; most days we walk on feeling wounded, our own tears or theirs providing plenty of salt already.

When you rain on our parade, you are telling us there is no hope.  This is the best we’ll ever have.  It gets worse from here on in.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

And when you tell us to enjoy when we are squarely in the middle of tantrums and chaos and are clearly embarrassed and frazzled, you aren’t accomplishing what you are hoping.  Maybe your desire really is for us to enjoy even the hardest of moments, to do what you struggled to do, to love the littlest ones in their worst moments.  And maybe we need to hear that.  But we need to hear it in a different way.  409410_10151203438345372_2003174504_n

Because what we hear you saying is that this is easy.

What we hear you saying is that this is the best it gets.

We hear you saying the screaming and clinging, the sleepless nights and shower-less days and diapers, this is easy.  This is enjoyable compared to what is coming.

What we hear you saying is that you are doing the real work and by the time you got to that point, there was no real joy left anyway.

We know you are really speaking about your own life more than about ours, we just can’t always hear that because we are too tired or confused or embarrassed.  We forget that you too are exhausted, out of solutions, feeling sometimes like your family is spinning out of control.

Folks, we need to stop competing over who has the harder lot in life because for some of us, if this is all the good there is, and if teenagers are what you say they are, we may just not make it.  It is helping no one.

We need to remember that though the issues are different, there is a lot of common ground in parenting, regardless of your child’s age.  For instance:

1.  We both know the middle of the night.  I know it with arms full and you know it with arms empty.  But we both desire the same thing—our beloved children sleeping safely in their beds, so we can sleep peacefully in ours.  If you are tempted to think your situation is harder, next time you are lying awake in bed, waiting to hear the door open and hearing the clock tick instead, drag yourself up, grab the heaviest bag of flour or potatoes you have in the pantry and start to pace.  If you are really into it, you can sing and sway.  Remember what it feels like to carry the weight of being needed every single moment.  Feel the heat of a fever right next to the burn of helplessness.  Let your arms tire and your lower back ache with compassion for the parents who do this every night, multiple times through the night, not just on weekends.

Porch-light

And when I finally lay my babies to bed and pull fleecy blankets down to cover the rubber stamped feet of their sleepers that have finally stopped kicking, I’ll stand with empty arms and thank God for the child in the crib in front of me, a child I can hold and protect.  I’ll imagine what it is to be in your shoes—needed and “not needed”, arms limp at your side because you can’t sing them back home.  I can turn off the porch light; you can’t.

We both know the middle of the night.

2.  We fear danger.  For parents everywhere, the world is brimming with hazards.  For parents of small children, danger takes the form of, well, anything.  I distinctly remember sitting at my parents’ kitchen table with my husband after the prenatal class on child safety.  We sat there, shell-shocked and terrified, convinced of the inevitability of our yet-to-be-born child’s death by some household calamity.  My parents, mildly amused, assured us we would be fine and more importantly, that our baby would be fine.

But the reality is that danger is everywhere.  Your own home, supposedly a haven, has power outletdangers lurking everywhere.  Electrical outlets, the bathtub, falling dressers, pinching closet doors, toxic substances tucked deep in cupboards. Parking lots, strangers, vaccines, lead paints, play grounds.  You can be vigilant about safety but you can’t prevent every fall, every scrape, every germ.  My oldest son’s only scar is a ^ shape beside his right eye.  He was tripping, about to fall down a flight of concrete stairs, and I swiftly moved to catch him, mid-air.  As I did, my thumb nail caught the soft skin by his eye and gouged it.  Even in the saving, in the protecting, our children can be scarred.  My second son has a scar too, under his right eye.  This time it was his fingernail in the middle of the night.  Our protection only goes so far.

And you, parent of teenagers, you know danger too.  You fear them tripping up in good judgment, falling into bad company, reaching for alcohol or drugs.  It’s not that you can put things up on a high shelf out of reach, pull foreign objects out of their mouth with a finger sweep.  You fear those toxic relationships, hidden poisons, their drowning in pools of insecurity or rejection.  And even your own home, supposed to be a refuge from the big bad world, can have all sorts of hidden dangers in mirrors and money and the big bad internet.  You too, can’t protect them from everything.  And they too scar from words and actions—yours, theirs, those of others.

Remember we both fear loss and hurt.

3.  We want to be loved and appreciated.

Parenting is often a thankless task.  It is the unending job.  But it is also our high calling—to raise our children to be beautifully, uniquely and unapologetically themselves in a world that loves to corrupt and constrict and conform.

Nose nuzzleWhen my son was first born, I dreamed (not as in wistful thinking, but dreamed at night dreamed) that he would wrap his arms around my neck and hug me.  How that thrilled me.  And part of the beauty of the early years is getting those hugs, being the go-to person.  No one can fix things the way you do, no one’s hug means as much.  Hurt feelings, scraped knees, stomach bugs come and we are fountains of comfort and security, even if we haven’t brushed our teeth or showered in days.  (To clarify, that’s days in which we haven’t showered.  We brush our teeth every day.  Really we do.  Just sometimes not our hair.)  But the demands are unending, relentless, sometimes overwhelming.

You parents of teenagers can feel anaemic here.  I can understand that.  Maybe you aren’t cool.  You’ve been replaced.  You still need to chauffeur and cook and dish out money and permission but sometimes you are paid back with distance or attitude.  Perhaps hugs are few and far between.  That must tear at your heart.

May we not seek so much to be loved as to love.

* * * 

Parents of young children need to know this isn’t all there is.  The basics of every day won’t always be this difficult.  Feeding, bathing, sleeping for them and for you, these will ease.  The day will come when they will sleep through the night or make their own peanut butter sandwich.  You will stop wiping bums but may never stop wiping tears.  You need to know what you are doing isn’t just laundry and the same things over and over again—you are doing something significant.  You are forming a foundation for the men and women your children will become.  You are giving them a solid foundation of love and security to build on.

Maybe you parents of teenagers need to hear that you’ve done a good job and are doing a good job. Maybe you need to worry less and trust that they are good kids.  Maybe you need to hear that the choices they make are their choices and don’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.  Your kids will come back, they will settle down, they will quiet the spinning, the questioning. They will stop fighting; the storms will calm.  Emotions will mature.  They may even consider you a friend one day and value your counsel.  And even if they don’t do any of those things, you can still keep on loving and being a good parent.  Your worth is not determined by their behaviour.

Our days look different.  I wonder if my boys eat enough; you wonder how yours can eat SO much.  We watch our little ones study themselves in the mirror—I big Mommy!  You watch yours scrutinize themselves—I’m too big, Mom.  Our little ones can’t get enough of our attention; your teenagers act like your opinion is of no consequence.  But what we have in common is that our children are gifts.

Wherever you fall on the parenting timeline, remember we’re all on the same side.  We are raising the next generation.  We need encouragement wherever we can get it and we should give it whenever we can.  And, just maybe, that next generation needs to hear less about how hard it is to raise them and more about how great it is to have a chance to walk beside them, no matter their size.

On the road again

I should be good at this by now.  I’ve done it enough times.

We are moving.   Again.

We’ve been house-sitting for the past 2 ½ months in Canada.  This time we don’t have the furniture, dishes, filing cabinets fiasco.  We do, however, have the tiny diapers, rubber boots, Sunday suits, piles-of-paper-because-we-don’t-have-filing-cabinets fiasco.  No matter how you slice it, moving is work.  Moving internationally is no joke either.

And then there is the new baby.  But babies are small.  They don’t need a lot.  I mean, how much can one little person use in a year?

Ah, the first-time parent myth.  I’ve fallen for it again after an almost 4 year span between our children.

I decided to keep my packing list to the basics:

  • Cloth diapers.
  • Disposable diapers for overnight
  • Wipes
  • Zinc cream
  • Baby powder
  • Shampoo
  • Face cloths
  • Collapsible baby chair to double as a high chair
  • Miniature squirting rubber ducky (this is more for my older son so he won’t get into mischief when Mommy is irrevocably up to her elbows in bath water.)  Mmm, that reminds me…
  • Bath tub  (We buy purple since the ultrasound said we’d have a girl.  Turns out it was a boy.)
  • Clothing.  Hats.  Shoes.
  • Receiving blankets
  • Sunscreen
  • Bedding
  • Mobile
  • Vitamin D drops (if I can just remember to give them!)
  • Soft structured carrier (I love the Beco Butterfly II)
  • Jogging stroller with infant adapter (the BOB SUS is my running partner!)

On and on the list goes.

The trouble with baby basics is that they aren’t so basic.  That is still a lot of stuff.   I don’t like having a lot of stuff.

Ethical dilemma aside, I have another problem.  Where I live, it is next to impossible to buy good baby things or any baby things for that matter.  You are guaranteed to sacrifice quality or price, most likely both.  And that is if you can find what you need.  That if is very big indeed.  Here I am trying to simplify, partly by choice and partly by force, but I have no idea what it is like to really do without like so many of my neighbours have to.

What does one do if you can’t find diapers or can’t afford them at $1 a piece?  Well, you can do what the locals do.  Use a disposable diaper once.  And I mean really use it, until it is bulging.  Cut a slit in it and scoop out all that pee-logged gelatin, wash the diaper, hang it to dry.  Now you are ready to grab a wad of gauze and put the diaper back on and watch the baby leak all over your lap.  Then you have to wash it again along with your pants.  I kid you not.

You see my dilemma.  Hence, I need to import everything for the first YEAR of baby’s life in suitcases and get it past customs, as if I were a normal tourist.  And for those of you keeping track, yes, that includes the purple bathtub.  Our goal this trip is six suitcases of 50 lbs or less.  Too bad the rest of us need clothing.  And peanut butter.  And toothpaste.

So here I am, putting my extra post-baby weight to good use, sitting on the duffle bags and zipping them up one-handed while holding the feeding baby with the other.   I’m really glad I bought that luggage scale on one of the many post-baby trips to the pharmacy.  My husband lifts up the suitcase and I scrutinize the wobbly black needle.  “48.5?” I say.

“Let’s try again,” he suggests and hefts the bag again.

“Yep,” I say.  Room for that last ziplock bag of protein powder.

My son runs over with a big orange bulldozer.  “Mommy, can my digger come?  Please?”

He and Daddy weigh it and then we tuck it into the digger-size space in his suitcase beside his pared down tool kit and brand new vehicle stamping set (Melissa and Doug).

“Going on vacation?” the agent at the AirCanada desk asks.

“Not exactly,” we reply.  “More like moving.  We just came back for the baby to be born.”  We briefly explained what we do.

The total weight of our suitcases was 298.4 lbs.  I’ll save you the effort: that’s under the maximum weight by 1.6 lbs total or an average of .27 lbs per bag.  “That’s cutting it pretty close,” I think as the agent proceeds to label all of our bags with bright orange tags saying HEAVY 50lbs.  On the plane, we realize they didn’t even charge us for the extra 2 bags.  Altruism or just pity?

We clear immigration and customs without incident and manage to cram our bags into our teammates’ two small cars.  We arrive back at our rental house with our local “family” jumping up and down and pointing to the hand written sign taped on the living room wall: “Bienvenidos a Casa”.  Welcome Home.

Now that we are finally unpacked and settling in, I start to re-evaluate what I packed.  I wonder why in the world did I pack my carry-on full of 0-3 month clothing?  In the sweltering heat, the poor guy hasn’t worn a darn thing.  Also, it doesn’t look like he will need many more size one diapers at the rate he is chubbing up.  I guess I won’t have to look far for people who will, ahem, get good use out of them.

But, just for the record, both boys have sure enjoyed cooling off in that purple bath tub.

The view from my lap on the plane


The shuttle from the plane to the airport (just a little packed)

Packed into the shuttle with the 2 boys on my lap