Growing in Love

This morning I was getting dressed while my husband sat at the computer in our bedroom, and I knew we had to have the conversation I had been working up to for days.
“Honey, I need to tell you something.” I could see him tense up, because those words rarely mean anything pleasant. “I love you,” at this point he turned away from the computer and looked at me warily.
“I love you deeply and devotedly, and I love that you bring me things like doughnuts and oreos and wine when you come home from work. It makes me feel very loved.” At this point he was trying to hold in his laughter as he watched me hop and dance around the room, trying to fit my behind into the jeans I bought the month after our honeymoon.
“But you have to stop,” I continued, “because my clothes don’t fit me anymore!” 
By now, there was no trying. He giggled, he snickered, he howled. I wiggled, I jumped, I danced, I squeezed. I shot him a death glare as I peeled them off and pulled stretch pants out of my drawer. 
Carbs are my weakness, and he knows it. Chocolate and wine are like kryptonite, I lose all strength and will-power when they’re around. If we’re going out as a family on Saturday morning, the first two stops are the local doughnut shop and the drive-through coffee shop. I love food. Good food. And drinks. 

*Over-Sharing Alert*

In college I spent almost a year living on as little food as I could manage. I saw hunger as a sign of self-discipline and spent hours obsessing about how little food I could eat, and congratulating myself every time my stomach growled. 
Of course, within a few months I was having trouble focusing in my classes, my skin was drying out, my hair was falling out, and my social life was suffering. 

Long story short, I got help and decided that was never going to happen to me again. So now I enjoy my food, and sometimes when my brain says “I shouldn’t eat that, think of the fat content!” my heart says “But I’ll enjoy it, and I’ll do some cardio later to make up for it.” And occasionally I actually do. (occasionally do the cardio. I always enjoy the food)

I have three beautiful sisters, none of whom have had kids yet. They all have smaller feet, smaller waists, and bigger… yeah, those things all girls want to be bigger. Even the fourteen year old. Family functions are a fiasco of self-image issues for me. 
But I’ve learned something recently about body image, and here it is: 

Little girls are born without self-image hangups. 

But if my daughter, who is in that “retaining everything, human sponge” phase, hears me say “I shouldn’t eat that, I’m too fat already” or “I just wish I could lose those last 5 (10) pounds” or “Uhg, this shirt shows off my arm flab/baby pooch/cellulite!” she is going to internalize that attitude toward her body. But if she sees her mommy living her life, loving her body, and enjoying both food AND excercise, she will internalize THAT instead, and that’s the attitude I want my little one to have. Not only that, but it’s also the attitude that I want my son to have toward women’s bodies. So the way I treat and talk about my body, excercise, and food is the way my kids will view their own and (hopefully) their spouses’ bodies, someday. 


Widened hips for perching babies,
Soft tummy for littles to lean on,
Strong legs for chasing Munchkins,
Squishy arms for comfy hugs. 

No more bikinis, but that’s ok,
My body’s for more important things
These days.

Family Pressure

As the baby explosion on my Facebook feed reaches epidemic proportions, I can’t help but wonder what was going on nine months ago. Then I remember the unexpected January/February snowstorms we had and, like a teenage boy, I have to snicker to myself a little. 
But all these newborn pictures make me a little reminicent, they make me sniffle a little at how big my own babies are getting. 
Then I think about those first few months, and I smile to myself because this summer my baby stopped wearing diapers. We also took our first vacation without baby gates, pack ‘n plays, sippy cups, or enough baby wipes to pave I-5. Hubby was so amazed at how “empty” the truck was, he thought I had forgotten something. 
Some days I wonder if the kids are to the point where it would be easier to have another baby. I think they lull me into complacency to make the ambush all that more memorable. Maybe they’ve been taking pointers from Honest Toddler, because yesterday they definitely did all they could to prevent ISD: Infant Sibling Disease. In fact, instead of considering a new baby, now I’m considering finding a new grocery store. Maybe in a different town. 
I guess I carry a little bit of guilt because, having four siblings myself and being surrounded by large families all my life, I feel like maybe I copped out a little bit by only having two kids. Like maybe I took the easier, “fewer blessings” route. I know multiple people who have “Duggar-esque” experiences and viewpoints, and maybe I feel a little bit inadequate and, dare I say, shallow for only having two kids to pick up from Sunday School, only two carseats, only two booster seats at the table. In short, I think I feel like I cheated by stopping at as many kids as I have arms, or even by stopping before my OB told me I had to. And I have to wonder how many others from large families and/or conservative backgrounds carry that kind of guilt? Or maybe it’s just me. But I think that there is a lot of societal pressure to have a certain type of family, and the pressure to have a large family can be as overwhelming as the pressure to have a small one. 
Perhaps the lesson here is just to feel comfortable in my own skin, or family, because there’s always going to be someone with different ideas and their opinions can’t dictate how I view my kids, family, marriage, or decisions. Whether I’m actually being judged or not is unimportant, because no one is responsible for my kids or marriage except me (and Hubby, of course, but hopefully those decisions are made jointly). 
Guilt is a powerful motivator, but self-confidence is better. So if you’re feeling pressure to have more kids (or kids, period) use my three-step plan for instant family satisfaction:  

Step 1: Recognize my misplaced guilt
Step 2: Let go of the expectations I feel others put on me (founded or unfounded)
Step 3: Enjoy my family exactly the way it is, embarrassing grocery store incidents not-withstanding

Recharge Challenge

Remember how I talked about having nice nails a while back? Or rather, not having nice nails? Well, after talking to Hubby about it, I decided to find a style and salon that worked for me, and keep fake nails.
Let me be clear, I view well-kept-up false nails as an extravagance, and we do not live extravagantly. That said, though, I’m learning that if I completely ignore my own needs I end up frustrated, irritable, and absolutely no fun to be around. On the flip side, just a simple thing like nice nails that don’t break or chip has made such a big difference in the way I feel about myself, I’m more relaxed, which makes me a better mom and wife.
It’s so easy to get burnt out in what we do, especially if we do the same thing over and over again, both individually and as a couple. Finding something to treat ourselves to can be the best way to break up the monotony of the daily grind. For me, I take an hour and a half every few weeks and get pretty nails. That break from the kids, and boost to my appearance is exactly what I need to recharge and reenter the fray with renewed endurance.

So here’s the challenge I have for you:

Find something that you can do for yourself that will help you be more refreshed and ready to fulfill the job God has you in right this minute. And I know some of you are saying, “Well you won’t catch me wasting money on vanity like false nails!” Awesome! If you don’t think there’s merit in it, find something that does have merit. Take a class, get a hobby, commit to reading one book a month, whatever it is that recharges you, do it! Take into account your budget, your childcare needs, and your spouse and their feelings. Perhaps you can ask your spouse for ideas, maybe there’s something you could do together, like joining a gym. I’m an introvert and I spend 90% of my time doing things for and/or with my family (not a complaint, just a statement of fact) so I needed something that I can do by myself. Maybe you need something you can do with your family. Whatever it is, find it and commit to it! Trust me, you won’t be sorry. image

The Sound of Ultimate Suffering

A peircing scream wafts down the hallway in the half-light of the pre-coffee haze. 

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All she’s supposed to be doing is putting clothes on. Brother is in here, it’s not a repeat of the WWE incident last night. Maybe her head is stuck in the dresser again. 

I run down the hallway and burst into the playroom, only to be greeted by the sight of my daughter, standing in the middle of the room wearing a pink peasant top and Buzz Lightyear underwear, wailing like her little heart will break. 

No visible injuries. Not stuck in anything. Shirt fits fine. What the bleep? I need coffee.

“What’s wrong, Baby Girl?” 

(Deep breath) “Dis dress is not beeeyutiful!”

My turn for a deep breath. Ok, physically fine, emotionally fragile. Confidence boosting moment. C’mon, Mom, do your stuff. Make sure she doesn’t inherit your body image issues. 

“Sweetie, this is a shirt, not a dress, (Bad start! Bad start! Aack!) you need some pants with it.”

“Sniff! Ok.”

Really? That’s all I had to say? Better address the beauty issue, quick before she forgets!

“I think your shirt is very nice, but you know what makes it beautiful? The beautiful little girl inside it!”

(Big smile) “Ok, Mommy. Can I go play, now?”

Whew! Wow. That was… not completely botched. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this, after all. 

Avoiding the Monster-in-Law

My mother-in-law came to stay for the weekend. 
Since Brother and Sister have extensive food and chemical sensitivities, having houseguests is always a touchy thing. All it takes is a dollop of scented lotion or a squirt of hairspray to ruin the whole visit. 
Parenting is a touchy thing. Everyone has a different idea of how to do things, and it’s personal because everyone does their best to raise their own kids. Anything I do differently than you do/did is because I think my way is better for my family, and if I’m not careful that can quickly turn into, or at least feel like, judging. With my own parents I can always be sure that, whether or not we agree, they love me and my children, regardless. But that’s not always true in the case of in-laws. There are a few things I’ve learned about relationships with parents and in-laws that helped in my marriage and family relations, so I want to share them with you.

1. You marry the whole family.
        Never go into a relationship with the idea that if you don’t like your Love’s family, they will just go away. 
Not. Going. To. Happen. 
Always assume you are going to have to deal with these people for the rest of your life. If you can’t deal with that idea, well, there are other fish in the sea. Remember, this is your Love’s family, chances are he/she feels the same way about them that you do about your own. 

2. Complaining doesn’t endear anyone.
        So you made the decision that you can deal with your spouse’s family and now you’re married. Don’t complain about them. Complaining and whining about family just creates strife and resentment, and causes your spouse to have to choose sides. 
Granted, sometimes there are real issues that need to be addressed, as a couple, with one set of parents or the other, but nearly everything can be addressed in a helpful, constructive manner. I hope this doesn’t embarrass anyone (yes, my in-laws read my blog!) but when Hubby and I were first married we moved into a house that his parents own, and into Hubby’s old bedroom. We were leaving the country, so it didn’t make sense to rent a place for a month when there was an empty house available. One morning when his parents were visiting, I was sitting on our bed with the door partly open, and his dad walked in, opened the closet, put something in it, and walked out. It’s HIS house, HIS son’s bedroom, it didn’t even occur to him that it might be an issue. But it was to me. By some insane luck, my 20-year-old self reacted correctly: I went to my husband and calmly explained what had happened and that it made me uncomfortable. Thanks to The Lord, his 20-year-old self reacted correctly, as well. He pointed out that it had been FIL’s house a lot longer than it had been mine, that he didn’t mean anything by it, and then he mentioned it to his dad and it never happened again. Wins all around.

3. Space is the best peacemaker.
        Sometimes it’s not practical, or even possible, but putting space between you and your families is one of the best ways to keep the peace. I’ve never, ever, ever met anyone who said to me, “We live with my parents/in-laws and it was the best decision we ever made.” If it can be avoided, two adult women should never have to share one cooking space. Even if you have to share a house, finding a balance and respecting each other’s space is non-negotiable. 

4. Communicate.
        Your in-laws are your spouse’s family, it’s important to treat them like family. One way I make sure to do that is at Christmastime and birthdays. Since our families live 10 hours apart, planning is imperative! Making sure each family gets the same amount of time and different ideas of what the kids want/need is just a beginning. Sometimes communication is best when it goes through your spouse, especially if there have been bridges burned in the past, but ladies, a word for you: don’t make your husband/son choose between you. Even if he makes the right decision (sorry, Mom, the right decision is his wife) he’s still going to be miserable, and so will you. Trust me, it won’t end well. Open, honest, direct, and mature communication is key to a good in-law relationship. 

5. Respect each other.
        My sister-in-law lives with us. She has been with us since Sister was born, and she’s a permanent authority figure for my kids. I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult for both of us to learn to live together. One of the big things for me was letting her be an authority, even when I was around. A few times one of the kids would come to me with tears in their eyes and wail, “Auntie told me NO!” 
I had to learn to say, “then go talk to Auntie about it.” If I had comforted, or even dismissed the issue, that would have been disrespectful to her and undermined her ability to be an authority to my kids. Hubby’s parents afford me the same respect, and if I make a decision about the kids there is no argument from them. Occasionally they will discuss a decision with me, but always later, never in front of my children, and they frequently have good ideas that I’ve never thought about before. (Huh, well, I guess they DID raise three kids…) Not only does this mutual respect create a peaceful and secure atmosphere for my children, it also fosters good in-law relationships. 

So when Hubby’s mom said she was coming for the weekend, my reaction was excitement, not dread. When she got ready in the morning, she skipped hairspray because I’ve explained to her that it bothers the kids. When the two of us went to town together, it was a fun and stress-free outing. 
What I’m saying is, good relationships with your in-laws are not only possible, but desirable. They just take a little effort.

Hungry for Salad

You can’t make this stuff up.

Since our kids have a lot of food sensitivities, we have really drilled into them what they can and can’t eat. They know they are allergic to apples, strawberries, peaches, and a lot of other things. They also don’t cheat because they know how yucky those foods make them feel, especially Brother, age 3, who is also diabetic. So even though we went to my grandma’s for the long weekend, I wasn’t too worried about them eating things they shouldn’t. 

Then one night, I woke up because the dog was crying, and I mean freaking out, downstairs. I got out of bed, only to realize that Brother was up and playing with cars in the hallway. “Mommy, I have a dirty diaper.” He was soaked from his chest to his knees. I double-checked my phone, 3:30am, and woke up Hubby.
“I have to clean up Brother, I need you to go make the dog be quiet.” So he stumbled down the stairs in the pre-morning light. Meanwhile, I cleaned, dried, and re-diapered, re-dressed Brother, and replaced him in his bed. Then Hubby came back up the stairs. I knew immediately something was wrong, because his eyes were as big as saucers. 
“What did he eat?”
“The dog? Did he have an accident? I asked Gram not to give him treats…”
“Honey, go look at the kitchen. Now.” 

I don’t even remember going down the stairs, I must have flown. When I opened the kitchen door, I nearly fainted. This is what I saw:

Two paper plates full of spinach, and two blenders from a handmixer, sitting on the table.
Chicken broth all over the floor.
Banana peels everywhere, including the dog’s kennel.
Avacado peel and pit by the sink.
A lemon, stuffed into my Nalgene.
The diabetes kit, with multiple syringes, uncapped and bent.
Bottles of insulin laying on the counter.
An empty milk carton on the floor.
Baking soda everywhere.
An open box of organic bunny crackers.
Two very small pans on the stove.
Paper towels, like someone started to clean up.
One very sad and confused puppy.

Hubby brought Brother downstairs and I asked him, “How many bananas did you eat?”
“Five or six,” he says. “I was hungry, so I made me a salad!” Now my mind is racing because if he ate that many, and he obviously tried to give himself a shot, what if he broke a needle in himself, or what if he succeeded and gave himself too much? What if he gave the dog a shot? I checked his blood sugar, he had obviously not given himself an injection. I checked him and the dog everywhere for lumps or needle marks and didn’t find any.
“I tried to have a shot, but it kept bending.” Thank you, Lord.
Hubby and Gram cleaned up the mess while I called the doctor and counted bananas and administered insulin. I can only imagine the note in the file for that phone call.

Irresponsible mother lets diabetic preschooler wander the house at night, eat whatever he wants to. She called, virtually in hysterics.

 I slept in the doorway to his room until I was sure he was asleep. The next night we propped a book against the door and put a cowbell on top of it. When he opened the door, I knew immediately. 

Here’s what I learned from this adventure: 

He knows exactly what he can and can’t eat. 
He is way too smart for his own good.
He knows that when he eats, he has to get a shot.
I need to invest in a good motion detector for his bedroom door. 
I also need to impress on him the importance of waking up Mom when he needs something. 
I may feel like a failure, but apparently I have taught him to eat well, since he got up and made a salad instead of eating the cookies on the counter.

For the Dogs

I’ve never been a dog person. I’ve had cats since I was big enough to ask for one, and ever since I was bitten by a dog as a child, I’ve just not wanted much to do with them. So when my son turned three and started asking for a dog, I groaned inwardly. Then we had a very scary incident where Hubby was gone for the week and some crazy tweaker came to our house in the dead of night, screaming that someone had been shot and banging on the door and trying to get in. Now, mind you, we live in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by Christmas tree farms and grass seed fields. Our neighbors never heard a thing, even once the police showed up with sirens blazing. So we decided we needed a guard dog, like, yesterday.

When I saw an ad on craigslist for a “Purebred Boxer Puppy”, I was thrilled. Hubby wanted a doberman, and I just wasn’t sold on the idea. I showed him image after image on google, finally convincing him that boxers are just as intimidating as dobies, and arranged to meet the pup. What I saw was a half-starved, boxer-shaped bundle of bones and wagging tail, and there was no other option than to bring him home with us. It didn’t even occur to me to question his lineage. We named him Kuma (Japanese for Bear) in anticipation of his hulking size and protective demeanor. 

Then he got wider, but not taller. 

On his first trip to the vet, the doc took one look at him and asked, 

“What kind of a dog is that?”

Lovely. 

After some discussion and inspection, she announced that he may have some boxer in him, but if he did, the other half was probably daschound. 

Seriously?

So, despite his questionable heritage (hey, we’re a mixed-race family, who are we to judge?) and jokes about his parentage (he’s typically referred to as a “boxund” or “Boxer-weenie”) Kuma settled in as a permanent, if not particularly useful, member of the family. 

Until last night.

Last night around 11 he was pacing up and down the hallway like mad, whining, and driving me nuts, and he kept opening the door to the kids’ room. I was about to kick him outside. Then, as I was laying in bed, trying to ignore him, it hit me that I had forgotten to check Big Brother’s blood sugar before I went to bed. 

“Oh well, I guess maybe the dog is good for something.” I grumbled as I stumbled through the darkened house.

My son’s blood sugar was so low that if I had just fallen asleep and left him til morning, we most likely would have had to take him to the ER. 

I’m telling you, THE DOG KNEW! As soon as I got some food in Big Brother and his blood sugar started to go back up, Kuma settled down and went to sleep… right outside the bedroom door. 

Being Beautiful

It happened again this morning. 

And when it did I spent several minutes contemplating the unfairness of motherhood and drudgery of housewifery, and the choices I made that brought me to this point of degeneration. 

Ok, that was before my coffee. A little caffine goes a long way toward boosting my mood.

What happened was this: I noticed my fingernails. 
I could show you a before and after picture of my nails, one from the day I got married and one from this morning, but it would only depress you. Once when we were going to a friend’s wedding I waited until 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave before I painted them, but in those ten minutes the baby had a blowout diaper and by the time we left my nails were ruined. It seems that no matter how often I wash my hands, there is always something under my nails, or if I paint them it’s always chipping. I tried the new Shellac manicure, the one touted to last 2 weeks, and within 2 days I had a chip. 
Noticing the nails led to noticing the bags under my eyes, wondering how long it had been since I went through my whole beauty routine, wondering how long it had been since I put cream on my face and plucked my eyebrows, wondering if my husband would notice, wondering if I had time to shower before the kids started telling me at the top of their lungs that they were awake…. Nope. Too late. 
It hasn’t always been this way, though. I used to be borderline obsessive about my appearance. In college I once declared a week-long makeup fast. I was going to give up makeup, simply for an experiment in self-dicipline. It lasted 2 days. I never, ever, left my dorm without a shower.  I wouldn’t even THINK of going anywhere in sweatpants or without fixing my hair. When we got married we spent 4 months in Japan, arguably the fashion capitol of the world. I picked up some fashion-forward habits from Husband’s cousins and aunts. When we got back to the states I got a job in a call center and was repeatedly told I was the best-dressed in the office. I loved it!

Then I got pregnant. 

I still did my nails and hair, but stretchy pants became not only acceptable, but eventually necessary. I actually ASKED my supervisor at work if I could wear them, and she looked at me like I was nuts. 
“Of course!” she exclaimed, “You’re pregnant!” So I wore them.
That was almost 4 years ago. 

I’m not sure when the shift came from “I must wear a full barrage of makeup or I am not human” to “makeup is for when I’m leaving the house or having people over” or even more recently, “makeup is for church and special occasions”. It helps that my husband has always encouraged me to go natural, he has always told me he prefers my face without makeup. But to me, I still look ‘unfinished’ without at least some eyeliner and mascara.
Of course, putting on mascara always reminds me that I need to go get my hair cut, because my bangs are now indistinguishable from my eyelashes. So I push them out of the way, and… YIKES! Maybe I should get my eyebrows waxed while I’m at the salon. 
Who is this woman looking back at me in the bathroom mirror? She has CROW’S FEET and STRETCH MARKS and… those aren’t just bags anymore, we have graduated to a full-fledged DUFFLE.  Not to mention zits. Who in the world is still getting zits at my age? 
I think I’m in a slump. Yeah, that’s it. When the kids start school I’ll have time to brush my hair and teeth again. Maybe go get my nails done. Maybe even *gasp* get a facial. 
But you know what? I was getting ready to make breakfast the other day, and I was already dressed so I was tying on my apron. It’s one of those frilly numbers that is more looks than function, but I love it and it keeps my clothes mostly clean. A sleepy little boy wandered into my kitchen and looked at me with bleary eyes, and a huge smile spread across his face and he said, “Oh, Mommy! You look BEEEEAUTYFULL!”
And in that moment, every single wrinkle, every single gray hair, every stretch mark, night without sleep, and day without makeup, every single thing I’ve given up or altered to be their mommy was totally and completely worth it. 

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