Worksheets

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We have a new afternoon routine, Cruz and I. While London finishes her nap, we find ourselves at the kitchen table. I’m playing music in the background, a candle is burning, and he’s eating a snack. “May I have a piece of paper?” he asks in between bites, cracker crumbs spreading around the table, “another one?”

Our table is covered in papers. He draws maps, startlingly accurate maps of where we live or how we get to school. If it’s not maps, it’s road signs, and lately charts of the planets. He draws quickly and with concentration. Today we worked on his homework together and out of nowhere, he pulled a new piece of paper out of his pile. “This is a worksheet for you, mommy!” I smooth the paper down in front of me. NAME, it says in all caps at the top. MRS MOMMY. He’s drawn letters for me to trace and balloons to color in, just like his homework from earlier in the week. As I start my homework, Cruz bends his head back over his own paper, and I can see the slight blush on his cheeks, his little hidden smile.

So far, we are loving kindergarten. It’s helping my son soar.

The day before Cruz started school, I saw an article posted on Facebook about when boys should start kindergarten. “Boys should never start kindergarten before age 6,” the bold my own addition. “They’re too wild. They need to run. They need to jump. No one could expect them to sit still! They’re being stifled!

I started to panic. It’s too early for him to go to school! He needs to run and go wild! Even as I was packing his backpack for the first day of school, I pictured him squirming in his seat, his spirit getting squashed by the soul-crushing expectations of raising his hand when he had something to say. Cruz turning on me because I had committed the ultimate mother-of-boys sin by sending him to kindergarten before he turned six.

It gets worse. He wasn’t even five.

My four year old started kindergarten. He’s the smallest one in the class. His backpack is a turtle shell on him, practically bouncing down to his knees as he walks down the ramp. I’ve worried about him being little. I’ve worried about him making friends. I’ve worried that we’ve not given him long enough to be a child and that we’ve rushed him into school. We walk down to the playground together every morning, and he leans on me while we wait for the bell to ring. It’s in that moment that I doubt; my hands rest on his head, I pray over him quietly, and he looks so small.

But then the bell rings and he runs toward his class. It’s already a warm day and I stand outside the classroom with the other kindergarten moms and watch as he puts away his homework and snack and lines up for chapel. That’s when I remember that he loves this, the schedule, the routine, the learning.

There is so much in motherhood that is about risk-management. Car seats, vaccine schedule, swaddlers, BPA-free sippy cups for the babies, and now that they’re older, it’s more about their souls. Which shows to watch, which books and shows make them sassy (goodbye forever, Captain Hook!), time-out strategies. As my husband started to ask, “what if we did kindergarten…?” I chalked up a bunch of reasons why kindergarten was the wrong choice for us. I needed to manage the risk. And every single reason was based on fear, based on what everyone else was doing.  

It was a joy to start peeling back the layers of fear and notice that we were – so gently- pushing our son out of the nest, letting him stretch his wings. I found freedom in remembering that we are parenting our own child, our own boy, not every boy in the world. I love that boys can thrive on running wild, and I love that my own, special boy thrives in the classroom. As the weeks went by, I started to ask myself in disbelief, “what if we hadn’t taken this risk?” There’s so much of him that we would have missed! I would have missed him growing in obedience. I would have missed him realizing that he can be a leader. I would have missed him figuring out that he can read his own Bible. I would have missed being MRS MOMMY. I would have missed these moments at the kitchen table where he bends his head over his work, so proud. I am seeing him soar over kindergarten. And it feels like freedom for both of us.

 

While You Weren’t Napping

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While you (both of you!) weren’t napping…

I came in to give you extra snuggles because you said you hadn’t had enough.

I rewrapped your blanket because you like to be burrito-ed during your naptimes and I aim to please. Does anyone else wrap you as well as me?

I brought you “one skinny carrot” because you were hungry.

And then I brought you one sandwich, two graham crackers, and three strawberries because you are the very hungry caterpillar and are trying to turn into a butterfly.

I slid my ipad under your door and whisper-shouted, “Just play whatever you want!” because I am a really intentional parent.

I sent you back upstairs because you pranced downstairs naked as a jaybird and announced that you were ready for your bath. (Literally, this has never happened in your entire childhood, so as soon as your sister woke up, you both had a bath)

I brought up stamps, paper, and markers up to your room, and started crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t walk into a disaster later. (I did)

I brought you one yogurt-covered pretzel because for the love of all that is holy will you please go to sleep?

I ate my entire secret stash of dark chocolate for what I think are obvious reasons.

Go to sleep, you guys.

The Do Over

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Almost every day we drive near Lake Los Carneros. We pass it on the way to preschool and back. On the way to Trader Joe’s. Really, any time we drive anywhere, we pass the lake. Despite being so close to us, the lake is not in our rotation of usual haunts, but in the spring it gets me. The meadows around the lake explode with fresh blooms. There’s practically a beacon of blooming yellow mustard calling me in. After days and days of driving by that gorgeousness, we had to go explore.

I was so excited about walking those dusty trails. The mustard was taller than London, bright yellow against springtime green. It really couldn’t have been more beautiful. I was thisclose to putting on a maxi dress, weaving us some flower crowns, and asking my kids to give me their best hipster child pouts.

I got one out of three. Any guesses?

How a child could throw a massive tantrum among the mustard is not something that I’ll ever understand, but it is something I’ve now seen. I can’t even remember what the drama was about, but it culminated in a beloved sand shovel being chucked into some bushes in anger.

Nope, that’s a lie. It didn’t culminate there. Our afternoon ended with me spending twenty minutes crawling through those bushes, trying to find this stupid plastic shovel, failing, and then carrying two crying children back to the van.

Blooming mustard, we need a do-over.

Fortunately, children bounce back quickly. About two weeks later, I had recovered and screwed up my courage again, so we took an afternoon ramble around the lake. We came with very low expectations and had the best adventure. As we passed The Bushes, Cruz pointed and announced somberly, “that’s where some animals stole my shovel.” Oh, is that what we’re calling it now?

There’s something I just love about a good afternoon ramble. Cruz and London took turns picking out which trail we took. We examined lizards lying on a bench. We stopped to watch hawks. London picked flowers and chatted to her cabbage patch doll while Cruz delightedly kicked up bigs clouds of dust. Give me those big Goodland skies and space for us to run and laugh and yell.

Sometimes Tovi asks me why I love the phrase “wild and free.” It’s for days like this. Days when I chose do-overs and mama bravery instead of “we’re never doing that again.” Because I don’t do do-overs very naturally and my tiny sidekicks keep teaching me to try. Because sometimes animals steal our shovels. Because picture perfect can’t hold a candle to real life. Because walking with my kids in God’s creation is a wild treasure and I never, ever want to forget it.

Being Your Mother, Right Now

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We meet some friends at the zoo on Monday. I’ve packed two identical, but separate, lunches, because you both insist on having your own. I have cut the sandwiches into your preferred shapes; triangles for London and squares for Cruz. You sit at the picnic table with your friends, you eat pretzels and fruit, but do not touch the sandwiches. The sandwiches that I cut into your shapes. That night, before dinner, we decide to walk to the pond to feed the ducks. I fill a bag with cubed, dried bread. Between the two of you, the bag is polished off long before we reach the ducks.

London is our little mama. You push your babies in the stroller. You snuggle them and give everyone you meet a hug and a pat. You are so loving and maternal and have never met a baby (real or doll) that didn’t need your attention. But you’re also a mama. “Cruz!” you order, pointing at the stairs. “No crying! Time out!”

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Cruz, you ask the best (and hardest) theological questions. “Why did God make a fruit that Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to eat?” “How will we know how to get to Heaven?” “If I tried to swallow Daddy like the whale swallowed Jonah, my bones would break!” I ask you to give London some grace for knocking over your blocks. You point your fingers at her. “I’m shooting her with grace from my heart!” Kiiiiiind of…

London, you are boy crazy. I won’t reveal names to protect the innocent, but as soon as you wake up in the morning you start asking about every boy you know. Slow your roll, girl, or Daddy is going to chaperone all of your future dates.

I am always prepared with paper and markers. You are both coloring so much these days! Cruz, I love all the lists you write. “Eat brecfist. Eat lnch. Eat dinner.” You’ve got your priorities in the right place. London, you draw big circles and alternate calling them hearts and snowmen.

Speaking of snowmen… I can set my watch by the amount of time it takes both of you to notice a closed door and then sing “it doesn’t have to be a snowman” with your lips smooshed up against the door. Like. Clockwork.

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You may never remember this, but we had the best moment on the way home from school today. Like usual, we listened to Bethel Music’s “You Make Me Brave” and when we got out of the car you both kept singing. Cruz starts the chorus,”You make me…” “BAVE!” London shouts. “Champion of Heaven, you made a-” “WAY!” “-for all to enter-” “IN!”

And that’s it, the very best part of being your mother right now. To watch you both fall in love with Jesus is such a joy and honor. Is that worth a few uneaten shape sandwiches? Every single one.

At Our Table

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It was Friday after MOPS, which means it was a chaotic lunchtime at our house. I am the coordinator for our MOPS group and by the time we get home at noon, I am exhausted and spent, exhilarated, ready for a nap. Through my fog, I snapped this picture, and it perfectly captured everything about life these days.

We’re learning together, Cruz and I. I’m learning to be a brave mom and he’s learning to be a brave kid. He’s finding hidden pictures in coloring books and can write all of his letters on his own. He cries when London breaks his crayons, but we’re talking about the ways that laughing and singing and smiling make us feel better than crying ever could. I think it’s working. I’m handing bits of my lunch over to London. “‘Affle? ‘Affle?” she asks, increasingly insistent. “Dip!” “Wait, we forgot to do our ‘actions,’ ” Cruz reminds me. I pick up the preschooler devotional, and then we talk about ways to show love to each other. Sharing, giving gentle kisses, saying ‘I love you.’

We go for a fall walk and add to our collection in the middle of the kitchen table. Two pinecones, three leaves, two dried beanpods. Fall has been hard to find in Southern California, but we’re looking. I use the word ‘spooky’ as we walk around our neighborhood. Halloween is spooky. Bats and jack-o-lanterns are spooky. We can save scary for later.

It was Cruz’s birthday on Saturday and he brought cupcakes for his class on Thursday. They made him a birthday crown and no one has even worn construction paper and stickers and staples with more pride. We made the cupcakes together, and he picked out red cupcakes (his favorite color) with blue and green frosting. I’ve been sneaking the leftover frosting while the kids nap and it leaves a bright stain on my tongue.

Life gets piled, one thing on top of the other. It’s work mixed with MOPS mixed with toddler lunchtime and texts from friends. There is nothing I would clear away.

When Growing a Baby is Hard

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Let me be the first to admit that I had been sold a pregnancy myth. I looked forward to pregnancy, not just a baby, but pregnancy.  I wanted that healthy glow. I wanted to take those weekly and monthly pictures to document my growing belly. I wanted to delight in every minute of pregnancy.

And all of those things are true. I glowed. I delighted. I took too many belly pictures.

AND, after two pregnancies and two rounds of hyperemesis gravidarum (acute morning sickness), I also know what it means to have a hard pregnancy.

Pregnancy is not a contest. Let’s say that at the outset. Having an easy pregnancy or a hard pregnancy has no bearing on what kind of mom you will be or what kind of child you’ll have. If you had no nausea and no morning sickness, you should never feel that you can’t complain about your heartburn because your best friend threw up every morning.  Someone else will always have it harder. I had hyperemesis; someone had it worse than me. Nevertheless, having a tough pregnancy is hard and lonely, and I think I have some wisdom to share from that experience. First my experience, then the practical advice, then the sappy.

With Cruz and London, I got sick right away. Let me demonstrate. In this picture, I am not pregnant:

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Here am I, same vacation, I was sick and knew I was pregnant. Four days, sister. 

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Like everything else about pregnancy and motherhood, hyperemesis looks different from mama to mama and pregnancy to pregnancy. With Cruz, I threw up all day, every day  from weeks 5 to 25, and then sporadically throughout the rest of my pregnancy (although the constant nausea went away at week 25). With London, my nausea started immediately, I threw up all day and all night from weeks 7 to 21. My nausea went away around week 25 and I was fine for the rest of my pregnancy. Both kids were born at 38 weeks, so for those of you keeping score at home, yes, more than half of my pregnancies were spent on the floor of the bathroom.

So what does hyperemesis feel like? Like death, slightly warmed over. Like you have a hangover, the stomach flu, mono, and food poisoning all at the same time, for three months straight.

So here’s the practical stuff:

+ Talk to your doctor immediately. My doctor never wanted to have my first prenatal appointment until I was about nine weeks along. When I was pregnant with Cruz, I just suffered until I had my first appointment. With London I was a lot smarter. Once it was clear that I was headed for a second round of hyperemesis, my doctor called in a prescription for me, even though my first appointment was still a few weeks away. There are a couple of different medications that doctors seem to prescribe for acute morning sickness. I’ve taken a couple. None of them will make you feel great, but they will help you to manage your vomiting and help prevent dehydration.

+ There are a lot of natural remedies out there for morning sickness. If those work for you, God bless. If you have hyperemesis, most likely, none of these will work. Not ginger, not sea bands, not even those cheerful morning sickness candies. I lean towards the crunchy granola side of things, and was very, very hesitant to take medication during my first pregnancy. But do you what also isn’t wise? Losing weight because you can’t keep anything down week after week. Getting dehydrated isn’t wise. Feeling like you’re going to lose your mind isn’t wise. Don’t feel bad if you need medication. Don’t feel bad if the natural remedy that worked for your sister doesn’t work for you.

+ Find a toilet bowl cleaner that has a tolerable smell.

+ Tell your boss that you’re pregnant. It was great to have my boss on my side right from the beginning and I didn’t have to hide my sickness. The head-on-the-desk-crying and constant trips to the bathroom would have given away anyone.

+ Get yo’self an iPad. If you have another kid at home, and you have hyperemesis, you’ll need something for them to do all day. Do you know what’s great about the Netflix app? The next episode of Curious George will start automatically! This is not terrific parenting, but you are in survival mode.

+ All you can expect of yourself is two functioning hours each day. This is wisdom straight from our pediatrician. Two hours of feeling okay. Two hours for sitting or standing or maybe doing an errand. That’s it. Do not have higher expectations for yourself.

+ High fat foods. My genius sister-in-law is a high-risk pregnancy nurse so she knows what she’s talking about. She suggested that high fat healthy foods would stay down easier. I ate a lot of eggs with avocado and chocolate milkshakes.

+ Swallow your pride and ask for help. I had sweet friends who took Cruz to the park and brought us meals. This meant that we were telling people about our pregnancy before the end of the first trimester. That felt a little uncomfortable, but it become necessary. And of course, Tovi was amazing throughout the whole process. Asking for help can be really, really hard, but you have a medical condition that requires you to get help. Get it.

And here’s the sweet:

It is worth it, little mama. It is so so worth it. We all do different kinds of labor for our children. Some do it in the waiting to get pregnant, hoping and praying month after month. Some walk the hallways at 2am, colicky babes in arms. Some mamas labor over paperwork and social worker visits. And you, sweet one that can’t stop throwing up, you’re doing your labor now. It’s a heady privilege to bring a new life into the world, isn’t it? Being a mother is so unbelievably sweet and rapturous that it would be too much if we didn’t pay a price somewhere.

Because after all the tears and the days spent laying down in the bathroom, you’ll labor some more and greet a brand new soul into the world.

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A brand new soul will take his first breath on your chest. He’ll look at you, you!, the first thing he’ll ever see in the world. You will lock eyes and hold his slippery body and marvel.

And because that moment and every moment after it was beautiful and magical and hard and worth it, you’ll do it again.

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Swim Lessons


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We did swimming lessons for Cruz this summer. These weren’t mommy-and-me lessons; these were sit-by-the-side-of-the-pool-and-play-Candy-Crush-I-mean-CHEER-WILDLY-FOR-YOUR-CHILD kind of swim lessons. Cruz is cautious by nature and not wild about trying new things. So predictably he wasn’t crazy about trying new swimming things, like putting his face in the water, but he also never cried, which landed him smack in the middle of the class (between half-fish and screams-for-thirty-minutes), and left me feeling pretty proud. As much as it was a learning experience for Cruz, it was a growing experience for me. It was the most surreal feeling in the world to walk my babychild to the edge of the pool, and then sit back while he managed the whole lesson on his own.

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We were driving home from swim lessons one day, probably on our way to Trader Joe’s, because that always seems to be the case. Cruz was singing along softly to the radio, tan legs swinging from his car seat, hair still damp from the pool. At a stoplight, the song switched to “Oceans” and that song caught me in the heart, like it always does. I looked back at Cruz through the mirror and I suddenly saw that everything we’ve done this summer — swim lessons, the twin bed and new big boy room decor, teaching him how to dress himself, throwing out the pull-ups — all of it was leading to a moment this fall when he would walk through the doors of preschool.

I am so ready for it and so not ready for it.

And it’s so good, this growing older. Today we made mustaches out of playdough and talked about why we need blood inside our bodies. We don’t have to guess at what he needs or how he feels about us (“I love London so much!!”). I just adore his big boy brain and his growing heart and the way he’s gotten so lean that his shorts always threaten to slide off of his skinny bum. But motherhood is the strangest experience in that every gain is also a loss. There is always a sense of putting off the old and taking up the new. I hang up new clothes and put away those that are outgrown. Cruz has gone from bassinet to crib to toddler bed to twin. Bumbo to high chair to just sitting at the table.  We mark the changes in his growth with new sippy cups or a bigger car seat, but the boxes of 3 month baby boy onesies in our shed are a silent testament to the fact that I might have a little trouble letting things go.

But starting preschool is the first time a true transition has happened outside of our home, outside of Tovi and me. I find myself wanting to stuff every bit of knowledge into him before school. I give Cruz little pop quizzes throughout the day. “Who can help you if you can’t open your pouch at lunchtime?” “Let’s pretend that you don’t know me. How will you find out my name?” (“Hi, Mommy! What’s your name, Mommy?”) There’s a certain anxiety to it. I find it hard to trust my own parenting sometimes, maybe even to admit to myself that I have done a good job and he is ready.

It all goes back to the song Cruz and I were listening to that morning after swim lessons. My feet may fail… You have never failed me and You won’t start now. The Heavenly Father that orders the universe also watches over sweet little boys on their first of preschool and calms the anxious hearts of mamas. We’re swimming with faith, even in oceans deep.