I’ve told you all many times now that my nine-year-old son is a Bengals fan. It’s funny, to be honest, to see my orange and black clad kiddo milling about with his Patriots- and Giants-loving friends. They don’t really understand his loyalty to Cincinnati, but they totally accept it as part of who he is.
Two weeks ago, the Bengals were playing the Patriots– on Patriots turf, which is driving distance from our home. My husband scoured the internet, checking out tickets and, excitedly, showed me the deal he had found. Now, don’t get me wrong– two tickets plus parking weren’t going to be CHEAP, exactly, but, in terms of NFL ticket costs? It was a bargain.
I remember cuddling my newborn baby, breathing in that incomparable smell, and blinking bleary eyes.
“Just wait ’til he can crawl!” seasoned moms would tell me, a knowing look of warning in their eyes. “THAT’S when things get interesting!”
And I trailed after my toddlers, hands outstretched behind them, marvelling at all their discoveries. As I did so, I heard–
“They SAY it’s the ‘terrible twos’, but really it’s age THREE you need to watch out for. Whoo–eee! That’s a rough one.”
And I’d look at these little ones, wondering what I was in for.
Three would come and three would go and, while it was never all sunshine and roses, it was a delightful load of fun. My three-year-olds enchanted me with their growing competence and independence. Their chubby legs lengthened and strengthened and I loved watching it.
“Well, sure, they’re cute now– just wait until they go to school and get influenced by all those other kids!”
And they went off to school. And made friends– some good, some bad. They learned lessons, formed opinions, strengthened convictions and, frankly, became even more fascinating little people.
“Kindergarteners are adorable, but, man, even by third grade, they get mouthy and mean.”
So I volunteered in the second and third grade classrooms– and I fell in LOVE with those kids. Wildly competent, they can read, manage self-care, carry on thoughtful conversations, yet they still care what I think! It’s like a miracle! I looked (and look) forward to spending time with those kids every week. Mouthy? Mean? Not usually. Typically, they’re kind and funny and considerate.
This past August, I prepared to send my oldest off to the intermediate school– it houses grades 4 through 6.
“Oh, you better brace yourself. This isn’t like the elementary school. These kids are totally different– they get cruel and crass and you just feel the unpleasant tween energy. Especially the sixth graders– oy, look out for them. You’ll see.”
And I did see.
I warily walked A. to the bus stop and watched as the group gathered. Over the first couple of weeks, I got to know this crowd of sixth grade boys and, you know what?
I LOVED THEM.
They were and are a clever bunch. They have a grasp of sarcasm that delights me. They are funny and determined and competitive. They are also kind and curious and willing to have all sorts of conversations. Why would I fear this age? Why would I dread these children?
And so here is where I tell you the truth as I know it–
EVERY STAGE IS AWESOME.
Yep, go ahead and read it again: Every.Stage.Is.Awesome.
Early elementary kids? Awesome.
Mid-grade elementary kids? Awesome.
Even now, I hear the whispers– “Just wait until they’re teens– you just don’t even know.”
And, you know what? I guess that’s true. I don’t really know. But, if I had to guess?
I know people have lots of hometown pride and like to argue about why their neck of the woods reigns supreme. Having lived a lot of different places all over this country, I’m one of the first to admit that there are amazing and wonderful things about each and every one of them.
But… people? I’d pit Connecticut autumns against ANY PLACE. It’s the combination of: 1) abundant trees, 2) hills and mountains, and 3) vast VARIETY of trees that combines to make it stunning around here.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We pay for it. The raking is ugly. The barren November trees aren’t so gorgeous. Our winters, while often pretty, are also cold and trecherous. So, you know– I’m not saying this place is perfect.
But, right about now? It’s pretty darn close. So let’s enjoy it!
In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!
There are people who love Elmo. There are people who love Big Bird. There are people who love Cookie Monster. And there are people who love Ernie.
Me? I loved the Count.
In fact, I loved the Count so much that, on my nineteenth birthday, my mom ordered a (DELICIOUS) cake for me from a local bakery in the shape of the Count that read “Count ‘em, Jessica– 19!” True story. I’ll always remember that cake. (Thanks, Mom!)
You’re both still little girls, reallly, at five- and eight-years-old. I’d love to think I don’t even need to worry about this, that it’s something so far off, I can rest on my laurels ’til the teen years. But I know I can’t.
I’m trying so hard to not screw you up.
Here I am, this thirty-eight year-old woman, struggling daily to deal with the body I’m in. This is nothing new, really. I’ve battled this since the tender age of twelve, sometimes hiding it better than others. But it’s there, always, hovering in the background or straight up in my face– the body struggles never really go away.
The size, weight, and shape of my body is something I’ve been aware of for as long as I can remember, really. The younger of two daughters, I remember my mother and sister comparing their KNEES, of all things, one Sunday after church and, though not even a teen yet myself, looking down cautiously at my own, wondering if they were chubby, knobby, lumpy, or wrong in any sort of way.
I remember receiving a beautiful teal chemise nightgown for Christmas one year and weeping because it was a medium and the ivory one my sister got was a small. My mom tried to tell me that she had asked the clerk and that’s what she recommended because I was fuller-busted, but I didn’t want to hear that. All I heard was that I was bigger and, by that time, I had a firm understanding that thin women were better, that dieting was worthwhile, and that there was pride to be had in wearing a single digit.
I’d love to tell you that I’ve outgrown this. That I’ve learned that weighing a couple pounds over a hundred is not a good plan for a woman who’s five foot seven. I’d like to be able to say that I no longer care what a tag says and that I am proud of this healthy, strong body.
But last year I received a red Lands’ End cardigan for Christmas and it was a size medium. I’d received a hunter green Lands’ End cardigan the year before and it had been a small.
I spent far too much time over-analyzing what that meant. Was I fatter? Did I look pudgy in that green sweater? Had I put on weight I hadn’t even noticed? Did I look like a stuffed sausage when I wore the small? Why did I need a bigger size???
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is– I can wear either sweater and look just fine. One is baggier, the other trimmer– but it really doesn’t matter.
So why did it cause me such angst? And why must I always think about these things?
The size 10 (!!!!!) jeans I put on yesterday felt kind of snug when I was sitting and my heart almost broke.
Today, I have on some yoga pants that are a “Small Long” and they feel fine, so, somehow, I feel better about myself.
THAT IS STUPID.
I want you to know, sweet daughters of mine, that your mama is being stupid.
I work so hard– SO HARD– to not criticize my body in front of you. I make a valiant effort to just say “thank you” when you tell me how pretty I look in a top that makes me feel “thick.” I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s vitally important that you don’t grow up attaching value to a small number on a tag or tape measure. I KNOW THIS.
But I’m such a hot mess myself, I don’t know how I’m going to possibly get this right. I don’t know how I’m going to manage to convince you that your beauty and worth are not, in any way, linked to your weight or size when I fight that internal battle every waking moment of the day.
People don’t know that about me, you know. There’s something about being a totally “average” sort of size that seems to make people assume you don’t have any weight-related issues. I certainly don’t “look” like I have any kind of eating disorder. Sure, maybe back in college when I was rail-thin for a semester, but now? Nah. I don’t even know that I would call myself thin or slim. But I’m also not overweight. Even though I shudder at myself at times, I know that people aren’t really looking at me and thinking I need to drop some pounds. To be blunt– no one out there is thinking I’m skinny and no one is thinking I’m fat. I’m just there.
But inside, I’m a mess. I view myself as hideously lumpy, bumpy, and soft. I worry that, in adding a size, I’ve somehow become less.
My dear daughters…
I know already that you will both have totally different builds from one another. I can see the beauty and wonder of both of you. Truly, your bodies and limbs and movements just enchant me.
I can only hope that I don’t totally mess this up. I can only hope that you don’t get this warped view from me.
And I hope you never, ever see me cry over the size of a sweater.
Yesterday morning, I spent almost two hours sitting at a long conference table. To my right was my husband. To my left was the third grade special education teacher. Filling up the rest of the seats– so many of us that we were shoulder to shoulder– were the classroom teacher, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the OT assistant, the adaptive technologies specialist, the speech therapist, the school psychologist, and the vice-principal. It was a crowd, to be sure.
Three years ago, we sat with the exact same group of people, subsitituting the gifted coordinator for the adaptive technologies specialist, and learned what A’s fate was to be, “special education-wise.” He was discharged, no longer qualifying for a single type of service. I’ve said it before and I will say it again– while that sounds like the dream outcome, it’s actually pretty scary. There’s some comfort in having an individualized education plan in place and having a large group of experts involved in helping your child.
But yesterday, we weren’t there for A. We were there for C. It was her triennial meeting and that’s a biggie– it’s the one where they do extensive testing and we get the results.
I let her choose and edit the photo herself. :)
A lot of things were totally expected. She still struggles to catch a ball, for example. The vision processing is hard for her and trying to coordinate the various steps is frustrating.
Her handwriting is getting better, but she still has a hard time printing as small as some of her peers. Again, her depth perception is murky, at best, and it’s hard to get a good angle to really focus on the paper for tiny writing. She’s making progress but, if you put her manuscript up against the typical third grader’s, hers would probably look “young” because of its larger, chunkier size.
In the midst of some predictable news– e.g. math is a challenge– we all marvelled at the anomalies that have been revealed, such as her strong grasp of geometry. While her speech skills, for the most part, fall in a completely average range, her vocabularly and use of sophisticated language actually push into the advanced category. Fascinating stuff, and a very honest reflection of both her artistic nature and her love of reading and communication.
All-in-all, though, not much will change. She will, not surprisingly, continue to receive services– OT, PT, adaptive technology, academic support, and some articulation work (though she DID completely graduate the “language” part of SLP.)
I sat at the table, remembering a few years back, when I had been caught in a maelstrom of emotions at A’s triennial. This time, it wasn’t so dramatic. I had neither the devastation of worrying about her in the “mainstream” nor the thrill of knowing she had met or surpassed all goals.
And it’s that second thing that might make this seem like a failure.
So often, I hear people share their stories of children who “needed therapies but you’d never guess it now!” And, you know, I GET that. I really do. For pity’s sake, no one in the world would guess upon meeting A. today that he was ever labelled “profoundly delayed”– but he was. It’s super important to share those stories. They offer hope and perspective and those situations are very real and, honestly, not all that rare. Many, many children will need some therapy assistance early on and will then “graduate” and be totally on track. And that’s great!
But what does that mean for those of us who, after many years of therapy, sit at a table and still get a “below average” result in this category or that?
Well, I’ll tell you what it means for me.
I sat at that long table yesterday, listening to this team who knows my daughter SO well outline where she shines and where she struggles. Most of them have known her since she was three, so they get her. They were both compassionate and direct as they told me, “When we measure C. against C., we see her tremendous growth. She is fantastic and she’s doing beautifully. If we measure her against her peers, we see that they’re faster/stronger/clearer/etc…”
They weren’t being mean. In fact, I was the first one at the table to point out that fact. It’s just the truth.
But, in my mind, I wasn’t measuring C. against her peers. I wasn’t measuring her against her big brother or even her precocious little sister.
And, to be honest, I wasn’t even always measuring her against herself.
Slipping through my memories, I heard echoes of doctors’ voices:
“… likely won’t make it.”
“… may not ever walk.”
“… 85% chance of total blindness.”
“…. chances of surviving past 48 hours are slim.”
“… do you want to let her pass in arms?”
“It’s because she cried. Twenty-four weekers NEVER cry.”
C’s been doing things “twenty-four weekers never do” ever since.
And I don’t really care if she’s ever good at catching a ball.
Keeping it short and sweet on the chatter this week…
A’s appointment at Yale went well. We go back in a year, but everything is looking great. Can’t ask for more!
We had C’s triennial meeting at the school this morning– that’s the big three year meeting where they do HUGE amounts of testing and we get all the results. A. had HIS triennial back when he was six and that was the meeting where they discharged him from special ed and I wept at the table. This one didn’t reveal anything quite as dramatic– all the results were pretty much what we expected, and, honestly, that’s good. I’ll tell you more about all that soon.
The reason I’m so darn late getting this posted? Well, because we went out for a lunch date and walked through the crunchy leaves together. Then we snuggled on the couch and watched a suspenseful crime drama. After that, we maybe even napped a bit. DELICIOUS, I tell you! Daytime dates are some of my faves.
In the meantime, here’s the meal plan for the week!
For some bizarre reason, the following article has been making its way around my Facebook feed: 8 Things Never to Say to a Mom of an Only Child. Even if you haven’t seen it in the last week or so, the odds are decent that you did at some point. This is NOT a new piece, by any stretch of the imagination, and, to be honest, the sentiments conveyed aren’t exactly new or earth-shattering either. Nonetheless, it seems to be making its rounds again.
And it’s got people on the defensive.
(Back when I was a mom of one– of course, that didn’t last long for me. )
First of all, let me just state that I don’t typically find this sort of list particularly helpful. That might strike you as odd, since I’ve written two of them myself– one about preemies and one about gifted kids. The difference, I hope, is that I also offer suggestions of good things to say because, really, that’s what’s helpful. The point of the article shouldn’t be to make others feel like insensitive jackheads. It should be to proactively educate and help reframe reactions and responses. At least, that’s what I wast trying to do.
The piece linked above, however, doesn’t do that. It basically calls people out for saying rude, insensitive things and leaves off with a smug, “See? Don’t you feel like a jerk?” attitude. For that reason, I’m not a fan.
What has been even more interesting to me, though, is reading others’ responses to the post. I fully expected to see both “right ons!” and “this is absurds!”– and I did. I figured there’d be some eye-rolling– and there was. But I can’t lie to you. I hadn’t predicted what seems to be the biggest backlash I’ve seen. And it’s against this line–
“It’s so hard with three kids.” The inverse of #3, but still, worth repeating. Are you implying that my job as mom isn’t as hard as yours?
“OMG– is she CRAZY? My life IS harder!”
“Ha! Of COURSE it’s easier to only have one kid than three! She’s nuts.”
“I’ve had only one kid and I can tell you that it is WAY harder now that I have more than that.”
“How stupid. One kid is as hard as three? Ha. Stupid.”
… and on and on.
Let me tell you– people with more than one kid were on the ATTACK! Nevermind that the author is actually very careful to frame that paragraph and doesn’t even try to really “compete.” I’m not sure how anyone read it as commentary that parents of multiple children have it easy, but whatever.
The point is– the crowd went wild. In a very bad way. Soooooo defensive and so quick to point out why, of course, life is much, much, MUCH more difficult for those with, say (since it was the writer’s example), three kids.
But here’s the thing–
Not only do I think that people really need to calm the heck down and just mosy on if they don’t like a piece, but I also don’t even agree with them.
I, the mother of three children, do not believe that it is harder than having one child.
And here’s why–
I likely, though not definitely, have more activities to orchestrate into a schedule.
I likely, though not definitely, have more homework assignements to oversee.
I likely, though not definitely, have more gear to pack into the minivan.
I likely, though not definitely, have more laundry to do in any given week.
Yet, despite that, you know what?
Having just my youngest home during the school year was far harder than having all three home in the summer.
Having my parents take two out of three for a sleepover always leaves me more worn out than refreshed.
Having my oldest gone for the afternoon doesn’t make my life any simpler.
In short, having one kid is not easier than having three.
When I have only one kid with me?
I am IT.
I am the entertainment. I am the reader. I am the one pretending. I am the one helping. I am the one fetching, reaching, finding. I am the one dressing up. I am the puzzle-builder. I am the listener. I am the one carrying on the conversation. I AM EVERYTHING.
All of this was working through my brain when, over the weekend, I was catching up on reading one of my favorite sites. And you know what? I laughed out loud. Amy and I have a bit of a history of thinking about and writing about similar things at the same time. Fun fact: we even started our blogs on the exact same day of the exact same year. So, when I read this post, I wanted to reach through the screen and high-five her.
While she has twice (!) as many children as I do, she’s pretty much making the same points I am– sometimes, having more children in the home doesn’t make it tougher. It actually makes it easier. This is particularly true for those with large familes, or, more accurately, widely-spaced children, but even with my narrower gaps, it holds true.
And so, I have to admit I’m not sure what was going on with all those commenters. Were they having bad days? Do their kids really not entertain one another worth a hoot? Or do we just live in a “woe is me” society that likes to point out why yours truly has it just SO much tougher than everyone else?
I don’t really know.
But, while I stand by my words that it’s not a helpful article, I will also go on record as saying I wasn’t offended by her remark about one versus three kids.
In fact, that might be the one thing we can agree upon.
Cook up a hearty, satisfying meal to feed a crowd that only leaves you one pan to wash. This Skillet Spaghetti with Meat Sauce is a family pleaser and frees you up to spend your time having fun instead of scrubbing pots!
Using the biggest skillet you have-- preferably one with a lid-- brown the ground beef, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper over med-high heat. Drain grease, if necessary, but, if you use very lean ground beef, you can skip this. (That's what I do.)
Leave all that in the pan and add ALL remaining ingredients.
Bring up to a bubble, then reduce heat to med-low, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes until most liquid is absorbed and the spaghetti is tender.
And that’s it! This recipe is wildly easy, but the sauce is rich and flavorful. I love quick, easy dishes that the whole family enjoys. Even more, I love dinners that free me up from dish-washing to go enjoy time with my people!
I’ve tried to really pay attention to the comments and remarks I get about my children for the past few days.
Instead of just nodding, smiling, thanking, or acknowledging, I’ve tried to really ponder and process the words that I’m hearing. And, I have to say… the words have been abundantly kind.
“He is SO smart. Just off-the-hook smart.”
“How’s C. doing? I’m just crazy about that girl. She’s a delight.”
“How early do you get them up to be here at 7:30AM? Well, you do amazing. Because they’re just fantastic kids.”
“They glow within your shining example.”
“G. is so sweet, I can hardly stand it. That girl makes my day.”
“He’s deep and profoundly caring.”
… and on and on.
It is humbling.
Really and truly.
It is humbling to hear all those words.
Because, and this is the entire point of this whole post–
I question what I am doing every single day of my life.
I lose my temper and yell or, perhaps worse, fire off remarks just dripping in sarcasm and then, later, I cry as I realize what a horrible way I’ve behaved toward these tender souls.
I set the bar high-high-high and then sometimes wonder if I even achieve my own standards.
My husband and I exchange worried glances, wondering if we’re totally messing this up. Do they have enough friends? Do they do the right activities? Do they do too MANY activities? Is this the right way to handle A’s math? Is C’s sudden reluctance to join the family games a warning sign or just an indication that she’s swept up in the book she’s reading? Do we expect too much of our youngest? Or do we let her get away with too much?
We don’t know. I don’t know.
I don’t really know what I’m doing.
And the compliments, as wonderful as they are, can make me even more nervous.
Am I screwing up these amazing kids? Have I been blessed with a trio of fantastic little people and I’m going to totally drop the ball? Is this just the calm before the storm blows up in my face?
I just don’t know.
And I think that’s something more of us need to step up and admit–
We don’t really know what we’re doing. And it’s scary.
That mom with the popular star athlete for a kid?
She worries that she’s messing up.
The lady whose daughters look impeccable and whose manners never falter?
She frets that she’s not fully preparing them.
The mother who seems to seamlessly run a household of eight?
She has moments she wonders how she’s going to make it through without permanently damaging someone.
Because, here’s the thing– not only does motherhood not come with an instruction manual, but, even if it did, it couldn’t possibly cover all the different models of children out there!
And so we wake up each day. Maybe we say a prayer. We put one foot in front of the other and resolve to do our best.
And, if we’re lucky, we’ll find out that we did a decent job before we climb in bed that night.
Not because of the compliments rained upon us. No.
Because of the little arms that hold us tight and remind us why, no matter how hard a day was…