Saturday, June 28, 2014


Overall I would say I typically feel pretty confident and competent as a mother and don't find my two children all that challenging. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not I am a good mother or feeling angst about the way I parent my kids. That said, I have been feeling a little frazzled and not-quite-together just lately. I don't know if it's due to being more busy with work / life in general or the kids being a lot more challenging than usual or both or neither, but it's been a noticeable shift. My increased level of introspection about said competence may also relate to the book I'm currently reading, which features a mother who is struggling a lot to handle her child, her job, her husband, and her life in general. There are a lot of scenes and reactions where I think, Jeez, I don't think I would ever do that, and then I step back mentally and think, Well, in her situation how would I react? And because the book is written in first-person and the character is having to evaluate herself as a mother, I find myself asking myself how I feel about myself as one, so it's been a little navel-gazey around these parts.

I was off work with the kids this past Thursday because Nico had big truck camp at the YMCA in the morning and Kindermusik in the afternoon, and that would've been a lot of running around and Elliott-hauling for my mom to do by herself. I got Nico to camp just fine and then Elliott and I had two hours to kill so we went to the nearby Walmart so I could do a work-related shopping trip. We had a bit of a slapstick time, as I initially tried wearing him in the Beco, only to find that he is finally too big and grabby to be in a front carry while shopping. He was able to reach the shelves and the cart handle, and after about five minutes I gave up and put him in the cart seat and took off the carrier. Then he spotted the big play balls and said "Bah! Bah!" and even though I guess technically he wasn't asking for one, I was feeling fond of him for using the word and picked one out for him. For a little while he wanted to hold it, but then he got tired of that. Since our cart was mostly occupied by a stepladder and three cases of soda, the ball just sort of had to perch behind him. This allowed him to start swatting the ball out of the cart periodically as he became more and more bored with our trip, and he's really too little to understand me telling him "If you do that one more time, we aren't buying the ball."

I made it out of there feeling only a little flustered, we collected Nico, and then we went to Panera for lunch since we only had two hours between camp ending and music class starting. I briefly considered popping Elliott into his stroller, but I didn't want to mess with it in the crowded / small space so I just carried him. Of course I couldn't carry anything else while I had him and I immediately realized that I had been incorrect in thinking that it would be easier to navigate lunch without the stroller. You'd think this is my first toddler or something. I don't really have a problem leaving the kids at the table without me while I fetch things, but Elliott was hungry and borderline crabby, Nico had a million questions, and I was trying semi-frantically to get them seated and find Cheerios and a book to keep Elliott distracted so he wouldn't start screeching like an excitable pterodactyl. Once I got them ready I had to go get my drink (forgot a cup for Nico, had to go back), then I had to go get the food (forgot a fork for Nico, had to go back) so by that point I'd made four trips across the restaurant. Elliott saw the food and started to get upset that it wasn't already in his mouth, Nico wanted bread to eat, so I was cutting up Elliott's sandwich and tossing a baguette at Nico and just generally feeling like holy shit, isn't this usually easier?? (And I had the thought, which I have had more than once recently, that maybe I shouldn't feel so confident in my ability to handle three kids if I get the chance to try.) We made it through lunch, though E did screech a few times and N almost had a sobbing meltdown over dropping a piece of pasta on his shirt. I posted a picture of them to Twitter and said "One parent two-kid lunch. It was a bit hairy at first but I think we're going to make it through." And then, of course, as we were leaving I saw a mother standing with a preschooler younger than Nico, a toddler younger than Elliott, and a bucket baby and she didn't look frazzled at all. Touché, madam...I am sufficiently humbled.

We had just enough time to stop by Target for yogurt, and that trip was hardly stressful at all. Things were looking better as we left, and I was feeling way better about myself and thinking hey, maybe we just had an off morning...I'm not so bad at this, right? It's not SO hard. We totally made it through that store without anyone screaming or knocking over a display or anything embarrassing! And then, as I was buckling Elliott into his seat, I saw a woman trot by the back of the car calling, "I'll get you!" and realized our cart had rolled away. With Nico in it. So all you other ladies in line for mother of the year, you may want to step to the back. I'm pretty sure I've got this one locked in.

Reading: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Playing: Only by the Night by Kings of Leon

Monday, June 16, 2014


Since returning from our vacation, Nico has been a bit of a beast. Not entirely unmanageable and not bratty all the time, but bratty just enough and just difficult enough for me to end the days feeling a bit exhausted and displeased. But of course, he's about to turn four and a half and is therefore right on schedule. As I hoped when I wrote them, re-reading those two posts has made me feel quite a bit better. It's nice to be reminded that he has gone through this cycle of strong-willed, constant mind-changing behavior before, and therefore to be reminded that it is cyclical. Surely if I just hang on long enough, he'll turn back into my sweet, mostly mild-tempered child. This time, he's added in a strong dose of defiance, which doth chap my ass quite a bit. Last Sunday he was overtired and ugly through most of his little cousin's first birthday party, where he decided the cozy coupe was HIS and no one else could even touch it without him shrieking in displeasure. Plus every time he got it stuck in the grass he let out this horrid loud whiiiiiiiine that made me want to snatch him right out of the car. After a dozen reminders to use his words, to get out and push the damn car rather than sit in it and whine, there was a spectacular scene where I told him (after warnings) that it was time to go. He attempted to refuse to leave, I insisted we would leave. He decided to run away from me around the yard, at which point I handed the baby over to my mom and chased his little ass down. On the way home, he was furious and literally screamed at me as loud as he could, over and over. I cranked up the stereo and ignored him, happy he couldn't hear me laughing at how absurdly he was acting. Straight home, quick no-fun shower, straight to bed with no stories or songs, and you'd better believe I face-planted into a pint of Ben & Jerry's as soon as both kids were in their rooms. Have mercy.

I signed him up for half-day nature camp at work with me this past week, though I suspected going in that he would not be on his best behavior with me as the teacher. He was so-so on Monday, missed Tuesday because he had Kindermusik, was whiny and wild and generally unpleasant on Wednesday, and then Thursday morning flip-flopped between wanting to go to camp and wanting to stay at Grandma's with Elliott so many times that I finally said, "This is your last chance. Put your carseat buckles on right this minute or you're staying here." He slumped down and out of his seat and then was shocked - shocked - when I promptly scooped him out of the car and deposited him on my mother's porch. He immediately flipped out and started sobbing and demanding to go to camp, but I refused to yield. I have to say, his behavior at camp on Friday was enough of an improvement over Wednesday that I'm hoping the lesson was learned. I can remember being about his age and doing the same yes / no, go / stay flip-flop on my mom about going to the grocery, and refusing to put on my shoes so that I could go. Finally she said fine, I'll just go without you, and I remember being utterly stunned when she actually walked out the door and drove away, leaving me behind. She actually did it! She left me!

Today we went to another birthday party and he was pretty good until the end, when he didn't want to leave and didn't want to put on his shoes. I told him, fine, you can walk to the car in your socks. It certainly won't bother me, though I know you won't like it. He did the whole maddening yes shoes / no shoes / yes shoes / no shoes thing and I told him, this is your last chance. If you say no again, you will not get your shoes. So he said no and then of course wanted his shoes desperately. He sat in the floor and had a huge fit because I refused to put them on for him. Another mom even offered to help him if he used his words and said please, and he wouldn't do that either. Finally he put the shoes on himself and sucked it up enough to ask me to please tie them. So I did, and we went home. I explained that once we got home, he was required to rest if he wanted to go to the animal show at the library this evening. "I won't rest!" he told me defiantly. "I won't rest ever again! I will get out of my bed and sit on the floor!" Once home, he did refuse to stay properly in bed or to nap for about two hours. He eventually fell asleep about half an hour before we needed to leave for the library and didn't get to go, then woke up after the show had ended and tearfully asked why he couldn't go see the animals. I try to appreciate that he is developing independence and thinking for himself and doing these normal kid things that need to be done, but oh my LORD, four and a half.

It occurred to me today, too, that because I very thoughtfully spaced my children almost exactly three years apart, they will always be going into their half-ages at the same time, forever. So pretty soon Elliott will be breaking my brain with eighteen-month antics. He's already showing quite a fierce little temper, though (like me) he gets over it pretty quickly. And at least he eats (and eats and eats and eats some more), though that may change as he gets older. Truly, still, they are wonderful children. They are funny and sweet and mostly kind and constantly surprising me. I try to take nothing for granted and to appreciate them and to (gag) treasure every moment. But no lie, halfsies are hard.

Not tired at all.

Not going to nap ever again.

Reading:  Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Playing:  an old mix CD

Sunday, June 08, 2014


We spent Friday through Wednesday in Memphis visiting MB's brother and brother's girlfriend (BoMB & Nie). It's a 5 1/2 hour drive without stops, so it took us more like 7 hours on Friday due to stopping a couple of times plus an hour-long ill-advised lunch stop (tiny town with only an A&W / KFC restaurant; food was not good). Even at that length, it didn't feel as painfully long as I remember from our trip in 2012. The kids were absolutely stellar, and I mean that in all sincerity. Nico switched happily between The Heffalump Movie and various games on the iPad. Elliott napped and played with the box of toys and books we'd perched within his reach in the middle seat between them. E got a little crabby before lunch, but who doesn't? And the third stop was really my fault because I somehow didn't think to give E a bottle of milk while we were stopped at a gas station for everyone else to pee and pick out a snack. Derp, mama. So about twenty minutes later we pulled over again and he got a drink. After that it was smooth sailing all the way to BoMB & Nie's super nice apartment complex on the east side of town. We had the most comfortable air mattress ever to sleep on, plus they'd bought bath toys and a pop-up tent for the boys. This is going to sound lame, but I was also super happy to be able to do laundry at their apartment. Washing a load of clothes each evening rather than hauling home suitcases full of stinky, sweaty, sandy, wet clothes improved my personal vacation experience to a significant degree. So basically I fully recommend finding awesome inlaws who will let you and your ankle-biters crash at their place and will be fantastic hosts to boot.

On Saturday we visited the Lichterman Nature Center, which we'd only been able to briefly see on our last trip. It's a really beautiful little nature preserve. Everything was SO green and gorgeous. It was pretty hot and I think Nico was still tired from the previous day, so we didn't get to stay quite as long as I'd hoped, but it was still a nice visit. Plus everyone indulged me and we got a picture of the four of us on the same little red bridge that served as the site of one of my favorite family pictures last time we went. It's fun to look at them side-by-side -- the first one taken the month before I got pregnant with Elliott and the second with him perched on my hip, completing our little family. Nico enjoyed the animal displays in the Backyard Wildlife Center. (In a proud moment for me, he excitedly identified their tarantula and then said, "It's just like the one you brought to my school!"). Elliott had a blast toddling up and down the elevated boardwalk behind the wildlife center, and I might've literally gone "Squee!" when I found a tiny praying mantis on the bench where we stopped for the kids to have a snack. Once we decided we'd had enough of the heat, we had Gus's Famous Fried Chicken for lunch (it really was delicious), then Nie & I took the kids to the pool while MB and BoMB shopped for supplies to make pizza for a late dinner.

On Sunday we went to Shelby Farms Park, a 4500-acre park within the city limits. It was very nice, though I didn't totally love it as a destination this time simply because it was really hot that day and there wasn't much of anything for Elliott to do at his age / in the heat. We walked a bit and looked for (but did not find) a geocache. If it had been cooler and I'd felt okay about carrying Elliott in his Beco, I would've been happy to hike longer. The trails were neat and other than the humidity, it was enjoyable. I was worried about cooking him, though, and had him in his non-rugged light stroller, so we ended up having to turn back from the woodsy trail we initially tried. The playground there was ridiculously cool, and I definitely want to go again when the kids are a little bigger. Nico played for a while in the sandpit "nest," and finally had to be called away so that we could go eat at the amazing Central BBQ, as the rest of us were hot, tired, and hungry. We hadn't initially planned on going straight from the park to dinner, so I had to make an emergency stop at Kroger for milk, yogurt, and a bottle for Elliott, but he was a rock star that evening. After slurping down a few baby food pouches, he allowed me to placate him with constant application of Cheerios and bits of bread plus an empty paper towel tube to wave around. He danced to Creedence Clearwater Revival in his high chair and the father of a family of teenagers sitting next to us complimented us on his behavior as we were leaving. GOLD STAR, TODDLER.

We waited until Monday to visit the zoo, and that was the best idea we had all week. The weather was overcast and therefore a bit cooler, plus it was not crowded at ALL. It's a really great zoo, and we were there from 11:00 AM or so until they closed. The boys had a joint meltdown about an hour after we arrived and I briefly feared the day was going to be a bust, but then we realized they were just hangry. After stopping for the lunch we packed, the day was saved. Hurrah!

best $12 we spent all week

Nico did not actually touch any of the stingrays, but I did. They were crazy soft!

Elliott's first ice cream experience

Nico loved the herpetarium and shouted "Look, Mommy! A snake!" for every snake he saw. I was quite proud.

Zoonked! (full credit for that one goes to Erin)

Back at Central for dinner! MB and I are both deeply regretful that we didn't go a third time.

On Tuesday, our last full day, we went to the Memphis Botanic Garden. We made a quick trip through the Prehistoric Plant Trail, fed the koi, and then went to My Big Backyard. I truly wish we'd packed a lunch so we could've stayed for a few more hours. The kids would've happily spent much longer in the big treehouse, the playhouses, and the wading creek. It's a shame we don't have a similar place to visit in our hometown, because we'd be there all the time. So much fun!

dinosaur dig!

This was really cool. Nico was afraid to jump across the gap between stumps so he decided - completely on his own - to build a bridge.

This one may turn out to be my musical child.

We decided to drive back Wednesday afternoon so that MB could have the whole day Thursday to relax before heading back to work Friday. Plus Nico's five-week Kindermusik class started Thursday afternoon and it was too expensive to risk missing a session. Nie and I took the kids to the pool again Wednesday morning, hoping to wear them out a little for the long drive. We had a really nice time and it was hard to leave to meet BoMB for lunch so that he could see the boys one last time. After lunch we packed the car and hit the road. The drive back went even better than the drive down - we only stopped once for lunch, and the kids were fantastic pretty much the whole time. Ponies for everyone! Truly, I am practically aglow with the thought of all the cool places we can take these kids since they are such great travelers. It was such a wonderful trip and I had a blast just hanging out with my little dudes and enjoying their company. We're already planning to make a return trip in two years, right after Nie finishes her PhD, but I'm (not so) secretly hoping we can afford to go next year, too. Without getting too precious, I'm so very grateful that we had a superb vacation / road trip experience with our very young kids; that we had such a nice time overall; for family who are also beloved friends. It's a grand old world!

"I'm pretending Elliott is a plant and I'm giving him a drink!"