The day I understood God’s parenting.

It was yesterday.  I was making a quick run to the grocery store to fill our empty 5-gallon water bottle (the tap water here–undrinkable–and my standards are pretty low!).  David was home so I left the baby with him and took Judah.  He loves any excuse to leave the house, so this was exciting.  We’re riding in the van!  We’re getting out someplace that isn’t home!  I even let him put the coins in the water machine slot, so it’s almost as fun as Chuck-E-Cheese!

So as we were driving, my mind wandered as it does from thinking about how he has to sit in the back seat right now because he’s so little, to someday we’ll run errands together and he’ll be this boy on the front seat next to me.  I was trying to imagine him at, say, 15.  How tall he’ll be.  How he’ll think I’m funny and we’ll have great conversations (my daydream, my optimistic imagination.  No mopy teenagers allowed!).  Then I was dropping him off at a friend’s house, where he would be making all sorts of decisions without me.  Without me knowing! Without me seeing!  That’s one of the few advantages to him being a toddler right now: I am his conscience.  So I was thinking about what I would say to 15-year-old Judah getting out of the car to spend unsupervised (by me) time at his imaginary friend’s house.  I thought about saying “be safe,” or “don’t do anything I wouldn’t” (which, depending on which age of my life we’re talking about, wouldn’t be much insurance against some pretty bad decision-making!).

That’s when it hit me.  I would tell him I love him.  “I love you, Judah.”  And he would say it right back, because he’s that kind of teenager.  Then I would drive away and two things would happen: 1) he would know his mother loves him, and 2) he would (hopefully) want to make choices that love me back.

I was telling David about this little daydream later, because I don’t have very many interesting real-life stories after you weed out the ones about picking up toys and filling sippy cups and blocking my baby as her brother tries to hit her with a wire whisk.  Oddly enough, when I was thinking about how I’d love my teenage son, I didn’t have any amazing revelations about God loving me.  But as I told my husband, that’s when I saw it.  That’s what God does.  That’s what He wants.  He has commandments and such, because I need to know what the basic ground rules are, but before I get out of the car He just says: I love you.  Because He’s a smart parent like me (ha!), and He invented this kind of situation where loving back is the best reason I can think of to do what He wants me to.  Not because “He said so” or because He’ll pour down terrible boiling bowls of judgment if I don’t, but just because:

I love you back, God.

Shy

I’m not, really.  Shy, that is.  In a crowd of any size, I’m not afraid to jump into the conversation.  I love being part of the noise, even though I often say something awkward or wish I could pull words back into my mouth.  But I love the high stakes, the fact that I can’t take it back, the doneness of it all.  And everyone knows you can’t edit or delete or repeat any moments, so there is a raw, honest energy to that conversation.

But not here.  This is the world of spell-check, dreaming up the perfect adjective for the perfect noun, and delete-delete-delete.  It can all be hemmed and hawed over, primped and polished, perfected.  The problem is, I’m not quite perfect.  Not even close.  And although I love a good word or phrase and, even more, a great idea, I’m pretty shy about walking into this room of perfectly-edited, just-trendy-enough, usually Mormon stay-at-home glamour moms.

So I guess I’m hoping to get a little braver, but in the meantime just putting it out there that this is scary stuff.  Hats off to all of you who have pushed “publish” enough times that it doesn’t raise your blood pressure.  I’m getting there.

Father’s Day

This is for my kids, because only one of them can say any words right now, and “no, no, noooo” and “night-night” don’t exactly sum it up…

Dear David,

I’ve always known you were going to be a great dad.  In fact, it’s one of the reasons I wanted to marry you.  In those moments when I wasn’t sure I wanted you for me, I was absolutely certain I wanted you for my future kids.  And although I’m wrong about a lot of things, I wasn’t wrong about that.

I remember the first time we saw a real-live positive pregnancy test, and the first time you celebrated with abandon even though we hadn’t even been married a year and had no plan in place that included a baby.  I was in nursing school and still would be on the due date.  You were in medical school and would have more than a year to go after that point.  It was, life-planning-wise, the very worst time to have a baby.  But you were thrilled.  Until the day that hope died, the day I delivered a tiny amniotic sac into a toilet, you parented that baby with your unbridled joy of expectation.

The second time we saw those two pink lines, you were just as thrilled.  Through my crazy mood swings and downright terrible pregnancy hormones, you never complained.  You were already Dad to that little boy-fetus, telling him you loved him through my belly and into his warm water world.  When he came out and into our arms, you held his little hand and named him Judah.  Our son.  And from that day, you’ve been teaching him about music, the trees, being patient.  He hasn’t lived a single day without being surrounded by your joy over him.  We rejoice together, and he beams.  Judah is pure joy, and he learned that from you.  You are the very best dad to him.

One thing I have been sure of is that any little girl who is lucky enough to have you for her Dad will know without any question that she is loved, protected, and incredibly valuable.  When I first found out I was pregnant again, I thought we should have a boy for Judah to have a brother.  What I didn’t think about was how you would beam over this baby girl.  Judah adores his baby sister, but you out-do him in your abject adoration of our Sarala Grace.  She is the most secure, peaceful, JOYFUL baby girl I have ever seen, with her mouth open wide in a smile since the day she figured out how to use those muscles.  You are her Dad, her safest place, the strong arms that reach into her crib to pick her up and smile happinesses at her when you didn’t get a chance to say goodnight.  The way you hold her chubby hand and sing silly songs to her makes me even more sure of what I knew before: these children, the ones who shout “Daddy and run wildly to the door when they hear you coming, are the luckiest little kids in the world.

Love,

Mandy

Restraint

I tend to operate on the principle that if some is good, more must be better.  If you didn’t know this about me you’ve never seen me put cream in my coffee.  I don’t usually drink coffee, and some might argue I actually never have.  Mine is a nice tan color, delicious and sweet.

I was just thinking about this as I put soap into the washing machine.  It’s so hard for me to use that high efficiency soap because I can’t imagine anything getting clean with just that tiny bit of detergent.  And if a little soap can get them clean, won’t a lot more get them really clean?  That’s what I thought!

But I’ve seen Freaky Friday, and I know that can make bubbles flow all over your laundry room and kitchen floors.  So I restrain myself.

Restraint.  That seems to be the theme of my days lately.  Left unchecked, my extreme personality would have everything in my day carefully planned, including my husband and his minutes.  “What are you doing?” I ask him about 15 times a day.  Because he doesn’t tell me when he’s going to do something, he just disappears and is no longer part of my orderly kingdom.  He’s on his own adventure, chasing this or that thing that he’s decided is important.  And he’s not there to play with the baby or put away his clothes or clean up after dinner or anything.  Gone.  It’s hard on me because rulers need subjects, otherwise there’s no ruler.  I suppose my fat baby could be my subject, only he’s even less accountable to me than my beloved husband.  Let’s not even get started on that.  Let’s just say that he’s at the stage where I just do damage control and very little directing.  I can place him right in front of a pile of toys and ask him to play for 20 minutes while I clean, and he’ll crawl immediately off to inspect an electrical outlet or tug at a lamp cord.  He is definitely not a loyal subject.

So.  I am left with no rule, no subjects, no team, really.  Just a lot of disappointment if I don’t reign in that need for domination.  If I don’t restrain myself and make the dictator inside me shut up.

Have Baby, Will Travel

It was one of those moments when you see yourself outside of yourself. They don’t come often, so I pay close attention when this happens!

It was Christmas time, and I was traveling with my very good 4-month old. He habitually impresses people with his good behavior, so that’s not just my opinion. Judah wakes up smiling, like his Dad, and doesn’t see fit to cry on airplanes. He’s the best little traveling companion. But, people don’t know that when they see him.

So, here we were flying from Michigan to California by way of New Jersey (huh), and I had just been happily informed by a gate attendant that although he was my “lap child,” the seat next to me was going to be empty. We were going to have some sprawling room! This was very good news since it was going to be a 6-hour flight. We boarded the plane in high spirits and started chatting with the gentlemen two seats away. We had the window, he had the aisle, and I wanted to let him know that we’d be “sharing” that middle seat. The scenario went like this.

Businessman in expensive-looking suit sits in his aisle seat.

Tired-looking woman with baby squeezes past to take the window seat.

Businessman: That’s a young one.

Mom: But he’s a good traveller! And if we’re lucky, there shouldn’t be anyone in this middle seat!

I settle back in my chair, and then that moment happens, the one where I see myself. And I say to my poor row companion:

I guess you probably don’t feel very lucky since a woman with a baby just sat down next to you!

It’s true: I’ve felt that dread when seeing a baby on an airplane. I’ve even been that person thinking mean thoughts during a 12-hour trans-Pacific flight when the lights have been turned off for fake night-time and then –the nerve!– a baby starts to cry. What are those parents thinking? How could they just let that baby cry? Don’t they see we are trying to sleep?!

As a parent myself now, I can tell you there is no one on the airplane who wants that baby to stop crying more than the parent. They are desperate. Have some compassion! Not only do they have to hear the crying, but they’re the one who needs to find a way to make it stop!

I guess this is the part where I should tell you some helpful hints for traveling with a baby. And since our child took his 50th flight before his 2nd birthday, I feel like I’m maybe a little qualified. So here you go. You’re welcome. 😉

1. Bring a stroller, baby carrier, car seat, etc. Even strict airlines like Spirit will let you take a stroller and car seat for free. Strollers in airports have saved me from missing my flight during too-short layovers. Sometimes the baby is in his carrier and the stroller is carrying the rest of my crap so I can just run.

2. People have all told me the popular “make sure they are sucking on something during take-off and landing!” I’ve rarely done this. It must just depend on the kid, because neither of mine seem phased by this part of the flight.

3. If you plan on having them try to watch movies with headphones (we have these, which are great!), make sure you practice ahead of time. As cute as the kid looks wearing them on the package, yours might just hate them at first. Once they get the hang of it, though, it is so nice to distract them for half an hour or so with brain-melting media via an iPad.

4. Bring snacks! Sometimes all they need is a little bit of distraction or redirection to get them back to being happy on the plane.

5. Be kind to yourself! Sometimes you’ll be the only one. 😉 But really, traveling with a little person(s) is hard work. My very worst flying experience by far was roundtrip from Indonesia after having arrived one week before. My 6-month-old and I were re-jet-lagged and both had colds. During the longest flight, from LAX to China, I remember being in this crazy stupor wherein I needed to breastfeed the baby but his nose was too stuffed to breathe and nurse. So I had to suction him out, which made him scream, then nurse him back to happiness, all while my eyelids were so heavy that I was barely awake myself. Fortunately most of the people on the plane were Asian, extremely accommodating and kind towards families, which is how we all should be!

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