The Day Yoga Became Sacred

Who knew I could actually feel grounded?

The first time I performed kid-attended yoga, my purple mat rolled out over our floor, all four of my children were awake. It ended quickly. Downward dog looked like bridge pose to my children, and my toddler twins started crawling underneath my body as my shaking legs struggled to hold my pose.
“Can I work out with you, mom?”  my daughter Wren, who was six at the time, asked as I tried to swat the twins from underneath me.
“I only have one yoga mat,” I complained. “You can get at the very end, but don’t kick me. This is my workout time.”
Within minutes my feet were tangled in Wren’s arms, my son was asking if I was giving piggy back rides, and the twins were wailing because my body was no longer arched at the right angle for them to crawl underneath me.
“I quit,” I mumbled sullenly, and rolled up my yoga mat as the instructor on YouTube said we were just now finishing the warm-up.  
***
My history with exercise is complicated.  As a never-sit-still teen, who felt untethered when not moving, I put in a solid six to seven hours a day between drill team and trampolining.  
My twenties found me without a trampoline or the ability to perform high kicks, so I ran around my neighborhood after dark for miles, walking when I could no longer keep pace, anything to keep moving.
Children brought my exercise to a near halt. Breastfeeding and sleep deprivation were my weight loss plan, but I missed the euphoric feeling of exercise and was too tired and strapped by responsibility to do anything about it. Finally, when the kids aged slightly, I knew in a way I couldn’t explain that I needed yoga.
“Why yoga?”  a friend asked.  
“Because I don’t want to do yoga,” I answered. “I don’t want to sit still. I draw my strength from running around like a madwoman. I think that’s a pretty good sign I need to be still, right?”
“Probably. I feel the same way, but I won’t face yoga.”
I did face it, Yoga with Adrienne, Pop Pilates that integrated yoga into the workout, the PsycheTruth YouTube channel where Sanela’s voice was so encouraging I wanted to weep. Anticipating a scenario where my children simply grew tired of joining in, I kept trying while they were awake only to have each session end like a bad game of Twister. Finally, I faced it alone at night when the kids were tucked in and I was assured at least two hours before someone awoke from night terrors or loneliness.  
By nightfall when I rolled out my mat and followed the motions of the women on the screen, I was exhausted. I would only make it through half the workout before my body gave out, but by then my mind was too hyped to sleep. Suffering from the oxymoron of exhausted insomnia, I realized starting my workout at 9 p.m. every night to avoid the kids was not going to work.
“But this is all I have,” I complained to my husband. “I’ve tried in the morning, but they get up and follow me and it’s the same mess as nighttime when they are awake. I have to find that calm place, that inner stillness, and I cannot do that surrounded by four kids asking for scrambled eggs or treating my yoga like a game.”
My husband sympathized and, I think, was secretly grateful he could workout at his office gym. This puzzle, for the time being, went unsolved.  
***
It’s another couple of years of late night jogs, squats while the kids bathe, and other small attempts to be physical again before I say, “Anyone want to do yoga?”  The desire springs from months of longing when I truly desired the mat, the pain, the refreshing focus and the quiet that sometimes drove me mad, compelling me to fill it with words or sounds.  
The living room falls silent, and my husband raises his eyebrows and cocks his head as if to ask, Why are you doing this?
I pulled out my yoga mat and Wren, who is now eight, says, “Really?”
I think, Why am I doing this? But I say, “Really.”
We share the mat and the rug, using the mat for our hands so we don’t slide flat like pancakes while doing downward dog. Sanela is focused on digestion today, and Wren keeps commenting on how good the stretches feel.
Of course, the other three make their way in, my six-year-old son mainly doing hand stands, the twins watching before they join. When I open my eyes again, I see one of my three-year-olds completely nude in child’s pose, giggling with pride. The other, wearing a green polka dot bikini in February, hasn’t shifted from warrior pose yet, waiting for me to look up and see her accomplishment.  
We make it through the entire 22 minutes, all of us eventually shedding shirts, my post-baby belly hanging low when we bend.  Wren reaches out to touch it while I lunge, and says, “I love this belly” before going back to her pose.  
Even surrounded by my children, I don’t feel the angst I did before when their presence during my workout felt oppressive. My body relaxes, I pay attention to my breath, and all of the kids fall into a routine, their own rhythm keeping them engaged.
For years I have put off yoga because of its focus on blocking out distractions and focusing inward, the sacred practice of slowing to a near halt while still pushing the body. That couldn’t be possible, not for me, not with so much noise around me.
It occurs to me, though, as I watch my children perform yoga, uninhibited on the living room floor, that something strange has happened. I have found my inner stillness, my calm place, in the most unexpected place of all: among the chaos of my own life.  
***
We roll up the mat and Wren asks if we will do this again.  
“Yes,” I say, “we will,” and I realize as the words escape my mouth that I am actually looking forward to keeping that promise, that yoga has become more than me seeking a place removed from the activity of everyday life. It’s become a practice that lets me stand within the eye of the storm, surrounded but never consumed, shutting out the noise but refusing to isolate myself from the needs and desires of others spinning around me.
One day, probably not far in the future, they will all be too cool to do half-nude yoga in the living room with mom. I am told often by moms who are farther along on their journeys, that the alone time I crave now will land at my feet one day, and I will not be prepared for the enormity of it. I am sure they are right.
In those days I may do yoga on my own and find the practice completely different than it is now, but I doubt it will ever be more sacred. Finding I already have what I set out on a journey to find, that is the most precious form of sacred I know.

How Thinking Like a 10-Year-Old Helped Me Buy a House

Breaking the cycle of poverty is no easy task. But looking to our kids for inspiration can give the strength and means to do just that.

I never thought I’d see the day as a first time home buyer. Each month for eight years, I’d make the bus ride to the rental office to save the 20 dollar processing fee, no matter the weather.

I cursed and muttered, wondering again: when will our last day be? When will it be the last day living in a small two-bedroom apartment facing four garbage bins, a nursing home, and tons of street noise?

At that point in our lives, my husband and I could only fantasize about a dream home for our family. Meanwhile, our 10-year-old son started crawling up the walls of our too-small apartment.

“Why can’t we live in a house like all my other friends?” he wailed one day. “Why do we have to be so different?”

For eight years, he longed to build a snowman in the front yard, dig his heels in the soft earth in the spring, and play with the neighborhood children outside until dark.

I answered him, whispering in his ear, “You know we can’t afford it.” 

He looked hopelessly at the kitchen floor.

For five long years I was trapped in a cycle of negative self-talk that started one day in 2009, when one of the maintenance men came to fix our ceiling fan. As he bolted the last of the screws, I asked if the management company rented three-bedroom houses. With two kids now, we needed the extra space.

“Yes,” he said. “You mean, like three bedrooms and an extra bathroom?”

“Yes.”

He then turned, looked me straight in the eye, and said something totally unexpected. “But those are really expensive. You wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

I thought he was kidding at first, but I could see the intent in his face as he looked directly at me. I tried to avoid choking on the tears. Why would he say such a thing to a complete stranger?
For the next three years, my son would repeat those words every time we passed by a charming house for sale in our neighborhood. 

The words “you can’t afford it” took over not just my life, but his life, too. Each time I expressed how badly I wanted that three-bedroom house, I quickly reminded myself that I was teaching my son lessons in self-worth. Would money be a sticky point for him as it had been for me all these years? Clearly, I had allowed this stranger’s words to determine our family’s reality.

I cried in my pillow at night. I needed to make a change. It was time to break the “poverty mindset” for everyone’s sake. There had to be another way… but how?

I wanted to give my son and now daughter the feeling of a home, not just a rented place. Could it be I was still struggling to feel worthy and deserving of abundance, and teaching my son that abundance is always a struggle?

One day, I took my son aside. “I’ve been lying to myself – and to you – all these years. I’ve been telling myself that we can’t afford our dream house. I’m really sorry. It’s time to break those lies.”

He looked at me as if I’d poured juice over my head.

“You know…our dream home…the one I keep telling you we can’t afford.”

Many of my son’s friends come from wealthy families. We’re the only family that lives in an apartment. My son has gradually accepted that fact, but I knew how badly he wanted that home.

On a piece of paper, I wrote down what we’d need for a down payment, and showed him the number. 

He looked at the number. “That’s not a lot,” he said stiffly.

“What do you mean that’s not a lot?!” 

“Well, it’s not a lot. Why don’t we just save everything and sell anything?”

He was right. 

I couldn’t see past the poverty mindset that had started in childhood and emotionally paralyzed me an adult. I wanted to feel free of money worries, and my son believed it was possible. Together, we could break this cycle. We put a plan in place. 

Three years later, we had enough for a down payment. I had several jobs, and saved every penny that I could. My son contributed by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood and, each week, dumped a jar of coins on my bed.

In December 2014, our family had to make a decision: would we sign the lease for another year? I took a deep breath and approached my husband. No longer would the hurtful words of a stranger hold me captive. 

“There’s no way I’m going to renew our lease for the coming year.” I said, standing up. “It’s time to buy our own place.”

I started to cry.

“What’s happening?” my husband asked.

I’d never told him the story of the maintenance man, and how ashamed his words made me feel. It all poured out – a relief to finally be sharing it with my husband, who loved and supported me.

On March 31, 2015, we closed on a three-bedroom house perfectly situated on a quiet street complete with a backyard, garden, deck, and front porch – everything a starter home should have for our children. Our dream house.

On moving day, my son kicked off his flip-flops and dug his feet in the soft grass while my 20-month-old daughter frolicked in the garden. A few days later, I happily took my laptop outside to work, drinking in the smells and sights of spring.

This is my house. This is my home. 

It’s still hard to believe I’m a homeowner. I didn’t understand how much my own beliefs had limited me, and I couldn’t see how to break the cycle, until my son showed me. I’ll no longer be a victim of negative thoughts or fearful emotions. I don’t have to be.

Some dreams do come true. Open the door – see them, trust them, believe in them.

Thank You For Not Judging Me, It Made All the Difference

When every kid is melting down and you feel like you’re seconds away from joining them, kind words from a stranger can turn it all around.

It was a rough day.

I’d been up all night with a new baby and was on day 3 of a migraine. I hadn’t showered and my hair smelled faintly of the garlic chicken dinner we’d made two nights prior. My husband had just returned to work after baby bonding leave, and it was one of the first days I would have to wrangle an infant, 2-year-old, and 4-year-old all alone.

The morning started with a bang – literally – as my toddler shattered a coffee mug and my preschooler spilled milk onto the dog and the floor. The kids fought over who would get the purple plate for breakfast and this ended with tears, a time out, and me admonishing that hitting is NOT acceptable.

The baby was suffering from his first cold à la his big brothers and couldn’t quite figure out how to nurse and breathe at the same time. He cried and bit in frustration, and I responded with yelps and pleas. Meanwhile the older boys unraveled an entire roll of toilet paper throughout the house – in order to “get a tissue for the baby’s nose.”

I took a deep breath and glanced at the clock, praying that afternoon nap time was near.

It was 9am.

I decided to walk to the park. The boys needed to burn off some energy and the fresh air would be good for the baby’s cold. Thus ensued another forty minutes of finding shoes, putting them on the right feet, going potty, dressing an angry baby, and mitigating fights over who would get to bring the McDonald’s Happy Meal toy with them.

Finally – FINALLY – we were out the door. I wore the baby in an infant carrier while pushing the toddler in a stroller. The preschooler was firmly instructed to hold onto the stroller as we lumbered down the alley two blocks to the neighborhood park.

We arrived, shutting the gate behind us, and the boys let loose like released bulls. The baby and I followed them, spotting, watching, and pushing on swings. I chatted with a couple of moms and nannies and not one commented on the spit up all over my shirt. The kids all shared a snack. And it seemed like the day was getting better. I could do this!

Then. A toy stroller was brought into the park. And all hell broke loose as the kids fought over it. Guardians rushed over to intervene and it was then that I noticed my son had wet his pants. We would have to go home and change.

He didn’t want to, and made sure the entire park knew it. He howled as I tried to coax him to the stroller. Dug his heels in as I took his hand. Ultimately forced me to carry him under my arm as he screamed and flailed like a fish out of water.

The commotion woke the baby who also began bawling in the carrier. My third son decided he wasn’t going to sit in the stroller. Another meltdown as I forcibly buckled him in while all three wailed in unison.

The nannies looked at me sympathetically as I struggled with three crying boys. One of them held the gate open for me as I tried to maneuver a toddler dragging his feet beneath a stroller and a preschooler screaming under my arm – with a baby strapped to my chest. My head pounded from the migraine.

I glanced back just in time to catch a mom shaking her head and whispering something to another. My cheeks burned.

We made it out of the park and I stopped a few yards away, out of earshot. I placed my screeching son down and gripped his shoulder while I told him he needed to calm down and walk. He ignored me and bellowed louder. I threatened the loss of privileges. It didn’t work. He refused to walk.

I bent my head down and took a deep breath, tears of frustration pricking my eyes. I struggled to pick him up again and trudged slowly, awkwardly, into the alley. My toddler’s dragging shoes left skid marks on the street. The baby’s sunhat fell over his face. And the sorrowful cries of all three echoed off the walls of houses.

Then of course. OF COURSE. An SUV turned into the alley and headed our way. On a one-way narrow street. I rolled my eyes and cursed under my breath. It took all the strength I had to force the stroller and a fighting preschooler over to the side of the road. I stood there impatiently, willing the SUV to just hurry up and GO BY already.

But it slowed down. You’ve got to be kidding me. Surely the driver saw me struggling. I was standing there on the verge of losing my shit and someone was going to ask me for directions!?

As it got closer, I saw that the driver was a woman. And then suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps she was going to make a comment, a judgment, about my screaming kids. A “friendly” piece of advice about how to make them stop misbehaving. Something to make me feel like more of a failure than I already did. I remembered the mother in the park. The condescending look. The whisper.

A pit in the middle of my stomach grew.

The SUV stopped at my side and the driver rolled down the window. I turned towards her, annoyed, and lifted my eyebrows impatiently.

She smiled at me kindly. “I just wanted to tell you that you’re doing an amazing job, Mom.”

I blinked. Confused. Instinctively looked behind me.

The woman nodded. Warmly. She leaned forward and said it again. I could barely hear her over the howls of my kids.

“You are doing an amazing job. You really are. Hang in there. And know that you’re a wonderful mom.”

The pit in my stomach dissolved. I began to breathe. And I looked up at her and shook my head, wondering how to convey my gratitude.

“Thank you SO much. Thank you.”

She nodded and told me to take care. Even the boys finally took notice as their cries began to peter out. The woman rolled up the window and drove past.

I stood there. Still stunned. And a weight was lifted. I was in awe of this woman, this stranger, who took a moment to change the course of my day. I felt new resolve and new strength. Forgot about the woman in the park. Straightened up. And gathered the kids to continue the walk home.

I doubt this woman even remembers me. That she even gave the encounter a second thought. But for me, it is something I will never forget. The kindness of a stranger that lifted my spirits during an ordinary moment. But a moment when I needed it most.

And for that, I thank her.

When Your Daughter is the Mean Girl

None of us want to admit it, but sometimes despite our best efforts, we can be the parent of “the mean girl.”

My daughter is strong-willed. She’s challenging, determined, sassy. 

Some parents have coined this “spirited,” maybe because the other descriptors make them feel like a bad parent, and “spirited” seems like less of a negative reflection on their child, and on themselves.

But I find myself trying to be more honest and blunt: sometimes my daughter is a brat.  Sometimes she’s just plain mean. And I can’t help but question what I’ve done wrong in raising her. 

As she gets older, nearer to school age, my worries turn from how she acts toward and treats me, to how she will act toward and treat friends and classmates. More and more, I witness her interactions with other children and watch her bossy nature emerge. 

Why is her first instinct to be so unfriendly? I wonder, as I intervene to explain that this sort of behavior is unacceptable. “No one will want to play with you if you can’t be nice,” I tell her. 

But while this has largely been my personal observation as her mother, I was recently given a kick to the gut as my daughter was called out by another kid.

We were at the playground and my two girls were playing together on the slide, when another little girl approached to join them. Even from a distance, I could hear my oldest’s attitude right away.

It wasn’t long before the other little girl approached me and asked, “What’s her name?” 

“The baby?” I replied, as I assumed my oldest would have said her own name when asked. 

“No,” the girl said. “The mean girl.”

My stomach dropped.

“What, honey?” I pretended to clarify, although I’d heard her perfectly well.

“That mean girl, over there.” And I didn’t have to even look to know she was pointing at my daughter.

Talk about a sucker punch to the heart. Shocked and embarrassed, I didn’t know how to respond. Tell the girl my daughter’s name and thereby acknowledge that she is in fact “the mean girl?” Correct her by saying, “No, honey, she’s not a mean girl,” when I know that the description was probably justified? 

Instead I managed to say, “I’m sorry if she was being mean,” as I quickly got up to go speak to my daughter. Later, at home, when broaching the subject of kindness (for the millionth time), my daughter really had no explanation for her behavior. 

Hearing her referred to as “the mean girl” was devastating.

“She’ll learn eventually,” my husband said. “At some point she’ll realize that kids won’t want to be around her if she acts like that.”

Maybe so. But in the meantime, it’s hard to watch these interactions happen. It’s hard to watch the judging glances from other parents when my child is exerting her strong willed-ness. It’s hard not to question what else I could be doing to produce a happy, pleasant little girl. 

Because what I know – but others don’t see – is that her actions do not go without consequences. I’m not a pushover parent who doesn’t address unacceptable behavior. I’ve tried so many approaches, I’m about ready to wave the white flag.

Sometimes discipline and consequences aren’t enough for some kids. Sometimes personality traits and temperaments are a deeply ingrained part of what makes a kid unique – whether they’re desirable qualities or not. 

Another thing many outsiders don’t see is that her feisty, challenging side is paired equally with a super sweet side. One that does listen to rules, is amenable to instruction, and loves her friends and sister deeply. I wish that side was present all the time, but it’s not. I wish she’d only act out at home, rather than in public, but that isn’t realistic. 

I pray that my daughter won’t be “the mean girl” her whole life. I pray that she’ll outgrow her strong-willed nature, although I know that’s unlikely. These characteristics will be with her for life, and I pray she will learn how to morph them into positive qualities.

I refuse to give up on my girl. So, I’ll keep doing what moms do: teaching, guiding, loving. I’ll remember the next time I hear or see a not-so-nice kid, that’s just one snapshot of who that child is.  And behind that child, is a parent who is probably doing her very best. 

When Dreams Take a Backseat to Motherhood

Sometimes we realize the dreams we once had are a less full version of the reality that’s played out in front of us.

I glance in my crooked rear-view mirror and see two little blonde heads poking up over the back of their rear-facing car seats. It’s quiet – a sacred and rare moment of peace allowing me to turn up the volume on my thoughts.

My brain shifts to autopilot as I make the all-too familiar drive to Costco. My body is driving the car, but my dreams are carrying me into the clouds for a welcome bird’s eye view.

I’m turning thirty this year. I always said that I’d be pregnant by thirty, and yet here I am with two babies under two, and the small seed of desire for three.

Almost three years ago I came out of the bathroom wielding a stick with two distinctive pink lines and a face that paled even lighter than my already fair skin. I couldn’t picture the life I’m living right now. I couldn’t see two sweet heads in the backseat, tossing cheerios and tearing through books during our daily commutes.

I saw a job that I loved slipping through my fingers. I saw the chance for a successful career fading before my eyes. I saw a brilliant business idea dissipate, never to be attempted. I saw the ten pounds that I had gained during my first year of marriage snicker, and jeer, and settle in for the long haul.

I didn’t see my dreams being realized, I saw my dreams slipping away as I faced an unplanned, too-soon pregnancy that was quickly becoming a road block in the way of me meeting my goals.

My plans. My body. My marriage. My life.

My selfishness was replaced with joy as a screaming, wet little body was laid across my chest. All of my previous doubts and regrets were crowded out by numbers of wet diapers and minutes nursed on each side. Days turned to nights, and nights felt like days, as I worked hard to fulfill this new and strange role.

I was happy. I was full. I was content being a mommy and running this race. And just when I got the hang of it, when she was sleeping longer stretches, when my milk supply had evened out, when I was almost down to pre-baby weight, when I could even catch my breath, it happened again.

Two pink lines. Shock at how soon. She’s only four months. My body was about to be mine again. My part-time job was just picking up. Now what?

I plodded and pleaded with God to give me the strength for what I was about to endure. Two babies in two years with only four months of reprieve between birthing one, carrying the other, nursing one, nursing the other.

I forgot about those wisps of a dream that felt like they were being carried away on the clouds. But now, riding in my car with a moment of quiet, I remember. I remember what I wanted, what I had been working for before two beautiful blessings entered my world.

And right there next to what could have been, I see what is.

I see me in a dark corner of the spare bedroom, rocking and swaying and snuggling a tiny one close. My hair is greasy and pulled back loosely to prevent little fingers from getting all wrapped up and tangled tight. My shirt is bunched up around my soft middle, still holding onto memories of carrying her close in the womb. It’s dark though, so I don’t mind, and I don’t bother pulling it down. My eyes are closed, dreaming of sweet sleep. My lips are pursed, humming a hymn that provides her with a soothing lullaby, and me with the precious truths that I need to hear so badly. “Come thou fount of every blessing.”

I see me in the shower, alone for a few stolen moments. Hot water streams down to soothe my aching back, and tears stream down my cheeks in an attempt to comfort my aching soul. Where has my time gone and will I ever get it back? When will I feel like myself again? When will these lumps smooth out and firm? When will my confidence return?

Being a mom is so hard and I am so tired.

I see me cleaning the kitchen after nap-time. The kids play contentedly in the room to my right and soft, subtle music streams from my phone plugged in on the countertop. These are the witching hours and they take a special touch to tame. I see myself close my eyes and count to three looking at the load of dirty dishes in front of me, the laundry piled up behind me.

I see little hands grabbing my legs, and an eager head poking through to look up at me with big, blue eyes. I see my stress melt away when confronted with the delight of his smile.

These images are fierce competition to the memories I have of old desires. They’re so vivid that they have replaced many of the dreams I once had, and I don’t regret it. It’s not that I’ve lost what I once was, but I have. For now, at least.

Right now, I won’t be the CEO of the next big thing. Right now, I won’t have the cleanest house or the fittest body. Right now, I may not have dinner on the table every night, and I may not be able to jump for that promotion. Right now, I feel like I’ve missed some chances that I’ll never get back.

But maybe they weren’t my chances to take. Maybe those memories weren’t mine to create. Maybe there was something better in store for me, and I look through that rear-view mirror into my backseat and I think that there was.

In all of this mothering and making pancakes and dancing in the living room, stories are forming in my heart, and in theirs. I write down as many as I can. Someday I’ll have the time to do them all justice.

I’m not ungrateful when I drift away like this, I’m nostalgic – remembering the old me, taking care with the old dreams, setting the ones worth keeping aside. I reserve these moments of quiet to revive the dreams that will have to wait for another day.

I look in my rearview mirror and see two little blonde heads, and think that it’s lovely. I know that it’s lovely. And I know this is a season that will soon pass. Right now, I’m here doing this – driving to the store with a full backseat, and an even fuller heart.

Setting Responsibilites Aside to Savor a Snuggle

Taking a break from the routine to slow down and appreciate the soft, quiet moments is often the best use of time in these short years.

“Mommy? Mommy?” my daughter calls from the top of the stairs.

The dishes are washed and the last bits of lunch are scraped off the floor. I read a handful of stories, made sure Anna used the bathroom, and changed Henry’s third dirty diaper of the day. Both kiddos are now in their separate rooms supposedly settling down for nap. The plush brown recliner welcomes me for a brief respite as I pull out my laptop in order to work on my writing. 

“Mommy!” Anna repeats. This time she yells so I will be sure to hear her. 

I sigh as I put down the computer and walk over to the steps. I have a feeling my alone time this afternoon will be cut short as I listen to Anna’s latest reasoning for not taking a nap. I try hard to make simultaneous naps happen so I can get some time to myself during the day. Usually this goes off without a hitch; however, Anna is getting older and a mid-day nap isn’t as necessary as it was a few months ago. 

I flashback to her early baby days, when it was just the two of us in the daytime. The only certain thing in our schedule was making sure she ate every three hours. Anna and I spent countless hours on the floor, her on the play mat and me on my belly next to her. 

She would easily doze off and I would fold laundry or take a nap with her.  So often, though, we found ourselves in my favorite chair – her small body clothed in a sleeper, a book open on my lap, both of us warm under a red blanket. I read while she slept feeling slightly guilty I wasn’t doing some type of chore but knowing that snuggling with her was more important. 

Where has that lady gone, the one so willing to just be with her child? A woman who counted her blessings with each breath her daughter took? She was so content to let other things wait in order to watch her baby discover the world.   

That carefree person I used to be has gradually disappeared over the years. Going from one child to two is no joke; the messes are bigger, the squabbles intense, and there is always some type of meal or snack to be made. I’m allowing household responsibilities to override my willingness to have fun and just be with my children. 

I should be on the floor more often pushing Henry on his giant ride-on bulldozer. I ought to set aside time to delve into Anna’s imaginary world and pretend with her. Slathering on the sunscreen and heading to the pool should be a priority. Instead I find myself just barely holding on until my husband gets home. I long for adult conversation and someone to talk to who is taller than three feet. 

And this respite called naptime? It is gold. 

What I need to do every now and then is take a step back. My household chores are important but perhaps I’m putting more pressure on myself than necessary. I can allow those dishes to wait, push myself to break out of my routine and expectations for the day and just see what happens. Being on a schedule is good for my family but I’m letting it consume my life by dictating what comes next just because it’s what I am used to. 

Perhaps breaking free of the structure will give me more snuggle time with Anna. Or maybe I will catch Henry showing off his brilliant and appropriate use of the phrase “oh no!” Maybe I will throw caution to the wind and take the two of them to the pool by myself even if it means wrestling a wiggly toddler into his car seat to get there. 

Anna is now standing at the top of the steps waiting for me. “Mommy, can I come downstairs?”

I ponder her question for a minute. I know she’s tired, she had a busy weekend and got to bed late last night. I look at her with a new appreciation – here is a little lady who is almost four. She’s gaining a sense of independence and not quite as receptive to hugs and snuggles as she was a year ago.  Maybe…maybe today I can shut off my computer and snuggle with her in our favorite chair. 

“Sure, Anna. Come on down,” I tell her.

She looks at me with wide eyes; I hardly ever relent to her pleas to get out of nap. She gives me a hesitant smile and begins to tip-toe down our steep stairs. I scoop her up when she gets within reach and carry her into the living room. I pull our current favorite blanket, the fleece one with the colorful owls, over our bodies and open a book. Anna relaxes in my arms, her head tucked under my chin and her growing limbs splayed in my lap. 

She reaches to turn the pages in my book and I slowly wrap my hand around hers and bring it back to her lap. Her breathing slows and becomes steady, a sure sign she has fallen asleep. I pause and look up from the pages of my book to marvel at how long her legs are. Wasn’t it just yesterday her whole body could fit in my one arm? I inhale the scent of her blonde hair and remember a time when that sweet little head was bald. In this moment, I appreciate what a gift I’ve been given in making myself take a break from the routine. 

Remember When You Said You’d Never Have Kids?

A humorous and heartfelt essay exploring the many steps along the well-trod path to becoming a mother, from pregnancy to college graduation and beyond.

First, swear you’ll never be one, laugh drunkenly, and swig your fourth glass of wine.

Meet the love of your life, marry, and discuss how many children you’re going to have, jokingly. Laugh heartily and live your glorious newlywed life. Sleep in on weekends, make sweet love, and go for brunch at your favorite hangout.

Watch your friends get married, cheer them on at their weddings; do not talk about whether you’re going to have children.

Watch your friends make sweet, creative pregnancy announcements on Facebook. Feel a twinge.

Discuss vaguely “not trying NOT to get pregnant but not trying to get pregnant on purpose” with your husband.

Get pregnant.

Freak out.

Achieve happiness.

Pregnancy announcement. Puke. Feel like a noodle for most of the first trimester. Perk up and start planning the nursery and buying all the baby things. Wish for week 40 to just come already.

Throw your birth plan out the window. Give birth. Breastfeed. Or not. As long as the baby is fed.

They send you home with no instructions? WHAT?

Survive the first month. Feel out of depth and slightly smelly. Forget what real clothes look like. Marvel at your baby. Smell his hair and take a million photos of his tiny feet. Count your blessings. Post all those photos on Facebook and finally understand why people overshare. (Because you can’t keep all that cuteness to yourself. What evil person doesn’t like babies anyway?)

The tiny bundle you gave life to starts to gurgle, smile, laugh, roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, say “mama.” Your heart swells with each milestone and tears threaten when you put away yet another outgrown outfit. Is this what it’s going to be like from now on?

Learn all about sleep training, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, babywearing, strollers, cribs, car seats, bottles, sippy cups.

Feel confused, amazed, and befuddled by the many “parenting theories” – helicopter, tiger, submarine, walrus (OK, I made that up) and wonder if “fly by the seat of my pants” is a parenting style.

Join mommy groups online and in real life with trepidation. You are all at once overwhelmed and underwhelmed. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” comes to mind. Commiserating over a cup of tea (or wine, whatever works for you!) makes it all feel better.

Swim in a sea of doubt, always wondering if you’re doing the right thing. You read books and articles purporting one thing or another and agree with all of them – then think it’s all a crapshoot.

Give your child the iPad so you can get some work done (or just for some alone time in the bathroom). Then you read something that tells you that you suck because you use electronics as a “babysitter.”

Read something else that says that technology is inevitable, so you may as well allow it but with a huge dollop of control.

You do this, and it’s wrong. You do that, and it’s wrong. You yell. You cry. You hug. You cuddle. You are who they want when they have a boo-boo. You are the one they yell “I hate you!” to.

You cry and smile when you send them off to preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, the world. You take first-day photos, comb their hair carefully for school picture days, and despair at their messy rooms.

You pack lunches, glue your fingers together, comb glitter out of your hair for days on end, sign school papers, help with homework (and struggle with it), buy arts and crafts supplies at the last-minute to make that damn volcano for the science project, prepare countless crockpot meals (half of which no one eats), feed them pizza anyway, and wonder if they will remember the good times you had baking sugar cookies together.

You look at your body and wonder what the heck happened to it. You joke with your friends that motherhood is the only thing that shrinks your boobs and increases your shoe size. You secretly wish your stomach didn’t look like a wrinkly pug. You write essays about body image. You work out like a fiend, eat clean and lose 20 pounds, then give yourself permission to eat cake on weekends.

From the first day you became a mother, you walk the path so many before you have taken. Yet, it is still a mystery, a glimmery, foggy path. You stumble and fall, pick yourself up and go on. Sometimes, you stop, sit down, put your head in your hands and wonder how you came to this place. You don’t know if you’re doing anything right. You go on anyway. Because that’s how you become a mother – day by day, struggle by struggle, triumph by triumph: giving tiny piece by tiny piece of yourself to your children, and watch love expand.

Why I Won’t Force My Baby to Have Just One Last Bite

With the intention of raising kids who have a healthy relationship with food, it may be in their best interest not to force that last bite.

When my eight-month old son is full, he arches his back and turns his head to the side, with his arms rising up by his ears. Across the highchair tray, I briefly register this cue but hardly pause, instead continuing to scoop up another spoonful of baby food, inch it close to his mouth and, cajoling, say, “Ok, just one last bite.”

Either because he’s such a mellow baby or because he’s now been conditioned (or a combination of the two), he always accepts the last bite. I feel triumphant.

However, the last time this happened, I actually paused. In an effort to be mindful of my parenting practices I took a moment to think through the pedagogy of what I was doing. Offering “just one last bite” felt like the right thing to do. It’s what I’ve seen done countless times, and perhaps in the recesses of my mind, was how I remembered being fed as a baby.

But while it may have felt right for me as the mother, I considered how it felt for my son. Here’s a baby simply responding to the self-regulation mechanisms in his brain, signaling to him that he’s full. He communicates this information to me in the only way he can and, from his point of view, I don’t listen. Instead, I force him to ignore what his body’s telling him and, instead, reward him with a smile for doing so.

What do I gain from forcing “just one last bite?” Is one more spoonful of nutrition really going to make a difference on his growth chart? A more important question might be, what do I risk from forcing just one last bite?

As reported in the New York Times, “The overwhelming majority of babies are lean at birth, but by the time they reach kindergarten, many have acquired excess body fat that sets the stage for a lifelong weight problem.”

If we’re being frank, it’s no stretch to say that, by adulthood, the majority of us have messed up relationships with food. We are largely emotional eaters, who’ve pretty much lost the concept of feeling full. When we do push back from the table, groaning that we are “soooo full,” we are usually far past the real point where our bodies actually felt full.

The signals from the brain telling us that we’ve had as much as we need have grown so quiet, we don’t even notice them anymore. Instead, we continue to eat until other signals from the brain start firing off, such as, “I’m so full my stomach hurts,” and “I’m so full I need to lie down.”

How far back does this unhealthy relationship with food begin? Is that “just one last bite” we push on to babies really as innocent as it seems? Sadly, the list of awarenesses that children have, and adults have lost, is very long. The awareness of listening to their bodies when it comes to hunger and feeling full is one that we, as adults, pay a steep price for having lost.

Adults spend huge amounts of time, money, and energy on arbitrary weight loss goals, suffer from a slew of medical ailments related to our overeating, and feel the emotional pain of being dissatisfied with our appearances.

The problem is worse in certain cultures, such as my own South Asian culture, in which “food-pushing” is practically a national pastime. At family gatherings, you can be holding a full plate of food and still be pushed to “take more” by any given relative. This insistence on eating more, even after one has already eaten, begins as soon as an infant starts solids.

I can hear parents of finicky toddlers desperately rebuke that they need to force “just one last bite” because their child is at a stage where they spend more time refusing food than eating it. It’s a terribly stressful situation parents can find themselves in, desperately concerned that their child is not receiving adequate nutrition. It is, however, not the scenario I am referring to in this piece.

I’m talking about when a child has been adequately fed, received the necessary nutrition, and is now signaling that they are full. This is the point where the desire of the parent to feed “just one last bite” is fueled less by a concern for the child’s nutritional intake, and more by parental ego.

It feels good to scrape that last bit of baby food from the bowl. It feels good to place an empty jar in the recycling bin. However, I argue we forsake this mildly selfish good feeling and instead trust our children. When we trust our children to listen to their own bodies, we allow them to develop and trust their own body awareness. They trust that these signals from their brains are real and important. And we can build this trust from the moment they’re born. It should be part of our job as parents to encourage, foster, and nurture this trust.

It will only serve our children well.

I Need to Stop Saying “I’m Sorry”

Women, far more often than men, apologize reflexively. As mothers, that lifelong habit intertwines with the way we parent.

I hear the words tumble out of my mouth, yet again, as my 21-month-old whacks a stranger’s child on the back with a wooden mallet. I’m sorry.

I understand that it’s developmentally normal for toddlers to communicate this way, that frustration gets translated as aggression, but that doesn’t stop me from apologizing.

These days, I mostly initiate conversation with parents in one of two ways. I either come across as a state fair barker enthusiastically guessing age  – “How old is your daughter, two?” – or I’m a hovering apologist: “I’m so sorry, we’re still working on sharing.” This “we” is especially troubling, as it affirms that any barrier between myself and my child is illusory.

Apologizing has always been second nature to me, but not until I had Miles did my impulse to beg pardon become so apparent, like invisible ink made visible through heat. As he gallops around in public, my face flushes. I start to sweat. I run the gamut of “What ifs.” What if he smacks that baby with his shoe? What if he pelts that cashier with half-chewed apple skin?

My husband Dan and I model acceptable behaviors for Miles, but anyone with a toddler knows that empathy is acquired, that it must be gradually learned, and that it takes years before a child will comprehend the meaning of apology.

To discourage him from pulling down my shirt and groping me in public, we’ve taught Miles how to pause and say, “Please” (peas!), but he only understands this word as an annoying precursor to nursing.

If Miles acts like an animal, then I’m the zookeeper who forgot to lock up. I chase after him, a frazzled shadow, all the while dressing him in outfits that underscore his daring. His emblems are fire trucks and monsters. He charges forth in shirts that says things like “Big Deal” and “Feed Me Or No One Sleeps!” — the language of imperative. He wears superhero capes. One grandparent mailed him a tee that read, “Sorry, I’m not listening.” This is joke mea culpa, cutesy defiance. It serves to make my coffee-fueled apologies look all the more desperate.

I question if my panicked assumption of responsibility is gendered. At the Sciencenter, at the gym, I notice how few dads apologize. An oft-quoted 2010 study published in Psychological Science reveals that women say “I’m sorry” more than men, but not because men are adverse to admitting fault. Women simply have a lower threshold when it comes to what constitutes wrongdoing. In my case, this lower threshold is linked to an empathy that borders on problematic.

I remember my mid-20s, lying in bed with a boyfriend who also had a long-term partner. I was part of his great experiment in polyamory. I listened to him drone on about the logistical difficulty in scheduling dates while Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” played in the background. I took a look at his desk planner and offered up, “I’m sorry, this must be so hard for you.” 

I sometimes align with another to the detriment of my own needs.

But motherhood has also undone some of my long-held assumptions about apology and gender. I observe women all the time who don’t helicopter. They never offer an exasperated I’m sorry! when their child co-opts a ball. They idly converse by the touch tank or daydream apart from the trampoline.

For these women, motherhood has granted them the confidence to disengage. They aren’t so much forsaking responsibility as encouraging independent play. They seem to understand that their kids are autonomous beings, that not every behavioral stage needs to be forgiven.

Sorry derives from a Proto-Germanic root word meaning painful, and this etymology reminds me that there are echoes of physical discomfort in I’m sorry, that apology isn’t divorced from the body.

I adjunct at a small liberal arts college in Upstate New York (I apologized to the Dean when trying to negotiate a more permanent, higher paying contract), and recently, one of my female students told me the story of walking into an elevator and getting angry looks from two men. This student is tall. Her fellow riders were short. After a few seconds of hostile silence, she found herself saying sorry. When she relayed this to me, it occurred to me just how often my own apologies are about the body: both my distrust in my own and the wild sureness of my son’s. 

I had three miscarriages before Miles. After the third, when they were officially classified as recurrent, Dan and I underwent a battery of tests to determine the underlying cause. It became apparent very quickly that I was to blame — of course, those words were never uttered by Dan or any physician, but when my husband’s tests came back fine, I assumed the burden of guilt.

I disparaged my own body. I submitted to ultrasounds to determine the size and slant of my uterus. I endured countless blood draws in hopes of discovering a genetic abnormality, or a clotting disorder, or a hormone deficiency. 

In the end, I was given the same diagnosis as over one half of women with recurrent pregnancy loss: unexplained. I repeated I’m sorry to anyone who would listen. I think about the definition of sore: physically painful or sensitive, like a wound.

Thanks to a cocktail of fertility drugs, I was eventually able to carry a child to term. Now I see myself not reflected in, but refracted by, my son. This has been one of the greatest gifts and stressors of parenthood. The level of attentiveness that Miles requires makes it impossible not to be fully present, to realize my own reactions in real time. I’m alert to the idea that maybe I apologize for my son because he was so hard to come by, that I would do anything to usher him through this harsh world and absorb even the pain of censure, and that yes, he still feels like an extension of my body, my vulnerability. 

This is not like the apology I once gave a waiter as I sent back a burger with a twist tie cooked into it, or the effete acquittal I mustered while Billie Holiday crooned, “Skip that lipstick, don’t explain.”

Still: I crave balance. I want to teach my son empathy, the graciousness inherent in sincere apology, without compromising my sense of self. What would those words sound like?

If My Son’s ADHD Were a Super Power

If my son’s ADHD were a super power, it would be a hero’s cape, not a red flag.

If my son’s ADHD were a super power, it would be a hero’s cape, not a red flag.

He’d be the youngest winner of American Ninja Warrior. Akbar would say things like, “Look at those six-year-old muscles! I have never seen anything like it! We’re going to call the Pom Wonderful Crazy Healthy Run of the Night early because THIS. IS. IT!!!!” 

Running around as much as possible would be an asset. Being unafraid to take risks and being unafraid to fail would be seen not as impulsivity, but bravery and confidence. He’s got persistence in spades, if only he would use his powers for good.

He’d be the first kid to win BattleBots with a bot constructed entirely from Lego pieces and Tinker Toys. He’d develop the strongest, most resilient glue in his little plastic beakers and test tubes. No matter what chopping, burning, sawing, or battering his bot might take, those insults would bounce off as though they were nothing. 

He’d find a way to coat himself with a little of that glue magic, too. A child with ADHD could always use some extra protection. Because he has such a big heart, he would share his magic glue with friends and enemies alike. No one craves friendship like a child whose actions are so frequently misunderstood. 

If my son’s ADHD were a super power, he’d cure cancer with the potions he concocted in his science lab. No experiment would be too silly, no ingredient too irrelevant. Every component added to the potion would have an equal chance at succeeding, and his willingness to try anything would be a window held open by everyone around him. 

His creativity would never be limited by the need to be realistic or to follow in someone else’s path. His creativity would never be interpreted as malicious or as anything other than exceptional curiosity.

He’d be the first American to become the most popular British Minecraft YouTuber. Unbound by the laws of gravity and common sense, his buildings would soar as high as his imagination.  A fall from the top would be cushioned with a series of safety nets stationed right next to ladders, where they could resume their ascent as soon as they were ready.

The complex worlds he created in Minecraft would inspire him to go to engineering school, where he’d become the youngest MIT graduate. His single-minded focus on mathematics, agriculture, and multidimensional design would inspire him to build the world’s largest floating self-contained biosphere. Thousands would be built all over the world, solving the problem of what to do with all of the people after Earth has been destroyed. 

He’d also solve the problem of how to keep people from destroying the biosphere, once there. His obsession with fairness and equality would lead him to become a master negotiator.  He would be able to encourage the world to start with a clean slate and new laws based on equal rights for everyone (even cats).

If my son’s ADHD were a super power, think of all of the amazing things he could do:

He could get on the bus.

He could make it through a day of school.

He could eat dinner at the table.

He could wash his hair without tears.

He could fall asleep at bedtime.

He could feel good about himself.

He could accept love.

If my son’s ADHD were a super power, I wouldn’t love him any more than I do right now, when it isn’t.