Life as a Real Mom: How Do You Do It?

A couple of weeks ago my husband Woody and I had the great joy of taking care of our two grandsons, Soren (4 ½) and Nils (14 mos) for a week while their parents were taking kids to Young Life camp.  It was a great refresher course in parenting.  We had a blast.  Really—it was so much fun!

I wish I could tell you more, but I have to be honest here: I had anticipated coming home with a notebook full (or at least a head full) of hilarious comments and antics and incidents with which I could entertain blog readers.  I thought this to be a realistic expectation.  Soren frequently says absolutely hilarious things.  He has a vivid imagination, a memory that is positively scary, and he is very verbal.  Nils is a clown.  He loves to get you laughing, and he mimics everything he sees his big brother do, which leads to some pretty funny entertainment.

But here’s the glitch.  Life moved too fast for me that entire week.  I never got to write anything down.  Not even a list for each day (my usual practice)—and certainly not witty sayings or doings in the small journal I had (how hilarious!) brought.  Both my daytimer and my journal are completely blank for that week.  Most of the time I think my mind was, too!

We did all kinds of fun things: we went to playgrounds; visited a children’s museum;  played pirates in the basement (Woody and Soren did, anyway—I was a little worried about Nils around the pirate sword); went out to lunch one day and out on another day for ice cream; even had a visit from a friend who surprised the boys with a new scooter for Soren and a push-trike for Nils.  And yes—we made a visit or two to the pediatrician.  I told you this was a refresher course on real-life parenting.  How could it not involve middle-of-the-night fevers and unexplained crying?

But here’s the thing: I had expected a break in the action now and then.  A time to reflect a bit.  Take a deep breath.  Write down a few of the wonderful things my grandsons did—and there were many!  But all I did was take a nap when they napped—and collapse on the couch after they went to bed.  Even though we were two-on-two (two adults there full-time, two kids), Woody and I pretty much just sat side by side and stared into space every evening.

So here’s my question for the week.  How do you keep your life balanced during these busy busy years?  Do you find time to do anything—anything at all—beyond the absolute necessities of each day?  If so, what’s your secret?

Don’t get me wrong: What you’re doing each day for and with your kids is huge—the best job in the world.  Feeding, rocking, changing, bathing, and playing with your kids is a huge accomplishment in itself.  In fact, if you wrote it all down on a “To Do” list, you’d be pretty impressed. (As recommended on my friend Jill Savage’s blog post the other day—great idea!)  I loved getting to do all that again.

But I seem to remember that when I had three pre-schoolers, I did manage—at least now and then—to read a book, complete my Bible Study lesson (some weeks), and find a few words left for my husband (on a good day) when he came home late at night.  I’m trying to remember: How did I do it?

Can you remind me?  I know many of your days feel like sheer survival.  But I also know some of you actually do read books, find time for personal devotions, blog, facebook with friends—at least now and then.  I even know some of you who are crafty and actually make things after your kids go to bed (quite beyond me even now, I must admit)!

So I’d love to hear from you.  What tips can you share about how you find time to create balance even in the midst of your mom-life?  Or maybe how you come to peace about not doing that right now!

Don’t forget: We’ll have a giveaway for two tickets to the .MOM conference in September from all of those who comment here by Thursday noon, July 28.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Memo from Monitor Land

Recently I had the gift of taking care of Gabriella, my 2 ½-year-old granddaughter, for four wonderful days.  “Gigi” (her nickname) and her mommy (our daughter Erika) were visiting us from Ireland for several weeks, and Erika had gone off to enjoy a girlfriend weekend with college friends.

Gigi and I had a ball.  We put puzzles together, built with blocks, played “taking care of baby brother”  (due to arrive in her house late summer), danced in crazy hats to silly kids’ songs, had teddy bear tea parties, went to the library and the beach and the playground—and savored ice cream treats.  It was “Nana heaven.”

It was a fresh look at  “life in monitor land.”  Believe it or not, our own kids were raised without monitors.  They just weren’t much in use at the time.  But in this Nana-season of my life, I have to say I love monitors!

Admittedly they have a downside.  I don’t sleep as well with a monitor on my dresser. There may actually be times when moms on duty 24/7 with young children would do well to turn them off.  When a child is settling into naptime, Mom might need a quiet break more then she needs to listen to every bit of jabbering and singing that goes on before sleep comes.

But it’s different with nanas.  Nanas love “listening in.”  It’s amazing how much you can learn about what goes on in a two-year-old’s mind.  Here are a few random things I learned from listening to the monitor:

  • Kids often review their day as they go to sleep—or even in the middle of the night!  “Go in car with Nana….Run run run in water….Play in sand at beach….Have tea party with Teddy Bear.”  Then at 4 am, a brief reprise: “Chips [what they call french fries in Ireland] . . . choo choo . . . come home with NanaFarfar” [her word for her grandfather is the Swedish “farfar,” and Gigi runs our names together—kind of a nice reminder of two-become-one].  And then at 5 am: “Gigi taking good long nap!”

  • Kids love to interact with stuffed animal friends: “Hi-ya, dolphin!”  Hi-ya, Penguin!  Hi-ya, Teddy!”  She even “read” several complete books to her bed-buddies.
  • Kids work out issues as they talk them through.  “I take good nap . . . Bye bye, people . . . Mommy right back.”   Another time: “Mommy Daddy gone . . . Gigi play with NanaFarfar.”

  • Kids cement their learning through review.  I remember hearing (via the monitor) our grandson Bengt practicing his counting.  Gigi would sing through her ABC song.  And one night I heard her reviewing—in rhythmic chant—the main characters in a book about the Lion King: “Simba, Nala, Scar, Zazu, Mufasa . . .” She especially loved the sound of that last one!
  • Kids memorize easily and even internalize what you sing to them.  Several times I heard Gigi singing through the words of a song Erika often sings to her as she puts her to bed.  It’s a song I used to sing to Erika: “Peace” from The Music Machine.  I love the refrain: “Peace, peace, I think I understand/Peace, peace is holding Jesus’ hand.”  Not a bad way to drift off to sleep—for children or adults!

If you ever wonder what your kids are taking in during the day, try listening in to the monitor.  They may be absorbing a lot more than you think!

Lessons Learned from Little Ones

Do you learn a lot from your kids?  I know I did.  And now I’m learning just as much—or more!—from my grandchildren.   Here are two of the latest examples:

“You’re Mrs. Beaver.  You make the decisions.” That’s what my 4-year-old grandson told me when we were “playing Narnia” last week.  Soren’s parents had been reading him one chapter each night from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.  The child was completely entranced by the story.  While I was visiting them, his favorite game was “Let’s play Narnia,” and we each had assigned character parts.   We were to call each other by our Narnia names—even his little 1-year-old brother whom he had named, interestingly, Aslan.

One morning when Soren (Peter) and I were playing in the basement, his “Kangaroo Climber” was serving as the beaver den.  Trying to figure out what toys (plastic food, etc) we could use to serve “breakfast,” I asked him, “Peter, what do you think we should have for breakfast?”  That’s when I got his response: “Well, you’re Mrs. Beaver. You make the decisions.”

Hmmm…food for thought (no pun intended!).  I wonder if that’s not what a lot of kids are thinking when struggling parents may be being having difficulty “being the parent.”  Kids need to know who’s in charge, don’t they?  Actually, they instinctively know who’s supposed to be in charge.   All the more reason to step up and, as we say at Mom to Mom, “be the parent”!

“Time out!  Time out!  Time out!” This story came to me from “Gigi,” the grandmother with whom I share grandchildren Bengt (5) and Hannah (21 months).   Once when she was visiting and watching the kids, Hannah ventured over to grab a lamp cord she wasn’t supposed to touch.  “No, Hannah, you can’t touch that,” reminded her big brother.  Looking him straight in the eye, she turned around and grabbed hold of the cord, exclaiming in her powerful (I’m not kidding!) voice: “MINE!!!!”  Enter Gigi.  As her grandmother approached the scene of the crime, Hannah immediately began shouting “Time out, time out, time out,” and took herself right over to the time-out chair.   Her mom tells me she doesn’t always do that, but it was an instructive moment.

And sometimes we wonder if they really “get it” when we tell them no, or follow through with discipline.   Think again!  As I was often reminded as a mom, our kids are always smarter than we are!

A Look at Life from a 19-month-old’s Perspective

For the past month, Woody and I have had the great joy of having a house full of family.  Since our kids and grandkids all live far from us, this is a gift beyond words.  It’s also been a great refresher course on life with kids—and life through the eyes of a toddler. For a few brief days—wonderful, joyfully chaotic days—we had all five grandkids here, ages four months to four-and-a half years.  But for a whole month (yay!) we’ve had Gabriella (aka Gigi) and her mom, our daughter Erika, with us from Dublin, Ireland, with Richie (Erika’s husband and Gigi’s dad) here for two weeks.

Erika and I would like to share a few “hot tips” I’ve picked up along the way from life with Gigi.  We moms can learn a lot from a 19-month-old!

Gigi eating cheerios in her high chair

Gig pushing a child-size shopping cart.

Gigi standing in the washing machine!

Gigi driving a toddler car.

Gigi at the piano.

Gigi in her ballet outfit.

Gigi watches her grandfather ("Farfar") vacuum the house.

Gigi waters a planter in front of the house.

Gigi, Erika, and Linda fill the kiddie pool.

Gigi grins as she sits on a poolside chair.

Gigi wearing her mom's sunglasses.

Richie showing Gigi various outfits for her to choose from.

Richie lifting Gigi high up in the air at the playground.

Linda and grandkids eating lunch together poolside.

Gigi on a jet ski nestled in her dad's lap.

Gigi at the petting zoo.

Erika and Gigi sitting on the dock.

Linda and Woody and kids and grandkids posing in the park.

Gigi sitting with her cousin Bengt.

Gigi with her cousin Hannah.

Gigi and her parents in front of house, flying an American flag.

Gigi with Linda and Woody.

Ten Days in Toddler Land

Woody and I have just returned from ten days in another world—the world of a 19-month-old. For one wonderful week we had our grandson Soren to ourselves. And for a few days on either side of that, we shared him with his parents Bjorn and Abby, before and after their one-week trip to Saranac Camp in New York with their Young Life kids.

It was a glorious week. It was an exhausting week. And it was an eye-opening week. It’s been a lo-o-ng time since we parented a toddler!

In a sense, I thought of it as a refresher course on what the lives of so many of you moms are like. Except that it was just a week. And, with both Woody and me there, we were two-on-one, while that is not the case for most of you on a 24/7 basis. It certainly was not that way for me when I was raising toddlers—Woody was hardly home full-time to help me out! And last week we had one child to care for, while many of you have more than one preschooler to keep track of.

Nevertheless, I learned (or more accurately, re-learned) a lot! A few random observations from life in toddlerland:

  • There’s nothing like a toddler’s smile in the morning. And when they reach out their pudgy little arms to hug you and “pat Nana,” you want to do this forever!
  • Every day is an adventure. You never know what exciting things you might see just outside your window (like a neighbor organizing a yard sale which fills the driveway with fascinating junk) or on a stroller ride (the world is FULL of motorcycles, fire engines, and horsies when you’re looking for them).
  • Eating is also an adventure. Not only because you never know where food that starts on your spoon may end up. But also because, if you’re Soren, blueberries and avocados and sweet peppers of all colors are like M&M’s—you just can’t get enough of them! (I know—hard to believe: a toddler who actually loves healthy food! What is Abby’s secret?)
  • Naps are a little bit of heaven—especially for moms of toddlers (and even more especially for grandparents of toddlers!) They are definitely not to be missed! Take full advantage of them.
  • If you’re taking care of a not-quite-20-month-old, don’t plan to do anything else in your life. This is a full-time job! Yes, they take naps (I HOPE yours do!) and go to bed early. But you also will need to take naps and go to bed early. So do not plan on writing the Great American Novel (or even a blog, or coherent emails) while they’re sleeping. You need to be sleeping, too!
  • A day at the beach is different when you go with a toddler. Your beach chair is actually only a place to put things on to keep them off the sand—not a place where you actually sit (although your toddler may sit in it for 3-second intervals now and then) Sand is a wonderful thing—not only for digging and dumping and making crab and turtle shapes, but also as a snack additive: everything tastes better with a little sand in it. Oh—and one other thing: a “day” at the beach is more likely to be 90 minutes than several hours—especially if you value naps (see earlier observation).

  • There is nothing—absolutely nothing—more fun than eating an ice cream cone. Especially on a hot day at a New Hampshire farm where they also raise goats (aka “gokes”) which you can watch while dribbling your ice cream cone down your shirt. This is living!
  • Correction: there is something more fun than eating an ice cream cone. It’s watching your child (or grandchild) eat one for the first time. (Although I do highly recommend eating one yourself while you watch.)
I could ramble on and on (after all, I am a grandmother talking about her grandchild). But I have to tell you that even writing this is making my severe “Soren-withdrawal” worse. So I have to move on to other things—like figuring out how I can get Woody’s job moved to New Hampshire, or North Carolina (where Bengt lives) or Ireland (where our granddaughter-to-be lives).

But I do want all of you moms out there to know that I have a renewed appreciation for what you do every day. Not just a week at a time. And not with just one kid. And not with a fellow-caregiver at your side. I always knew you were heroes. I just know better now how exhausting being a hero can be.

And, how wonderful.

The bright eyes and big smiles. The stream of new words. The songs that go through your head even when they’re sleeping (I can’t get the “Fire Truck” song out of my head!) And, oh, those hugs…

Go hug one of your kids for me, will you?

And BTW, thanks to all of you who wrote in or have prayed for our “big kid” in Iraq. I am deeply grateful. He’s due home pretty soon. Stay tuned—and keep praying, please!