Sunday, January 24, 2016

Parenting Explained in 5 Simple Graphs

I pride myself on being well-prepared for new experiences. Whenever we travel, for example, I giddily spend months planning the optimal itinerary, which I then type up in a color-coded daily schedule making sure to ignore all the eyerolls from my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband.

 Naturally, when I was expecting our first child, I reasoned that if a successful vacation simply depends on adequate forethought and research, shouldn't childrearing follow suit?

At around 8 months pregnant, after memorizing each page of What to Expect While Expecting, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no earthly clue what to do once the baby actually arrived. None of my friends had babies yet and the internet was not quite so chock full of unsolicited advice back in 2009, but thank goodness for books. Surely after populating the planet for thousands of years, humans had arrived at some sort of general consensus regarding the best practices for raising offspring, and I was confident that wealth of knowledge was shelved, ready and waiting for me, at my local Barnes and Noble.

A day or so later I found myself at the bookstore, casually selecting a few reads on parenting, my decisions mostly based on the attractiveness of the book covers. After all, won't these books mostly repeat the same things? How much could there even be to write about raising an infant? (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was sitting somewhere up in heaven laughing his head off.)

That night I got my very first taste of parenting. I sat in bed, leafing through my copies of Dr. Sears' The Attachment Parenting Book and Babywise, two books which are essentially the oil and vinegar of the parenting world. As I read, I began to feel panic surging in my chest. It was like the feeling you might get if you had stayed up all night studying for a biology test only to find your exam is on chemistry. It was like ordering pizza and getting a plate of beef lomein. It was like spending 9 months revelling in all the attention and joy that comes with a first pregnancy and then OH MY GOSH I'M HAVING A HUMAN PERSON AND THESE BOOKS ARE CRAP.

"JOHN!" I hysterically yelled at my husband.

"What's wrong? Is it the baby?"


"What happened? Did you have a contraction? Did your water break? ARE YOU IN LABOR LET ME PACK SOME BAGS."

"No, no, it's what these books have to say about the baby."


I clutched one book in each hand, wildly gesturing while John adopted the posture of a deflated balloon, a mildly irritated deflated balloon. "You see, this book says if we sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person and this book says if we DON'T sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person!!"

I suppose I was expecting inspired words of wisdom from my husband who was attempting to watch a riveting baseball documentary, but all I received was silence and a slow blink which in no way assuaged my mounting concern.

"These books say the EXACT OPPOSITE thing! How am I supposed to know which one is RIGHT? I mean, I know there's no manual for parenting, but isn't there at least supposed to be a book that everyone agrees on with instructions that tell me EXACTLY WHAT TO DO??" (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was clutching his sides, rolling on the floor.)

I learned an important lesson that night: parenting is a crapshoot. To be honest, in my 6.5 years of raising tiny people, I haven't learned much else, but I've taken what I have learned and turned into 5 highly informative (though severely under-researched) infographics on parenting, just in the hope that anyone googling "baby has been screaming for 2 hours now what" might find some solace.

First up, having a baby. Forget everything those parenting books have told you. Having a baby comes down to two things:

Lord help you if the baby doesn't take a pacifier, but at least you will have extra strong biceps from all the bouncing and swaying. Unfortunately, neither your toned arms nor your honed tracking skills will prove to be the slightest bit useful in the toddler stage.

Basically, you're screwed. 
I have had at least one child in the toddler stage for the past six years or so and still have not developed any telepathic abilities whatsoever, despite being given ample practice opportunities several times a day. I can't even figure out what I did at breakfast this morning to make my 2-year-old scream as if her entire family just died. Was there not enough butter on her toast? Was it too toasted? Should I have cut it into squares instead of triangles? These are the great mysteries of life.

On the upside, my nearly-4-year-old ran up to me recently holding 2 halves of his snack exclaiming, "Mommy, my granola bar breaked and I didn't even cry!!" and I swear, I have never been more proud of him.

Calm down, I know that girls can play with Legos (mine does) and boys can dance around in a sparkly pink tutu (mine does, and don't ever tell him I told you), but currently the majority of my time is spent picking stray specks of glitter off my clothing while listening to the boys replace every noun and/or verb in every song with the word 'poop'.

"Twinkle, twinkle little POOP! How I wonder what you POOP!" All the day long, friends, ALL.THE.DAY.LONG.

"I'm the tooth fairy! No, I'm the POOP FAIRY!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

There's a lot of information in parenting books, but certainly none that prepared me for broken granola bars, poop jokes or spending half the baby's infancy bouncing him under a humming vent in a dark bathroom. They never told me that my kids would fight over who gets to sit on my lap WHILE I WAS ON THE POTTY.

They also never prepared me for how completely and utterly these babies would overwhelm my heart. They never painted a picture of early morning cuddles or kitchen dance parties or contagious giggles (because every now then a poop joke is actually kind of funny). They never warned me about a love so fierce and deep it transforms you from the inside out.

Experience is the best teacher and there are some things you just can't learn from books.

Fortunately, internet graphs are always spot on. 

(Though I can't be certain, I believe I just heard laughter.) 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Ways to Embrace the New Year without Making a Resolution

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, which is odd considering my great love for to-do lists, but I tend to live by the motto "if I'm not going to be spectacularly successful at something, then why even bother doing it?" This is something I'm working through.

Goals are not a bad thing and I've made them in the past. When I was in middle school I made a list of all the characteristics I hoped to find in a future husband, including such deal-breakers as He must be at least 6 feel tall and His last name must be at the beginning of the alphabet (my maiden name began with W and DANGIT I was sick of being called last for everything!) Several years down the road I landed a 6' 3" dreamboat and added an 'H' to my monogram. I'm not saying it was all due to my teenage requirements, but probably. Thank goodness for goals because I could have ended up married to 5 foot 10 inch man named Wilson and that would have been a disaster.

Every year I feel like I should make resolutions, but every year I put it off til January 3rd or so and by then IT'S TOO LATE because everybody knows you can only have resolutions if you start them on January 1st. (This is something I'm working through.)

But this year, in the spirit of fresh starts and middle school husband requirements, I made a list of New Year's Resolutions:

1. Read at least 20 books without pictures

2. Watch all my DVR'd shows, even those episodes of CSI that have been there for 3 years

3. Stop eating dinner over the sink and also lose 12 pounds

4. Make it through the whole year without hitting the house with my car 

5. Pee without an audience

Now it is January 7th and I have already failed at #3 and #5 and I'm sure my bumper will have a fresh new gouge come February and WHO AM I KIDDING RESOLUTIONS ARE A BUNCH OF CRAP so please pass the Krispy Kremes.

The truth is, at this season of my life, I don't have the energy to strive to become a smarter, skinnier, better version of myself. Quite frankly, I don't have time. I feel like I need to have another baby just so I can watch some TV. Managing dinner and bills and permission slips is difficult enough without tacking on organizing the closets or cutting out sugar and, honestly, if I stop eating over the sink I might starve. 

At least I didn't resolve to keep the house clean.
Do resolutions make you crazy? Are you in a season that requires more grace and fewer goals? Instead of making our lives "better", can we simply recognize the beauty and perfection that exist in the harried, imperfect lives we already have?

This year, as an alternative to resolutions, here are 3 ways we can embrace the new year. 

1. Join the #onebeautifulthing Instagram challenge 

Instagrammers are coming together weekly to "look for beauty in the nitty gritty of everyday life. It’s in the piles of laundry waiting to be washed. While most of the time people look at that as a huge chore and something to put off, instead, look at it as an opportunity that your family is together and home and spend time praying for each child as you wash, dry, and fold the clothes." Also, there will be winners and prizes so GAME ON, erm, I mean let's get going on that beautiful laundry. 

Find more info on #onebeautiful thing here.

2. Make a "101 Things in 1,001 Days" List

Whoa. I know. That's a lot of numbers and I hate lots of numbers unless they're in my bank account. But don't worry, the 101 Things are FUN things that you actually want to do, no cleaning out closets here! Instead you might decide you want to take a cake decorating class or reread a book series or plan a Mediterranean cruise with a dashing Italian tourguide named Alessandro. (Oh come on, everybody wants to do that last one.) And the best part? You've got 3 YEARS to get it done! 

The Lazy Genuis explains more here.

3. Choose One Word for 2016

Someone wrote a whole book about this very thing, but obviously since it has no pictures I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Thankfully there is a website! "'My One Word' is an experiment designed to move you beyond the cycle of broken resolutions. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD. This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future."

So this year I will be instagramming beautiful things (because Instagram is my latest obsession and you should totally follow me so you can see pics of my laundry), I will be making a list of fun things (because lists are my favorite) and I'll be focusing on the small things.

My One Word I have chosen for this year is 'small.' Small is not very glamorous or poetic or inspiring, but it's just what I need right now, because in a society where bigger is better, it's oddly refreshing to turn my attention to the small.

Small tells us to notice the beauty in that laundry pile. Small says to write because you love it, not because thousands will read it. Small says that it's the mundane acts of packing lunches, driving carpool, and reading one more bedtime story that build on each other to create a life of stability and joy. 

One day there will be time for clean closets and quiet meals and even locked bathroom doors. There may even be room for big things one day - ambitious goals have their place too - but even if not, we can be faithful in the mundane; we can show up everyday for the people that need us - our children, our partners, our friends, even strangers. And isn't that the mark of a great life anyway?

This year I will be focusing on doing small things with great love. So if you need me, I'll be here, hanging with all my small people...taking pics of the laundry pile.