Tired is a State of Parenting

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I used to think I knew what tired was.

Tired was pulling an all nighter and not getting to bed until 10am. Tired was having to wake up at 3:30am to start a long road trip. Tired was working 84 hours in a week, running 2 hours a day at the gym, and still finding time in between to hang out with friends.

Don’t get me wrong – I really was tired then. Physically drained. I’d eventually collapse into bed and sleep on and off for 14 hours just to wake up groggy again. It’s not insignificant.

But that was single Brynn tired. That was me only having to look after me, only worried about my needs and eventually having the option to collapse.

Motherhood (and fatherhood) is a whole new kind of tired. It’s… exhaustion. Pervasive, continual exhaustion.

Let me give you an example.

7:15am – Wake up (I know this seems late, but I’ll explain)

7:15 – 7:30am – Dress, do hair/make up (if I have the energy), brush teeth, go to the bathroom, think about all the things that I have to do for the day.

7:30 – 7:45am – Help Tory with breakfast for the boys if not already fed (Tory usually gets their clothes and back packs ready for them and gives them breakfast). Grab snacks/lunch for myself. Make coffee. Pack school bag. Help with coats/shoes. Change the baby. Feed the baby. Help get everyone and everything in the car. Get in the car myself. Realize I’ve not had my own breakfast. Praise God that I still have my coffee.

7:45 – 8:45 – Drive the boys to school across town (or more often keep Tory company/distract Lazarus with food and drink while Tory drives). Drive back across town to school myself. Watch Tory drive away with Lazarus in the back screaming for me.

9 – 11:45 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 40% of the time. Spend 60% of the time zoned out/thinking of bills/appointments/parenting/schooling for the boys/wondering how Tory and Lazarus are doing/feeling guilty that I am at school and not at home helping out.

11:45 – 2 – Lunch time. Get food. Make any necessary phone calls. Chat with Tory. Feel relieved that I get a small break. Feel guilty for feeling relieved that I get a small break. Intend to catch up on school work. Avoid catching up on school work and instead browse Facebook and pay bills/set appointments and plan dinner. Hit the wall of exhaustion. Buy coffee to conquer the wall of exhaustion. Head to class.

2 – 3:15 – Go to class. Try to concentrate. Succeed 20% of the time. Spend the rest of the time zoned out/ wondering how Tory and the boys are doing/ planning out the evening.

3:15 – 3:45 – Go home. Feel a wave of relief that I made it through another day of school. Relish sitting for a few minutes with the people I Love.

3:45 – 4:45 – Unload the car. Talk about the day, everyone all at once. Feed Lazarus. Make dinner. Try to pick up the house. Realize it’s futile as everything just gets messy again. Try not to be tired and snippy. Fail. Feel guilty for being tired and snippy. Feel guilty for Tory being tired and me not being home to help out. Feel frustrated that Tory seems so tired and wants a break. Feel guilty for feeling frustrated that Tory is tired and wants a break since having been a stay at home parent I know EXACTLY how he feels. Feel tired and want a break myself. Realize it’s impossible for us both to have a break at the same time, and that Tory has earned it more than I have. Accept I will just be a shitty parent because I’m too tired to parent well. Mope. Get over myself. Apologize to everyone for being snippy. Try to make up for it. Serve dinner. Contain Lazarus in his high chair. Sit down.

4:45-4:55 – Eat dinner. Discuss the evening plans. Remind the boys to keep eating 10 times each and sit down 5 times each. Explain the house rules for eating what’s on your plate at least once.

4:55 – 5:05 – Remind the boys to keep eating another 10 times. Release Lazarus. Consider cleaning the dishes. Decide not to.

5:05 – 6:30 – Play with/watch Lazarus. Zone out on the couch. Stop at least 3 arguments between the boys. Think about all the things I should be doing. Don’t do them because I’m too tired. Get Lazarus his bedtime bottle. Change Lazarus. Read him his bedtime book. Say good night to everyone. Feed him and sing him his bedtime song. Put him in bed. Close his bedroom door and exhale. Creep downstairs.

6:30 – 8:30 – Sit. Check email. Go on Facebook. Half pay attention to Tory and the boys. Feel guilty for not doing more. Do a small amount of cleaning. Worry about not doing enough in school. Do a small amount of school work. Realize I can’t focus on school work. Think about how to help the boys reach their potential. Worry that I’m not able to do enough to help the boys reach their potential. Help get the boys to bed.

8:30 – 10:30 – Spend the only moments of the day I have alone with Tory. Try to do more school work. Worry about not doing enough to help out at home. Help make lunches. Plan the next day. Shower. Brush my teeth. Watch a little tv with Tory. Feel guilty for not getting more done during the day. Crawl into bed.

11 – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Enjoy him not squirming for 10 seconds. Go back to sleep.

2am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Wonder how often he will wake up tonight or if he will let me sleep. Go back to sleep.

4/5:30am – Wake up to feed Lazarus. Realize he doesn’t want to go back down. Bring him into our bed. Try to get him to sleep. Fail. Bring him back to his crib, turn on the stars, leave him to fall asleep in his own time. Go back to sleep.

6:30 – Wake up to Lazarus crying/talking. Tory gets up with him. Go back to sleep.

7:15am – Get up for the day.

Sure. It’s a lot. But that’s what weekends are for, right?

Wrong.

When you have kids, weekends no longer mean sleeping in and hanging out with friends and catching up on your rest and school work. Nope. Weekends are the 48 hours I have during the week to spend quality time with my family, go to church, help clean the entire house, help catch up on laundry and dishes that I’ve let go all week, buy all the groceries, figure out meals for the week, do all the school work I failed to do during the week including re-reading all the things I zoned out on and try to spend some one on one time with Tory, all while taking care of the kids (especially Lazarus who desperately wants my attention ALL THE TIME).

I used to think I knew what tired was.

I had no idea.

Tired is feeling pulled in 5 different directions every moment of every day.

Tired is not having slept through the night in over a year.

Tired is realizing at 5pm on a Saturday that you haven’t stopped even for a minute since you got up that morning, and that you won’t stop until long after the kids are in bed.

Tired is accepting you can’t do it all, but feeling like you are supposed to be able to anyway.

Tired is something most parents feel, most of the time. And they feel it in a way that’s entirely different from single tired.

However, let me be clear on something: I’m running on the spectrum of exhaustion all the time, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the whole world.

I have an incredible partner who reminds me I’m not failing anyone and makes sure I take a break when I really need it – just an hour or two to myself to recharge.

I have the most amazing, intelligent, loving, compassionate children who pick at each other 70% of the time but Love each other 100% of the time, and Love me too, even in my many shortcomings.

I have wonderful friends who understand what my life is and don’t mind if I only get the chance to talk to them once a month, but who are there for me every hour of every day should I need them.

I had no idea what tired really was before I had other people who relied on me. I also had no idea that Love can give us the ability to do pretty much anything, no matter how exhausted we are.

Now where’s my coffee?

Dark Time

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My life is busy.

Anyone who knows me will confirm this for you. We have three young boys – one still breastfeeding – and I started law school at the beginning of September. Our youngest decided that daytime formula feeds are just NOT acceptable, and so he reversed his feeding cycle and now feeds every 2 hours at night. I have 30-40 hours of reading and school work to do each and every week, which I wedge in on lunch hours and after bedtimes and over top of the one on one time I have allotted for me and my husband. (Side note here: if you ever decide to go to law school while you have young children, get yourself a househusband. Unlike the mythical house hippo, the househusband is a very real and very valuable addition to your life.)

My life is busy, and I am tired.

In addition to the craziness of life, the demands of going back to school full time have made me seriously wonder if my family is getting enough of me. I fought so hard for this family. I Love them more than anything and anyone else in the world. I take time – however short it may be – to be with my husband and my kids each and every day. I set aside one day each weekend where I forget about school and remember I’m a mom and a wife. But going from full time mom to full time student is bound to change the dynamic of our little home. While I love watching as Lazarus starts to fall deeper into sync with Tory, it is bittersweet knowing he is falling slightly more out of sync with me. The natural rhythms of our early months together are fading as he grows and I can’t help but feel a twinge of loss. Tory has been incredible taking care of our home and our children, but he gets almost no help from me on those fronts, and almost no time with me alone. The older two boys are already with us only half the time, so the time we do have with them carries so much more weight.

My experiences are no different than those of working parents everywhere. Tory struggled for years and under far more difficult circumstances being away from his family. It is a struggle – knowing I am doing what I need to do both for our family and for myself, but also knowing it comes at a cost. Life is full of difficult realities. And those realities, those worries, the busyness and tiredness, they can all create so much noise that we get lost in the cacophony.

And that is where I found myself tonight. I walked in the door to find Tory was frazzled and exhausted from a particularly long day. I tried to juggle feeding Lazarus and making some dinner for myself, while Tory took care of dinner for the boys and himself in between trips to the sink to finish up the dishes. All the while, the boys were in and out, asking questions, playing with friends, wanting to connect with us both. All this noise swirled around me and I wondered how we would handle it all.

But we did. We got through dinner and homework, a mishap with paint, a thumped head and some hurt feelings, another feed, bedtime for the baby and playtime with friends. We recorded L’s first adorable phone call to a kindergarten friend and set up a play date for the weekend. We talked about lying and laziness and work ethic. We played catch the caterpillar. And still the noise of things to do yet tonight were ringing in my ears.

As I poured myself a glass of wine and finished up a pot of boiled eggs for snacks, L invited me to sit with him on the porch. Now, I don’t know about you, but when one of my boys invites me to do something, I will do everything I can to participate. It took us a long time to get to a point where they wanted me to be a part of their worlds. And as boyhood quickly marches forward, who knows how much longer I will be invited in.

So I went. And I sat. And I listened. We drew words and pictures in sidewalk chalk on our steps and on the sidewalk in front of our house. L talked about how mommy’s favourite colour is orange now, not purple. We talked about how L prefers egg whites to egg yolks and about how wine is gross and about why there was only one purple chalk stick. We sent mommy some pictures of the beautiful clouds. We talked about the deep blue of the night sky.

It was nearly bedtime when L said “Brynn, I’ve always wanted to go on a dark time walk, but I never have. Will you go with me?” I told him it would have to be quick and we hurriedly gathered up the sidewalk chalk and got on our shoes. And out we went.

First, we looked at the clouds. “Look at how beautiful the sky is Brynn! See over there?! It’s God peeking out! He’s looking at that boy. Look at how dark blue the middle is. It’s my favourite colour! I love the sky at dark time.” We walked down the sidewalk, our shadows stretching out in front of us. “Ow, something pricked me! Did you know mommy punched a rose bush and the thimbles poked holes right through her glove. The electric for that street light just went out! I’ve never been to the park at dark time. Will you swing with me?” “Quickly” I say as we run across the grass.

I push L as high as I can, then hop on beside him. “I’ll try to keep swinging myself. Why are you going so much higher?! How do you do that?”. I explain that bigger people can more easily create momentum. “I know how to swing too. I’m really good at it.”

As we head back home, he laments that he can’t stay looking at the sky. “How about one day, we can sleep in the backyard and look at the stars” I say. “But what if we get scared?” “It’s ok, daddy or I will sleep with you.” “Can I sleep outside when I’m five?” he asks. “Yup” I answer. “YES! I’m five next year.”

We are almost home, maybe six houses away, when L says to me in a serious tone, “Brynn, this is the beautifullest time in my life.” All I can manage to say is “I agree”.

These next few years will be hard. There is a lot on my plate. There is a lot on all of our plates. But even though there is so much going on, even though it is all important in some way, none of it takes away from the beauty of the life we are living in the midst of all the noise. Our children remind us that life continues on, even if we are too busy to notice. And they remind us that those moments we do have – no matter how few or far between – matter more than we think.

It took the quiet of a dark time walk to let me hear the most important noise in my life – the voices of my children.

Take time for some dark time. It may be just what your soul needs.

 

 

 

The Many Moods of Motherhood

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*Disclaimer: This post is about motherhood. I have two other children – my stepsons – who I Love deeply and uniquely and with my whole heart. But because they have a mom who is present and active in their lives, being “main mom” is not my role in their lives. Even though I have been stepmom for 2 1/2 years already, being main mom has still been a completely new experience.

 

 

Six and a half months ago, a mother was born.

Standing on this side of the motherhood experience, I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing anyone can say to you that will prepare you for being a mom. Sure, you may know how to care for babies and change diapers, have your dos and dont’s of discipline laid out and understand your position on vaccines and playdates and private schooling, but there is nothing that can make you understand the emotional impact being Mom will have on you.

Everyone talks about the overwhelming, life altering love new parents feel. It is true – you will Love this child of yours in a way you can’t comprehend. It’s an incredible reorientation of self that occurs. Everything in your life passes through a new filter now – that of parenthood. Priorities change.

But not everything in motherhood is butterflies and roses and lollipops.

I spent a lot of the first few months of being a mom feeling like I was a bad person. Why? Because while I felt all the love that everyone always talks about, I also felt a lot of other not so nice things.

For one, I felt a lot of resentment. Resentment that I had lost my ability to just go out for a night with my friends without having to get a babysitter and pump and leave instructions and then worry the whole time anyway about whether or not the baby was doing ok and if the babysitter could handle it. Resentment that my husband could turn over and go back to sleep whenever the baby cried while I had to get up to feed him. Resentment that I couldn’t browse through clothes at a store without a baby hanging off of me or the looming deadline of having to be done in 2 hours so that the baby could eat again. Resentment that even when given the chance, I was unable to nap, as the phantom cries of my sleeping child would wake me. And I didn’t just lose my physical independence (at least for the time being). Even more than that, I lost my mental independence. This baby invaded my every thought. I couldn’t even eat or drink without having to consider how it would affect him. Every single choice I made had to be made with consideration for the implications it would have on another human being. It was totally and completely overwhelming.

I was also frustrated. Before having a baby, I was the most efficient person. I got things done, and I got them done quickly and completely. Now, I found myself struggling to accomplish even a quarter of any given task. Everything took ten times as long and only (maybe) got finished after 4 or 5 attempts.

Then there was the crying. I’m lucky – my baby is a pretty damn good baby, and he’s never been a super crier. But when those times did come when my baby wouldn’t stop crying NO MATTER WHAT I DID, and I was exhausted from only getting 5 or so interrupted hours of sleep every night for the past 4 months, that crying felt like the most effective psychological torture ever invented. On more than one occasion I had to put him down and walk away so I could cry myself in the other room, afraid I’d shake him or possibly throw him out the window from overwhelming frustration and exhaustion and helplessness. Then I’d feel horrible for even thinking those thoughts (even though I knew I would never actually do anything of the sort) and inadequate for not being able to take care of my baby and I’d question why I could not do what all other mothers could. I felt so alone.

And the struggles with motherhood continue. In one week, I am starting law school. My son is now almost 7 months old, and while I am so fortunate to have my husband being the one to take care of him while I’m at school, I still battle off thoughts of being a bad mother for leaving him while he’s so young. I worry that he will feel insecure and abandoned. I feel guilty that I don’t have the time or energy to pump while I’m at school during the day requiring him to be on formula during those hours. I know I’d be unfulfilled staying at home full time but I question whether I can be a good mom AND be a good lawyer at the same time. I wonder if someday he will resent my career.

I have spent so much time over the past 6 months feeling guilty for not being a good mom. But the truth is, I AM a good mom. I’m a great mom. I’m a real mom. I’m a whole human being and all the different parts of me came together to join in my motherhood. It’s not all love and happiness. It’s not all joy. Sometimes it’s frustration and anger and resentment and fear, and that’s ok. That’s part of it. That’s part of the growing and changing and learning and mourning that all comes with being a mom. In motherhood we gain so much but we also lose our old selves and our old lives, and we do ourselves a disservice if we refuse to acknowledge the not so nice things that are part of our motherhood experiences.

Motherhood has many moods. Many different shades of joy and sorrow, of love and longing, of learning and of letting go. It is the most difficult role I have ever taken on. It is also the most edifying. While I am thankful every day that I have the honour of being someone’s mom, I’m here to tell you other moms – past, present and future – that motherhood permeates us in our entirety, and there is nothing wrong with parts of us struggling to accept the new reality of this enormous responsibility. We are not one dimensional beings, so to expect that our experience of motherhood would be one dimensional is unfair and unrealistic.

You are a good mom when you are nursing your child blissfully in the wee hours of the morning. You are a good mom when you joyfully play on the floor, laughing at your child’s simple pleasures. But you are also a good mom when you hate the thought of having to feed your child YET AGAIN and fantasize about the day when your boobs will once again belong to you. You are a good mom when you just can’t bring yourself to play the same song for the 50th time in a row and you long for uninterrupted adult conversation. You are a good mom when you question if you did the right thing by having kids right now. You are a good mom when you wonder if you are a good mom.

Motherhood is not just about loving your kids unconditionally and feeling blissed out and blessed by their presence in your life. It is also about struggling to maintain your own identity under this new umbrella of motherhood, and figuring out how to balance your needs and theirs. One of the best gifts we can give your children is to be whole people, and achieving that wholeness requires that we embrace both the joyful and the more difficult parts of life. Our children love us for being their moms, even when we aren’t sure exactly how to be one.

Hello, motherhood. I look forward to all you have to offer.

Ice Cream and the art of Screwing Your Kids Over

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Kids love ice cream. Well, most kids. Some kids don’t, probably because they are lactose intolerant or have malformed taste buds that don’t allow them to properly compute the joy that is cold sweet cream melting on their tongues. I mourn their empty childhoods…

But for the majority of kids – including mine – ice cream is a delight.

In our house, we have rules. These rules were established with the input of our children, and serve as a framework for our daily lives. They give us all a code of conduct to live by and a safe space in which to coexist. Do your chores before bed. Clean up your play space. Don’t hit. Use your words to communicate your feelings. Give lots of hugs and cuddles. There are more, but you get the idea. We have expectations for how our children and we should behave, and we hold everyone accountable to those standards. We teach our children that they have the freedom to choose whether or not to follow the rules, and that there are consequences – both good and bad – for making those choices. Those consequences are the natural extension of their own choices, not punishments or rewards doled out by mom or dad.

Ice cream is what we refer to as a sometimes food. We don’t call it junk food, or bad food because those words tend to elicit feelings of guilt and shame when indulging in those foods, and I don’t want to open the can of worms that is shame about food or our bodies. Sometimes food is just that – food to be eaten on occasion, but not every day. The nice thing about having sometimes food in our parenting arsenal is that indulging in it truly becomes a treat, and a useful incentive.

One of the rules in our house is that you must finish your meal before you are allowed any other snacks. And so, last night when we went out for dinner, Tory promised the kids that should they finish their entire meal, they would be allowed dessert. A positive consequence for a positive choice. A finished his entire meal much to our amazement, and so we followed through on our bargain and he was soon presented with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce and whipped cream.

L enviously eyed this creation, and immediately started begging for his own. The problem, however, was that L had hardly touched his meal. He had talked and played and dawdled instead. We had reminded him several times throughout the meal that he needed to finish his dinner if he wanted dessert. Of course, he didn’t seem to mind until A had something he did not. And worse yet, we had run out of time to wait for him any longer (he had over 40 minutes to finish) as we needed to head out to soccer. A natural consequence for his choice. He was not happy with this, not at all, and made sure to voice his displeasure.

But what would happen if there were no consequences? What would happen if instead of holding L accountable for his choices, we gave him excuses? If we told L at the end of the meal (knowing full well he is capable of finishing it) “Oh, it’s ok, you’re just too little and have a smaller appetite. Go ahead and have some ice cream anyway.”?

You may not think this is a big deal. After all, he’s only 4, and it’s just one meal. But if there are no consequences for his choices, the lesson L learns is that 1) he can make excuses for his choices and 2) because of those excuses, his choices don’t have consequences. He chose to fool around instead of eating, even though he knew what the outcome would be. Taking away his consequences is setting him up to believe that there are none, and that excuses can relieve you of responsibility.

If I think back to my childhood, the lasting lessons I learned did not come as a result of grand gestures or stirring lectures on the part of my parents. They came from the small things, the every day things, the choices they made in their interactions with others and in their dealings with us. And so, as a parent now myself, I seek to consciously parent my children through all of the small things, helping them to learn the big lessons in life. Each small moment gets piled onto the next until soon enough you have a mountain. If it is something good, then you have given them sound footing, high enough and strong enough to weather the storms of life. But if you aren’t careful, your children can end up on mountains of misunderstandings and fantasies so steep they become almost impassable. And the fall down from that peak when reality hits can be incredibly damaging.

When you make the choice to give your children excuses for every difficult moment that comes their way, you are teaching them moment by moment that they are the victim of their circumstances, and that they hold no responsibility for their own behaviour. When your son gets 50% on his spelling test because he didn’t practice all week, and you tell him it’s ok because the words were really hard, what he’s learning is that if he doesn’t work, he can just find something or someone else to blame it on. You are robbing him of the opportunity to learn that his choices hold weight in the world, and you are robbing him of the power to affect his own outcome.

And when your son decides to play instead of eating his meal, and then you get him ice cream anyway, you rob him of the opportunity to learn that his choices have consequences, and that he has a say in how his life will unfold.

It is not our job as parents to keep our children happy every moment of every day. It is our job to prepare them to navigate the terrain of life. One of the biggest and most difficult realities of life is that our choices have consequences. Taking away consequences and making excuses is lazy and selfish parenting, parenting that is focused on making yourself feel good for being the hero and not having to ever suffer through seeing your child uncomfortable or angry with you or disappointed. And robbing them of learning about consequences now sets them up to have to learn much harder lessons later in life.

I don’t want my children to make excuses in life, I want them to make choices. I want my children to feel empowered in their lives, not enslaved. Taking away the consequences for their choices now sets them up to be the victims of their circumstances for the rest of their lives. I have no interest in raising my sons to be passive victims, excusing their choices and believing that the world owes them something or is working against them. I want my sons to know that we all deal with shit in our lives but that we get to decide how to react and respond and that those responses have consequences for us and for those around us. I want my sons to take ownership of their lives, and the only way they will learn to do that is if I allow them the freedom to choose as well as to suffer.

Excuses don’t remove us from the consequences, but they do deprive us of the joy of our accomplishments and the lessons of our failures. Excuses are a prison, keeping us enslaved to everyone and everything around us, keeping us from growing and learning and living and becoming the kind of people that choices allow us to be.

The greatest gift we were ever given as humans was the gift to choose. The best thing we can do as parents is teach our children how to use that gift responsibly.

And sometimes, that means no ice cream.

Believe me, son, you’ll thank me some day.

 

 

Sorry, Kid, You Just Aren’t That Important

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I am heavily addicted to my phone. It’s gotten worse over the years as my phone has become smarter and connected me to more and more social media, made messaging simpler (QWERTY keyboards anyone?!) and essentially become a mobile, talking, limitless source of both entertainment and information.

 

I know this sounds far from a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong: I think smartphones are F#$@ing AMAZING. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE. Many of my Star Trek fantasies are fulfilled by these amazing mini computers. They can make our lives so much easier and connect us instantaneously to loved ones around the world. This is a miraculous thing. However, I am a firm believer that it’s generally not WHAT a thing is that makes it good or bad, but rather HOW we use it. And herein lies my problem.

 

Imagine for a moment if you will that your phone is a person. For the sake of this illustration, I will give my phone the name Marcel. Now, Marcel is an incredibly fascinating guy. He can take pictures for me to share with my family. He knows about nearly everything on the planet and can give me answers to almost any question I have at a moment’s notice. He is funny, tells great stories, catches me up on everyone’s lives. He can chat for hours on end. He’s amazing company. Marcel comes literally everywhere with me.

 

This morning I woke up, and before I even said hi to my husband or kids, I rolled over to ask Marcel what time it was. I checked in with him to see if he’d heard anything from my friends overnight. There were a few not-so-interesting tidbits from a couple of websites, and a couple of nice messages from my dad. Then it was time to get out of bed, so I put on some pants and Marcel and I went downstairs.

 

When I got there, the kids and Tory were up already. I said good morning to everyone. Cindy (Tory’s phone) was chattering in the background about sports. Lovely girl, but she really does talk a lot. The boys seemed busy with each other and breakfast, so I grabbed Lazarus while Tory finished getting A’s things together for school and we went to sit on the couch with Marcel. While Lazarus was busy looking at me, I checked in with Marcel again to see what was happening on Facebook. Lots of fun stuff, mostly from people I don’t know well. I guess I could have been paying more attention to Lazarus, but honestly, Marcel was just more engaging.

 

After Tory left to take A to school, L sat down next to me. He was talking, but I just kept talking with Marcel over him, because 4 year olds aren’t that thrilling sometimes either. L kept trying to talk to me, and while I half heard what he was saying, he knew I was more interested in the conversation I was having with Marcel. How could he not? Marcel always had my attention, and it didn’t matter what L was saying – if Marcel said he had a new message I’d start talking to him immediately, even if L was mid-sentence. Sorry, kid, you just aren’t that important.

 

Lazarus decided he had enough of playing with his toys eventually, and wanted to play with me instead. Of course, playing for a 4 month old can be pretty boring – making faces, giving kisses and tickles, singing silly songs. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with him, but I’m a grown up, and I’d like to use my grown up brain sometimes. He gets mad when I keep looking at Marcel instead of him. Sorry kid, you just aren’t that important. I’d rather spend time with Marcel. At least he will grow up knowing this from day one.

 

I checked in periodically with Marcel throughout the day. Marcel is clearly the most important person to me – I’ll interrupt pretty much any conversation I’m having to talk to him. Even if he’s not trying to get my attention, sometimes I’d just rather be listening to his witty 140 character stories than engage in another conversation with Tory or L. At least, that’s what I do, so that must be the case.

 

Before dinner, the kids are playing with their friends downstairs and Lazarus is quietly hanging out, so I figure maybe I should leave Marcel in the other room for a few minutes so I can spend some time with Tory alone. I sit Marcel at the kitchen table and head to the living room, proud of myself for finally setting Marcel aside. “See how important you are, Tory?” I think as I sit down in the reclining chair. Unfortunately, I look up and Tory is busy talking to Cindy. Great. I try to engage Tory in conversation, but we keep getting interrupted by Cindy, obnoxiously poking him to pay attention to her instead. Even though Tory tries hard to balance both conversations, she always gets her way. I try not to be upset, because I know how hard it is to ignore her. Just like Marcel.

 

I know that checking a text on your phone may FEEL less invasive than cutting someone off mid-sentence to have a conversation with someone else, but the truth of it is, it’s not. My relationship with my phone appears far more problematic when I start to view that phone as another person in the room. What kind of a message am I sending to my friends and family? What does it say to my kids that the little white box I carry around with me garners more of my attention (and keeps it much better) than they do? Do I really want the people in my life to feel like they matter LESS to me than my phone?

 

Every time I answer a text instead of listening to my 4 year old talk, I am essentially telling him that whoever is on the other end of that message is more important and more interesting than he is. When I decide to scroll Facebook while talking to my husband I am letting him know that catching up on the lives of everyone else is more important to me than catching up on his. When I can’t manage to give my 4 month old 5 minutes of my time just to be present with him, what I am communicating is that the little white box matters more than he does.

 

None of those messages are true, and yet, I send them nearly every day.

 

I don’t think you should never be on your phone around others. I can sit with my husband and enjoy his company while chatting with other friends. I can go to the park with my kids and talk to the other moms while our kids play. Taking photos or saying hi to a friend or reading a few anecdotes is not the problem. The problem is giving my phone precedence over everything else in my life. My phone has its place in my life, and in that place, it can be an incredible tool. The thing is, I need to keep it there.

 

Sorry Marcel, you just aren’t that important.

 

I’m going to spend some time with my family now. I’ll talk to you in a bit.

Confessions of a Stepmom

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Since giving birth to Lazarus, many well intentioned people have commented to me that while I may have two step children, having my own child is “different”. I happen to agree with this statement – it IS different. However, it’s not what is being said but what is so often implied in that kind of statement that bothers me.

 

You see, when these well intentioned people make these kinds of comments, by manner and tone  – and sometimes even more directly by words themselves – they imply that having my “own” child is somehow MORE. And that is a sentiment I must wholeheartedly stand against.

 

When I met Tory, I knew that he had two sons. I knew that unlike most people who start off their relationships as single non-parents, I would never have Tory’s undivided attention. We wouldn’t date through our infatuation, grow into Love, marry and move in together, get to know each other as a couple before committing ourselves to a family. No, if I decided to have a relationship with Tory it would mean forever (and from the very start) sharing his heart and our home with these two children whom I had no part in bringing into this world. I would never be his singular focus, and he could never be mine. It would mean working every day for the rest of my life to find a place in the lives of these kids who already had two Loving and capable parents. Anyone who has faced this choice can tell you that this is not something that is entered into lightly, particularly when the kids are so young. Not knowing what the future would hold, I chose very consciously to enter into a relationship not only with Tory but with these two precious children. And in doing so, I encountered what would become two of the greatest Loves of my life.

 

I wish I could say that from the start it was easy and happy and we all Loved each other. The truth is that at first it was easy, and then it was hard, and then it was very hard, and then it got better, and so on and so forth. I worked so hard to walk the fine line between friend and parental figure, trying to ease my way into the hearts of these two young boys as they eased their way into mine, without threatening the place of their already present mother. But while I had the wisdom (though minimal…) and insight of an adult, they had so little experience to work with and so much to work through. They struggled first with the falling apart of their old family and then with the coming together of their new one. They struggled with liking me and being afraid of betraying the Love of their mother. They struggled to understand how and where I could fit into their newly chaotic lives even while they were still trying desperately to figure out how they fit into it themselves. And so we trudged through, day by day, learning and growing and healing. And slowly but surely, Loving.

 

The boys still struggle – will always struggle – with my place in their lives. We are the kind of family that they never wanted but that they have come to Love and accept. Every day we work together to figure out the rhythm of our family. Our hearts continue to weave in and out of one another, knitting us together into a far more perfect pattern than anything we could have designed on our own.

 

So, is it different having stepchildren than having my “own” child? Yes, in so many ways. My Love for Lazarus grew alongside him, miraculously conjuring itself up within me only to burst forth in a brilliant and instantaneous overwhelming force all at once the moment I first held him in my arms. It reordered my very being in the blink of an eye in a way I will never fully comprehend. My Love for the boys grew slowly and carefully, cautiously creeping in bit by bit, only to consume me in the end, just as my Love for their brother did in a moment. My Love for Lazarus is transformative and beautiful, but my Love for his two brothers is edifying and humbling in a way that only that Love can be. Loving them has required of me to step aside and truly Love without expectation of anything in return.

 

At the end of the day, having Lazarus is different than having the boys, and yet, it is with my whole being that I Love them all. They are all my boys; they have forever changed me, each one. I will continue to struggle every day to be mother and stepmother, Loving each of our children in the way they need and deserve to be Loved while inhabiting my unique place in their lives and hearts just as they inhabit their unique but equally significant places in mine.