Footprints & Tantrums

A chronicle of parenting experience filled with ways to remember, process and decompress these rewarding, yet challenging experiences.

This school year I hit the mommy lottery! My 5-year-old started kindergarten and my 3-year-old started preschool three FULL days per week. YAY!!! Bring out the mimosas and bon bons. Oh wait…

When I originally signed them up, I thought I would have so much time to play catch-up. I thought I could get their room and playroom cleaned out; garage and laundry room organized; actually plan meals and grocery shop ahead of time; exercise everyday; organize the millions of digital and print photos; learn to use the sewing machine I’ve had sitting in my closet for two years; and just get my head above water from the past five years of drowning as the primary caregiver and household CEO, while also attempting to work outside of the house. Well we just started the second month, and while I did get some of my long-ignored projects taken care of, I feel there is even more awaiting me as the school year continues to fly by and overwhelm me.

I’m finally learning that all of that catching up, and taking care of the kids on the weekends when my spouse sometimes has to work, means that while some families have two parents home on the weekends to tag-team cleaning, errands, and household management for two days, I only have three abbreviated days to do it all myself. Even though my kids are in school for six hours a day, I still have to factor in the hour of driving in the morning and the additional hour of driving in the afternoon (which will double in the winter). No wonder I can’t keep up.

Still drowning. Three days a week still has not enough time to get my head above water. I did get some things done on my fantasy to-do list, but there still more being added every day. How can I not stay caught up? Am I really that bad at being efficient and organized? As most of my friends call me Martha Stewart, I highly doubt that is the case, at least I hope not.

Sick days. This week alone, I have spent three days home with sick kids. Last week it was one day with a sick kid and although I was sick, I attended a school function (unknowingly with a high fever). Thankfully, I have the flexibility to stay home at the last minute, so that my spouse does not have to miss work and then work even later to make up the missed hours. Had I gone back to work, I would have missed every day this week. Every time a sick kid stays home, I have one less day to play catch up.

School involvement. From parent-teacher conferences, to the Literary Festival, to the Fall field trip–elementary school has a lot more involvement than I originally thought. Especially when you have more than one child in school and at different schools, it becomes harder to manage the back-and-forth and planning to make sure everything that is necessary is covered. Again, since my spouse is busy at work and cannot take off time to attend these events, I attend and participate for the both of us…for both kids. I do not participate in everything, but just enough to be involved and get to know the schools, communities, and to make our kids feel valued.

Homework. Even though my kindergartener only has homework for her foreign language and music class, it still takes up what limited evening time we have. This also happens when I am usually a solo-parent, trying to make dinner, bathe kids, get them to bed, and also try to finish up whatever laundry or cleaning I was attempting during the day.

After-school activities. The kids are only in swimming, as a safety tool and one additional physical activity for exercise and fun. Even these activities take additional time and planning that I would not be able to do if I were back at work full-time.

I cannot tell you how many times people have said, “What will you do with that much free time?” “Must be nice to not have to work.” “What work?” “Can’t you work part-time?” I tried. I tried it all. I had three different job offers I tried to make work. However, between my spouse working unpredictable and long hours, our family relies on my flexibility.

It’s not that I’m mismanaging my time, it’s being filled with caring for sick kids, being involved in their schools, homework, and activities. There are also medical/dental appointments, house maintenance appointments, car maintenance, vet appointments; in addition to still trying to catch up from years of falling behind. I had to cancel my dentist appointment three times and my annual doctor exam twice because I had no childcare.  Now I know where all that “free time” is going.

Just because kids are in school, doesn’t mean they need you less, oftentimes they need you more. Our division of labor has been split by father being the primary wage-earner and mother being the primary caregiver, even though we are a feminist household. We didn’t intend for it to be split that way, it just ended up that way because of nursing, bottle-protesting babies, and my career being more flexible than my spouse’s career. There is food in the fridge, kids are picked up from school, bills are paid, and even though my son is wearing his sister’s underwear today, at least someone has clean underwear to share.

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Here are some resources that are helping me–hopefully they will help you too:

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

Life Out of Balance? Put Yourself Back on the List

Erin Condren Life Planner

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As my oldest is on the brink of kindergarten, I can’t help but reflect on these past five years of her early childhood education, while looking forward to the future years (although they could slow down a bit). One of the many reasons my husband and I decided to raise our family in Minnesota was the state’s top-notch educational opportunities. Minnesota consistently ranks among the top states for education quality. Just this week, CNBC ranked Minnesota the second-best state for education in America in 2017, just behind Massachusetts.

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on July 19, 2017 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned-in-ecfe/

 

It has been about a month since I lost my grandma. Just before that, I also learned my stepfather has cancer (the same kind my biological father had a few months prior). And, my babies graduated from their preschool programs and are reaching big milestones by starting their new schools. So it has been an exceptionally long month filled with uncontrollable tears at random times, a constant shift between grieving and numbness, and an overall feeling of physical and emotional emptiness. To say I have not been myself is a massive understatement. I haven’t been sleeping well, eating well, or – to be honest – parenting well. Despite the emotional pain, I think the most difficult part has been trying to parent while grieving – especially trying to answer my children’s questions about death.

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My 3-year-old son was with me when I first learned my grandma had died. He did not fully understand what was wrong and why Mommy was crying all the time. When he would catch me crying, he would give me a big hug and kiss and say “Mommy sad that Grandma Susie died? I give Mommy kiss. Mommy happy now?” Which was so sweet, it would make me cry more – just for a different reason. How terrible is it that the littlest family member was taking on the role of caregiver and trying to take care of Mommy? Cue more mom guilt…

My 5-year-old daughter asked all the difficult questions. She has a basic understanding of death from when she was 2 years old and “her” dog (at my in-laws’ house) died. At that time, I did a lot of research on how best to talk to her about death. The experts said to keep it simple but truthful–since that age does not seem to really comprehend Heaven or spirits, or any other complex religious concepts. We told her the dog was old and her body stopped working. Her body may be gone and buried, but we have a lot of great memories of being with her that we can hold onto.

Since we had already had the “death talk” when she was 2 years old, I thought we would just have to explain it to our 3-year-old. Nope–wrong again Mom! This time, the 5-year-old’s questions were a lot more complex and she wanted a lot more detail, which made it even harder for me to not only explain, but to do so without crying and remaining patient.

The following are some of the conversations we had at the most random and often ill-timed moments:

Child (at school pickup): “How did Grandma’s body stop working?”

Mom: “The doctor found a leaking valve in her heart, so it was kind of like having a hole in her heart.”

Child: “Where did the hole in her heart come from?”

Mom: “I really don’t know–I’m not a cardiologist.”

Child (to teacher): “My grandma Susie died because she had a hole in her heart.”

Child (to food delivery driver): “My grandma Susie died because she had a hole in her heart.”

Child (on the airplane): “Where is her body going to be buried?”

Mom: “I’m not sure yet. She lived in Iowa most of her life, but now she lives in Colorado with Grandpa. We’ll have to ask Grandpa.”

Child (at memorial): “I REALLY want to know where Grandma’s body is going to be buried!!!”

Mom: “Well she was actually cremated. So her ashes may stay in this box and go home with Grandpa, or he may put some of the ashes on the ground. Grandma even wanted some of the ashes to be run through a slot machine.”

Child (still at memorial–thankfully it was at my dad’s house): “What’s cremated? How did her body turn to ashes? What’s a slot machine?”

Mom (takes deep breath, grabs a piece of paper and a lighter): “Let’s go outside and I’ll show you.” (Lights paper) “See how the paper is turning into ashes? That’s what Grandma wanted to happen to her body, so the ashes from her body could go to more than one place. Some can stay with Grandpa, some can go back to Iowa, some can continue to play her favorite games, and some can go in the ground to go back to nature.”

Child: “Oh okay. I’m going to draw Grandma a picture to keep by her box so she will remember me.”

Mom (hugs the crap out of her and starts crying): “Grandma would love that. She loved you so much.”

These conversations have continued throughout the past month. My daughter is constantly drawing pictures of Grandma to give me. It has been fascinating to see her take ownership of her grieving process. She understands Grandma’s body stopped working and her ashes are in a box with Grandpa for now, and when he decides where to put them Grandma’s body will go back to nature. She understands we still have amazing memories of Grandma, which have come through in her drawings. She says she misses Grandma, but is thankful she got to make memories with her, especially picking peaches.

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Death is a hard enough concept, to which even experts do not have conclusive answers. We did not want to complicate it by adding religion at this time. We will teach our children different religions at an appropriate point in their intellectual and emotional development. Right now, however, we wanted to focus on the death of Grandma and the accompanying grief process.

We can look to the memories, pictures, gifts, and letters she had given us over the years to help with emotion coaching. And when in doubt of what else to do…we will make her famous chocolate chip cookies (although no one can make them like she did).

 

Helpful articles on the death of a pet:

http://www.americanhumane.org/interaction/programs/humane-education/pet-loss/age-based-coping-tips.html

http://www.whattoexpect.com/kids-and-pets/losing-a-pet.aspx

http://www.babyzone.com/toddler/touchy-talks-with-toddlers/talking-to-toddlers-death-of-pet_72455

http://cpancf.com/articles_files/helpingchildpetloss.asp

http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/pets/loss.html#2

 

Helpful articles on helping children deal with death:

http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html

https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/how-to-be-a-parent/communication/talk-to-kids-death/#.WVVbnMbMwWo

https://www.babycenter.com/0_how-to-talk-to-your-preschooler-about-death_65688.bc

http://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/death.php

I woke up this morning thinking it was all a dream. A terrible, terrible dream. Until my 5-year-old daughter ran into my room and yelled in my ear, “Mommy do you know where they are going to put grandma’s bones?” Dammit–it was not a dream. I did not imagine my dad calling me yesterday to tell me my grandma had died–it was reality. Real, f’ing terrible, punch-you-in-the-stomach-and-rip-out-your-heart reality. I named one of my cats after my grandma; that morning, she climbed up on me and I spent a good 20 minutes petting her, hugging her, and wishing I could get just one more hug from her namesake–hear her voice just more time call me “Punkin.”

My grandma and I were extremely close, even though we lived in different states. She was there for me when I was a baby, through my parents’ divorce, through my rocky adolescence, through my soul-searching college years, and even through the first five years of my parenting journey. Not only did she consistently attended all my dance recitals, band concerts, and graduations, but she enthusiastically cheered me on at every stage in my life. She always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Her last words to me were, “You are the powerful one. Just keep following your instincts, honey, and the kids will be okay.”

She taught me how to be powerful, how to listen to my instincts, how to be okay, and most importantly how to be strong. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever met. She was a survivor. She survived uterine cancer (twice), colon cancer, loss of her father, an abusive first marriage, traveling the world as a military wife, raising two boys and four stepchildren, and the mental and (later) physical loss of her mother. Throughout all these and many other hardships, she remained strong. She made me promise to finish my college (and post-graduate) education before getting married, because she said an education is something no one can take away from you. It is what saved her in her first marriage, and what helped keep her strong. I kept that promise and turned my career into helping empower strong women like my grandma.

She taught me how to love. Even though my family was divorced, she was always my constant. Although she was my dad’s mother, my mom let me see her all the time. When I was little, I would spend a week during the summer with Grandma and Grandpa, all by myself. We shared the love of shopping, reading, eating, and being together. She spoiled me with toys and clothes, but even more so with love. Whenever I was having a hard time in life–as a small child, teenager, or young woman–I wanted to run away to Grandma’s house; to play Bingo, eat chocolate chip cookies, and feel safe, happy, and loved. She was always there, always mentoring, always supporting, always laughing, always loving.

FullSizeRender 2She loved so much that she always cried when we parted ways, in person or on the phone. When she visited me, she would often sneak out of the house before anyone got up because she hated saying goodbye. I guess it seems almost fitting that she passed in her sleep, without having to say goodbye. We didn’t need to say goodbye because we know how much we loved each other, but I would have liked to have one more hug, one more kiss, one more “I love you.” I can’t believe she’s gone already. We knew she was having heart issues, but we all thought we’d have a few more years together…at least two more weeks, when the kids and I already planned to visit. I am so glad I got to see her with both of my children, but even more fortunate that they got to meet the woman who made such a profound impact on my life.

I love you, Grandma. Thank you for absolutely everything, especially for being my grandma.

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” –Shakespeare

Whether you personally know me or have gotten to know me through my writing, you probably know I’m a planner and a ‘bit’ of a control freak. The most cherished words I came across during my first pregnancy were “birth plan.” I erroneously thought this meant I could actually plan my child’s birth… after all the term is “birth plan,” right? Nope…wrong again, Mama!

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on May 11, 2017 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/my-opposing-birth-plans/

 

What exactly is National Siblings Day? I have only known about it because of my friends’ posts on Facebook the past few years. However, after doing a bit of research, I have learned that Claudia Evart started Siblings Day in 1995, after she lost both of her siblings at young ages. Evart chose April 10th for the holiday because it was her sister’s birthday. The day is purposed to honor, celebrate, and remember our siblings. However, many of us may not have biological siblings, but we can certainly find a sibling-figure in our life to celebrate with.

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on April 10, 2017 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/national-siblings-day-tribute/

 

In just a few days, we will celebrate my daughter’s fifth birthday while I will silently be celebrating the fifth anniversary of becoming “Mom.” This name has not just become a title, it has become my identity. I am a completely different person than I was five years ago. I look in the mirror and barely recognize myself behind the broken blood vessels from pregnancy and forehead wrinkles from parenting. I hide my dark eye circles behind my glasses, which I never used to wear in public. My hair, which used to flow freely down my back, is constantly tied up. Where the heck did I go?

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on March 22, 2017 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/identity-crisis-anniversary-becoming-mom/

 

“When I was pregnant with each of my children, everyone wanted to know whether the baby was a boy or a girl, including me and my husband. For some reason, I wanted my first baby to be a girl. I think because it was what I was familiar with, being a girl myself and having grown up with a younger sister. I imagined dressing my daughter in frilly dresses and braiding her hair. My husband was not as excited as I was when we found out the baby was a girl. Perhaps for similar reasons, as he is a boy and grew up with a brother. I wanted to find out the sex of the baby, so we could prepare–not for baby gear, but for envisioning our baby, especially as a first-time parent. We purposely kept all the baby gear (and as many clothes as we could) gender neutral because we intended on having another child and wanted to be able to reuse things.”

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on January 6, 2017 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/raising-kids-in-a-gender-neutral-family/

 

“I am in the middle of my second tour of duty as a SAHM. I have been home since my four-year old daughter was born, but after six months of exclusively being a SAHM, I started working very part-time. I continued working even after my two-year old son was born, but trying to juggle it all got to be too much for our family. So here I am… eight months into being an exclusive SAHM with two young children, and ironically, I have never been more lonely.”

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on November 16, 2016 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/the-loneliness-of-motherhood/

“After spending a month straight with both of my wonderful, young children, my MBFF (mom best friend forever) and I decided we needed a child-free date. We started with a nice brunch and then went to see the movie Bad Moms. The movie was amazing–funny, sweet, and thought-provoking. It inspired me to accept and actually confess my parenting faults… Hi, I’m Melanie, and I’m a Bad Mom.”

This article in its entirety was published by Twin Cities Moms Blog on October 19, 2016 at:

http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/confessions-of-a-bad-mom/

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