The Woman in the Mirror

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Clark and I recently attended a bandmate’s wedding. It was a beautiful sunset celebration and in many ways a musical reunion. We bumped into people we haven’t played a note with in years with whom we experienced late night recordings, long lay-overs, and impromptu song writing sessions. That was long before any of us had spouses, kids, or even a warm-bodied date to a fancy wedding. We struck up casual conversation with an old friend who’s wife is expecting their first child. Before we could edit our verbal commentary, we became that couple– the Consummate Parental Spoilers who say things like, “Get ready. You thought marriage was tough. That was nuthin’. Just wait until you have that baby. Hardest thing we ever done.” Picture Willie Robertson slapping an acquaintance twice removed on the back of the shoulder while offering unsolicited parenting advice. That was me in Aldo stilettos. Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see the color draining from his childless face. All I could think was, “I’m a moron. Someone stuff a spring roll in my mouth before I say something else royally stupid.”

What IS the matter with me?

The truth is that in the early days of marriage, Clark and I wanted a lot of kids. Four. Maybe five. That was before we knew first-hand how hard child-rearing could actually be. A friend of mine with two grown children recently said, “This parenting stuff… it ain’t going to tickle”. He’s right. It already feels more like my heart has undergone the emotional equivalent of an Indian burn than anything remotely tickling.  And I’m only just getting started. This morning at breakfast, a cheerio rolled under the refrigerator sending Salem into orbit just as the school bus pulled into the driveway. While he was desperately trying to retrieve his orphaned breakfast, I was yelling at him to hurry up because God-forbid he be late to preschool and risk his chances of being accepted into the Ivy League.

I yelled at my son for trying to save a lost cheerio.

The guilt of sending him to school with my booming voice still ringing in his little ears sent me crawling back to bed while pulling the covers over my head. Not only did I underestimate the identity-splitting nature of parenting– that I no longer hold the rights to my body, my schedule, my interests, or even my thoughts, but I grossly overlooked the emotional stamina required to shoulder the weight of worrying about another human life.  Nothing about motherhood has turned out to be quite what I thought it would be. In many ways, it is worlds better. In others ways, it it the reason why I will soon be gray beyond a bottle job.

Last night, I was falling asleep to Paradise Valley’s track, Dear Marie {insert shameless John Mayer fan plug here} when I got stuck on the lyric, “Dear Marie… Well, I got my dream, but you got yourself a family”. Family… kids… sticky fingers, board books, scrapes and bandaids, lisps and animal crackers…. this is one {single} man’s observation of An Ultimate Success Story. I do believe with every sane corner of my shrunken brain that raising these two kids is {and will be} my life’s greatest endeavor, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling like I stepped off of a cliff, and I am caught in a never ending free fall. Oh, how I wish it was a more graceful dive. But the truth is…

…I sometimes go weeks without locking eyes with my husband.
…I am afraid of waking up 20 years from now and no longer recognizing the woman staring back at me in the mirror.
…I yell at my kid before he goes to school.

And the stress of it all has me tangled up between thoughts of “Aw heck, let’s give the Duggars a run for their money” and “I don’t even remember how to spell the word B-A-L-U-N-S-S-E much less maintain it with my quiver full ‘o two.”  But these are common thoughts of common struggles, right? {Please, tell me I’m right.}

But here’s what I hope: I hope that the woman staring back at me in the mirror 20 years from now has few{er} regrets of how she raised her children. I hope she is less of a control freak than she was when her kids had sticky fingers. And for the love of all that is holy and just, I hope she has more social decency than to bully a former bandmate at a wedding who has no idea what he is in for. Some things are better left to figure out on one’s own, {right Joe?}

How has parenting turned out to be different than what you expected?

{Image via Casa Sugar}

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Let the Games Begin

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What are you doing this weekend? I am coordinating the games and activities for a baby shower on Saturday. Let’s face it. Baby shower games are usually lame, but not on my watch! I think the best activities are those that somehow involve Dad, don’t you?  After all, he is a key player in this whole Baby Gig. I’m still on the fence with a few activity ideas, so I thought I would ask you: Played any good shower games lately?

Thanks for the suggestions, and have a great weekend!

{Image via The Indigo Bunting}

A Pinterest-Worthy Family

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A few years ago, someone gave Salem a cloth-bound, slip-cased edition of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I had his preschool teacher sign it, and I plan to have all of his teachers inscribe the inside cover from now until he graduates from high school. Wouldn’t that be a special keepsake? Looks like I’m going to need an extra copy.

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Today is Mia’s first day of preschool. Before I could even hang up her Disney Princess backpack, she said, “Bye, Mom. Thanks for coming!” Translation: “Get lost, Mom. You’re messing up my game.” This image captures Mia’s truest self– confident, social, independent… a party looking for a place to happen. If there were any First Day Jitters to speak of, they were felt only by Mom and Dad.

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Caption might read… “Seriously, are these people ever going to LEAVE!”

I had high hopes of getting a Pinterest-worthy-first-day-of-preschool photo, but clearly it was an epic fail. Then again, we have never been a Pinterest-worthy family, and I have to admit… that’s one of the things I love most about us.

Happy first day of school, my darling Mia. I can’t wait to see all the places you’ll go!

Free Time

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What are you going to do with all that free time?

This is the one question that everyone immediately asks me when I tell them that both of my children are going to school this year. “All that free time” really only amounts to about 15 kid-free hours a week. Nevertheless, that is more free time than I’ve had in the last five years. Why didn’t anyone ask me what I was going to do with all my free time before I had children and I had roughly 17 hours a day of self-directed time to do whatever I chose? Last night, Clark and I were discussing such mystification when the dam of my dormant desires broke and out came gushing all of the fantasies about my upcoming 15 hours a week of free time. He encouraged me to jot it all down.

Things I Am Going to Do with ALL That Free Time:

Vacuum my car
Run after the sun comes up
Pee all by myself
Make a phone call
Brew a mid morning pot of coffee
Place a full mug of mid-morning brew on the coffee table and walk away
Listen to the news without headphones on
Eat brunch somewhere that doesn’t have chicken nuggets on the menu
Watch Live! with Kelly and Michael
Write
Not write
Enjoy my scrambled eggs while they are still hot
Visit the adult non-fiction side of the library
Get my hair cut without hiring a sitter
Run a quick errand
Clean out my purse
Shop for a smaller purse
Take my smaller purse to places like Teavana and Yankee Candle Company
Unpack the garage

Oh dear. That may only last me until noon, at which point I may end up staking out the preschool playground to spy on the children.

What do you do with all your free time?

{Image via KnitBranda’s Etsy shop}

A Potty-Training Lament

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I have often wondered why I’ve put off potty training Mia this long. When I re-read this post from my potty-training days with Salem, I suddenly remembered why:

I have to admit, when my mother sent me the book, Toilet Training in Less Than A Day, by Nathan H. Azrin and Richard M. Foxx, I promptly put it in the “things-to-be-sure-to-pull-out-and-leave-lying-around-when-mom-comes-to-visit” bin.

Until last Sunday.

For nearly four days, Salem {and Mia} and I had our mail forwarded to the bathroom where we sat waiting…. waiting….. waiting for that magic moment that would never come unless I promised to buy them each a pony. I was desperate…. desperate enough to humor my mother and read the bathroom heresy book cover to cover in…. ironically enough…. less than a day. Three-quarters of the way through, I started to believe that this might actually work. That’s the funny thing about books like Toilet Training in Less than a Day, Three Minute Abs, and The One Minute Millionaire… One moment you’re a critic and the next you’re a disciple… sort of like what happens after a good Amway presentation. So, bathroom heresy turned potty gospel claims that one of the most effective ways to encourage your child to do his business within the proper purlieu is to create a “Friends Who Care” list. Now, this list includes anyone {real or fictional} that the child looks up to and respects that not only puts their pee pee and poo poo in the potty, but who would also be proud of his or her bathroom accomplishments. Our “Friends Who Care” list included but was not limited to:

Mommy
Daddy
Mimi
Papaw
Nona
Grandpa
Harry Potter
David Gray
Eric Clapton
Dave Matthews
Jeff Beck

By day two, our list had grown to include Phil Collins, Jesus Christ, Buddy the Elf, and the arctic penguins of Disney’s Earth. I figured we could sort out the different bathroom habits of animals, humans, and elves later, but for now, I was happy to expand our fan club to include anything or anyone that inhaled oxygen if it meant that my son would be inspired to toilet himself.

I wouldn’t dare spoil the book as it is soon bound to become a nail biting mini-series, but the one-day training method also restricts the commode-courting duo {in this case, Salem and I} to one room in the house for the duration of the training. The book strongly recommends conducting Bowel Boot Camp in the kitchen to better contain any accidents and spills. I’ll admit this is particularly disgusting, however, if the two of us were held prisoner for two days in our hobbit-sized bathroom, I am quite certain one of us wouldn’t have made it out before severe psychosis had turned our brains to pâté. Oh, and did I mention, this method involves no television or entertaining distraction such as books, siblings, or anything that has buttons and lights up which for a pre-schooler is an unusual form of medieval torture. For a mom, it is confirmation that Dr. Foxx and Dr. Azrin are, in fact, Al Qaida terrorists. So, by the end of day one we had learned the the oven door opens with a creak in B flat, there are approximately 32 linoleum tiles between the fridge and the kitchen sink, the faucet drips every 2.4 minutes and most importantly…

The book lied.

Now I have great kids. Exceptional, in my mothering opinion. But even my little angel was so over the whole accident routine which involves not one, but TEN practice runs to the potty seat from various points in the house lifting and lowering Thomas the Tank Engine underpants reciting “pee pee in the potty”. During one of our rehearsals, wet Thomas underpants went hurling across the kitchen at Mommy which under normal circumstances would have resulted in immediate disciplinary action, but these were far from ordinary circumstances. This was hell.

At one point, I glanced at my university degree hanging in the hallway next to a framed picture of Clark and I with President Bush. That was the moment I became painfully aware that raising children, while it is one of life’s great joys, is in fact one of Life’s Great Equalizers. No amount of education, world travel, or rubbing shoulders with the most powerful man on planet Earth was ever going to get my son to keep his pants dry. And so, there I am, a college grad, on day TWO/hour six of doing the “dry pants dance” {which sort of looks like wacky jacks only you spin in circles and say “dry pants dance” over and over until you lose all dignity and self-respect}. Upon completing this life lesson, I promptly put the kids to bed and proceeded to drink more margaritas than what is legally allowed in six states. Before you start to worry, I was amongst friends and Spouse. Friends don’t let friends drink post-potty training margaritas alone.

And so, I am reporting to you live from the fish mat.

The fish mat: one obnoxiously bright vinyl sheet covered in neon angler fish that harkens back to the days of Spring Break in Panama City Beach. It no doubt originated from the same highbrow establishment that specializes in air-brushed T-shirts and bedazzled navel rings, but it is waterproof. So far it has served nicely as a duvet, a futon cover, a floor rug, and most importantly, a barrier between Salem’s training accidents and every fabric surface in the Beasley household. I am considering having it matted and framed when this ordeal is all over.

The good news is that diapers are history. That’s one down and one to go. It didn’t take a day like the book claimed, but my little champ is well on his way to becoming a potty pro sans a few oops… {three and counting since the inception of this blog post.}

Now Mommy, stop blogging and do the “Dry Pants Dance”!!!!

{Image via Goat Milk}

A Mother’s Back to School Prayer

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Dear God, please help me to always tell the difference between what requires muscle and what requires Mommy.

Happy 1st Day of School!

{image via Salsa Pie}

Woody’s Greatest Hits

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Salem is telling stories.

The communication barrier is still pretty thick, but in the past 15 months, Salem has progressed from using echoed and scripted speech to answering simple “yes” and “no” questions to actual role-playing with his sister. Lately, he has been telling stories– nothing elaborate, but I will catch him narrating an original scene in limited detail. When he’s tired, he will get stuck on a loop and repeat the same phrase over and over and over again. When this happens, Clark and I say, “The record is skipping.” For instance, the other night, we were laying in my bed well past his bedtime, and with much passion and conviction, Salem observed, “Mommy, Woody is a big man… and Woody is a big man. And then… Woody… {long pause}… is a big man.” After a while, the repeated white noise lulled us both to sleep.

Woody’s Greatest Hits has made one more crack in the wall between us, and that is reason to celebrate.

Twenty Five Lessons I’ve Learned From My Three-Year-Old Daughter

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1. Redheads really do have more fun.

2. What’s mine is yours and what’s mine usually ends up underneath the bed, the sofa, and the car seat.

3. Helium balloons are a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

4. The definition of prudence is sleeping with one’s purse.

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5. A dad is a girl’s first love.

6. “Miss Daddy” is a term of endearment.

7. Skeletor has feelings too.

8. “Dear Jesus… Amen” is a perfectly acceptable prayer.

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9. Always steer clear of strange dogs.

10. Always steer clear of strange men in cow suits.

11. Sing-arella, The Lion Came, and Awesome in Numberland are arguably better than the original Disney classics.

12. Nakedness is one of life’s greatest gifts.

13. Food is a worthy passion.

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14. It is always time for ice cream.

15. There is an appropriate time and place for waving to truck drivers.

16. A round mid-section is nothing to be ashamed of.

17. People do not die from exposure to public restroom floors.

18. Wrestling is not gender exclusive.

19. It is a mother’s duty to instill in her daughter a healthy fear of frogs, roaches, and strange men in cow suits.

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20. If at first you don’t sing in tune, sing louder.

21. Singing loudly out of tune is the coup de gras of sibling rivalry {when your brother is Salem Beasley}.

22. Bandaids cover over a multitude of sins.

23. Losing Princess Jasmine is a fate worse than Bedtime.

24. Bakers, bank-tellers, and librarians are all named Oscar. {Mommy: “Ask her for a lollipop.” Mia: “Miss Oscar, may I have a lollipop?”}

25. Being together is all that really matters.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Mia Girl. You are magical in every way.

Outliers

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I just finished the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Have you read it? Surprisingly, this socio-economical analysis debunking the myths of success as defined by 21st century Western Society spoke volumes to me about parenting. Gladwell unpacks the idea that hard-work combined with unmerited opportunity and cultural legacy are what actually drives success. Perhaps with this being the last official week of summer, I am evaluating what sort of influence I am providing my children of “hard work”. In so many ways, this is still being personally defined for me. The start of a semester has always been a good time to take inventory of short-term goals. So when it comes to “hard work”, what do I want to model for my children in the coming months? A few unedited ramblings…

Hard work can be rewarding.

There’s a difference between hard work and busy-ness. It’s easy to be busy doing a whole lot of nothing.

Hard work is most gratifying when it makes someone else’s life better.

Relationships are hard work, but the pay-off is worth it.

Working hard is our way of saying “thank you” for the opportunities we’ve been given.

Hard work doesn’t have to feel like work. It can be fun!

Work hard at your personal best. If your best isn’t good enough, ask for help from someone whose “best” is better.

Patience combined with hard work is a force in the making.

Hard work ought to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Work hard. Rest hard.

What about you? How do you teach your kids about hard work?

Operation: Risk Management– Five Things to Consider Before Vaccinating

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When you have a child with Autism, one of the first questions on everyone’s mind is, “Are vaccinations the culprit?” Before I answer that… a few disclaimers: The following is by no means medically exhaustive. I am not a DIY expert on the subject, nor am I an anti-vaccine extremist. This is simply a slice of our journey.

When Salem was born, I was paralyzed by the polarization surrounding the subject of vaccines. I had read enough to know that there were risks on both sides, but I wouldn’t let a needle-packing nurse near him until I had made up my mind in good conscience which risks we were willing to take. I opted out of the Vitamin K and the Hep A shot that they give most children before they even leave the hospital. I figured he wasn’t going to be sharing any drug needles before his two-week check up, so we could at least wait until then. Two weeks came and went. Nine months later, we had not given him a single vaccine until finally, I asked myself the question:

“If my child contracted anything that could have been prevented, would I be able to live with myself?

When we arrived for his nine month check up, his pediatrician said that unless we vaccinated Salem, he could file a “medical negligence” claim against us. He enforced a “catch up” schedule and said that there were no a la carte options. In other words, we couldn’t opt out of the chicken pox or the drug-needle sharing vaccine. It was all or nothing or risk being labeled “medically negligent”. So, we prayed.

And then we pricked him.

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Ours isn’t the Autism story of, “one day he was here and the next he was gone” after the Ped administered the DTaP. Salem’s developmental delays appeared over time. Do I think that the vaccines caused Salem’s Autism? No. I think there is a buffet of genetic and environmental factors at play here, but when it comes to the influence of immunizations, I agree with one of Salem’s doctors:

If a child possesses a spark of neurobehavioral vulnerability {ie. a genetic propensity to a developmental disorder like Autism}, vaccinations are like gasoline. They exacerbate the situation.

Hindsight 20/20– would I still have chosen to vaccinate Salem? That depends. More importantly, I would sift my decision through a risk management filter that I like to call, “The Five D’s”. {Alliteration makes me happy… go with me on this.}

1. Diet— Does breastfeeding eliminate any and all risk of contracting an infectious disease? Certainly not. Does it reduce the likelihood? Yes. What deserves even further consideration is the presence of food allergies and/or intolerances. There are loads of test options to determine if your child should avoid certain foods, but here’s a test that’s absolutely free and void of controversy. Ready? Walk over to your pantry and open the door. Choose a box of oft-purchased cereal or crackers and read the ingredients. Can you pronounce them? Are your shelves lined with product ingredient lists that say, “Enriched flour”, “high fructose corn syrup”, and “Red 40”? You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that white flour, white sugar, sodium, dyes, and preservatives are crappy for you much less for your child’s developing brain. In addition, carefully researched and selected whole food supplements are important to consider as well.

2. Degree of Exposure— Does your infant/toddler attend day care or pre-school? Are you a stay-at-home mom that lines the grocery cart with a quilted coozie and keeps anti-bacterial wash on your key ring at all times? Do you live in a heavily polluted, urban city? Does your child have regular contact with someone who frequently travels internationally? The degree of exposure varies for each child and will most likely change over time. Harmful exposure is unavoidable, but we moms are faced with making a judgement call based on our respective environments and the level of protection we need to provide for our kiddos.

3. Development— This is tricky one. Barring any glaring disabilities that appear before or shortly after birth, most babies achieve specific milestones within the same general time frame. Rolling over, crawling, walking, talking… etc. A child can pull off these feats without a hitch and yet still possess a neurobehavioral disability. Salem’s developmental clues were primarily speech and sensory-related. How was I supposed to know that I had been pouring gasoline on Salem’s development since he was 9 months old when the evidence of a disorder would not appear until age 3? Which leads me to the fourth “D”…

4. Delay— Part of Operation: Risk Management for the Beasley children is to delay vaccinations until the blood-brain barrier closes {around age 5}. If all was sparkles and bubbles in our house and there was no sign of any genetic vulnerabilities, I would still insist on holding off on vaccinating until…

A. my child was no longer nursing.
or
B. my child was enrolled in daycare or pre-school.

After that, I would insist on single doses, spaced out within the maximum time allowed during which I would WATCH FOR SIGNS OF DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS AND AVERSE REACTIONS LIKE A HAWK.

5. Doctor— This is all fine and good, but the first four “D’s” ultimately hinge on whether or not you have a pediatrician that is willing to work with you. Does your doctor educate you or intimidate you? Do you get the sense that your child is just another little patient, or is his pediatrician willing to customize his diet and his immunization schedule, or suggest alternative options? For instance, have you ever heard of an Antibody Titer Test? Neither had I. This is a blood test to determine whether your child has sufficient antibodies and is therefore immune to a disease that is on the standard vaccination schedule. You mean my kid might not need all those boosters? No kidding. In my limited experience, these docs are hard to find, but they do exist.

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So, what if you are like me and you’ve moved from Operation: Risk Management to Operation: Damage Control? We have a diagnosis, so now what?

1. Date Around– Find a pediatrician that is willing to customize an approach to fit your child’s unique needs.

{oh man, here she goes with the D’s again. Yup.}

2. Delay any further vaccinations.

3. Detox– This involves a complicated series of tests to determine your child’s level of exposure to heavy metals from… you guessed it… vaccines that results in dietary changes and a liver support protocol and yada… yada… #itmakesmyheadhurttoobutwelcometomyworld.

Okay, so that’s more like 8 “D’s”. But you get the idea. I believe vaccines save lives. And yet, I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all vaccination plan that optimally benefits every child. The question, “Should I vaccinate my child?” is an important one that should be weighed carefully, approached holistically, and answered with the help of medical professionals who are willing to customize a plan that fits your child’s evolving needs. Above all, remember that as a parent, you have options. We won’t choose right every time, or even a lot of the time, but until our children are old enough to choose for themselves, {or until the government tells us otherwise} it is our job to choose what we think is best for them. So pray, plan, and proceed with confidence, and I promise… no more alliteration…

… for now.

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