Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It smells stinky in my whole life.

One day, a month or so ago, Emilia skulked across the living room, flopped onto the sofa, stared at the ceiling and exclaimed with a sigh, "It smells stinky in my whole life."

And right she is. On multiple levels.

In a literal sense, Emilia's life is stinky because she is insanely sensitive to the aromas around her. Grace's drool is stinky. The mulch in our neighbor's yard is stinky. Dinner is stinky. The nighttime is stinky. Basically, everything has an off-putting odor. There isn't much that can be done except to empty the Diaper Genie and hope that this too shall pass.

In a figurative sense, Emilia's life is stinky because she is a toddler. And lately I've been reflecting on the fact that, no matter how much wonder and awe and magic exists in early childhood, in a lot of ways, being a little kid must be really, really hard.

My brother Paul made this. 

Being a parent is hard too, but we get all of the empathy. We get the tongue-in-cheek lists from Babble and Buzzfeed, allowing us to commiserate with one another about bedtime, withering social lives and the fallacy of work-life balance. We blame our toddlers for making us crazy, imagining them blithely skipping through life, temporarily ruining ours in the process.

But sometimes Emilia's life is stinky too. In between trips to the zoo, Curious George marathons and toast with peanut butter, jelly, honey and sprinkles*, there's a lot of uncertainty. And turmoil.

There is a baby who has suddenly taken over the house and stolen a large portion of our attention. Plus, said baby pulls hair like a champ.

There are monsters.

There is a basement.

There are public restrooms with automatically flushing toilets.

There are parents who trick you into thinking they're awesome and then suddenly get mean.

There is timeout.

There are threats of being sent to timeout that only come to pass roughly 9% of the time.

On that note, there are mixed messages and inconsistencies.

There are so many emotions.

There is logic. Or a lack of logic, depending on who you ask.

There are disrupted schedules and promises broken.

There are frustrating toys, torn pages and shoes that no longer fit.

There are days when nothing makes sense.

So, even though there are still times when I'd love to trade places with my sweet, stubborn girl (olfactory sensitivity and all) -- because a life unburdened by the stresses of being an adult would be pretty great -- I'm trying to look at life from her perspective. I'm trying to practice patience and react to the tantrums, trauma and frustration with a little more empathy.

And, in the process, I hope I can help her see that someday soon, life will smell so much better.

*This is something I was goaded into making once, and now it's somehow become a house specialty (and, I would imagine, our pediatrician's nightmare).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Life flies by in seconds.

Yikes. I’m pretty sure I no longer have a blog. Instead I have a few dusty relics of carefree days gone by. Days when I read books not made out of boards, when I could sleep until I was awakened by the distant shouts of someone else’s kids. Now I’m rattled by the early-morning whines of a two-year-old, fresh lungs full of antsy anticipation. 


Life with one child was different. Life with two kids represents the molting of a past self. I am still getting my footing.

Grace Violet
Emilia, first baby, was early. Just early enough to be a pleasant surprise. A 2 a.m. contraction followed by a realization, a repacking of the hospital bag, a baby.

Now that I’ve met Gracie and have gotten to know her, it makes sense that she, on the other hand, was late. Just late enough to make me weep openly at the doctor’s office, a pile of hormones and Runza milkshakes. The Grace that we know now is slow and deliberate and easy, the personification of a lazy smile.

Four days after my due date, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling nauseous. I watched the sunrise with the Kardashians and a family of popsicle wrappers. I took a bath at 5 a.m. and texted our doula, Diana. (If you had told me two years ago that someday I’d have a doula to text, I would’ve laughed at you, you crazy hippie. But now, I will forever consider Diana one of the best people I’ve met, one of the smartest decisions I’ve made, a Contraction Whisperer, an honest-to-goodness angel.)

At 8 a.m., I told Matt to go to work. At 9 a.m., I told him to come home. And at 10:30, we were admitted to the hospital, where I spent the next three hours in some other world (the place where a Canadian hypnobabies podcast meets a Lisa Frank folder), opening one eye every so often to ask for more water in my wilting paper cup. Then, at 1:30 p.m., Grace arrived, quickly and efficiently, all matted black hair and origami cheeks that are still unfolding three months later. Beautiful.

And for the rest of the day, everything was beautiful. Look at Emilia meeting Grace – beautiful. The grin on Matt’s face – beautiful. Our parents are so happy – beautiful. This hospital-grade chicken salad sandwich – beautiful. 

But reality never stays at bay for long.
Life since Grace’s arrival has involved a lot of strategizing, a lot of scolding Emilia for being too rough, too loud, too toddlerish. I’m trying my hardest to remember that she is, in many ways, still so little herself. I try to go easy on her and appreciate her curiosity, the way she imitates us by talking to Grace in a creepy, high-pitched baby voice. This has been one big character study for all of us.

She is doing a really great job as a big sister. She is going easy on me, too.

And Grace is pretty wonderful. I would even venture to say that my dreams of a mellow second child have come true. Our first-born was always a little agitated with us, always a little ready to move on to the next phase of life – and that gumption is what makes her so amazing. But Grace, on the other hand, is such a stereotypical baby. She’s fat and soft, with a constant stream of drool that runs in rivulets through her neck folds, soaking our shirtsleeves. She purrs when she’s happy, grunts when she’s mad, and smiles like an old lunch lady in cat-eye glasses.

She is a warm retreat from the chaos of everything else.
They say not to worry about where the love for your second child will come from – that it will appear just when it's needed, sneaking in to fluff the pillows, dust the entryway, hide the unfolded laundry and ready your cramped two-bedroom heart for one more guest.  

And they were right.

However, I’d venture to say it’s been more of an incremental process. When Grace was born, the love was there. But when I see Emilia affectionately poke her eyes or lick her arm, the love grows. When she smiles at Matt, it grows. And when Grace and I get a rare minute alone to just stare at each other like two smitten dopes, it grows again.

But I guess that’s how parenting is in general. Nothing is totally automatic. It’s all a process. Sometimes you halfheartedly potty train your toddler over the course of a year. And sometimes you fall in love with a baby a little more each time you’re reminded of how fortunate you are.