Sometimes, when raising small children, you can feel pretty beat down. The days can seem long, the battles hard fought. The beauty and unconditional love that accompanies having kids can often be dampened by the actual work of raising them. The times outs, no you can't have that, and day to day routine can often suck the life out of everyone. The consistency and patience that are needed to produce positive outcomes often takes more energy than any of us can muster and we are left feeling guilty, incompetent, and completely out of control. At least I do, anyway.
Sometimes, I don't know if I'm doing anything right. This whole parenting thing doesn't come with a manual, you know? And sometimes I wish that it did so that I could gauge our progress and know in my heart that we are getting it right. But, it doesn't. The only way that we know how well we are doing is by looking at our kids themselves. Are they happy? Thriving? Content? Do they believe in themselves and project positive attitudes? Do they treat others with kindness and respect and use good manners? Are they responsible and follow instructions? And, most importantly, do they know that it is okay to mess up every once in a while? That no one is perfect and we'll love them no matter what?
We had one of those weekends that showed me that we are, in fact, on the right track. One of those weekends when things just fell into place and everyone behaved and all felt right in the world. On Saturday, Shawn and I took all three kids to the LSU football game. We tailgated, explored the college campus, and watched ALL FOUR quarters of the game without a single meltdown or temper tantrum. It was a perfectly sunny fall day, purple and gold colors everywhere, and we bundled up in fleece and flannel. I packed a picnic for us to enjoy before the game and the kids ate their weight in PB&J and brownies. We took our time, no rushing around or high expectations. We let them take the lead, trusting them. As they rolled down the big hill in front of the Journalism building, I smiled and waved and tried to memorize their happy faces. I soaked in all the giggles and shrieks of excitement as they weaved their way through the crowd and watched the pre-game parade. And that moment when we stepped into Tiger Stadium, their eyes lit up as they took in the field and the band and the sheer magic of a live football game: it was priceless. They sat in their seats the whole time, popcorn in hand, and cheered right along with the crowd. They didn't complain or whine or act up. They said "excuse me" to their neighbors, thanked us for buying them snacks, and acted like sweet little ladies. And River, well, he slept the whole time. All wrapped up and snug in his carrier, our mighty giant boy took in his first game. His first of many, I am sure.
They weren't born knowing how to behave like this: they've learned good behavior through discipline and hard work. Those days when we feel defeated and exhausted and discouraged because it seems like all we did was fuss and fight with these defiant little ones: they are worth every second. Because even when we feel like they are ignoring everything we say, they're not. They're taking it all in, both the things that we say and the examples we set. They are learning whether we want to give ourselves the credit we deserve or not. And we are proud. As we left that 3 hour long football game and put our sleepy kiddos into the car for the drive home, Shawn and I felt so proud. They are good kids. And it was a good game. Geaux Tigers! And geaux Vasquezs!
After a restful 2 month maternity leave, restful both physically and mentally, I went back to work last week, back to my job as a Registered Nurse. I didn't make a big fuss about it: only a few tears were shed, no big announcement or fanfare. Going back to work is what I have to do, regardless of my instinctual need to stay home with my babies forever and ever. I put on my scrubs, packed up my breast pump, and felt as nervous as if it were my first day of school.
When making these difficult transitions in life, I've learned that it's all about perspective. Truthfully, leaving River at home and heading out to work is the last thing in the world I really want to do. In my dream scenario, I would get to stay home with him as long as I possibly could, spending each and every day caring for all three of my kids full time. But, that is not my reality. I am a working mom, always have been and most likely always will be. My family relies on me to provide and I do so with a humble and grateful heart. My perspective: I am thankful to have a job that I truly love, to feel excited for my day when I leave the house in the morning. I am grateful that I no longer have to leave my children at daycare. My husband is able to stay home with them and care for them in my absence. And most of all, I am grateful for the time that I DO have with them. I count the minutes until I am able to get home in the afternoon, to scoop them up when they come running outside to greet me, to have them follow me around the house like little ducks, telling me all about their days. I went back to work this week with a healthy and positive perspective on what I am doing because I know in my heart that what I am doing is right and good.
I gave my maternity leave 110% of my whole heart. We had days when we stayed in our pajamas all day, enjoyed visits from family and friends. We went out for pancakes, enjoyed long mornings on the front porch, and cooked big dinners almost every night. I held my baby boy every chance I got, taking naps with him in the middle of the day without ever caring what chores were waiting on me. I played dolls and read books and painted fingernails. And no temper tantrum or tear filled day could have made me want to be anywhere else. Because home was exactly where I was supposed to be during this time. With my family, giving all of myself. I enjoyed each and every day and will always remember these last two months as one of the happiest times of my whole life.
My job is extremely flexible and ideal for a mother with young children: I leave the house at 7 in the morning and get home around 1 in the afternoon. River only misses one feeding while I am gone, thankfully, because he currently hates taking his bottle. I always say that Shawn's accident happened for so many reasons, many that we are just now beginning to understand. Before the accident, Shawn's job required him to travel 6 months out of the year, causing him to miss birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, and more milestones than I care to count. But now, he is here, fully involved and present in our family's life together. Now, he is able to stay home with our kids while I work. Now, we are able to work together to give our kids a balanced home life. Of everything that came out of such a terrible experience, having him here is the most meaningful to me. And it is with that thankfulness that I am able to put my stethoscope around my neck and leave the house everyday.
Life is not always what we want it to be, friends. But it is always, always what we make of it. There is nothing I love more than being a mother and a wife and those roles will always come first in my life. But being a nurse: it comes in a close second. Seeing the joy on my patients' faces when I walked back into their homes this week: it was priceless. I cared for them with as much love and patience as I do my own family because that is what I have been called to do. And I hope that, someday, my children will look back and see that their mama gave this life everything she had. They will see that I made the most of each day, each experience, constantly learning and growing and evolving. I hope that someday they can appreciate how much I love to love them and that even when I wasn't right there with them, I was never far away.
Isabelle has a fall break from school this week, giving us a 3 day weekend together. While Shawn caught up on some work around the house, I decided to take the kids out for the day: a lunch date, some shopping, time together. I was on a mission to find a pair of jeans, "transitional jeans" I call them. You know, the jeans you wear after you have a baby because nothing else fits and you can't look at your maternity clothes one second longer and your leggings are starting to wear out their welcome? Those jeans. We ate lunch, the girls minding their manners while River slept in my lap the whole time. I bought Brees a pair of sparkly pink Mary Janes, her choice, to celebrate the fact that she FINALLY pooped in the potty. A whole week with no accidents and I don't think I've ever been so excited about poop before. Isabelle got new makeup to go with her Halloween costume, she's going to be a vampire this year. And River got a stuffed hippo picked out by his big sisters. They decided he needed his own stuffed animal since, being the third child and all, he has no toys of his own. A travesty in their eyes.
I piled them all into the dressing room: River cooing in the stroller, Brees attempting to hang from the ceiling, Isabelle posing in the mirror, and a huge pile of jeans for me to try on. One by one, I went through the pile, jumping and stretching and sucking it in as I attempted to discover what size this new body of mine is. My time was very limited: River would need to nurse soon and it was only a matter of time before Brees tried to make a run for it. I didn't have time to obsess over my body, to pick myself apart, to look too closely into the mirror and judge myself harshly. Just find a pair that fits, find a pair that makes you feel semi-human again.
The whole time I plugged away at my transition jean mission, the girls sang their new favorite song, "Roar" by Katy Perry, their shrill little girl voices filling that dressing room up to the brim:
Now I’m floating like a butterfly Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes I went from zero, to my own hero
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar Louder, louder than a lion Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
They were singing about being confident, believing in yourself, embracing who you are. They were looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing beauty, smiles, happiness. They were being fearless and innocent and real.
They were singing and dancing and being so carefree that there was no way I could do anything but follow suit. They were inspiring me, without even knowing it, to be proud of myself and my body. The chaos that filled that room, the sheer ridiculousness of trying on clothes with three kids in tow, I just had to laugh and embrace the moment. I didn't see any flaws in my body in that mirror. All I could see were three beautiful, wild, loving babies that have made my heart whole. All I could see was a family full of love and imperfections and life. All I could see was myself picking up a pair of jeans, high fiving my daughters, and dancing my way right out of there. It was crazy beautiful.
When I was pregnant with River, I often joked to friends and family members that we'd see them in about a year. "We won't be leaving the house for a while" was the feeling I had every time I thought about packing up three kids, two in diapers, one breastfeeding, all three on different schedules. Just thinking about squeezing our new family of five into my Prius made me nervous: would our new (old) double stroller even fit into the hatch back? Would we miss the whole party before I was even able to get them all dressed and loaded into their seats?
But our little family has surprised me. I have been much more calm and patient this time around, letting a lot of things go and practicing grace as much as possible. Naturally, the kids followed suit, their energy a direct reflection of a mama learning to let her OCD tendencies go. Shawn and I have teamed up now more than ever to tackle things around the house, hollering out "team work!!" when things get particularly chaotic and we feel the need to redirect everyone. And our consistency and love of routine has created a natural rhythm for the whole family, resulting in the kids' sleeping and eating schedules all getting on the same page much quicker than we ever could have anticipated. We are learning, day by day, how to get things done, let things go, and laugh at all of the in betweens. It is a growing experience for all of us.
And I'm not scared or nervous anymore. What's the worse that could happen? They cry? Throw temper tantrums in public? People stare at me while I nurse the baby at the zoo? Someone has an accident? I forget to pack essential items? Well, all of that has already happened and we're still alive and well and functioning just fine. There's no need to worry about what could happen or how hard it will be to take them all out together: I know that we can handle anything. We may be exhausted and confused half the time but we can handle it nonetheless. This is just normal parenting stuff, it goes with the territory. Later, we'll tell great stories about the time we took the whole family out and we all spent the entire trip crying, whining, and miserable. But we were there, we were together, and we were making memories. That's all that really matters.
This new, adventurous and optimistic attitude of mine has resulted in some pretty great weekends lately. We've learned to keep the activities short and sweet: don't expect miracles from these little people. They get tired and overstimulated very easily and it's best not to push them too far. Where it's in my nature to say "Just 5 more minutes" or "Let's walk a little bit further", I've learned to scale back and keep it simple. When in doubt, offer snacks. Expect a normally 30 minute drive to now take 2 hours. And most of all: laugh. When they're all in the back seat howling and wiggling and hitting and acting out, try to laugh and keep it light. Surprisingly, they usually stop acting like little tyrants and start laughing, too.
This past weekend included a hiking trip through a state park near our home. We packed a picnic lunch and made it a half day trip, leaving just as it was time for afternoon naps. We arrived just as the early morning fog was lifting and the temperature was still cool. Shawn and I created a scavenger hunt for Belle and Brees, keeping them entertained as they were on the look out for the different animals and trees we called out to them. And River slept through the whole trip. River: the baby who encouraged me to just let it all go. To be present. To embrace the chaos. My peaceful, soothing boy, teaching me about redemption more and more every day.