Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Pyramid

“Last day of school – Yay?”

There are plenty of Mommas out there who can relate to this – I know I’m not the only one!

I love my children and I’m looking forward to all that Summer Vacation means for our family – but if I’m being honest? I’m kind of dreading it as well… Can you relate?

For about six hours a day, I know exactly where my kiddos are and I have the time and space to be get a lot of stuff done. Even though I work outside the home as well as within the home, my life resembles that of a stay-at-home-parent.

I wake everybody up, jump into the shower on days that I don’t work out, and on the days that I do, head into school sweaty and without any trace of vanity to drop my kids off where they need to be. Most days on time and with everything they need to be a successful student.

And then? Well, let’s be real – I don’t go home, pop my feet up, eat a few bonbons and catch up on my Netflix! I’m not even sure why the term “stay-at-home-parent” exists! I’ve yet to meet the parent who’s the primary caregiver that even spends much time at home. Okay, when the kids were young, I might have orchestrated my days around their nap schedules, and then preschool drop off and pick up, and now, elementary school drop off and pick up – but I’m rarely “sitting around.”

My 8-year old son actually said to me the other day, “I’ve often wondered what it is you do all day while I’m at school.” He said this with complete innocence and sincerity – and I wanted to throttle him for even hinting that I might just be “hanging out.”

I responded with, “Dude, if you were here on any given day to watch all that I get done while you’re away at school, you’d be exhausted!”

All of this makes me really wonder (with true admiration!) how families where parents work full-time outside of the home find the time to get anything else done?

Just going to the grocery store can take two hours! (No, I’m not making this up…) When I’m at the checkout and the cashier asks if I’d like someone to help me out to the car, it takes everything in me not to yell, “NO! I don’t need someone to take this stuff to the car! I need someone to come home with me, haul it all into my house, clean out my refrigerator of old food that’s been hiding and silently turning into a science fair project, rearrange my cabinets and then put all of the food away! Don’t you understand? I’ve only got four more hours of daylight before my full-time Momma duties resume!”

But instead, I just smile and say, “No thanks – I got it!”

On the rare days (like this one) where I don’t have anything work-related, or volunteer Board-related, or field trip-related, or “I-need-a-tri-fold-poster-board-for-my-project-that-I-just-found-out-about” (two-months-ago!) related issue on the calendar, then I get a short little window of time to say, return a cowboy hat to Target that I got months ago because it was so cute when I tried it on and then became seriously not cute when I got home, go to four (!) different stores in search of the stupid trifold poster board that apparently EVERY other one of the 1,600 students at my son’s High School all needed in the last week of school, go the grocery store and buy ALL the food, and maybe, just maybe, do a little bit of cleaning.

This leaves me with even less time to devote to the creation of my new website (under construction and coming SOON – Wahoo!), to write a quick blogpost, or explore writing an essay about pregnancy, birth and parenting for the new book idea that I’m super excited about.

Sigh.

This is my real reason for dreading the last day of school.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll see that “creativity” is right at the very tippy top of the pyramid. And there are a lot of levels to attend to first before you even get to consider fulfilling those needs (And yes, being creative is a need!) I started craving this need about five years ago and in all this time, I’ve attempted to fit it in around my role as primary at-home parent. As Momma, I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that everybody else’s pyramid gets attended to.

Translation: Historically, MY pyramid doesn’t get as much attention during Summer Vacation as it does during the school year. Just a quick review of my blog over the past several Summers confirms this. The amount of posts on my blog go down between the last day of school and the first day of school. During Summer Break, just finding the time to sit, be still and create anything becomes much harder for me.

So, don’t blame me for not being 100% excited about the school year ending!

I’m looking forward to more time with my kiddos, I swear! I’m acutely aware that my oldest will be heading off to college who-knows-where in the Fall 2018, and this makes me very conscious of just how fast time is moving forward, and that I only get them for a short while, and that I should enjoy them while they’re still living under my roof, etc., etc. But…

This year, Summer Vacation is going to be different.

My personal goals for the months of June, July & August this year, entail not ignoring my own pyramid of needs. I’m putting it out there right now that even though I will, of course, continue to attend to my children’s pyramids – I’m going to make sure that my needs continue to be met. I’m going to attend to all the levels of my own pyramid – even those at the very tippy top!

Will you join me in this, fellow parents?

It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s so much easier to make sure the kiddos are getting all they need, when we make sure that we’re getting all that we need.

Each one of the levels in this pyramid matter. YOU matter. Create those boundaries and model the behavior that you’d like your children to adopt. And then? You might be as excited as they are for the last day of school. And bonus – you might discover that this song is not quite so annoying!

Happy Last Day of School!

Stretch Marks

Stretch Marks

Not my belly… but isn’t it gorgeous?

The other morning I got out of the shower and leaned over to wrap my long, curly hair into a towel and couldn’t help but notice the stretch marks on my belly.

These were the same stretch marks I was convinced I didn’t have when I was pregnant with my daughter 17+ years ago. I kept looking for them in the mirror, but to my utter amazement – I didn’t have any! Or so I thought…

The illusion was broken when I was about eight months pregnant and marveling at my changing body in front of the mirror again. Only this time, my husband was in the room.

Me: “I can’t believe I don’t have any stretch marks! I mean, my belly is HUGE! I would have expected there to be a ton of them! But nope, not one.”

Him: “Ummm… I think you have some down here” (pointing low on each side of my belly) “Whoa! there’s a bunch of them… you just can’t see them.”

And he was right. My belly had gotten so big that that it had begun to cast a shadow and all of my stretch marks were hiding – on the dark side of the moon.

After my initial shock (which really wasn’t warranted… there was no way that my belly could have gotten as big as it did without stretching enough to leave a mark!) I’ve never given my stretch marks a second thought. After all, they’re not that big, they’ve faded over time and aren’t very noticeable, and besides, I don’t regret any of them because they mark me as a mother.

I’d forgotten they were even there, to be honest.  But the other morning as I stood bent over, eye-to-stretch mark, I couldn’t miss them. And suddenly, I had a thought about how a different type of stretch mark is happening to me right now.  It’s one that no one else can see, but it marks me as a mother just the same.

My oldest daughter – the OG stretch mark maker, herself – left on Thursday to go halfway around the world to perform with her dance company, The Jefferson Dancers. They’re in the South of France (Ooh! La! La!) for ten days.

It’s my heart that’s being stretched right now – and it’s going to leave a mark for sure.

I don’t have the typical angst that you might think would go along with kissing your “baby” goodbye as she heads to a timezone that’s 9 hours ahead. I know her to be a mature, strong, smart young woman and I know she’ll come home with amazing stories to tell and wonderful memories to last her a lifetime.

It’s just that this trip signifies something more. My girl is almost grown and out of the house.

My first little bird is getting ready to fly away.

As I typed that last sentence, I paused to see what feelings this brought up for me…

No sadness – just deep, abiding joy and pride at who my girl has become. And this: how amazing to think she still has so much life left to live. So many more memories to make and stories to tell. So many chapters yet to be written.

As I get ready to head home to see my own family later this month, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for my parents as they watched all of their little birds fly away. Some, not too far, but me? Two plane rides and a 3-hour time zone away!

None of us thought this was going to be forever! It was supposed to be a one-year commitment with The Jesuit Volunteer Corps. But almost 25 years later, here I am getting ready for the first of my own four to stretch her wings and soar.

~~~~~~~

I spent the entire weekend teaching expectant parents. Saturday was a one-day express childbirth preparation class, focused on providing these families with realistic expectations about birth. Sunday, was my first ever Becoming Us class, where the focus was on realistic expectations of the transition to parenthood and how to keep the couple relationship strong despite of, maybe as a result of, the normal changes and challenges of new parenting.

I could see the stretch marks on these parents as they wrapped their minds around all that’s involved in the birth process or what it really means to become a parent.

But how can I express to them what is yet to come? Soooooo much stretching!

They will be marked and marked again on their parenting journey: the day they drop their baby off at preschool; the late night worry they’ll feel when their baby is sick; the piercing cry they can’t stop hearing after their toddler’s spectacular wipeout; the good ache that comes from a heart full of pride as they watch their child do something amazing; the bad ache that comes from a heart breaking right along with theirs as their child feels the sting of rejection; the recognition that, if you’ve done this parenting thing right, eventually… they leave.

I love my stretch marks, all of them – maybe those not visible to the naked eye most of all. For they’re a reminder that I have birthed my babies not just from my body, but out and into this great big world. A reminder that mirrors why I’m still so passionate about the work I do with parents who may not have discovered any physical stretch marks (yet!) The parenting journey begins when a family says yes to welcoming a child into their hearts. And from that day on, it never ends. It never breaks down…it just stretches on and on.

PS – I got to talk with my girl at my 11:41 pm my time to 8:41 am her time just as I was putting the finishing edits on this post. It’s a weird thing this stretching – my heart is so full, I sometimes think it might burst. But it doesn’t, it just stretches a little bit more.

Do you have stretch marks? Are they purely physical, or can you relate to the idea of “emotional stretch marks” as well? I’d love to hear what you think about this – please leave me a comment, or share this post with anyone who might appreciate it. PS – I appreciate YOU!

It’s Been A Long Day…

Long Day

One morning, I called my Mom, almost in tears, saying that I’d already yelled at my kids “at least 25 times” that day and it was only half past nine in the morning! I asked how she’d done it with twice as many kids as me, and without ever yelling at any of us.

“What?” she’d asked incredulously. And I’d responded, “I don’t ever remember you even raising your voice at us.” And my wonderful Momma laughed out loud for a full five minutes before saying, “That’s what you’d call ‘having a selective memory’, sweetheart!”

Then she shared with me some epic tales of losing it and going off on us kids (none of which I remembered) and then told me something important: “Honey, when your children are small the truth of the matter is that the days are long, but the years are short.”

And now that I have one child talking about college, the two in the middle are rocking their High School & Middle School years, and my youngest is turning eight (tomorrow!) – I’d have to agree with her.

I was teaching this past weekend to a room full of expectant parents who must have thought I was crazy when I told them how jealous I was of them. But, seriously, I am.

I don’t envy the sleepless nights, the sore nipples, or the diaper changes to come. And to be sure, age three was unbelievably hard for me! (ALL four times!) No, I don’t have hazy, rose-colored memories of parenting infants and toddlers.

I vividly remember being attached at the hip to at least one of my babies all day long and what it felt like when the only hours that belonged to me were either those when I was sleeping or when I was alone in the bathroom without one of my children walking in on me, or asking me a litany of questions through the closed door.

(In all honesty, these bathroom moments continue to be few and far between…)

But I do envy expectant parents the opportunity to be transformed by the awesome power of birth: to find a strength that has yet to be tapped, and a vulnerability that has yet to be explored. I am jealous that they get to discover a whole new person they never even new existed inside themselves being born on the same day as they welcome their new baby.

I love being a Momma and my kids are absolute gifts in my life. But parenting has been, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had! And on the eve of my “baby’s” 8th birthday, I’m starting to appreciate the nostalgia expressed by parents who are no longer in that intense phase of parenting little, littles.

You know what I’m talking about…

You’re in the middle of Target with a 6-year-old who always manages to be where you can’t see her, a 3-year-old who keeps trying to get out of his seat in the shopping cart, and a newborn who’s decided that NOW! is the perfect moment to have her first real meltdown and is screaming inconsolably.

As you struggle to wrestle the baby out of the front-pack carrier, unhook your bra with one hand, corral the other two and sit down in the middle of the storage container aisle to feed your baby, you catch the eye of an older woman walking past. She sees your frustration rising to a breaking point, walks over, gives your arm a tight squeeze and says, “You’ll miss all of this one day! They grow up too fast!”

And in that moment, you can’t decide if you want to hug her – or punch her in the face!

(This may or may not have happened to me about 11 years ago…)

What does she mean?! She can’t possibly mean that she wishes to switch places with you (she doesn’t). Or that she longs for the days when her children were all moving in different directions and demanding so much energy, time, and attention that she remembers feeling like she never had enough for herself (she doesn’t).

But maybe with the passage of time, she’s realized the wisdom in my mother’s words: the days are long (and let’s face it – some days longer than others!) but the years are oh-so-short! And maybe she too, has a somewhat “selective memory” when it comes to what it was like to have babies and toddlers underfoot. Maybe she honestly forgets (or chooses to, anyway) all that made that time in her life so challenging and instead focuses her attention on all that she loved about that time as well:

~ the softness of her newborn’s cheek

~ the delicious smell of her baby’s head

~ the dimples of her toddler’s hands

~ the chubby feet and rolls upon rolls of her little one’s thighs

~ the sing-song call of “Mommy! Mooooooommmmmmy!”

She doesn’t envy you those incredibly long days. But, maybe she wishes that she could freeze time for the days that went by too fast. It is a blessing for us all that selective memory exists when it comes to parents – and children. 

This selective memory allows us to decide what we choose to focus on. I really cannot remember my Mom raising her voice at us – in fact, as I got older, she mastered the use of lowering her voice for emphasis to great effect!

But this imperfect recording of my childhood gives me hope! Maybe the same will be true for my own children. Maybe they’ll also have a selective memory of their childhood and focus mostly on just how much I loved them, not on how often I failed to show it because my temper or my impatience got the better of me – and I lost it once or twice. Or more.

This is my hope for all of you Mommas out there who’ve had that moment of regret – that you weren’t “perfect” in your parenting today. And if today has been incredibly long, may tomorrow be easier, but not necessarily shorter. And may you and your children have beautiful and imperfect memories of your day-to-day together, and instead someday feel wistful and nostalgic for those years that went by too fast.

Does this ring true for you in your parenting? It does for me… I’d love it if you’d share your comments. And I found this super cool Amy Winehouse song that I don’t think has ever been released… But it seems so fitting to the topic, that I offer it to you here

Why I No Longer Care If My House Is Clean…

Dusty

Let’s be real… I’ve never cared if my house is clean. But once I started having children, the pretty low standards I began with kind of bottomed out.

YAY! I’ve been published again on the parenting website, Red Tricycle! Please click here to read the rest of my article and then share it widely with those who you think might want to read it. And I’d really love it if you’d comment below if you feel like cleaning has taken a back seat to your parenting (“Misery loves company!” or maybe, “There’s solidarity in numbers!” – ??? In any case, it will make me feel a lot better about the state of my house if I know I’m not the ONLY one.)

One Is The Loneliest Number…

one-is-lonely

Being a mom is lonely…why is making mom friends so hard? I swear it’s worse then dating. Pretty sure I’m just going to throw in the towel on having a social life until I’m old and retired and can play wheelchair races with other loner stinkies down the nursing home hallways. Raise your hand if wine is your best mom friend these days.

This was the post I read the other day on an online Facebook page that I lurk on. By “lurking,” I mean that I’m a member, but rarely do I post anything. The group is supposed to exist as a means of support for today’s super-connected new Mommas. But when I read some of the responses to posts members have written, they feel anything but supportive.

I’m not bashing the Admins for the FB page. I believe they work hard to police any comments that are out of line with the quote prominently displayed on their banner: “Whatever you do, do with kindness. Whatever you say, say with kindness. Wherever you go, radiate kindness.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie) But when you have 15K+ members, it’s hard to keep up.

I believe that being a new Momma today is much, much harder than it was when I had my first baby 17 1/2 years ago. And the number one reason, in my opinion, is: Social Media.

Now, before you think that I’m going to tear into how “social media is the devil” and that we would all be “better off without our faces glued to a screen” – I’m not. I’m not much of a ranter, in general, but if I went on a rant about social media, it would make me a hypocrite.

I share rich and robust connections with people all over the globe… that I only know online. There are a few whom I feel incredibly close to – even though we’ve never met, or even talked on the phone! So, no… social media is not some sort of demon that we all need to try and exorcise from our lives.

Motherhood on its own is one of the toughest gigs around. But add a little social media to mothering and you’ve just made it that much harder. Here are a few reasons why I think this is so:

  • It’s too easy to sit at your dining room table and “connect” with other people online instead of getting out of the house as a new Momma to interact with people face-to-face. (Important to note that this can lead to all sorts of issues: increased feelings of isolation, increased risk of PMADs, a lack of conversational skills with someone other than your non-verbal infant, or your partner) 
  • A lack of conversational skills can make any attempts to connect with people in the real world seem super weird and awkward. (“Hi – do you want to be my new Momma friend?”) 
  • Interaction with others online only, means miscommunication is bound to happen! (“Did she just say that to me? I can’t believe she just said that to me!”) 
  • Engaging in interactions with others that are not face-to-face can be socially dangerous. (Not being able to read body language and facial expressions, means you might not understand the meaning behind the comment: they meant to convey humor or sarcasm, you interpreted it as mean and hurtful.) 
  • It’s also too easy to feel defensive about a parenting choice you’ve made and then go into attack mode if you feel your decision has been challenged by someone else – especially if they’re just a name and a profile picture on a screen. (Making parenting decisions almost always leaves you feeling a little bit uncertain and defensive. And we often will “say” things online that we would never say to a person standing in front of us.) 
  • People don’t usually share their parenting fails – or any other fails, really – online. (The virtual world is where most of us present only our very best selves, leaving out the not-so-glamorous details of our everyday life. This can lead others who might be struggling to believe that they’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough… to be able to do this Momma thing “right.”) 
  • While we all know that perfection is just an ideal, and not something that exists in reality, it’s hard to be okay with your imperfections when others are not willing to reveal any of their own. (This is what I like to call “The Curse of the Pinterest Parent.”) 
  • Despite all of this, we continue to persist in trying to make these online only “connections” with others – but we also continue to be surprised by the result. (Relationships that don’t feel very deep or authentic; relationships that end up being not very satisfying and leave us wanting something more…) 
  • It’s no wonder then that the current generation is one with the most connected group of people in history reporting the highest levels of loneliness and isolation.

Wow. How’d we get here? But more importantly, how can we get out of here?

The feelings of vulnerability that get stirred up during pregnancy are intense and very unsettling. Everything seems to be changing: our bodies, our relationships, our feelings about the world, our identities as individuals and as a couple – and there doesn’t seem to be anyplace where we can find sure footing.

It’s one thing to make decisions for ourselves, but now we’re making decisions for our baby – and we really don’t want to screw this up! We’ve either had:  A) the greatest mother in the world, which is fantastic – but an incredibly tough act to follow! or B) the crappiest mother in the world, which is awful – and we’re desperate to not repeat her sins. Either way, there’s an awful lot of pressure to be the best parent EVER!

I’ve talked often about the need to find your parenting tribe . It’s not necessarily easy, but it is easily one of the most important tasks of pregnancy and parenting preparation. And even if you’ve already had your baby, but still don’t have your tribe, then I encourage you to get out there and find them – in person!

This might sound challenging – but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Go to where other new parents hang out. There are usually New Parent groups in most communities – check them out! Usually the first couple of visits are either free, or super cheap to attend, so there’s no real investment, other than your time.

These groups are usually run by a facilitator who can help the group learn one another’s names and provide some ice breakers or discussion topics for people to weigh in on. It might take a month or more of weekly hanging out for you to make a connection, and it may only be with one or two others, but it’s a start. And even if it does feel eerily similar to dating  (Noooooooooooo!), hang in there. Going out for coffee after or meeting up early to take a walk before the group starts can give you a little bit of time to get to know one another better and see if you’re a good “fit.”

Sign up for some sort of “baby and me” class – music, messy art, reading at the library – or just go hang out at the park. Parks exist for one reason only: so parents can gather, commiserate and let their kiddos run wild and so as to not destroy the house! (I realize there are lots of other reasons… This is just the one that saved my sanity when my kiddos were small.)

But here’s the part that might be hard for some of the Mommas in this generation to hear… While you’re hanging out, trying to meet other new Mommas – Put the damn phone DOWN! Interact with your baby and the world that surrounds you. Be present. Look up and smile at another new Momma – she’s probably feeling exactly the same way you are. Strike up a conversation – about how cute her baby is, or where she got the killer stroller, or how crappy the weather’s been lately…

But after the small talk, get real.

Real connection does not occur when we hide who we really are. Real connection with another human being only happens if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. You don’t have to dump on your new potential BFF, but it’s also okay to reveal a little bit about yourself that shows her you’re human, you’re not perfect. This can disarm her and her natural tendency toward defensiveness as a new Momma.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might get shot down… And if you do? That’s okay, you’re just not a good fit. But what if she responds with,“I feel the same way!” Well, then my friends you’ve got the start of something beautiful – a new friendship that is based upon shared circumstances, similar parenting styles, and cute babies that you really hope will like one another as they grow up. The potential to make life-long friends is there for the taking as a new parent – it’s just going to require a little bit of effort.

But please, please don’t give up…

The Momma who wrote that FB post did something that others might have thought a little crazy – but I thought it was beautiful and brave. She opened herself up and expressed her vulnerability about not having many new Momma friends – and she did it online, which is very taboo. And do you know what happened? As of this writing, she’s received 73 really positive and encouraging comments from other Mommas who are looking to make real, face-to-face connections. She started an online thread for all of these other women to share their own feelings of loneliness as new Mommas and it looks as if there will be meet-ups happening all over the city!

My hope is that these women make connections with one another and begin building their LIVE tribe of new parent friends – those who will be honest with one another about the challenges of parenting, and willing to share their epic parenting fails. When we realize we’re not alone on this new parenting journey, it can be so helpful!  Because trying to do this parenting thing without your tribe is hard and one can be the loneliest number.

How are you feeling in this age of “connection?” Hooked-up and well engaged? Or lonely and in need of a friend? Where did you/will you find your tribe?

For an added bonus check out this video from Three Dog Night from 1969… It’s so good in all the bad ways.

The Tooth Fairy

tooth-fairy

“Okay, Mommy – I’m going to ask you a question, because I know that parents don’t lie.”

Thing Four said this to me yesterday afternoon while standing in our kitchen, home early from school with his first-of-the-season cold. I tried to distract him by offering him a snack. But, he would not be deterred.

“I’m not hungry! I need you to answer this question, because I know you won’t lie to me.”

I knew what was coming… How? He’s my fourth kid, he lost his tooth in the middle of math class yesterday, and he was jumping up and down about the dollar that he found under his pillow before he headed off to school in the morning. I got myself ready.

“Okay. What’s your question?”

“Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

I tried to stall. “Why are you asking me that?

“Because a big kid at school today said that there’s no such thing as a Tooth Fairy and that it’s just the parents. I want to know if he’s right or not.”

The moment of truth. Ugh. I’ve walked down this path before, three times already. But with Things One, Two & Three they hadn’t posed the “Is (fill in the blank) real? Or is it just you and Daddy?” question until they were ten years old. Ten! In this day and age, I think ten might be pushing it when it comes to still believing in the magic of childhood and I was so happy that they did! Because, honestly, I still want to believe. But when I answered their questions, it was only to confirm what they already knew. Each of them expressed sadness – they were hoping against hope that magic was still real – but none of them were at all surprised.

As my tender-hearted, sweet and sensitive seven-year old boy stood before me with complete trust that I was going to confirm what he knew without question – that the Tooth Fairy was in fact very real – my heart was aching for him. The words, “Too soon! Too soon!” kept echoing in my head. He noticed my pause and asked again, “Are you the Tooth Fairy?”

“Are you really wanting the answer to that question right now?” This has been my go-to response for the older three on so many different topics over the years. I feel like it gives my kids an out if they aren’t really ready to hear the answer. And sometimes, my question stops them from going any further. My little guy’s smile started to falter and his bottom lip quivered a bit, but he still said, “Yes.”

When I told him that it was his Daddy who did the work of the Tooth Fairy his face crumpled and he started to cry. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to find the older kid who’d given him a hard time at school earlier in the day, teasing him about still believing in the Tooth Fairy – and wring his little neck.

Instantly, I was transported back to the day I was five years old – FIVE! – and my older brothers, ages eleven and thirteen at the time sat me down and told me that none of it was real. They laid it all out – and I bawled my eyes out.

I decided to do my best to soften this moment for my little guy and asked if I could hold him in my lap and try to explain.

“I don’t ever want you to feel foolish or that you’ve been tricked. I don’t want you to think that we’ve lied to you.”

“But you DID lie to me! When I asked you in the past if if the Tooth Fairy was real, you always said yes!”

“Ah, but the Tooth Fairy IS real – your Daddy’s real, isn’t he?” (A loophole, I know – but I was needing to think fast…) “You could think of him as being the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy. And the story of the Tooth Fairy been told forever! Longer than even when I was a little kid!” (That always makes them understand the passage of time. My kids think I’m ancient!) “I’d like to think that maybe the story started because somebody’s kid lost their tooth, it freaked them out, and the parents told them about the Tooth Fairy coming to take the tooth and leaving them a gift in exchange to make it all less scary. To make it more exciting and magical! It was never done to be mean-spirited or hurtful. Are you angry with me?”

“I’m angry that I ever believed in the first place,” he mumbled in between sobs.

“But didn’t believing in the magic of the Tooth Fairy make it special for you?”

“Yeah –  but it wasn’t real.”

“But the real magic is that your Daddy and me and all of your siblings -” I began, but he cut me off.

“Wait! Elisa, Ale and Lulu know there isn’t a Tooth Fairy?” a new round of tears coming down his sweet, little cheeks. “I’m the only one in this family who didn’t know?!”

And I was again transported back in time to what I remember feeling when I found out: a weird mix of wanting to fiercely believe that magic was absolutely real, wanting to remain young and innocent – and being utterly despondent that I wasn’t as grown-up and mature as my older siblings, feeling foolish for not realizing that it was all pretend.

“You know, each one of your siblings asked me the same question you just did, only they didn’t ask until they were about ten years old. Asking now, when you’re only seven makes it a lot harder on you. But you asked me to tell you the truth. So, I did. I’m so sorry you’re sad. But the magic of all of us wanting to create special excitement for you as you’re growing up, the fact that we all wanted to keep this alive for you is still very, very real. And, you have to admit – it’s kind of magical that you go to bed with a tooth under your pillow and when you wake up – it’s gone and there’s a dollar bill in it’s place!”

He wasn’t really having any of it at the moment. I knew that I just needed to love him up and hold the space for him and his emotions. And that I also needed to figure out how to not ruin every other bit of magic still left. Not yet. “Too soon!”

“Well, what about…” he trailed off.

I responded quickly, “Listen, magic is real as long as you want to continue to believe in it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, your fourteen year old brother just lost a tooth last year, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he put his tooth under his pillow and the next morning what did he find?”

“A dollar.”

“See? The magic still works as long as you believe in it. But if you’re ready to stop believing in the Tooth Fairy – the magic stops.”

Did I mention my kid is smart? He got it immediately and answered, “Well, I still believe in the magic  – ALL of it.”

“Then it will still happen! Your Daddy will continue to be the hands and feet of the Tooth Fairy and when you lose a tooth and put it under your pillow, magically, a dollar will be there when you wake up.”

This was not the end of the conversation, of course. We hashed this out for at least another 30 minutes. He had loads of questions, but was quick to only ask those he felt ready to hear answers to. He needed to ask his Dad what he did with all those teeth over the years. He wanted to be the one to let his older siblings know that he knew. He had to figure out why some older kids kept the magic alive, and others felt the need to crush it.

He woke up this morning and climbed into bed between us and announced. “I’m still sad about all of this, you know.” I know, me too buddy, me too. But I still choose to believe. I choose to believe that the magic is not that a little fairy, (or in Puerto Rican tradition, a little mouse) picks up your lost tooth and leaves a gift in exchange. I choose to believe that the real magic lies in the desire to make this world with all of it’s harsh realities a little softer around the edges – to sustain just a bit of wonder in our minds and hearts for as long as possible.

I don’t know if you tell your kids that the Tooth Fairy is real or not. This isn’t supposed to be a “how-to” or “I do it like this” kind of post. Just one Momma’s way of finding her way with her littles about the big and not so big stuff of everyday living. And hoping that the decisions I’ve made in how I choose to speak to my children about magic and wonder keep these things alive in their minds and hearts for as long as they choose to believe.

Our world needs a little magic and wonder. Maybe now more than ever before.

Appreciation is Key – Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!

Thank You

Let’s get real for a minute… Parenting is hard. Really hard.

And here’s where I need to give a sincere shout-out to all of you who are doing this work solo. You deserve a standing ovation. Seriously. Single parenting is double, triple and on some days I’d imagine, quadruple harder than when you have a partner to help share the load. One of the main reasons I think it’s so hard, is that there might not be someone there in the everydayness of parenting who appreciates all that you’re doing to raise the next generation.

And I’m not just talking about wiping their butts, cleaning their snot-encrusted faces, making them all their meals (no one ever tells you how much or how often they will need to eat!) or driving them from one end of the universe to the other!

I’m talking about sharing with them our most precious gift: our time.

The time it takes to sit down and feed your newborn, the time you allow for your three year old to “Do! It! MYSELF!!!”, the time you spend reading that book you have committed to memory because you read it approximately 2,000 times a day, the sleep you surrender every time you wake up in the middle of the night to soothe the hacking cough, or run in with a bowl just a moment too late when your kiddo’s sick, the time you listen – really listen – to descriptions of the Pokemon characters you’ll never be interested in (just being honest!), the concerns of starting Middle School somewhere new, the feelings of overwhelm at wanting to be really good at dance, soccer, acting, music, while still maintaining good grades and a successful social life.

If you’re doing this all by yourself, I hope you have a solid group of family and friends who are giving you the acknowledgment that you so deserve. And if they aren’t? Go find yourself some new, and better, family and friends! Because this parenting gig is challenging and we need all the encouragement and validation we can get.

But now I want to turn attention to those who do have of a partner to share in the parenting. Are you giving each other the appreciation that you deserve? Because even if you’re parenting with a partner, feeling under-appreciated makes parenting exponentially harder than it has to be.

Why? Because the little people we have committed our lives to don’t really get it. They don’t really know how to express appreciation for all that we do for them. That’s why it’s so important for your partner to acknowledge everything that you’re doing to keep the family going. Especially, if you’re the primary caregiver either working mostly or completely in the home.

In our society, we put so much emphasis on how much money a person makes, that any work done in which there’s no exchange of funds, is automatically considered less important. When, in fact, it certainly has greater importance and impact on the lives of the next generation than what vacations they get to take, or what kind of sneakers they can afford to wear.

I’m not trying to slam the parent that works outside of the home. This is a very important role that allows the other parent (when financially feasible) to even consider working part-time, or staying home entirely to raise the children. But when that decision is made, it’s important to not make assumptions about what goes on during that day at home. At least not negative assumptions.

Instead, let’s assume that the parent who is at home is working, too – doing a million different things all at once to make sure that the offspring are: clean, well-fed, not stuck in front of a screen for too long, intellectually stimulated, chauffeured to and from activities, and all the while, happy and well-adjusted.

So, maybe there are a few extra dishes in the sink at the end of the day. The floors could be a little cleaner. The laundry is starting to pile up a little bit. And if these things bother you, less-at-home-parent, then by all means do what you need to do to change this situation: 1) Pitch in and clean up the dishes, laundry, floors or whatever else is causing you stress or 2) Hire somebody else to do it.

But don’t under-appreciate all that your partner is doing to keep everything – everything that actually matters – going.

I’ve talked about my parents very happy union before – they are closing in on 60 years, and I spoke about my Dad’s musings on thoughtfulness here. But I can remember as a child, several occasions when we’d all settled down for dinner and he would stop the evening chatter to make this announcement: “Look at your beautiful mother. I want all of you to know that this family would fall apart if it weren’t for all of the work that she does to keep our family life running smoothly.”

What a wonderful model he provided for all of us! She worked as full-time parent and homemaker and didn’t get paid a dime for raising six (!) children. My Dad understood exactly what her worth was as his partner and the mother of his children, and he made sure that we all understood it too.

Take your most precious commodity of time to appreciate what one another is doing in the role of parent to your children. It’s all too easy to assume that you’re carrying an unequal load when it comes to parenting no matter who is working full-time, outside of the home. Once there, it’s even easier to begin to resent one another. This one-upping, and keeping score is ugly and negative – and it can poison your relationship.

Instead of looking for what your partner is not doing and criticizing their efforts (or lack thereof), shift your focus on finding the ways your partner is working for your family and recognize their contributions to the family you’ve created together. How and where can you pause to say thank you?

The work of parenting one or several children is not for the faint of heart. And I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t get any easier down the road. This is a lifelong commitment and you need some level of positive acknowledgement and validation from your partner that what you are doing as a parent matters.

Because, my friends, it matters so much more than you know! So appreciate one another for all that you’re doing – in and outside of the home – to make your family thrive.

Does this resonate with you? Have you been feeling under-appreciated lately in your role as a parent? We’re unlikely to get the encouragement and validation we need from the outside world, so we need to make sure we say “Thank You” early and often. Here’s a little inspiration from Sam and Dave to get you in the mood.