Thursday, November 19, 2015

Car Repairs and Famines

We wandered around the dealership killing time for the fourth time in a month. An oil change and standard inspection had revealed that my 2007 Honda CR-V needed several other maintenance updates and a recall fix done and this was to be my final visit in getting those things completed. I looked forward to being done with this run of car upkeep because as much as I love my children - I do not enjoy the time we spend together in car service waiting rooms. 

I pulled into the service bay that morning and was thankful for this last visit as I pulled my children out of the vehicle.

I should have known better.

Within moments of me checking in the car, the service representative was back at my side in the waiting area informing me that my car was leaking a bluish fluid. She didn't think it was coolant, was hopeful that maybe it was washer fluid and not a critical issue.

"Please, please let it be washer fluid," I thought to myself as I took a deep breath and felt the tension building through my shoulders, arms, and eyebrows. I felt the tears creeping in and pushed them back, holding out hope that it wouldn't be a big deal.
Image credit

About a half-hour later, the service representative found me chasing the kids down a ramp with a paper in her hand. The tone in her voice as she said my name and the look on her face put a pit right in the bottom of my stomach and my heart fell through it to the floor.

"I can't let you take the car," she said. "It's leaking a lot of coolant." She showed me the paper, I read the description and saw another almost $300 worth of repairs needed to my car.

As I waited for my husband to arrive (he's awesome when I'm overwhelmed, plus his car had carseats and the offered rental didn't) my anxiety built. It wasn't just these repairs on my car that were weighing on me; it was the $500 we'd already spent on this vehicle in the last month in maintenance. It was the $1500 we'd just dumped into Steve's car for maintenance along with another $300 on its way here in the form of a bumper cover he'll replace himself. It was the upcoming $1000-1500 after-insurance expenses we're expecting to pay for me to get a root canal next week and a follow-up crown later in the year.

For those keeping a running tally - that's $2600 (roughly) in car repair and $1000-1500 in dental work for a grand total of $3600-4100 in unexpected financial expenses.

It was what those expenses could possibly translate to that was really killing me. It was the faces of our kids getting excited about our Disney trip in just 3 short weeks. It was wondering if we'd have to cancel character meals, cut back on planned souvenirs, or forego a day at one of the parks. It was thinking of how to break that news to them if they did. It was the holidays coming up and the few gifts we still hadn't bought. It was the hope we've had of planning a vacation for our 10th anniversary in 2017 (paying for it in 2016)... and now wondering if we'd be paying for newer cars instead.

A long, long time ago a Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams that woke him from his sleep. A young man named Joseph told Pharaoh that a time of prosperity was coming, followed immediately by a time of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh that he should take a portion of the crops during the time of prosperity, store them away and guard them. "That way there," Joseph said, "there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land." (Genesis 41:17-36)

Save during the prosperous times so that when the famines happen - you are prepared and will not be destroyed.

By nature, I am not a saver. I'm just not. I've often joked that if I were left in charge of our finances that I would put us into bankruptcy. I have gotten better over the years - but that is because my husband has been blessed with the ability to innately understand finances, to save, and is fantastic at budgeting and explaining concepts. Every year he has coached me through what to do, what we need to do, and I have watched in wonder as he stewards the resources that God has provided for us. With Steve's leadership, we have saved for rainy days/retirement/kids' college while still following opportunities for generosity, enjoying times with family at Disney or other family entertainment spots, supporting our church, and maintaining a reasonable lifestyle in our home.

So there I sat in the dealership service waiting area with an anxious lump in my throat, waiting for my husband to come back out from the repair bays with news of the car and the final cost. My kids were flopped in chairs on either side of me, wanting to get out and be anywhere else doing anything else. When Steve came out from the back and gave me a thumbs-up, it was more than the $120-ish dollars he'd managed to negotiate off of the price of the repair that gave me relief. 

In that moment, with that thumbs up, I felt a pressing on my heart to remember Joseph. Remember his warning to Pharaoh to save during the times of prosperity. Trust that your husband is following God's lead in your finances, and follow his lead. He will guide you, just as Joseph guided Pharaoh. This is your time of famine and it's going to be OK. Trust God, trust your husband. I heard Steve's words that he's said so many times to me - "This is why I do what I do" - and knew I needed to trust in these things.

When Steve met the kids and I in the waiting area to update me, I fell into his arms and cried (for about 5 seconds, ain't nobody got time for more than that). I thanked him, I apologized (knowing the current situations aren't my fault), and I silently thanked God for His provision. His financial provision, the provision of His wisdom, and the provision of His trust in us to be good stewards of His resources. 

Guys... I'm not writing this to be like "See! We have plenty in our storehouses! We're all good for the famine!" That's not my intent at all. 

Sometimes the stories in the Bible can seem so remote, so far away, so intangible. The concepts might make sense, but in modern-day Western culture we don't have storehouses of grain in our times of prosperity. Times of prosperity look completely different - they are times of normalcy, times when things aren't so bumpy. In those times of prosperity, we might forget to save up or we might decide to take on debt because we can "afford" the payments (which... that's a post for another day - remember, "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender" [Proverbs 22:7]). We might go out to extravagant dinners or take vacations when bank accounts get larger and forget that someday famine may appear or storms may wipe us out. We put our guards down... but we can't. Ever. 

How are your storehouses? Are you prepared if a famine comes?

If your hot water heater breaks - can you afford it?

If your insurance doesn't cover an entire emergency procedure - how far back will you be set?

If your car gets totaled and you're in a position where you need one - can you replace it without going into debt?

Joseph's warning to Pharaoh is real, it's here, it's constant. If we did not prepare ourselves for this famine, this could have been an incredible disaster.

Will we have to sacrifice to replenish what we've lost? Absolutely. Will it be difficult if we have to pass on things so that we can be secure in an emergency again? Sure it will. 

But if we want to be good stewards of the resources God has given us - then we need to follow His lead, His wisdom, and prepare our storehouses.

My prayer is that others can start today in doing the same thing. Follow Joseph's warning and let God lead you in your preparations for any upcoming famines.


Looking for a good place to get financial advice and learn about budgeting, investing, saving, or paying off your debts? Check our Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. Many churches offer classes on a regular basis - so find one near you! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top Five Parenting Fails in Kids' Books*

I have always been a bookworm. I have several family members that like to talk about how young I learned how to read, and my mom loves to tell the story about needing to hide the TV Guide because I was starting to figure out when "specials" were going to be on. As I grew this never changed; in Middle School I was a consistent member of the 20-Plus Book Club (kids who read 20 or more books outside of their assigned reading in the course of a year got special recognition). I carried that love into high school and college as well, places where reading outside of my assignments became a means of stress relief or conversation with others. Since then, reading has been a means for me to escape reality, grow myself personally, continue learning, or read along with friends or family.

The point is - my whole life I have loved to read, so when we found out that we were having children I got incredibly excited to stock our shelves with my childhood favorites and became giddy when I realized I would be discovering all sorts of new books. Both of my kids love sitting on our laps or beside us and getting stories read to them; on an average day - including bedtime - our kids hear at least 5-7 stories read to them. Reading is huge in our home, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

What I wasn't expecting was the perspective I have on these books now that I'm a parent to cloud a bit of the story. Sometimes I have this nagging running commentary in my head and need to bite my tongue because my 3-year-old and 18-month-old haven't really honed their adult wit yet - so it would be completely wasted on them.

Instead... I have decided to share it here. Aren't you lucky?

So in no particular order... and, uh, if you haven't read these books - I'm totally spoiling them. You've been warned.

1. Are You My Mother? Here we have the classic tale of the baby bird who goes off on a search for his mother. In his travels he meets a chicken, a kitten, a dog, a cow, an old car, a plane, a boat, and finally a "SNORT" (excavator). Why, oh why, was this newborn bird left alone in an exposed nest before he was ready to go out on his own? Well, because Mom was completely unprepared for his arrival. Seconds before the baby bird is about to be born, Mom realizes she ain't got no stinkin' entrees!!! Maybe it's just me - but whether you breast or bottle feed, home birth or hospital birth - YOU HAVE THE FOOD READY MAN! It's not like it's a surprise that there's going to be a baby there eating food soon. You have the time to get it ready. So, Mama Bird, maybe next time you're expecting a baby - wrap that egg in some leaves to keep it warm and get your worms ready. Then you're not leaving a newborn in a nest by itself going off wandering looking for you before he's ready to fly. What if that dog was hungry, huh? I'm just saying.

2. We're Going on a Bear Hunt! This entire book is a parenting fail - an example on what not to do on a family outing. Yes, let's bring our children out on a BEAR HUNT as a fun family activity. Anyways... they head out on this questionable expedition and waddle through some swishy grass (yay fun - ticks!), then mud (which, I mean, who didn't love walking through mud as a kid, fine). After the mud is when the parenting gets a bit sticky. Mom and Dad don't have any towels, parkas, boots, or first aid kids and bring their kids through a deep, cold river, then dark woods where they proceed to stumble and trip, then a snowstorm. A SNOW STORM. A BABY AND TWO KIDS WITH NO PARKAS AND NO BOOTS AND NO HATS IN A SNOWSTORM. This after they had already gotten wet from mud and river trudging... bring on the hypothermia, folks. Way to be! Then, when the kids are presumably wet, tired, cold and miserable - they tiptoe into a cave to find themselves face to face with a large, scary bear. This of course means that the parents now have to drag the wet, tired, cold miserable children back through all of the things that made them wet, tired, cold and miserable in the first place back to their house - WHERE THEY LEAVE OPEN THE FRONT DOOR before going back to shut it and hide from the bear in Mom & Dad's bed. The amount of parenting fails that happen in this book are mind-boggling... maybe that's why kids love it so much?

3. Guess How Much I Love You This was on my list, but when a fellow mom gave it a vote on my Facebook blog page I knew I wasn't going crazy. Here this poor little rabbit is just trying to tell his Dad how much he loves him in as big of terms as he knows how. He jumps as high as he can, he reaches as high as he can, he stretches as far as he can, and he imagines as far a distance as he can to express his love. And it's sweet, it's incredibly sweet. Why, oh why, oh why does Big Nutbrown Hare have one-up his kid at every turn? He shows off his biggerness but stretching, jumping, and reaching higher than this poor little bunny can - when really he can just be like "Oh, Little Nutbrown Hare - that is SO SWEET and SO BIG how much you love me!! THANK YOU!!!". The end is what kills me though... Little Nutbrown Hare is all like "Oh, well I love you to the moon!" and then goes to sleep. And even in that moment of sweetness with his little adorable little bunny asleep on his lap, Big Nutbrown Hare can't savor the sweetness. He still has to get in the last word... "I love you to the moon... and back." Maybe you're thinking I should lighten up, it's just a sweet expression of how a parent loves a child. No. You stop that. Show your kid you love them by letting them love you, Big Nutbrown Hare. Let the kid think he's so big. They like that.

4. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" This one sneaks the bad parenting in on you... there's an assumption that the trick-or-treating is supervised (lots of parents stand on the sidewalk while their kids go to the door) and that the party at Violet's has parents hanging out in the corners. But then there's Linus and Sally alone in a pumpkin patch in the dark with scary dogs (OK... just Snoopy) on the loose. Ok, ok... maybe there's a parent off to the side keeping an eye on things and letting Linus have his imaginative moments hoping for a Great Pumpkin to appear in this the most sincere of pumpkin patches. Fine. But then Lucy has an alarm set for 4:00 AM to go and fetch Linus out of the patch, where he has been laying all night long wrapped in nothing but a worn-out security blanket and a pair of shorts. ON HALLOWEEN NIGHT. Why was this not stopped at 9:00 PM? Why was this child allowed to sleep out in a pumpkin patch in 40-degree weather? WHERE WERE THE PARENTS I ASK YOU?? WHERE???

5. "When a Dragon Moves In" This is a newer story about a little boy who builds a sand castle during his beach vacation and a dragon moves in. The dragon, it becomes obvious, is an imagined dragon who is both awesome and mischief causing - protecting the little boy from beach bullies, sticking his fingers in the brownies, spraying sand all over his older sister. After the latter happens, the parents put an end to the "dragon business", the boy destroys the castle, and builds another one the next day. So... why did the parents fail? They brought their kid to the beach, let him play in the sand, and disciplined him when he taunted his sister. Seems fine to me! But... what I didn't mention is that all along the way the parents do nothing to encourage this kid's imagining of a dragon. I mean... a DRAGON!! DUDE!! It's a DRAGON! They don't play along AT ALL! They correct his dragon's roar to tell him it's the roar of the ocean, they disregard his insistence that a seagull's feather actually belongs to a dragon, and do nothing to encourage his creativity. Isn't that part of our JOB as parents? I can't tell you how many times I've been "scared" of a dinosaur stalking me in my kitchen while I cook, have pet a series of "tiny horsies", and made sure that my kids have gotten their various other imaginary pets returned to them that have been placed in my hands. Get out of yourself guys and just play along for heaven's sake! Let the kid dream (without spraying sand on his sister, of course)!

Look, don't get me wrong - there's a suspension of disbelief that I generally allow when I read stories to my kids. I don't ruin their experience by poo-pooing on the parents and I certainly get excited at the parts that I think they'd find exciting. I let myself drift back to the times of a small child sitting in my room or on my mom's lap or my grandmother's kitchen table with books and remember what that was like - and I try to provide that to my kids.

But... someday... when they're old enough... I'll let them have a laugh at the parenting faux-pas in their favorites too.


*These are only books that I've read. I'm sure that there are others out there - and I would LOVE to hear them so leave a comment!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Reality of Being an Allergy Parent

A little over two years ago, Will had a bite of peanut butter toast that would change our parenting with him for what likely will be the rest of his life. In that moment, we became the parents of a food allergy kid and the most common and comforting of foods would become the most dangerous.

You don't know what you don't know. And you don't know what everyone else doesn't know until you suddenly become in the know. And it's amazing how that perspective of knowledge versus lack of knowledge and lack of understanding changes you into someone you never thought you would be.

This fall has brought Will into the world of what I will call the official preschooler. He's in a one-day-per-week cooperative preschool, he goes to a playgroup once a week while I go to my moms' group, and he has speech therapy twice a week where he interacts with other kids as well. He's getting invitations to birthday parties for friends, we go to parks and playdates, we go out to dinner and lunch and he has opinions and wants and desires and an imagination that he can clearly express.

His bright blue eyes and his wide, gapped-tooth grin and giggle melt my heart and his small, giant hugs could comfort the largest beast. The deep expression on his face when he takes his quiet time, snuggling his Monkey close to his face is just so peaceful I could watch him sit like that for hours.

I understand I'm biased... but my son really is an amazing kid.

As his parents, we live in a scary reality where a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a playdate or dripped maple walnut ice cream on a park bench can put our son's life at risk. We've been told to continue to give him the one nut that's been safe, and every time he coughs after he's had some I worry his body is rejecting that too. When we're out, everything gets wiped down at a table before we eat just incase someone came before us that had something with an allergen or brought their own food that may contaminate our son's meal.

You don't know what you don't know until you have to know. And wish you didn't have to know.

I turned around 20 minutes into an hour-and-a-half trip to turn around and retrieve a forgotten Epi-pen. I've had to stop a little girl waving a peanut butter sandwich around a train at an amusement park from sitting near our family - to the exasperated reaction from her grandmother and an annoyed but sort of understanding reaction from her mom. I've had to ask another mom not to put her breakfast that included huge, exposed walnuts down in front of him. I've had to research and explain label reading to the other moms in our preschool cooperative. I've spent a good chunk of time texting with another mom to make sure that the birthday party he'll be attending at their house will be safe (and screened the pizza place they'll be ordering from too). I've had to ask a friend to double check the ingredients to the stuffing she'd be serving at her house for dinner when we came just to make sure it wasn't cross-contaminated with anything that might pose a danger. I debated whether or not to leave a change of clothes in the basement to change into after going out to dinner with friends just incase we got suspect nuts on our clothing during the meal.

And that... that's just in the last week.

And our little guy *only* has two allergies. There are people who have far more that have far more dietary concerns and social situations to watch out for. There are kids whose parents MUST carry around a "safe snack" back to birthday parties and outings to amusement parks because their allergies are so extensive that bringing their own foods are the only way they can guarantee their child's safety. We have friends whose son has milk allergies so severe that he's "allergic to the whole cow" - he cannot have beef either - among other food allergies both with him and other family members as well. Another friend has a daughter whose food allergies made her so food averse as a baby that it has taken years for them to get her to try new foods because she trusts none of them.

There's a reality that you have to live in as an allergy parent that is hard for those who don't live it themselves to really grasp. I say this as a person who attempted to empathize and understand what it was like to live with allergy concerns for years... you just don't know what you don't know until you have to know.

You don't know that exposure to an allergen can cause an immediate extreme reaction that Benedryl won't help.

You don't know an immediate extreme reaction needs an Epi-pen hit within seconds.

You don't know that a hit with an Epi-pen requires that 911 be called immediately and that a trip to the hospital in an ambulance is a requirement.

You don't know that even after an Epi-pen hit, an ambulance ride, and treatment in emergency/acute care that your child could still have what's called a biphasic reaction later on... when you least expect it... including in their sleep. You don't know that this reaction could cause the cycle to start all over again.

Until you live with the reality of a potentially anaphylactic reaction causing food allergy, you may intellectually understand the ramifications of exposure to an allergen... but you don't really feel what those ramifications can mean.

If I tell you that my son could die with exposure to peanuts or certain treenuts... I'm not exaggerating.

Yes, I have his Epi-pen. Yes, we know how to use it and we have a crash plan in the event of exposure. And yes - I am fully aware of how annoying I sound when I start asking questions about ingredients in what you're eating or how psychotic I seem when I dive at your kid when they come at mine with a peanut butter chocolate chip granola bar.

I didn't know what I didn't know until I wondered if I was going to be seconds away from an anaphylactic reaction in a house with no Epi-pen, no Benedryl, and no idea how to help my 17-month-old son make his eyes stop watering or the hives go away. I didn't know what I didn't know until I sat in an allergist's office and watched the bumps of a skin-prick test rise up on my baby's back.

I had a new perspective on what hope is when I sat on the phone with the same allergist and went over the results of my son's blood test last spring and asked for translations of the numbers he was reading off to me... and was told that his numbers were "low enough" to indicate that he will very likely be eligible for an in-office food challenge in a few years if they stay this low.

To think that there's a chance that what most of the world considers normal could kill my son... and that maybe, just maybe the world could be normal for him someday too. Hope.

When Will was 9 months old, he had a severe case of croup. It was bad enough that while on the phone at midnight with our pediatrician to find out what to do, she heard his barking cough and told us we shouldn't bring him to the ER ourselves - we needed an ambulance to help us to keep the carseat propped up safely to keep his airways open.

Sitting in the back of the ambulance with my baby boy, watching the headlights of my husband's car behind us, staring at the face of this helpless, sad little one clinging to his taggie blanket with his giant blue eyes... it was the hardest experience I've ever had as a parent so far.

I never want to sit in the back of an ambulance worrying about my child's breathing again.

And now he has gotten to the age that we have to train him how to protect himself too. We have to remind him every time we go anywhere that he can't share snacks with other kids and that he can only have things that safe people tell him that he can eat. He has basic knowledge of how to work an Epi-pen and has helped me show people how to use it.

It is our job to help him understand the seriousness of his allergies.We had to tell our 3-and-a-half-year-old that peanuts and treenuts could make him sick. Really really sick. So sick that he would go to the hospital in an ambulance and he could possibly die. It is a hard thing to try to explain to a toddler on the verge of kidhood, but it's one of the most important things that we need to have him understand.

That's the reality of being an allergy parent.


For more information on food allerges and how you can be a support to those in your life that have them, please check out FARE's website.

Also, this Halloween consider taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project and help make the night fun for everyone.

Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm fairly certain that we've all lost count of the amount of times in our upbringing that we heard our parents demand or request or advise us to respect them. Or our elders. Or our neighbors. Or our peers. It becomes clear to us early on that respect is an integral part of our relationships with others, but navigating what that looks like is a much more complex thing than one might think.

Interestingly enough - parenting is also a much more complex thing than one might think. 

I can't remember whether I heard it at my moms' group or if I read it in a book or a blog or - more than likely - all of the above, but I once heard and have kept with me that if you want your children to respect you or to learn how to respect others, that you first need to respect them. 

The first time that I heard this - and I have heard it several times - it was the cliche lightbulb moment. Respect your kids and they will learn respect. Why? Because kids learn by example; they watch us, they watch how we interact with our spouses and other adults and they model what we do.

For example, there was one day that I was just crying. I don't remember why - the stress of the day had probably gotten to me and I just needed that physical stress release so I fell to the floor crying. My son - who I come to his and his sister's side when they cry - came running in from another room and just hugged me and told me that it would be OK. He did this until I stopped crying - and his sister, two years his junior, followed suit by touching my forehead with hers and say "Otay Mommy! Otay Mommy!". Now those who know my son will comment on his naturally-inclined empathy, but it is up to us as his parents to teach him how to take that God-given-gift and channel it into a way that shows people he cares. When my kids cry, we are there and so he knows that when people that he loves cry - he can be there for them.

And so - if we first respect our children, they will in turn learn how to respect others very likely starting first with their parents. \
But what in the world does it look like to respect a tiny person? has many definitions for the word respect, but in this instance I think that the one that is applicable is "to show regard or consideration for" and to complete that thought we add "our children.

"To show regard or consideration for our children" - this is what it means to respect our kids. The way that we do this is to first remember that our children are not just these little mini-me-clones walking around: they are indeed uniquely designed people with their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own ideas, their own personalities, and their own needs and desires. Who are our kids? What kinds of things make them tick? How do they react?

So what do we do?

To teach our kids respect, we need to show regard for their feelings when they're having those "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad" days and when they're having their "bright, bright, bright sunshiney" days. Then they will learn to regard the feelings of other people too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to take their opinions or interests into consideration when we're planning our days and weeks or signing them up for activities or even something so simple as picking out their clothes. Then they will learn to take the opinions of others into consideration too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to let them take ownership of their bodies and let them know it's OK to not hug someone or high five someone if they don't want to. It's OK to ask someone safe to hold your hand or rub your back and it's OK to tell people who might want to do those things that you don't want them to do that. Then they will learn to protect their bodies and let or help other people protect theirs too.

To teach our kids respect, we need to listen to them actively. Pay attention to the words they're saying, make sure that you understand and ask for clarification when needed, and don't insert ourselves. Give advice when appropriate and just be a sound board when needed. Then they will learn to be a good listener and be able to be a good friend to others too.

There are so many things that we do every day that are opportunities to respect our kids and in turn teach them to respect others.

So what does this look like practically? 

My kids could not be any more different from each other; we often joke that when blessing us with children, God had a checklist and whatever Will didn't get He gave to Evie when she was conceived. My son is our little pensive introvert and my daughter (when she's not completely mimicking her brother) is an extrovert on the rise. When we made the decision this year to enroll our son in a 1-day-per-week preschool environment to ease him into the next couple of years of preschool and kindergarten, we knew that it had potential to be a difficult transition for him. He thrives in one-on-one or two-on-one situations and the more and more people that get added to that equation, the harder time he has. 

This last week was his second week in the class, and you could see that he was continuing to see how he fit into the social structure of a classroom. He sat through the opening song and story, but observed during the dancing. He participated in craft time and played during playtime. He seemed to be doing OK... and then snack time came. And the teacher had brought string cheese.

Apparently - and unbeknownst to me - Will does. Not. Like. String cheese.


Fifteen minutes later, we moved past the string cheese incident (yes, I realize that is also a band) and were back to attempting to participate in the class. I watched as Will stayed with smaller groups or played by himself, and appreciated how his teacher checked in with him but also recognized that he needed some space. Preschool wrapped up, we packed our little sunflower crafts in the car (the teacher invites Evie to participate where she might be interested), and went to a nearby park to enjoy the sandwiches and apples I had packed for lunch. We sat down, I opened their lunch containers, and let them settle down in our grassy spot however they were comfortable eating their lunch.

Evie sat close to me, ate her lunch, then bounced up and down on my lap, ran in circles, rolled in the grass, laughed, talked... it was clear that the morning at preschool had energized her and she was glad I had brought her someplace that gave her an immediate outlet for that.

Will took his lunch, said "Thank you, Mommy", and quietly moved about a foot away from where he started and turned his back to me and his sister. He watched as cars and trucks and buses drove by and he gazed at the nearby group of teenagers playing soccer. He would occasionally ask a question or make a verbal observation, but by and large he just sat there quietly while he ate his lunch. 

I sat back and thought about that morning and pondered the differences between my two kids as my daughter ran at me and tackled me as best as her little 17-month-old body could. I watched as my son's eyes followed a soccer ball fly through the air and land at the feet of a long-haired girl who kicked it to the next person.

I resisted the urge to pick my son up in my arms and cradle him and talk him through his morning. I held back the words that wanted to ask him if he was okay.

Will needed his space to recuperate from the activities of the day so far. He needed to just have a quiet time to recenter and sitting there watching cars and soccer balls and dump trucks and school buses and his energetic sister occasionally running in front of him as she circled us was exactly what he wanted in that moment.

And I respected that. Just as I know sometimes I need space and as I've given his dad the same space dozens of times over the years. I respected that need for space, I let him have it.

By the time we left, he was ready to explore a nearby monument and run around again with his sister. He even asked me to climb up and play with them. There were even smiles... and boy, the smiles and laughs of my kiddos fill my heart with joy.

How do we respect our kids?

By treating them the same way that we would want to be treated. Lead by example in performing the Golden Rule. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Leave My Dreams, It's Not Your Heart

"Why are you here? Why won't you leave me alone?"

"I just want to make things better between us. Can't we be friends..."

He leaned in closer to my face and I could feel every hair on my body stand on end with fear. The last thing I wanted in that moment was for him to kiss me. Why can't he ever just disappear forever? Why does he keep coming back? I took several steps backwards and could feel my stomach wretch with anxiety...


"I am married. Why can't you understand that? Just leave me alone. Please!!!"

"I just..."

I reached out and shoved him away, feeling the anger and fear and anxiety dripping along with the tears that ran down my face.

"We can be friends... it's OK..."

He walked closer to me again... Why won't he get the danged picture??? "JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME AL..."

My eyes jerked themselves open as I heard a sweet voice say "Hi, Mommy!" through an inserted pacifier. I was back in my bedroom, my bubbly daughter awake next to me. I looked at the clock - 6:18 AM. Steve must have already gone to... wait. Steve wasn't there, he was away at his annual conference.

Me and my mini-me, having some morning snuggles...
The dream. That's why. I rubbed my eyes and breathed slowly to reset my quickly beating heart, snuggling my giggling daughter and remembering all that God has surrounded me with. I reminded myself with each inhale that it was just a dream and with each exhale that it wasn't real. The recurring dream that I have each time that Steve is away on business - the one where my ex-boyfriend from 20 years ago shows up and tries to be a part of my life again. Sometimes he's trying to woo me, sometimes he's trying to just be friend, but always the sentiment is the same.

That he loved me. Never meant to hurt me. That he wants to reconcile. That he wants that part of my heart back. That I was his only love.

In every dream he is the 19-year-old that cheated on me not once, but twice. In every dream he is every bit the sweet-talker that my 14-year-old self couldn't resist and that my 17-year-old self took back and that my 19-year-old self believed his words that he would leave his then wife for me.

In every dream I want nothing more than for him to disappear. In every dream I want to know where my Steve is, because he is never there in these dreams but always missing. In every dream I can feel walls closing in around us, in every dream I am desperately fighting to get back to my present-day reality and begging through tears for my past to go as far away as possible.

After every dream I wake up uneasy. I wake up questioning things I never should be questioning. I wake up with faster heartbeats and quicker breaths, wanting to run back to where I wake up. The place that God has surrounded me with love and reassurance and His grace.

But I can rarely shake that feeling. That feeling that no one can be trusted. It takes days, sometimes weeks. Always Steve is reassuring, because he knows that this part of me causes deep insecurities and he wants me to be whole, to let this part of me die, to be released from it.

Last year after having this dream, I woke up and turned on Steve's iPad to watch some Netflix and try to get back to sleep. It was only 10:00 PM where Steve was, and iMessage sent across a text from a colleague that they should meet up for fries.

The bells went off. Who meets for fries at 10:00 PM? What the heck?

I called Steve and through tears told him about my dream, that I saw the text, and I just needed to hear his voice and know we were OK. Know that my fears were unfounded. Because God has blessed me with a husband who is willing to understand this part of me and help me through it - he stayed on the phone with me until I calmed down.

Then - and those who know my husband's love of condiments will understand this - he went and met some colleagues for fries with blueberry ketchup. Because that's what a condiment lover does when he and his colleagues don't want to get drunk at the after party during a conference.

My awesome, caring husband at his annual nerd conference.

So I lay there with my daughter listening to the hum of the fan and her adorable sweet voice through her pacifier and reminded myself that my husband is faithful. That he promised he would always be faithful from the first time I confessed this part of my soul to him and he has never done anything to demonstrate anything other than fulfilling this promise.

I said a prayer, asking God to help release me from these dreams. To help me finally remove 20 years of scarring and tell that 16-year-old in a heap on the floor of her kitchen, holding a phone in her hand and pouring tears out that it all turns out okay - better than okay, actually.

God, I begged, please... please... please kill this.

A couple of hours later I pulled out my phone and opened my devotional app while the kids finished up their breakfast on the porch. The topic of the day? "The Enemy's Tactic Against You." As I read through the devotional that focused on Genesis 3:1: "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden''?"

I read on and could feel my pulse quickening as the images from the previous night's dream flittered across my memory. I devoured every word of the devotional, and inhaled through my teeth as I read these: "He uses four words: 'Did God really say...?' Maybe you haven't had the enemy slither up next to you in the form of a serpent and speak these words out loud. But I bet he's whispered them into your ear. After all, the enemy's greatest desire is to separate you from God."

I looked out across my yard to the breeze flitting through the trees and up at the outline of morning moon my son was excitedly pointing out. I could feel God's sentiment on my heart: "Danielle... I delivered you through that old life and gave you this life, these kids, your husband. The enemy has taken over this part of your heart - take it back. Do not listen to the whisper of the enemy anymore."

I closed my eyes... "In the name of Jesus... give me my danged heart back. In the name of Jesus, that belongs to my husband, that belongs to my family, that belongs to me, and most importantly that belongs to God. Give it back."

I opened my eyes and my daughter said "Pee-it-boo!" through her wide mouthed grin, and my son laughed.

I felt... relieved. I felt... at home again. I felt... empowered. I felt... full.

That morning when my husband had his video chat good morning with us, it was like fresh air filled my lungs. When he returned home that Friday, it was the first time I didn't feel relieved that he was home but rather felt fully and richly blessed that he had the opportunity to take advantage of this part of his career. I didn't feel on edge and looking for reasons to suspect, and instead have felt nothing but love and happiness and grace and the fullness of God's blessing on my marriage.

Watching for Daddy's car to come up the hill when he got home from the trip.

A few days after Steve got home, this was the key verse in my morning devotional: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7)

For at least the time being - and for the first time in a very long time - I have felt the Enemy release his grip from the part of my heart that was still crying on the kitchen floor of my parents' house hoping her sobs wouldn't wake up her sisters. I have been able to breathe easier for the first time in almost 20 years, having resisted the Devil and watching him flee.

"Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)

There will come a time when the Enemy will come back, when he will try to take that part of my heart back again, when he will push down that insecure teenager to the floor and laugh as her tears flow. When he will remind her that she's not good enough for a guy to stick around, and that will always be the case.

It will be when that time comes that it will be up to me to put on the armor that God has given to me. It will be up to me to call to Him, to reach up in prayer and use the power that I have been given in the name of Jesus to resist those whispers.

Because the self-destruction of doing anything else just isn't worth it when compared to the beauty that lies in the life that God has gifted to me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Evolution of Summer

Sometimes time just gets away from you.

That's what happened to me in the month of August.

There were visits to parks, the lake, the local farm, family visits, and lots of playtime outside. Lots and lots and lots of playtime outside.

Then one day last week I looked up and realized that the month of August had slipped through our fingers. This reality occurred to me when I was outside playing with my kids one evening and the sun that just a few short weeks ago that had been still high above the houses was slipping behind the treeline as the night drew near. A cooler breeze took over the warmth of day, and my 3-year-old made the observation that it was getting dark outside.

I watched that evening as the kids dug in the dirt in our yard and thought back to my summers as a kid. Summers outside making "forts" between the few trees in our backyard and neighborhood kickball leagues and going to the town lake or riding bikes down hills after a rainstorm hoping for a puddle. Summers with family vacations to the beach and summers with evening board games on the porch with neighborhood friends. Sprinklers and friends' pools and lightning bugs. Sliding down too-hot slides or sitting on swings whose black color had absorbed the heat from the sun.

Then I became a teenager and summer became a time to work extra hours to gain some extra pocket money. To go to the beach with friends at night and lay on the beach listening to the waves. To get out of work and not have to go right not to finish homework, but instead get an iced coffee and stay outside at a park or at a friend's house or drive around with the windows down singing at the top of our lungs until it was time to be home for curfew. Sleepovers and camping and card games. Drum corps practices and band camp in the hot summer sun, drinking loads of water and lathering on more sunscreen than I knew existed (yet still getting a killer tan).

Of course there were always constants. The smell of a light summer rain on the pavement. The feel of the fan in the humid summer nights as I lay there sleeping between sheets with no blankets. Memories of my Mom's perfectly medium steaks and corn and potatoes on the grill, the juicy burgers that dripped when you bit into them, the feel of BBQ sauce on my fingers from the BBQ chicken legs. Reading book after book in front of a fan or in the shade of a tree because we didn't have air conditioning. Iced tea, lemonade, ice cream trucks, ice cream stands.

Summer always seemed like this magical time of year where there was nothing to be had but enjoyment. Even if you had to work - either babysitting or a part-time job - it felt like responsibility could take a backseat to a 2-month long sabbath.

Then I grew up and summertime changed.

Summertime became a big tease. Working full-time with a limited amount of vacation days doesn't allow for an extended hiatus. 30-minute lunch breaks became my taste of the beauty of summer - 50 yards away from the smoking hut in an industrial park. Drives with the windows down to the beach blaring music turned to drives on back roads home from a 9-hour work day blaring music, the smell of salty air replaced with the smell of exhaust from the car in front of you. There was still the feeling of freedom from the indoors, but instead of the carefree feeling that came along with not having anywhere to be there was always the tugging feeling that something else just had to be done.

Summertime changed for me for a while once adulthood set in. But then... then we had the kids.

So there I sat at the bottom of our front walkway steps, watching as my two little toddlers dug around in the dirt in search for worms, ants, beetles, or any other bug that might crawl up from the filth. I watched as they picked up shovelfuls of the earth, filled miniature dump trucks and moved them to "the dumping place" to empty them out and then start the cycle again. I smiled as my 16-month-old daughter stood up and decided it was time to stamp on the ants, walking normally with her right foot as she lifted her left foot up a-la John Cleese in Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" skit and stomping it back down. I heard my son declare it was time to play soccer, toss down his shovel and run in the direction of the box of balls to get his soccer ball.

In those moments after realizing that August had slipped through the same cracks that allowed the sunlight to slip through the trees during that evening's slow sunset, I also realized that summer had managed to become magical again.

In preparing to write this post, I asked a handful of moms whose kids have grown what they cherished about their summers with their kids. The common thread was the allowance for memories to be made once the weather warmed, and school was out for the summer. The moms that answered recounted trips to farms, trips to the beach, seemingly aimless drives to a surprise destination, the sounds of carefree and happy children and their friends coming to and from. The relaxing of schedules made way for families to be able to do more, be more, play more, and enjoy more. Wading pools and homemade popsicles and old movies and day camps or VBS and many, many more nostalgic moments that moms have with their kids.

My mom was one of those who responded, and her favorite memory was when we would stay at the beach for a week each summer. We would pack up blankets, lunches, sand toys and head down to the sand, finding the perfect spot. Once the blankets were spread, we would endeavor to build what usually became a rather large sand castle, usually with a rather large "moat" in the middle. I remember we would try to dig a trench to the ocean so that when the tide came in the moat would fill. Then the next day, we'd do the same thing all over again with different sandwiches in the cooler at lunchtime.

So I watched my kids this summer. I watched them play in the dirt and run through bubbles and recoil at sprinklers and splash in a pool and throw rocks in the town lake while wading ankle deep in the water. I watched them kick soccer balls and let sand run through their fingers and slide down slides. I watched them lick ice cream off of their spoons and gnaw on corn cobs and watermelon rinds. I watched them find the joy of the burst of taste that a fresh blueberry allows when it has come straight from the bush. I watched them get inches away from a dragonfly perched atop a branch of a rosebush. I watched as they felt the joy of grass between their toes and flowers picked between their fingers. I watched as they changed from being afraid of thunderstorms to being in awe of them as we explained thunder, lightning, and observed the pouring rain. I watched them dip their fingers in puddles and reach out from the safety of the porch to get their fingers wet.

I watched them play. I watched them run. I watched them wonder.

I watched as through them my summers became magical again.

Maybe... maybe through them, they've become even more magical.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Question

The questions are endless with a 3-year-old.

"Why did those people hit our mailbox? Can we say sorry to them? Did they hit their own mailbox?"

"Where does God have His penis?"

"Why does my boo-boo go away?"

"Why do we poop?" 

"Do you have a 'calm space', Mommy?"

"When we go to Florida, will Mary Poppins play 'guys' with me?"

I try to come up with simple answers, ones that make sense and are accurate but also that my little 3-year-old inquisitor will understand. 

My favorite question (that he asks that has also become the greatest challenge to give a simple answer to) is this short, beautiful, wonderful question:

"Can God pick me up, Mommy?"

My answer to this has varied every time because there are so many answers to this question. The question that my affectionate, cuddly, sweet little boy wants an answer to because he loves to be picked up and snuggled.

"Can God pick me up, Mommy?"

Oh Sweet Boy...

God always picks you up. 

Today when you were on the porch and that little ant you've been desperately trying to pick up for the last week finally crawled up your arm and even got the gumption to work its way up to your face, tickling you and making you squirm - God was picking you up. He was showing you that He's present in all of His creatures. 

When we were on the porch watching the storm the other day and the wind blew down the hill, picking up the rain and spraying us in the face - God was picking you up. He knew exactly what would make you laugh with glee in the midst of a torrential thunderstorm. 

The times that you flop down on the driveway and look up to the sky, looking at the blue and the clouds and you take a deep breath - God is picking you up. He is warming you with the sun and embracing you with the breeze, filling you with good feelings as you sigh and declare that it's "a nice day". 

If you have a bad dream in the middle of the night and you don't wake up all the way to come into Mommy and Daddy's room - God picks you up. We ask Him every night to protect us from bad dreams and help us to rest easily, and He does. 

When you are sad and crying and life is crazy and Mommy can't physically get to you and your crying sister and your dinner that's cooking on the stove all at the same time and I bounce between all of the things so everyone gets some part of attention - God picks you up. He tells you where your Monkey is and helps you find a place to snuggle with him while He holds you. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if you look at your Monkey long enough, you'll see God's loving face in that embroidered smile. 

There are so many ways that God picks you up, sweet child. 

God has asked Mommy and Daddy to be your parents. He has filled us with love for both you and your sister. When God brought us together and created you, He opened a door in our hearts to be a direct line of communication from Him to You. When we need Him to help us help you - He is there. Every time you are sad, mad, lonely, or just need to know that you are loved your heart draws you to Mommy or Daddy and you ask us, "Can you please pick me up?"

You ask us with your big blue eyes, and your soft quiet voice, and your little hand reaching up to us (usually your other hand has Monkey in it). 

Please know that every time Mommy or Daddy picks you up and squeezes you tightly that God is behind us squeezing tightly too. When we pick you up, God is right there with us picking you up too. 

"Can God pick me up, Mommy?"

I kiss his forehead, say a silent prayer that someday he will understand what I mean by all of the things that I want to say and tell him and instead answer him as simply as I can.

"Sweetie, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then look at me - Buddy, God ALWAYS picks you up. Every time you ask. I love you sooooo much, and God loves you more than that. God ALWAYS picks you up." 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

DIY Epi-Pen Case

Credit for photo of my son Will - RLPhoto (Rachael Lescarbeau)
Ah, the Epi-pen. That little dual-tube of security and terror that folks with anaphlactic allergies (and their parents) carry around with them; an insurance policy in the event of an exposure to a sneaky allergen, ready to protect at the moment of accidental ingestion and subsequent life-harming reactions. 

The Epi-Pen: the Athanas Family security blanket for the last 2 years. It has given us a bit of reassurance at restaurants, on trips, and even just on day trips or cookouts with friends.

And for the last 2 years I have been on the hunt for the "perfect" carry bag. Something that would allow me to have his vital information, basic - but clear and important - symptoms to look for, and clear instructions for how to use the injector in the event of an emergency. Something that wouldn't be just an Epi-Pen at the bottom of a bag with all the regular pens alongside... somewhere... I think?... a printed and folded allergy plan.

Something simple. Something that a childcare worker or Sunday school teacher can just grab, have instructions, have the Epi, and be able to react fast.

I couldn't find one that I liked. I certainly couldn't find one that wouldn't have cost me more money than I thought something like that should cost. And I can't sew. Actually, let me rephrase that: I don't like sewing by hand - I'm not very good at it - and I have no idea how to use a sewing machine. So sewing an epi-bag was out... which meant that I have not had a carry case that I liked.

Until today.

Did you know that it's "Back to School" time? Oh, Target shoppers... guess what?

They have a plastic pencil case right now for a mere $0.69 that fits an Epi-Pen 

Like a glove.

I spent some time in MS Publisher creating basic instructions and included a 4-step graphic on how to inject the epinephrine in the event of an emergency (I got that off the internet someplace). 

I spent a little more time creating a front cover that included a picture of Will, his allergens, and who to call after calling 911.

I cut out both and attached them with packing tape (though "contact paper" would be just as good I would imagine). 

I made one for my bag and one for my husband's bag (we keep one in each) to give us a consolidated, grab-and-go tool. It's simple, it took very little time, and you don't need to be crafty to get it done. I feel so much better that this is a shape that can easily be felt in any bag and that his allergy plan/information is right there and visible.

Especially since I am giving you the .pdf file to fill in with your own (or your child's) information.


Now you too can have an insanely inexpensive, easily found and simple Epi-Pen case.

May it never come in handy.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Wednesday, The Mom Guilt, The Husband, and God

We call the day my daughter was born "The Thursday".

Every so often, I think about the day that will always be stamped in my heart as "The Wednesday". That is the last day that I had with just Will and I before I was blessed with his baby sister.

It was a gorgeous April day, the kind of day that I wasn't wearing any jacket at all and I was comfortable just throwing a little vest on Will to go outside and play. I wasn't feeling too terrible even though I was a week or so away from my scheduled c-section date to welcome Evie into the world. I felt puffy, large, and pregnant - but I still felt fairly mobile.

We went outside that afternoon after his nap and took advantage of the gorgeous weather. Winters in New England are always hard, so when those first few 50-60 degree days start to appear you learn to take advantage of them. Will had asked me in his cute little almost-two-year-old way to go outside when he woke up from his nap that afternoon, so we did.

He climbed on rocks in our garden. He wandered around the driveway and drove his little truck. We walked together up and down the sidewalk as he looked at ants and picked up sticks and examined the grass. We enjoyed the weather, we enjoyed each other.

Will's last day flying solo with Mommy - April 2014.

Then I went to bed. I got up. We did our hectic day. We had Evie by dinner.

The arrival of Evie grew our family in size, in heart, and exploded our capacity for love even further. She's sweet, she's energetic, she's bold, she's hilarious. I don't think that Steve, Will, or I can imagine her NOT being a part of our lives. She's seriously an amazing kid.

Sometimes Steve and I will split duty with the kids, either because he's got a day off from work or he's home for the weekend. Usually either he will sit with both of the kids while I do errands without needing to juggle extra people or we will split the kids up and take them for some one-on-one time with Mommy or Daddy. For their own reasons, both of these arrangements are wonderful and I've come to appreciate them. We have found that the significance of these times is not lost on any one of us, and we love when we all come back together.

I've never really thought twice about our little upgrade from 3 to 4. Having Evie and Will together all day was just a life change that I accepted and welcomed with open arms. I had never pined for the days of only one child, maybe because I grew up in a family with 4 (sometimes 5) children and never thought about the bond my parents had with each of us individually. I never asked my mom about her feelings as we continued to expand, just knew that she loved each one of us together and separately.

Me and the kiddos - May 2015
Last week, Steve got Friday off to "observe" the Fourth of July holiday. We decided to do our split-duty and I took Will to his speech therapy appointment. We chatted on the car ride up, he excitedly gave me the tour of the therapy center's new digs after the session, then he took my hand as we walked up the sidewalk back to my car to leave. He had his little hand in mine as we paused to check for moving cars in the parking lot before proceeding. Our shadows extended in front of us, and as I looked down at them I caught my breath.

I suddenly longed for that last day before Evie was born. Those days when it was just Will and I and there wasn't as much chaos and I could just watch in wonder as he discovered the world. The days when I could just snuggle with him without worrying about his sister trying to shove him off my lap for her turn or he could pick out a book without anyone quibbling about whose book was going to be read first. My heart had a brief moment of ache and want for those days of only having one child.

Then the dreaded Mom Guilt came over me like a tsunami crashing on the shore.

Image via SeizingHopeDotCom

Later as I was emptying the dishwasher, Steve could tell something was bothering me. So I confessed my horridness as a parent to him, defending myself that I don't want to NOT have Evie, I just miss those days of just Will. That I love Evie with all of my Evie love, but sometimes I just wish I could cuddle Will without them pummeling each other and whining about Mommy's lap.

I cried. I told him I felt horrible, and guilty, because Evie is amazing and I felt like I was betraying the love I have for her in a way.

Steve just laughed at me.

Not in that way, guys.

He gently took the dishes from my hand as he laughed and told me to stop feeling guilty. "Dee, just stop it. Seriously. You should not feel guilty right now."

He took me by the shoulders and just spoke the words that I needed to hear, that he needed me to hear, that God needed me to hear.

I don't remember the exact words, but the sentiment was this: I love Evie. I love Will. I love them with all of the heart that God gave me for each of them. God loves us individually and wants a relationship with each of us individually. And just as He loves us and wants a relationship with us individually, so has he designed parenting for us to love our children and have relationships with them individually.

As his words sunk into my heart, Steve continued to encourage me. "Honey, it is totally normal and OK for you to want to spend time with JUST WILL, and it's OK for you to want to spend time with JUST EVIE, and it's OK for me to want the same things. In fact, we probably should do a better job at making sure we spend time with JUST WILL and JUST EVIE individually."

We have an awesome family, and we need to work on our bonds together and apart. We need to love each other as a whole and as our parts.

Image credit to RLPhoto
I have often said that God created us in His image, and the closest thing that we will ever experience to what it's like to be Him as Our Father is to be a parent. To know what it's like to be willing to do anything for your children, to long for them to have the best, to want to protect them yet know that you have to let the go and let them grow. To be willing to lay your life on the line for them.

To want a relationship with them as individuals. To want them to look at you and say "I Love You" and mean it from their hearts, not because they feel an obligation to say so.

What my husband did as he spoke to me that day is remind me of this; he reminded me of this dynamic we have as parents to want to love and encourage and be with our kids individually. In The 5 Love Languages of Children, the authors write "If you have several children, you need to look for times when you can be alone with each one... The key to quality time is found in its values and priorities you as parents determine to cherish and implement in your home."

I should not feel guilty - that was the reminder my husband continued to give me for the remainder of the day. I love my children. I want my children to love God and have a relationship with Him.

They matter to me individually. The best way for me to know how to serve them and raise them and know what is best is to spend time with them one-on-one as well as together. The best way to know how they need me to love them is to spend time with them one-on-one as well as together.

I no longer feel guilty on this one.

I'll save my Mommy Guilt for the next time I lose my patience and temper.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Potty Training By the Seat of My Pants

I gave up on the concept of letting books dictate my parenting style right around the time that Steve read something in a book that told him our kid should be stacking blocks at 9 months old.
OK... now if you're an experienced parent you're probably laughing. If you're a new parent you might be worrying, wondering what I'm going to say next about it. If you're not a parent who knows what you're thinking... so I'll just continue.

I'll wait for the experience parents to finish laughing and telling stories about what things parenting books told them that were ridiculous too before I continue. Are you good now? Okay. I'll go on.

That night I took the book from him, closed it, and told him he was done because NONE of Will's 9-month-old playmates were stacking blocks. And in all honesty I haven't opened up a parenting technique book since despite recommendations on books about sleep methods and separation issues and whatever. I am currently about two chapters into "The Five Love Languages for Children" and have really only read books about how to make sure you don't go off the rails as a parent. I read devotionals and books about how to understand my kids and relate to them, but I don't generally speaking read specific parenting books that include milestones to look for.

Actual screenshot from today of my "Goodreads" app.
I won't tell you how long it took me to get to 17% read.
The other book you can't see from the screenshot? Schindler's List.
I won't tell you how long it took me to get to 50%, or how long it's been collecting dust.

I don't have room in my life for that kind of stress. I just don't.

As such, when I decided that it was time to begin potty training Will - I didn't even ask for recommendations. I just decided it was time. I brought Will to pick out underwear. I bought a small potty. I bought a seat insert for the big potty.

No books, no searching for advice. Just some anecdotal information from other moms who talked about it and a general knowledge of my kid and how he operates.

We are four-and-a-half days into the experience, and so far it's been... interesting. I've mentioned before that I think that moms sharing their experiences can be wonderfully beneficial, so I figured I'd share a few of the things that I've learned and experienced with you.

1. Poop is scary. Over the winter, Will had a "naked phase" during which time I moved the potty into the kitchen. He peed on the floor but pooped in the potty during these 4 hours, so I assumed (foolishly) that pooping would be the easier thing for him to experience. This is not the case. The moment he started to make that scrunched up face indicating that a load was about to be dropped out of his behind, I picked him up and brought him into the potty. Crying, wailing, and near-tooth-gnashing ensued. "NO I DON'T WANNA POOP ON THE POTTY!!!" echoed off the walls and probably was heard by my neighbors. Ten minutes later he pooped. I did the whole positive encouragement thing and reassured him that it was great. I've been bringing him with me in when I poop so he can see that it's really not a big deal - everyone poops. You know... maybe I should just get him that book, come to think of it...
Anyways, he's genuinely scared of pooping in the potty. We've gotta work on that. I refuse to rub his back and hold his hand in his college dorm bathroom. 

Available for purchase on Amazon
2. Bribery... I mean... rewards... are awesome. Is it really bribery if I give him chocolate chips after he uses the potty? I read or heard somewhere on some website or blog or something that you shouldn't reward kids for things that they should just do as part of life. Among these things are putting their clothes in the laundry, making their beds, helping with the dishes, and using the bathroom. I don't know about that. It seems to work when you reinforce the behavior and then phase it out as time goes on once it's just rote behavior.  There's something to be said for conditioning practices, and for crying out loud it makes me feel like I'm putting that BA in Psychology to good use. I don't have my son throwing a temper tantrum when he doesn't get his single chocolate chip for peeing right before bedtime, and he's certainly not getting one for peeing in the bathroom at Target. But so far it seems to be working and helping him to pay more attention to what his body is doing so he can make it to the bathroom. This is enough for me to continue to feed my kid a chocolate chip when he pees and 2 if he poops. No accidents all day? Kid, you're getting a mini-Hershey's.

One for one and two for two - get it? I'm so clever...
3. Fun for the whole family! Our almost 15-month old daughter has been getting in on the fun. Every time Will needs to use the potty, she's running in right behind us. If he's on the big potty, she'll plop on the small one and start tearing off tiny pieces of toilet paper to drop between her legs into the pot. I've been told that the second child will often want to train early because the first one is using the toilet, so I have (for the most part) been allowing her to follow us in there. What I have noticed is that she can be distracting for Will sometimes, so I have to meter it and sometimes she doesn't get to come in (see number one above about number twos). This, of course, lends to a meltdown because the potty is just so darned exciting! Either way, she's getting involved in the process and has gotten a few new words out of it (bathroom - bah-ruhm, chocolate - chot-tit, and hands - han). And let's not forget the high-fives from everyone when Will is successful in the bathroom-going endeavors. Most necessary. 

4. Kids say (and do) the darndest things. Today while I was waiting the requisite 3 minutes (arbitrary amount of time I wait for Will to try and pee), I noticed that Will was flexing his pelvic muscles to make his little tiny penis bounce. This... this didn't start at home. This started in the bathroom at Target. So I asked him, "Will, whatcha doing?" to which he said "Making my penis bounce."

Of course.

This bouncing led to him giving himself a tiny person erection (which he didn't question). I drew no attention to any of what he was doing other than asking and let it go. When he was done with his 3 minutes (he didn't go, presumably because he was doing the aforementioned) we pulled his pants back on, washed his hands, and went on our way.

The next time he saw his penis, the tiny person erection had of course passed. This led to him screaming from our bathroom "OH NO!! Mommy! My penis fell down!!!"

It's times like these that I am sad that we can't laugh at more things as parents so as to not discourage our children or make them think they are strange. I assured him he was completely fine. He felt better. And then we went into the "poop is scary" phase (see number one about number twos above... again).

Note: I share this story with you because kids are ridiculous, and if no one warns you then your kid will do something like this and it will freak you out. No one warned me about certain things... so... you're welcome for this story. 

Because these two are ridiculous... never a dull moment.
5. They WILL figure it out. Today after breakfast, I was cleaning up the kitchen when I noticed Will standing perfectly still pinching at the crotch of his pants with a strange look on his face. "Will," I said, "I think you need to pee, Buddy." He scrunched his face up all concerned and said "Yeah I do", so we rushed to the bathroom and missed an accident by the narrowest of margins. After he was done and his hands were washed, I explained to him that if he felt that again where he thought he had to pinch himself that he should let me know. "Will, make sure you say 'Mommy! I need to go to the bathroom right away!' and we'll get you there super duper fast... OK?" Sure enough, within minutes of being home from the store he got a concerned look on his face again and said "Mommy INeedToGoPeeRightAwaaaaaaay!!!". We jumped up, ran to the bathroom, and missed an accident by an even narrower of margins than the narrowest. I've been watching as he's been paying more and more attention, and it's been pretty cool to see him discover what his body does and how to handle it.

The war zone. I even got a stool to reach the sink.

So I didn't read a book on this and I'm totally flying by the seat of my pants to teach my kid how to use the potty, but it seems to be working out OK. It might take me longer than a day or a weekend or a night or even a week like some books will say - and some people have used those methods with great success - but I'm all right with that. To quote so many parents that I've talked to about it - very few children go to kindergarten without being relatively potty trained. 

And also to quote so many parents I've talked to and a mantra we tend to stand by: You have to do what works best for you and your family. Take all the advice, cull it and tailor it for your needs, make your own story.

That's what works best for us. 

That and chocolate chips.