In 2016

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2016 was my first full year as a stay-at-home mom. My duties included, but were not limited to: Changing diapers. Preparing meals. Basic housekeeping duties such as vacuuming, dish washing, and collecting slightly-used tissues from communal areas. Wrestling screaming children into pants. Wrestling screaming children into car seats. Wrestling screaming children in various public places. (In general, the wrestling was meant to keep said children from harm – being struck by a car in a parking lot, for example – but often made me feel as if the harm I was trying to avoid might be less traumatic than my face, inches from theirs, hollering, “STOP IT! I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU!”)

In 2016 I found myself needing something in my life other than these mother-related responsibilities. I joined a second book club. I volunteered for the leadership committee of our local chapter of MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers). I took up photography in the most intense way possible, by committing to a 365-day photo challenge in which I promised no one in particular that I would shoot, edit, and post photos of my life every. single.day. I spent too much time staring at beautiful mothers and children on Instagram and decided to start a new Instagram community, called Honestly Parents, devoted to sharing pictures of imperfect families.

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It helps that they’re cute.

All of these pasttimes, while fulfilling in their own ways, were attempts to regain the qualities I felt I had lost at some point in my life as mother. In my home, with my children, I felt tired and irritated. The demands of motherhood, the meeting of everyone’s needs but my own, made me feel hopeless and unaccomplished. I would find myself saying terribly unfair things to my young children: How am I supposed to get anything done if you just keep asking me to get you things to eat? or Mommy wishes she could play right now, but she has a bunch of boring grown-up things to do. 

On top of the adjustment to staying at home, 2016 was the year that I stopped nursing our youngest daughter. The calories I was once able to consume were no longer nurturing a child, but collecting along my hips and waistline. I had already, in a triumphant and overly-smug closet clean-out, gotten rid of my post-pregnancy “fat pants”, and I found myself unable to button clothing that had fit me only six months before. In 2016, I was guilty of directing hatred at my own body. Nothing looked right on me. My husband told me I was beautiful and I scoffed. This body that brought three lovely girls into the world became my enemy. I realized, in one of the most depressing moments of my life, that I would need to buy a larger size of underwear. I came home with something (no offense, mom, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this) my mother would wear, and I thought to myself, “So this is what it is to be a mom. Gigantic underwear, a dirty house, and kids that think you would rather fold laundry than play with them.”

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A self-portrait of motherhood.

2016 is nearly over, and a new year is about to begin. We will celebrate birthdays and holidays. We will watch the seasons change. We will fill our calendars with obligations and activities; we will try to pencil in something that brings us pleasure. We will have sleepless nights when the children wake up, one after another, for no apparent reason. We will find scribbles on surfaces we could have sworn were spotless just a moment ago, and decide we are too tired to clean them, because what’s the use anyway? We will feel despair, at times. We will cry at stupid songs and yell at our children when they don’t deserve it. We will berate ourselves when we don’t deserve it.

The year to come will be no different than this one; life will continue as it has been, because the life you lived in 2016 is the life you were given. Sometimes it will be almost unbearably beautiful, and you will think to yourself that this, all of it, is a gift. You will call yourself blessed and post sentimental photos of you and your children, and you will feel happy. Other times you won’t, because the things that make you feel unhappy now are not going to magically disappear. Allowing yourself to recognize the great, great burden of motherhood does not make you ungrateful. It makes you a real, human woman.

I am a person who loves a good toast; it could have something to do with my appreciation for a good glass of wine (related, I believe, to my recent need for larger undergarments). And so, if I am able to stay awake until midnight this weekend to welcome the new year, I will say this: “To 2017: I embrace you, all of you, before I even know you. May I do the same for myself this year.”

Cheers.

 

Steps for a Successful Meal Out With Your Small Children

Step 1: Consider where you might like to go. Pick someplace child-friendly, with kids’ menu options, readily available high chairs, changing tables in the restrooms, dishes that can be thrown frisbee-style without shattering, soundproof booths, and strong adult beverages. How far is the establishment from your home? Will anyone there recognize you? At the same time, you want the area to be familiar enough for a child to find her way home on foot, should she wander off. There are many factors to take into account when choosing a restaurant that will please all members of the family.

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Here’s a great example of a place to go with kids. It’s under a bridge, and you can tell them to go look for trolls. Hours of entertainment.

Step 2: Before entering the restaurant, set behavioral expectations for your children and communicate these clearly to them. For example: Sit up straight. Be polite to the wait staff. Every once in a while, pick up a utensil and make some kind of attempt to use it. Speak in indoor voices. Don’t stare at other people while they eat. If you embarrass us, there will be no dessert. And we will never take you out in public EVER AGAIN. Be as specific as possible; children do best when given very explicit parameters within which to function.

Step 3: Ask to be seated somewhere unobtrusive, where the children won’t bother other customers. But maybe close to the restrooms? Because the two-year-old is working on going tee-tee on the potty. But not so close to the restrooms that that’s all she wants to do, because we’re not paying for a nice meal just to spend the entire time in the restroom, are we? A corner, a dark corner, somewhere in the vicinity of the restrooms, would be just fine. But not so isolated that we can’t signal our waitress for help. And perhaps with a direct line of sight to the bartender?

Thanks, that would be lovely.

Step 4:  Order a margarita.

Step 5: Settle the children in their seats. Oh look!, tell them, in your most enthusiastic voice, how NICE it is that the restaurant provided them with children’s menus that they can color, and two crayons each. Exude positivity; children take cues from the adults around them.

Step 6: Take the yellow crayon away from the baby, who has started to eat it. Hand it to the two-year-old, who is melting from her chair to the floor, hysterical because she HATES RED!!!!

Step 7: Open the menu. It is time to decide if you’d like to order an appetizer, to keep the children from getting too hungry, or to get your main course in as soon as possible to-

Step 8: Take the two-year-old to the bathroom. Since she has refused your help, watch as she struggles to pull down her pants and underwear, touches every surface of the toilet seat, and then decides that she doesn’t have to go. Patiently suggest that she wash her hands before returning to the table, then patiently respond to her queries as she pokes around the bathroom like she’s Ariel in The Little Mermaid, seeing human inventions for the first time. “That the trash can? That the light? That the soap? Where the paper towels?”

Step 9: Return to the table and apply hand sanitizer to the two-year-old’s hands. Ask your husband if the waitress has been by. She was, but he didn’t know what to order the kids. He got you another margarita, though. Alright, then. Food. You’re here for food. Open the menu.

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Seriously though, send them out to eat with the grandparents. For some reason, grandparents like that sort of thing.

Step 10: The two-year-old says she has to poop. And the five-year-old needs to go, too. Sniff the baby just in case; on the bright side, here is a chance to cut out one future trip to the restroom! Give your husband instructions to order the children hot dogs and to choose something for you, something with cheese and salt, maybe a leaf or two of lettuce. As you trudge toward the restroom, exude positivity. They are children, after all. Sometimes children need to potty.

Step 11: As you change the baby’s diaper, watch as the two-year-old struggles to pull down her pants and underwear, touches every surface of the toilet seat, and then decides that she doesn’t have to go. Even though you can see her literally squeezing her butt cheeks together in an effort to keep the poop from getting out. Attempt to explain, calmly, to the five-year-old why she shouldn’t use the automatic hand dryer for entertainment. Because other people are eating their dinners and don’t want to hear gleeful child shrieks and explosive air pressure coming from the bathroom. And also it hurts your ears. And is making the baby cry.

Step 12: Return to the table. Settle the children in their seats. Drink a healthy sip of margarita. Feed the baby the backup Cheerios that you had the foresight to pack. Learn from your husband that he has ordered you a fish sandwich. Ask him when, in the eight years you have been married, has he ever seen you eat a fish sandwich? Apologize for your tone; it will be fine. It will be great. Is there cheese on it? Okay then. Exude positivity.

Step 13: The two-year-old has pooped in her pants. Send your husband to the bathroom with her. Take a healthy sip of margarita. Motion to the waitress for to-go boxes. On the bright side, you’ll get to eat your fish sandwich on the couch while watching last season’s episodes of Game of Thrones. On the bright side, you’re never taking your children into public, ever again.

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Wooooo! No kids! But I still haven’t decided if I can take HIM out in public again…