Clay turns five: “Welcome to the ‘big kid’ years!”

Helping daddy make smoothies

Helping daddy make smoothies this morning

Today is Clay’s fifth birthday, and I just got an email from BabyCenter that nearly made me cry. “Welcome to the ‘big kid’ years!,” the first line said. I guess it’s better than “your baby is going to kindergarten this year, where does the time go?,” which is what I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

I signed up for BabyCenter five years and eight months ago, when I was newly pregnant with Clay. I liked the weekly updates telling me how the baby was growing and comparing his size to various food items, though the shrimp comparison was creepy, and the jicama one had me frantically searching Google images.

As time passed, I no longer needed BabyCenter to tell me how big my baby was getting – I saw it every day. He was so tiny when we brought him home from the hospital five weeks early, but eating every two hours helped him grow quickly. He smiled and laughed and rolled over. All his dark hair fell out and he looked like Uncle Fester before it came back blond. He talked when he was 10 months old (and hasn’t stopped), but he started walking late, which Chase still talks about. “Clay didn’t walk until he was 18 months old, right?,” he’ll ask me. It was 15 months exactly. I’ll never forget. He was home sick, and my dad had spent the prior week practicing with him. He took five steps to me in the kitchen before falling. I screamed with excitement, which scared him. I kept quiet on the second attempt, taking video instead.

Clay is a typical first born. He’s very cautious, thinking about everything before he does it.  He has empathy for everyone and hates conflict, even in Disney movies. He’ll actually leave the room during fighting or “scary” scenes. He loves with all his heart. There is nothing he’d rather do than spend time with friends and family. He leads his cousin and his sister around by the hand, and I’ve seen him put his arm around the waist of his best girl friend when they play together. His teachers tell me he is a natural leader and though that makes me a little nervous (I’ve met Bill Clinton), it also makes me proud when they say he’s very inclusive and everyone likes to be around him.

That’s how I feel about him, too. When I was pregnant, people assumed I would rather be having a girl (which wasn’t the case) and would try to cheer me up by telling me how special a mother-son relationship can be. Watching Chase and his mom and my brother and my mom, I don’t think that bond ever goes away, which makes me smile.

I went to kindergarten information night a few weeks ago and it hit me that my first baby is turning a “big kid.” Watching him help around the house, write sentences at school and especially today, on his fifth birthday, I know in many ways he’s already there. I’m just glad I get to go along for the ride, because we’re going to enjoy the heck out of these “big kid years.”

Happy birthday, Munchkin!

Siblings: best friends forever

kids ticklesWhichever one of my kids wakes up first, immediately asks about the other one, anxious for him/her to wake up, too. They do almost everything together. Maybe that’s why Avery knows she is two, but says she’s four. She can ride a scooter as well as Clay. She climbs walls (and mountains!) with no fear. Most of the time we forget they are 23 months apart because they are so close.

My dad was 15 months older than his sister, and they were the best of friends until the day he died. My mother-in-law and her older brother have the same age difference and were inseparable. Seeing them, I thought 15 months would be a good age difference for our kids. Nursing for 13 months made that impossible, but when Clay was 15 months old, I found out I was pregnant with Avery.

Clay was not yet two when she was born, but he adored her. As she grew, his excitement when she reached milestones was comparable to (or maybe even exceeded) ours. “Avery can crawl, mommy!,” he said, pride in his voice. When Clay plays soccer or t-ball, Avery greets him coming off the field with, “Great game. I’m so proud of you, Clay!”

He’s also protective. When a boy pushed Avery at school, Clay told me “I pushed Sanjay, because he pushed Avery.” The responsible parent in me told him, “it’s nice to protect your sister, but next time just tell the teachers,” while I was thinking, “heck yeah, big brother, stand up for your favorite girl!”

I had two strangers come up to me this week, commenting on the kids’ relationship and love for each other, after watching them interact. I’m not saying they are perfect because they are not. They fight over toys and make each other crazy sometimes. But most of the time, they are the older brother and little sister that my dad and his sister, and Chase’s mom and uncle, were. I have the family I always hoped for.

I’m sure they’ll fight more as they grow up, but in a time when preschool teachers tell me Clay needs to work on his listening and Avery still sneaks out of her room at bedtime, it makes me think we’re doing something right. And gives me hope that whatever mistakes we make in parenting along the way, they’ll have each other. Those two will be best friends forever.

Why l love the Disney Princesses

The top row of Avery's toy bin. Hello, princesses!

The top row of Avery’s toy bin. Hello, princesses!

I live with a two-year-old, who, more often than not, is wearing a princess dress over her clothes. She only has two of them (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) and they are both falling apart at the seams from constant wear. She has a princess stepstool, princess dolls, princess books and most of the Disney princess movies.

I became aware of this “anti-princess” movement a few months before Avery’s infatuation began. I read complaints that the princesses teach little girls that their looks are all that matters and that they should wait for a prince to come rescue them. Some critics even say that the princesses discourage girls from trying hard in school. Really? One princess dress and you’re not getting into Stanford? I highly doubt that.

I’m not going to attack the anti-princess moms, because the one thing I’ve learned in almost five years of being a parent: what works for one family does not work for everyone. You have to figure out what works for you. For us, the princesses work.

I’ve gotten Avery out of the house on slow-moving mornings by allowing her to wear a princess dress over her clothes in the car. I’ve convinced her to take nap by pretending she was baby Rapunzel (from Tangled) going to sleep in her bed. She shrieked with excitement when she got new princess dolls for Christmas, thanking us repeatedly. She’s stayed in her bed at night telling stories to Merida (from Brave) and Cinderella. Even Clay has gotten in on the princess action: he loves the new Disney series, Sofia the First, almost as much as Avery does (side note: the series teaches kids to accept others, try their best, etc. – it’s great!).

The princesses have good manners. They are friendly, welcoming and seem to handle challenges (Ariel losing her voice to a witch, Merida turning her mom into a bear, etc.) well. They aren’t bad role models for my daughter, but they also aren’t her only role model. They are a fantasy, just toys and movies and fancy dresses. It’s not real life. Real life isn’t always easy, and Prince Charming doesn’t always sweep in and fix everything. I want Avery to know that, but it’s our parenting that will teach her those lessons, not her toys.

Avery’s new thing is to put on princess dresses and sing at the top of her lungs. We have video, but I won’t post it here to save everyone’s eardrums. She puts on a dress, becomes someone else and has a blast. Who wouldn’t love that?

Milkshake Super Bowl

For three out of the past four weekends, one (or both) of our kids have been sick. What happened to their great immune systems from all that breastfeeding I did? Preschool happened, I guess.

This weekend Avery has a stomach bug. Sure, milk isn’t great for you when you are sick, but if you have to throw up, you might as well have something yummy beforehand. She and I got milk shakes and are watching the Super Bowl at home so she doesn’t contaminate anyone. It’s not my typical drink of choice for Super Bowl Sunday, but my baby girl loves it. Really hope she feels better soon!

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Choices

We’ve all heard clichés about life being full of choices, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of these choices until I became a parent. When you are single, your choices mainly affect you. Getting married adds some complexity, but nothing compared to the responsibility you take on when you have kids and the decisions you make, both good and bad, affect them.

We make decisions every day that impact our kids. Some are less serious, like earlier this week when I took them to a park 15 minutes from home. We have five parks within walking distance of our house, so we rarely drive, but we tried something new. So, of course Avery had to poop while we were there. Not a big deal, right? Except Avery puts it off until the last possible minute, so she had to go “right now!” Because all the parks near us have sand, my kids immediately remove their shoes within a 50 meter radius of a park. We grabbed Avery’s easily in our rush to the bathroom, but Clay’s were nowhere to be found. I had to make quick decision: let Clay come to the bathroom with no shoes or let Avery poop in her pants (actually, her bathing suit because there is a lake at the park. A non-swimming lake, in the middle of winter, but you try telling Avery what to wear these days. No, thanks!) I haven’t had to clean poop in months, so I made the choice. Clay would pull a Britney Spears and enter the park bathroom with no shoes. I made myself feel better by comparing the park bathroom to the one at the beach, and lots of people use that one barefoot. And dirty feet are slightly better than poopy bathing suits. I scrubbed his feet with baby wipes and so far, so good. No weird foot diseases (knock on wood). I took a gamble and made a choice and we’re all okay.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the more important choices parents must make. The first one that every mom faces is whether to return to work after having a baby. I’ve written about this before and since I am happier working, the decision for us was not if I would work, but how could I make it work for us while having a family. I had a family-friendly job and worked from home two days a week, so it felt like a good balance for me. I’ve had friends decide to stay home and others who have switched to part-time work. We all made choices, and at times I’m sure we all question those decisions, but we hope in the end it will work for our family.

There are other tough decisions we have to make. What about where to live: close to family, in certain school districts, in an urban or suburban setting? Do you buy a house or rent? Send the kids to public or private school? Feed them organic food? Send them to school with a cold? Let them sleep in your bed? Buy a car or an SUV?

Every day presents new choices, some big, some small. For us, I work. We live close to Chase’s family, in a good suburban school district so we can send the kids to public school. We (along with Bank of America) own our house. I try to feed them organic fruits and veggies, but other food I don’t worry as much about. Both kids have been sneezing since they got their flu shots, but it’s not the actual flu, so they’re at school today. We let them in our bed in the mornings, if it’s after a certain time, otherwise they are sent back their rooms for a few more hours before I drive them to school in my SUV. Chase picks them up in his car. For now, all of this works for us, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be faced with new decisions and dilemmas as the kids get older and our needs change.

Jean-Paul Sartre said, “we are our choices,” but for parents, it’s not just us. It’s our kids. It’s a lot of pressure making decisions on behalf of someone else. For their sake, I hope we make the right ones.

Two-year-old hockey player

hockey stick

I’ve often said that Avery was perfect until she was just over two, when she started to climb out of her crib. We moved her to a toddler bed and even now, every once in a while for a few days at a time, she will test us at nap time or bed time, escaping her room when she’s supposed to be sleeping. This week has been one of her bad weeks. On Sunday, I found her on the stairs during nap time, wielding a hockey stick (she didn’t swing it, but held on pretty tight). This morning, when I was trying to get her dressed, she kicked me while trying to escape. Who knew the terrible twos (and not enough sleep) would turn our sweet girl into a hockey player?