How Do You Do It?

On a recent morning, I woke up to Anna kicking me in the head. (Who needs an alarm clock when you have kids?)

Some nights, Anna sleeps in her bed, contentedly, until morning. Other nights (most nights), she yells out around midnight or 3 a.m. (depending on if she napped that day), “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!” and it’s easier to snuggle her into bed with us rather than rock her back to sleep. (A motto for this season in my life could be, “I give up.”)

Now, Anna is a petite 2-year-old, and she weighs less than 30 pounds. However, she takes up a lot of space in our queen-sized bed. Her preferred sleeping position is smack dab in the middle, at the top, across both pillows, arms flailing and legs kicking, without rhyme or reason, throughout the night. Good night, and good luck.

She also notices if I get out of bed. Not Stanton—who often escapes to the guest bedroom or family-room couch—but myself, “Mom.” When I get up to, God forbid, use the restroom, or make coffee, I soon hear a small yet accusatory voice from atop the two pillows: “Mom? Come…back!”

Mornings can be rough, in my home and maybe in yours too. Everyone needs to get to where they have to go—clean, dressed, fed, with all their stuff…and preferably on time—in a short span of time. There is little wiggle room, and occasionally some (lots of?) stress.

On that particular morning, the one where Anna kicked me in the head, Stanton woke up with a sore throat. He had a full day of presentations ahead of him, so I rifled my Yogi Throat Comfort tea out of a kitchen cabinet. “Here, have some of this, and take extra with you,” I said.

“I don’t need it,” he replied.

“I promise it will make you feel better,” I said.

“I’ll be fine,” he promised instead.

OK.

I pointed to the guest room doorknob. “Did you see the new dress shirts I bought for you? You can wear one today.”

Stanton looked at me, bewildered. “I already have shirts.”

Current life motto? That’s right, friends: “I give up.”

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Now, the subject of clothes didn’t end there—no, not that day. Because that day just so happened to be “Dress Like a Farmer Day” at Grace’s elementary school, and “Wear Red Day” at Anna’s preschool. Grace was learning about agriculture; Anna was learning colors.

The night before, I had pulled out a pair of jeans and a white top from Grace’s dresser. I had also rummaged through several boxes in the basement, in search of a pink cowgirl hat I knew was down there…somewhere…which I did eventually find. I also found, in the dining room hutch, a green gingham cloth napkin that could double as a bandana. Grace and I had agreed that these items would work as her outfit for “Dress Like a Farmer Day.”

But come morning… Grace tossed the cloth napkin on a counter. “I wish it was pink, like my hat,” she said. “Pink is prettier than green.”

Grace has got her colors down pat.

Anna, meanwhile, didn’t like her red pants. “No…have…pockets!” she shouted.

Grace prefers pink; Anna wants pockets. I sighed.

At this point, Stanton amiably waved goodbye. “See you in a couple of days, girls. Love you!”

Because that day just so happened to be ‘Dress Like a Farmer Day’ at Grace’s elementary school, and ‘Wear Red Day’ at Anna’s preschool.

It was about 7:30 a.m. I needed to take a quick shower. “Girls…you can watch TV together while I get ready,” I said. “Just one show.”

“Yay!” Grace ran to the family room.

“I love TV!” Anna shouted, running after her. Then, as an afterthought, she shouted with the same enthusiasm, “I love Walmart!”

(This is a true story.)

What would other moms think of me if they heard my preschooler’s crack-of-dawn declarations? Love for TV? Walmart? Let me just say here, in my defense, that I turned on PBS Kids for my daughters that morning. Educational TV, OK? So…there’s that.

But yes, it’s true: Under the Supermom entry in Merriam-Webster’s, you won’t find my name.

Grace’s and Anna’s schools start at the same time, which is—to say the least—logistically inconvenient. So we get Grace to school on time, and Anna is always, reliably, 20 minutes late. But as everyone from my own mom to Anna’s teachers have reassured me…it’s preschool.

Speaking of my own mom, I asked her, “How did you do it?”

My mom had four kids; I have half that. My mom worked full-time; I’m a freelance writer (which, depending on the month, is a synonym for “unemployed”). Both my dad, throughout my childhood, and my husband, now, travel(ed) for their jobs. It’s difficult (and unhelpful) to compare one family situation to another, but for sure, my mom had a lot to do.

“How,” I wondered, “did you get everything done, every Monday through Friday morning, for years?”

My mom laughed and replied, “By the time I got to work, my body felt ready for a nap.” I could believe it. Especially now that Grace has started kindergarten—real school, real accountability—along with all the usual doctor’s appointments, sports practices and games, and family commitments as before.

(Later this week, by the way, is School Picture Day/Early Dismissal.)

How do you do it, friends?

Under the Supermom entry in Merriam-Webster’s, you won’t find my name.

Let me be the first to acknowledge that I do it, but not always well. Some days are great, even the mornings. Other days, I raise my voice at my daughters…or I’m distracted when they’re trying to tell me something…or I forget to buy something for someone’s school project.

A woman I very much respect recently said something that struck me. She was telling the story of someone—a nonprofit leader, I think—who, when asked about the toil of his work, said, “It’s not something I’ve got to do; it’s something I get to do.”

Not something I’ve got to do; something I get to do. I loved that. I try to remember that every day.

One evening, I was rocking Anna to sleep. (In several hours’ time, she’d probably be kicking me in my bed, but for the moment…) She was almost asleep. Then, unprompted, she said, “I really love you, Mom,” before snuggling against my chest and nodding off at last.

Moments like that, I feel I’m the luckiest person in the world. I understand the “get to do this.” The price you pay for the privilege.

This story started with clothes, and that’s where it’s going to end too. So…School Picture Day/Early Dismissal. Grace and I were looking through her dresser, picking out contenders for her School Picture Day photo. “And remember, Mom,” Grace said, “we get out early too.”

“Yes,” I said. I had written it down on the calendar.

“If you forget to pick me up…”

“I’ll be there,” I told Grace.

She looked up at me and smiled. “I know.”

“I give up,” and “Happy.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

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I’m Redshirting My Summer-Birthday Daughter: Our Family’s Story

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

It was a Friday morning, and my daughters and I had been at the park for nearly two hours.

We began our time here at the jungle gym (1-year-old Anna gleefully tried to keep up with her big sister; I burned hundreds of calories dashing to save her life several times). Then we walked through the neighboring savanna (a bathroom break for Grace, diaper change for Anna and snacks for everyone included). Now we were back at the playground, and I was pushing both girls on a swing set.

“OK, hold on!” I pushed Grace higher.

“Woo-hoo!” she yelled.

“Woo!” Anna echoed, clapping her hands.

This was the kind of the moment that made parenthood—especially parenthood of small children—worth it.

Worth all the sleep-deprived nights in the beginning. Worth the sibling squabbling that followed, sooner than expected. Worth the tradeoff of weeklong romantic vacations for date nights close to home, in order to save for the kids’ 529 plans.

My girls were happy and getting along. The sun was shining. I felt caffeinated and energized, thanks in equal parts to my travel mug of coffee and the natural Vitamin D.

It was a storybook moment. We moms and dads know they don’t come as often as we’d like. When they do, though, we treasure them.

Grace has an August birthday. In a couple of months, she’ll turn 5. She’s eligible to begin kindergarten here in Texas this fall (the cutoff date is September 1), but I decided to give her one more year at home with Anna and me.

One more year to experience more of these spontaneous storybook moments with us, before our family life becomes busier with more formal education for Grace (and Anna) and more out-of-the-home work for me.

Educators, policymakers and others call this practice of delaying kindergarten for summer-birthday babies “redshirting.” Maybe you’ve dealt with it, too?

Kindergarten

A lot has been written about the advantages and disadvantages of having a child start their formal education at age 6 rather than 5. I’ve read through some of these articles, keeping in mind that there are pros and cons along every path.

One advantage that authors often point out is that the additional year can benefit children socially. I do think this will be true for Grace.

She’s sweet, smart and shy, especially in new situations. Being one of the oldest in her kindergarten class, then, probably will give her an extra boost of confidence.

I’ve watched Grace look out for the smaller kids in her preschool dance and gymnastics classes—as well as her own little sister and kids in the park. She’s naturally nurturing with littler kids. I can see her feeling comfortable and helpful as one of the oldest in her kindergarten class.

Another advantage that educators and policymakers indicate is the academic one. If a child starts kindergarten a year later, then they will have had an extra year to prepare for kindergarten—to learn the alphabet, count and follow directions. Grace already does these things fairly well; if anything, reviewing these items in a kindergarten class may not hold her interest, a disadvantage.

However, the majority of families that redshirt their summer-birthday sons and daughters tend to be highly educated, upper-middle class ones—those who can afford to provide another year of preschool and/or child care. A 2015 Atlantic article discusses how this socioeconomic divergence in redshirting can, unfortunately, further widen the skills gap between higher-income and lower-income kids.

I don’t want to contribute to this skills gap. I think, though, that one more year of storybook moments will be special for both my daughters. I think it will be a time we’ll look back on and treasure—for its spontaneity, its simplicity, its sweetness.

I’m looking forward to the year ahead with my girls. Grace will be attending preschool three days a week. Anna and I will continue our “Mommy and Me” time at the park, children’s museum and (let’s be honest) non-fun but necessary stops such as the grocery store and dry cleaner’s.

Together, all three of us are embarking on something new, too. Our city sponsors a volunteer storytime program, with the goal of encouraging youth literacy in those who could use a helping hand. I’m excited to join this program, a great volunteer match for a book lover, writer and mom like me.

This experience should be meaningful for everyone involved—the kids, me and my daughters. Grace especially will see firsthand the good that can happen when people from varying sides of a gap unite over reading and stories.

“To hell with facts! We need stories!” said Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Every child has their own story to tell. Correspondingly, every family has their own ethos, their way of life that works best for them. Redshirting kindergarten is the route that makes the most sense for us—it’s simply our family’s story.

“Higher, Mom! Higher!”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “This Is Just a Story.” Fun, timely and thought-provoking.

No Back-to-Preschool Pictures This Fall

The summer vacation status updates in my Facebook news feed are beginning to get replaced with back-to-preschool pictures. And just the other day, Little G asked when she was going back to school.

We were driving home from a preschool friend’s birthday party. Little G had so much fun playing with all of her school friends who were there, some of whom she hadn’t seen since the Pre-K3 class ended in May. My hubby and I looked at each other.

“Maybe we should just have her go,” Stanton said under his breath.

“What?” Little G from her car seat in the back. She doesn’t miss a beat.

Stanton and I smiled at each other. And then, feeling a twinge of uncertainty, I said, “No, let’s stick with our plan.”

“What’s our plan?”

So I filled in our 4-year-old daughter. “We’re taking a break from preschool. You know how you stayed home with Mommy and Anna all summer? And we had girl time … we played together and took you to dance class …”

“And went to the coffee shop?”

Stanton laughed. Yes, dance class and the coffee shop: an accurate summary of the past three months with Little G and her baby sister. I nodded.

“We’re going to do girl time for a little longer,” I said.

Next fall, Little G will start either kindergarten or (because of her late-summer birthday) attend a final year of preschool. I hope to be writing and working more by that time, too. The sentimental side of me views this time until then as a special season for my two girls to simply be together and enjoy together, before recommitting to a busier family schedule.

“Play, dance class, and the coffee shop—OK,” Little G said.

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For two years, Little G’s preschool experience was wonderful—socially, educationally, and spiritually. And it was meaningful for me, too. Most importantly, her preschool provided quality child care for when I was working and, later, attending lots of prenatal appointments while awaiting Baby G’s arrival. And perhaps just as importantly, her school offered us a warm, loving community in which to connect with other families in similar stages of life.

I’ll miss seeing all our preschool friends on a regular basis—at drop-off, pick-up, and school events—as Little G will. At the same time, it’s fun to keep in touch and make the time to get together, just as we do with the other good friends in our life from our neighborhood, church, and library story time.

Ultimately, I think my girls will treasure this “year off” together. Of course, I could always be wrong. As Pam Brown once said, “Sisters never quite forgive each other for what happened when they were five”—or in the case of my daughters, 4 years old and 6 months. 🙂

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books, available on Amazon.com. Writing at its most heartfelt.