This is Actually Happening
This is actually happening. I mutter to myself yet again today. Jackson takes his pants off and is running. We are in midst of a no-pants rebellion: diaper optional. I watch him climb on the couch-with his “diaper that probably needed changed an hour ago” sag, look at me and fall forward. I have no choice but to jump out of my seat and catch him. What are you thinking?! I yell as if that will make him stop. Clearly, it has now become a game. As I play the “jump out of my seat and catch floppy toddler” game over, and over, and over, and over, and over again I start to realize my life has become a series of “this is actually happening” moments. Like a surreal dream; when the hell did I end up here?
Josh: Whats wrong?
Me: (sobbing) I’m pregnant
Josh: That’s awesome!
Me: seriously? Awesome? Four kids. What is wrong with us?
I sat in the all too familiar OBGYN chair. Naked from the waist down with the giant paper towel wrapped around my bottom so that half my unshaven leg is hanging out. I take one look at my stomach, still mushy from having Jackson and think “who the hell would ever want to have sex with this”. Doctor Amber comes in the room and starts going over the standard pregnancy protocol. Blah, blah, blah- heard it. I think still wondering how I ended up back in this chair. When its time for my ultrasound I wait for her to tell me some reason in which she was mistaken and I wasn’t pregnant. She takes out the giant blue dildo thingy. (sorry that is the only way I can think to describe the ultra sound machine they use in the first few months). I laugh at how Josh and I didn’t realize how exactly it worked after I got pregnant with Jackson. We started making super immature jokes about it and were completely mortified when the doctor gave me the extra invasive ultrasound. Josh isn’t there for this one. We have a one year old at home..and we both somehow didn’t think this pregnancy was real. I look at the monitor and I am confused. “Are those arms? And legs?” I ask Dr. Amber. I remember my first ultrasound from Jackson. He was a blob that we were hoping had a heartbeat. But this was a blob with a head, and appendages. “Yes they are.” She says. “How far along am I?” I ask, not even feeling the slightest bit irresponsible. “About twelve weeks.” She smiles. “This is happening.” I say. This is actually happening.
Fast forward nine months. I am still living that episode called “greatest moments in disbeleif”. I just step back and watch the chaos unfold. I did the solo parent challenge: taking all four kids somewhere without the help of the other parent. Josh was working and Liv wanted to go to open gym to practice her routine. One hour: I can do this”. I try to convince myself. Two teens, two babies and 1 Mom. May the odds be ever in my favor. I was concerned since Jackson was asleep in the stroller. It was 7 on a Friday night and this 9-5er was exhausted. If he slept too long, it could be a Oh-Toodles at midnight kinda evening followed by Oh-Toodles with the sunrise kinda Saturday morning. Halfway through Liv’s class he was still asleep.
Me: I am going to wake him for a bit. Maybe he can run around this building for a bit
Layla: Don’t do it. he is so bad
Me: But I really want him to sleep later
Layla: It’s a bad idea. I am warning you.
Me: I know. I know. I am going to regret this.
The idea of him sleeping later was worth the risk of letting him out to roam free in a rec center. Right? I handed Cece to Layla. She was mostly asleep. “Hey Buddy.” I say in Jackson’s ear. He smiles and opens his eyes. It took a few minutes to take in all the toddlering that can go on in this building. He eyes the gym mats and yells to be taken out of his stroller. I have now caught the attention of all the other parents. While made of the best intentions and adoration, I often get the “you are so brave; I am so glad I don’t have four kids” smile from other parents. I let him out and let him climb on the gym mats while the instructor isn’t looking. Then she looks over and I flash the “oops..toddler. haha” smile and scoop him up. The rec center has lots of hallways for him to run in. Having middle schoolers around, I have come to be well acquainted with the magical union of toddler and school hallway. Its a living maze and his little legs can’t navigate it fast enough. I direct him toward the hallway. There is a detour I wasn’t expecting: elevator. Why are the buttons so low??? I ask to the air. He hits the button and the door immediately opens. “Crap!” I say to Layla and run after him. I slide onto the elevator like I am stealing a base. He is really proud of himself now as the door closes. He hits the alarm button. No!! I yell. I hear dispatch interference and dispatch voices. I hear important words like “fire station” “alarm button hit” “I am yelling, “No. I am so sorry. No emergency.” Finally someone addresses me. “hello. What is your emergency?” the elevator asks me. “I am so sorry, so sorry, no emergency. My son. toddler. Mistake.” I can hear the elevator sign in annoyance as it opens the doors and I get off. This actually happening. This just happened. I stepped off the elevator as if it didn’t happen. Jackson started running down the hallway and found an empty basket ball court. I grabbed a ball and started dribbling around him. I even impressed him by (almost) making a free throw. We spent the rest of the time playing chase, dribble, catch and run in the gym. It was a sweet moment I got to have with him. Mom and son, its so new to me. I have three daughters. One sister. My mom has two sisters and my dad has five…so yeah, lots of girls. Sometimes I wonder if I am bit ill prepared to mother a son. Then we have these organic little moments and I start to understand the dynamic. Me: Figuring out how to mother a son: this is actually happening.
I have a teenager now. I had planned on writing a post about how challenging life with teenagers can be. They are stinky, lazy, self-centered, eye rolling, oversleeping, food sucking machines. I could go on and on about how suddenly I am afraid to walk I her bedroom in fear that one mess, or pile of our entire collection of dinner plates laying on the floor, will just set me off in a way that I am not prepared for. I could tell a story about how much her life revolves around anime, drawing and not doing any chores with out a preemptive deep sigh.
Layla: Can you please, please buy me those Pokémon socks?
Layla: they are only fourteen dollars. Puh-leese?? I am begging you. I will do anything. I promise – as soon as we get home I will clean my room. I will do extra chores, dishes, take out the trash. Anything you want.
Me: How about this. I have to come back to the mall in a few days. You clean your room and do a few extra chores and I will buy you the socks.
Layla: well, I don’t want them that bad
I want to complain about how much she minipulates her little sister to do all her work. As a big sister, i am astounded by the things she has Olivia do for her. She wakes her up, packs her lunch and has even been known to turn a page while lazy girl reads.
Olivia: Seriously Layla, I do everthing for you. What is going to happen when we are older? I am going to have to come to your house. Clean your rooom. Do your laundry and feed your ten cats.
While everyday life with a hormonal teenage daughter has been challenging and a constant battle of wits, I cant help but feel overwhelming nostalgia for the part of her I will never get back again. I am talking about that baby she used to be. Layla was always overly grown up, even at eighteen months when she just wanted to draw pictures instead of going outside. But she was always my smart, introverted little girl. While she was at guitar lessons tonight, we took the two little ones for a walk in our old neighborhood. This was the neighborhood that Layla was born in and we lived until she was eleven months. It was our first family home. The little playground at the dead end of the street was the first time she ever felt the tummy tickle that comes from being pushed in a swing.
Everything about Layla’s thirteenth birthday has made me nostalgic. It is because I am so excited for her. Thirteen…the official start to the self-discovery of becoming an adult. She is at the eve of her first date, first kiss and first heartbreak. Soon she will learn to drive and go off to college. She is still in the optimistic half of her life and has a wide-open future. I want to be thirteen again, not for awkwardness or the cliques or the self-consciousness but for the freedom to think that anything is possible.
Layla: I want to be an artist, or a video game designer, or an astronomer. Will I make a lot of money doing any of those things?
Me: if you are worried about making money doing what you love then I have failed as a parent.
Walking through the park tonight brought me to that nostalgic place I needed to be. It brought me out of the self-pity funk I was feeling; the standard “my daughter is old; I am old” pity party I throw myself. It reminded me of the child I was when I had her and the fear I had that I would somehow not be good enough as a parent because I was young, inexperienced and broke. Looking at the landscape that hasn’t changed in the last thirteen years, I am reminded of how far we have come. Me and that sweet baby girl that put a halt on life as I knew it. I hugged her and sang the same verse of “Layla” I do every year. “Like a fool, I fell in love with you; you turned my whole world upside down”. Thank you sweet girl. Thank you.
Just Add Water
There is a water obsession going on at the Taylor house. It is as much a part of our family as the dog or the cat. It started with Layla’s strange fear of running water. Every bath night was a struggle. If she was anywhere near the bathroom when I turned tub faucet it would end in hysterics and no bath. “TURN THE WATER OFF!!!” She would shriek. It didn’t help that her bedroom was across from the bathroom so I would have to be extra sneaky in my tactics. I would wait until she was engrossed in something like drawing or talking to her Care Bears to start my plan. Turn on the TV for added noise. When she wasn’t looking I would sneak into the bathroom and shut the door. I slowly put on the faucet so that she wouldn’t hear. I wait a few minutes until there was an adequate amount of water for her to clean herself. Before having Layla, I assumed the best way to get clean was to use the running faucet water and not the sitting bath water that was most likely filled with body dirt. But then again, I am not a fan of taking a bath at all. I am sure Layla spent the first five or so years of her life not getting totally clean..but at least she would let me wash her. Once the tub was filled and the water was off, I would go into her room and announce it was bath time. She would happily get in the tub like the water fear was never a thing. Sportscaster: In the 5th round of Mom vs. Toddler, Mom goes for the sneak bath. Mom takes this one.
Layla was a very hesitant swimmer. She didn’t want her face anywhere near the water as if she had been drowned in a past life. It took her two sessions of swim lessons before she would go under. Water activities like sprinklers or water balloons were not fun for her. There was a slip ‘n slide incident ended with the F-Bomb heard around the world. My brother in law took her for a slide into the little pool and her face hit the water. She stood up in a fury I have never seen on her before. “Teddy”. She yelled. “You make me so fucking mad!” Sportscaster: In the 50th round of Mom vs. Toddler – Toddler uses mom’s favorite word in front of family, friends and grandparents. Toddler wins this one by a landslide.
Liv immediately took to the pool. Her first impression of a pool was to immediately jump right in, not even stopping to think about it. No matter how many times I had to fish her out of water that was too deep, she never had a fear for swimming. I got reprimanded by the sixteen year-old life guard at the pool one summer. “Ma’am,” he said looking at eighteen month Olivia and over to three year old Layla who was sitting in the shallowest part of the water playing cautiously to her self. Liv was trying to squirm her way into the deep end. “you need to keep your kids with in arms length of you. Both of them.” He added. “Gotcha.” I said with a slight sprinkle of sarcasm. I knew Layla’s fear of the water would keep her in that spot all day if I let her and Livs lack of fear would have her throwing a tantrum to go off the diving board if I let her. I hope he ended up with a Liv one day and had to keep track of her at the crowded pool. Another time, We were at a friends house who had a back yard pool and a slide. I was chatting away with the other moms while the kids all hovered around the shallow end. They were all kindergarteners/first graders so they had a limited skillset with swimming that didn’t include the deep end yet but they had a fear of it that kept parents confident they would stay in the shallow end. “Wow, your daughter can go in the deep ends?” one of the mothers asked. I realized she was talking to me when I saw Olivia fly down the slide into the deep end. I mom-ninjaed over to the side of the pool just in time to fish her out of the deep end as she realized she couldn’t swim. Sportscaster: In the 75th round of Mom vs. Toddler, Toddler shows of bad momming to strangers and other moms. This is a win for Toddlers everywhere folks.
Liv’s water issues were a direct result from Layla’s fear of running water. She didn’t like running or sprinkling water. She was also a runner, so this began my water based parenting tactics. In her early toddlerhood, She would often run down the driveway and almost into the street before I would catch her. Of course the act of chasing a toddler only makes them want to do it even more. So with a determination, anytime I wasn’t looking she took off. Our driveway was an L Shape and our deck was right at the corner. One day I was spraying the deck with the hose when she started her descent into the street. I didn’t mean to but, I turned to yell at her with the hose still on and she got sprayed. She screamed and turned and ran the other way, toward the back yard. Spraying my kid may make me seem like a terrible mom, but it was for her own safety. And it only took a few times. They would play outside and I would sit at the corner of the deck with the hose. If she started to run, I would spray. If she kept running she got wet, if she turned and went into the back yard she stayed dry. Sportscaster: In the 101st round of mom versus toddler, mom busts out a secret weapon – the hose! This round goes to Mom!
Jackson is both fascinated and annoyed by water. After I had Cece, Jackson realized acting out was a good way to get us to put the baby down and chase him. So basically, Jackson punished us for having a baby by extra toddlering. He would climb on the end table and start to lean forward like he was going to fall unless I ran over to catch him. He would climb on the couch and try to pull the picture off the wall. If I set Cece down in her chair or swing, he would immediately climb on top of her and try to “hug” her. There was just. so. much. climbing – all the time. I had to come up with some way to get his attention since yelling “No, No”, swatting on the butt and pulling him away only made him want to do it even more. This game was getting old for me since I wasn’t winning at all. I remembered the hose technique with Olivia. Should I? No. That is mean. I am sitting in my recliner nursing Cece. He comes over and pulls the recline button sending me back and putting the foot rest out so he can climb on it via stepping on one of his trucks. I am still feeding Cece with her cradled on my right arm while awkwardly trying to get him off the chair with my left hand. He head butts my shoulder then hugs me, burrowing his face into my shoulder blade. I feel something sharp. “Owe!! Did you bit me?” I scream. He laughs and repeats the head butt into biting motion again. He looks at Cece, then me, and plops down next to her. He grabs one of her hands and gives her a little high five. “Awe, high five.” I say. Then he clenches his fist and punches her in the arm. She hesitates; then lets out a terrified scream. He looks at me and says “Uh-Oh”. “You’re a jerk!!” I scream. He smiles and gives me one more head butt bite hug. Yes, I should. I filled a water spray bottle and when he made the facetious climbing look – I sprayed it at him. The water hit his back and he looked at me with shock and betrayal. I am such a bad mom. I kept thinking. He stacked pillows only to try to reach a glass vase off the high shelf. Spray, spray. “No!” I said. He stopped what he was doing and moved on to playing with his trucks. That was too easy. Now, I don’t really need to spray him anymore. When he starts one of his ass hole behaviors, I grab the blue bottle and point it his way. He cowers for a second then finds something else to play with. Perhaps parenting is just missing a bit of water. Sportscaster: In the 1000th round of Mom vs. Toddler boy, mom deploys the spray bottle decoy. This is all Mom!
I am sitting outside with Jackson. It’s a quiet Sunday morning after a rainy night. It was going to be a steamy day but not for a few more hours. Jackson is running around the yard and I am drinking my coffee and jotting some ideas down in my journal. I want to keep up my weekly writing cadence so i promised myself I would have a post up by Sunday night each week and I even procrastinate on my own deadlines. Jackson waddles up the steps and finds one of his trucks filled with water from the rainstorm. He starts drinking the water. “Ewe. Gross. Ca-ca”. I say. He throws it and finds his bucket also filled with water. He drinks this too and looks at me, knowing I would react the same way. “No!” I yell and grab the bucket, dumping it on the deck. He belly flops onto the deck and starts lapping the water off the deck like a dog while smiling at me. Then he finds a flowerpot base with dirt and rainwater and laps that as well. “Seriously? I just cant. I cant,” I say to him,or the air. He is back to lapping up water off the deck. Perhaps toddlering is also missing a bit of water. Sportscaster: In the 5000th round of Mom vs. Toddler, Toddler realizes Mom can’t make all the water go away after it rains. If he dog can lap it off the deck, so can I. As usual, Toddler wins this one!
The Do Over
I am sitting in the middle seat of the Taylor bus sitting next to the infant carrier. I never understood why people did that, was that a helicopter parent thing? I have always viewed the front seat as the power seat; the grownup seat. It was something I didn’t want to compromise on as a parent. No matter where we go, I sit up front. Caption of the Taylor ship. Lately Cece has forced me to sit in the back since she is not a “car baby” like the other three were. I am not used to a kid that isn’t magically put to sleep by the car moving in reverse down the driveway.
I am so fortunate to have the unique parenting perspective that comes from having two kids (22 months apart), taking ten years off, then having two more (18 months apart). The way to do this: drink a lot in college. Get pregnant right before graduation. Have baby, buy house, have another baby so they will be close in age. For those keeping score: Baby 1 – unplanned. Baby 2 – planned. Try to figure out life with small kids for a while. Wake up one day and wonder who the hell replaced those stinky babies with smelly pre teens. Send them on spring break with their grandma since every year a family vacation just seems slightly out of budget. Act like kid free parents for a week and drink a lot. Surprise! Baby. Insert tears of joy because (finally) it’s a boy! (from Daddy). Start over at baby. Buy house. Skip period, take ten home pregnancy tests, have doctor confirm with ultra sound. Wait, I can see the arms and legs on that baby. How far am I? Twelve Weeks?!? More tears of joy because it’s not a boy! (Mommy and Daddy). Final Score: Planned 1; Unplanned 3.
In less than two years we went from a family of four to a family of six. Strangers often remind that I have my hands full. I just smile. I don’t really look at my situation as having four kids rather than I have two sets of kids. The first two are pretty self-sufficient.. but are quickly becoming teenage girls. Bring on the constant eye roll and deep sigh. The second two are completely dependent on me so the first set has to help. I am lucky to have the Adult Jr. squad around to help with things like “can you get your brother off the kitchen table?” Getting to do the first ten years over is a learning curve, but it has taught me so much about how I look at myself as a parent. A view from this seat is too amazing not to share. These are some of the things I have learned in the first few years of my parenting do over.
I don’t live in Neverland. By that I mean I try not to be that parent that starts sentences with “I will never”. Yes I will. I will never sit in the seat with my kids while driving. I will never have another baby (after 2, then after 3). I will never let my kids sleep with me. I will never be able to breastfeed. I will never be able to wear my baby. I will never sleep again. I will never let my kids get a cell phone. I will never let my kids see me cry. Kids are not a one size fits all adventure..they are all different and require an open mind. They won’t sleep with me forever, they will eventually learn to use the toilet, they won’t be scarred forever if they cry it out, they will grow out of that phase and if not I will learn to accept it as their unique wiring.
It’s ok to fail and be vulnerable. I put these together since I always have. Mistakes and failure reek of vulnerability. I had Cece in her infant carrier, Jackson in a stroller and Liv helping me take them to lunch with a group of co-workers. Since there was food involved, Liv was only about 60% present. In between situating Jackson (aka pulling up the Lego game on my phone), she asked when the food would be out about five times. I used the high chair to put Cece’s carrier on the stand. I turned to situate myself and her carrier flipped off the stand. I quickly grabbed it but not quick enough to avoid the barrage of concerned stares. “Sadly this isn’t the first time..” I joked. I no longer care if the concern is judgment. With four kids, parenting fails are going to happen more often then I would like so I am embracing it. So far Child Services has not knocked on my door…
It’s ok not to be cool. Whatever that means. As soon as I had kids, I began my quest not to look, act, dress, and be the typical mom. I don’t want my kids to be the thing that defines me. I want to still be the first to know about the latest music or movies or trends. I am typing on a laptop. Seriously, who types on a laptop anymore? Unfortunately, adults are not cool to teenagers. Even Justin Timberlake. Me: Did you guys know that Justin Timberlake is about the same age as me? Layla: oh, I didn’t realize he was that old. To be honest, being “cool” is exhausting. “Mom that is so 2011” Liv said the other day. Wasn’t that last year? Nope. I am clearly not cool. I will talk about my kids to who ever will listen, I will over share their precious faces on all social media, I will introduce myself as a mother of four, I will admit I haven’t heard of that band or seen that new movie or read that book. I will embrace this mid thirties; I don’t give a shit version of myself. Hell, maybe one day I may even get a mini van.
I am an over documenter. I write and take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. “Layla, when you were born digital cameras weren’t common.” I said. “And they definitely not on our phones”. Whoa. Teenage minds blown. “ha-ha dumb phones” Liv said. I have had a Snapfish account since Liv was born. Once I got a digital camera, my obsession with taking pictures exploded. Now, when I miss that baby phase, all the pictures are in one spot. I am even worse with round 2, but I know that this moment will pass like the flash on my camera. I also started writing again. A lot. I jot down random thoughts whenever I can. My journal is my best friend. It laughs at my witty jokes, cries when I do and always is there to listen. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer winning essays, just a release of those hormone laced thoughts that go through my (lack of) mom brain.
Now, when I see these back seat parents, I will give them a nod of understanding and approval. Like how people who have Jeeps beep at each other because they live with the shared knowledge that owning a Jeep is awesome. As a back seat mom, I was able to write, apply a full face of make up, take a decent selfie, pluck my eyebrows for the first time in three years, ignore social media, embrace new music, and (almost) feel cool.
Q: Why haven’t I written here in over two years?
“No No!” I say for the millionth time today. Jackson is climbing on the chair next to me. He hasn’t technically done anything wrong yet, but he has the look on his face that alerts me that he is scheming. He starts to paw at things on the table while I scan all the objects to quickly determine what will be bad enough for me to quit nursing Cece and grab from him. Keys. Anthropologie catalogue. Nah. I may never be at the goal weight that allows me to spend $100 on a T shirt that looks like it is from a thrift store. Pen, potentially dangerous depending on if he can figure out how to click the tip. Remote. Hmmm…how invested am I in this episode of “Jeopardy”? He grabs the keys and starts hitting the unlock button causing the car alarm to go off. Great. Now I have to pull Cece back and grab Jackson. Cece immediately begins to cry and Jackson sees me coming for the keys and starts running off with them hitting the unlock button as he goes. For her own safety, I set the crying infant down and chase the toddler. I finally catch him and take the keys. He screams. And she is screaming. and the dog is barking because of the honking car. Sorry neighbors. He is a toddler.
Sometimes I try follow him around and pick up the toys he has randomly discarded around the living room. I read a book titled “organizing with kids” or something unrealistic like that. One of the chapters was all about having a designated playroom and not keeping toys in the living room. Clearly that person did not live in a small house. The living room in our house is the TV area, office, entry way, occasional dinner area, homework haven, toddler entertainment area and infant changing station. I believe all rooms should multi task. That is getting the bang for your square footage buck. Just invest in nice storage…that way your junk is stored in pretty boxes and baskets. Most of the time I am following Jackson around with one of these pretty baskets collecting the scattered toys like they were currency. I sit to pick up the toys from a basket he dumped over (then immediately moved on). One thing I learned with a baby boy is never to make eye contact when you are sitting on the floor. That is always an excuse to pounce. Before I know it he has body slammed me and was grabbing my neck as if he had the strength to knock me on the ground. I give in hoping that there is some sort of magical correlation between increased wrestling time and earlier bed times. He then sits directly on my neck and digs his little toes into my shoulders. This is not the best time to figure out it is time for a toenail clipping. His knees are now against my cheeks and his face is directly above me. I notice some drool beginning to form at his lip. As if in slow motion, it starts to get bigger and fall toward my face. Of course I scream which makes him laugh. He tightens his knees around my face causing my lips to purse out in some sort of upside down duck face. This makes him laugh harder and makes my mouth a bigger landing area for droll. I now have droll on my face and probably in my mouth. There is a diaper way to close to my head that is most likely dirty. My toddlers knees have become a nut cracker and my head is the nut.
Why am I so tired?
Why can’t I manage to complete a full thought?
Why has it taken me over a year to write a full story?
Who is president?
What day is it? Actually, what year is it?
Is he standing on the table?
Why am I fat?
Which celebrity couple is now getting divorced?
Are baby doll dresses and Doc Martins back in style?
Am I dreaming?
Will the food I made get eaten or thrown off the high chair?
When did my boob become a stepping stool?
Is he eating lotion? Again?
Who put my phone in the trash and my wallet in the tub?
Why is there a toy truck in my purse ?
Did I actually think I could take him to a movie?
Why don’t I pay attention when people give me simple directions (sign on the top line…)?
How many times did I go to the kitchen and forget why?
Why is Mickey Mouse always on?
Why are the dog and cat hiding?
I want to answer this by saying because he is a toddler, but actual full sentences rarely come out of my mouth these days. So if you see me looking extra mangled and worn down it is not because I had a baby a few months ago. Its. Because. Toddler