Oh sweet July 2016. I became a mom when my first baby boy was born in the heat of the summer, smack in the middle of July.
Do you know what this means?
It is mid-May 2018 as I write this, so inevitably the so-called “terrible twos” are almost here.
May I put for you into words how toddlerhood is going for us so far? Yes? Great. Let me just give you a little view from Henry’s side of the world.
Wake up with the sun. Scream loudly until mom wakes too. Hungry. Ask for banana. Cry when banana is offered. Cry when banana is put back. Cry when banana is offered again. Smash banana into carpet. Cry when banana isn’t whole anymore. Thirsty from crying. Point to the milk. Bring mom the orange cup. Watch her fill it and take it when offered. Cry because it is not the blue cup. Thirsty… really thirsty. Drink milk. Cry when milk doesn’t taste like juice. Dump the milk on the carpet. Notice the smashed banana. Eat smashed banana. Cry when smashed banana is gone. Walk towards mom to ask for second banana. Step in milk puddle. Cry because feet are wet. Throw body onto floor. Flail arms and legs. Cry because shirt is soaked in milk.
Any parents out there feel me? Toddlerhood is so ridiculous that the fits often end up humorous in the end.
Let me preface all of this with what most of my close friends and family already know and are probably thinking while reading this:
Our Henry is really an angel. He’s a sweet little thing who loves kisses, loves to snuggle, picks up his toys without being asked, and loves kittens more than any small human I have ever seen. We have been so blessed with such a sweet and tender little boy, and I fully acknowledge that. But some days, the “terrible twos” seem like such a real thing that will devour me whole as a mom.
I wrote briefly about a morning like this in a post on my blog’s Instagram account the other day. Henry had a horrible morning where absolutely nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I write this in my post:
“I am not going to lie, this past week has not been a good one, and today has been particularly hard so far. It’s only almost 10am in Japan, and I’m already close to pulling my hair out.
Henry is hitting the “terrible twos,” but I am constantly repeating to myself that contrary to popular belief, they are indeed not “terrible,” and HE is not terrible. He is frustrated, he can’t express himself in the way he wants to, he needs things he can’t convey, and that sucks more than anything in his world. He is a smart, sweet, silly little boy. I refuse to ever let him ever believe he is anything less than this.”
Drew and I expected to have so much longer as a childless couple before we had babies. We dated all through high school and college, leaving us ample time to plan out our future in depth, and our plan was always to wait until at least our late twenties to begin the process of building a family. Around 6 months after we married, I realized something was not right with my body and the way I was feeling. I grabbed a pregnancy test in passing at Target, and when I couldn’t sleep at 4am a night or so later, I so distinctly remember sitting in the bathroom, and seeing those two dark, unmistakable little lines appear in the form of a cross on that test.
Henry comes from that seemingly impossible 0.01-1% in the birth control world. He is a failed birth control pill baby, when I was using the pill correctly. I don’t hide this fact from anyone, because although he was an “oops” I believe that far before those hormones ever failed to stop ovulation, God has known my heart so desperately needed that little boy. What a blessing it is to be able to say that we had our son by accident.
But we never expected to have two kids by 23, and sometimes I find myself sincerely terrified that I am responsible for who my sweet babies grow up to be, when I am barely more than a baby myself in my mind. I am scared crapless, but I am also so intrigued by the monumental job is is to raise a little one.
Let me put it this way:
I can remember experiences in “people watching” from stages in life that I can barely remember anything else from. In places like Walmart, the park, or even my hometown school and church, I remember always noticing how mothers and fathers interacted with their kids. Though I never anticipated becoming a mother myself so early in life, I remember taking in every little tidbit of information on how others interacted with their children, and how their children interacted with them in return.
I remember the time in high school I left Walmart after purchasing nothing I walked in for, only to return to my tiny Cavalier’s front seat and sob. I remember crying for the blonde little girl who I saw reaching out for a book, begging her mom to let her read it to her as her mom repeatedly talked over her, telling her to be quiet because she was in a hurry. I remember her mother being SO angry with her in that moment, because the little girl would not seem to listen, no matter what. I remember that little girl loudly shouting that they had read the book in their class, and that she knew the words and could read it all by herself without her mom’s help. I remember the little girl yelling over her mother as her mom ripped the book from her hand, slamming it back to the shelf, while scolding her for not keeping her hands inside of the cart. I remember so desperately wanting to stop and let the little girl read me the book.
I remember the time during my college years that a rather young mother stopped everything she was doing in front of me at the bank in order to hear her seven or eight year old son stumble over his words as he told her a story he had suddenly remembered about what they had learned in school that day. I remember her apologizing to the bank teller briefly, but giving her son her full, undivided attention until he had finished his story. I remember the little guy beaming with pride as he told his mom about the lesson they had been taught, and I distinctly remember his mom’s sincere face and seemingly honest body language as she intently listened to his story- even though it was holding up the line. I remember her apologizing to me with a smile and a sheepish nod as she walked out. And I remember my feet moving without me even realizing what I was doing as I awkwardly (and in hindsight probably creepily) started running after her when I left the bank, simply to tell her thank you for the way she spoke to her children. I remember her response plain as day. “Oh my gosh, I have been terrible today. We were late to everything, and my youngest (who was barely a toddler) has seriously not slept more than 6 hours in three days. But thank you. I just try to let him know that I care about the things he cares about.”
I won’t bore you with all my silly small details that I have stored from my people-watching, but I could tell you a million. I can’t tell you why the way people interact with their kids sticks with me, but it always does. From the time I was in high school until this very day, I am profoundly affected by other parents and by the little humans that pop in and out of my day.
If you are not a mom or dad yet, I will be the first to tell you- when you have your first baby, you look at that sweet little face, and you promise to never ever speak a harsh word in their direction. You promise to never have time for anything but them, and to always and forever make them the center of your world. You wholeheartedly mean it, because those tiny little hands, those sweet sounding gurgles, and that intoxicating new baby smell seem to, well… intoxicate you. And it’s easy to promise these things until the hard moments come.
The “I haven’t closed my eyes even once in 48 hours because this baby screams every spare second unless he is latched to my breast” moments.
Or the “My toddler is hitting his head against the wall in frustration, and absolutely will not stop screaming at the top of his lungs because I won’t let him lick the dog” moments.
Or the “I swear on my life, this child has told me this same story six times today- four times yesterday- and if I hear one more thing about why she thinks she deserves a kitten even though she is massively allergic, I’m going to scream” moments.
Or the “My teenage daughter just told me she hates me because I told her she can’t date at fourteen, not even considering the fact she doesn’t even have a car to go anywhere” moments.
And then in these moments, you will probably become a totally different parent than you ever thought you would. And you WILL say harsh things, and you WILL speak in ways you regret, and you WILL still love your kids through these moments- but you definitely sometimes will not like them. And please hear me out- I am human, I get it, and I sincerely believe that it is okay.
But while we will all lose it at times, I believe it is so crucially important to remember that the way we speak to our kids is the voice they will hear for the rest of their life. Their little hearts are so open to the ones that care for them and provide for them, and the voice that you use becomes the voice that plants itself in their noggins. The tones we use, the words we speak, and the things we lead them to believe will forever stick with them. And whether we mean to or not, we will ALWAYS instill in our children what we repeatedly preach to them, and they will always believe what our actions repeatedly tell them that they are. I see so many young adults with parents who instilled all the wrong things from the start. They fight for years to believe they are worthy, or important, or even loved at all, and I think that that is the biggest tragedy and the root of so many problems we see in the world today.
So I pray every single day, that if I do anything as a mother, I make sure my babies grow up knowing two fundamental things above all else first. Above their success in life regarding their careers, or their financial security, or their need to be liked and known by others, I hope they are deeply rooted in these two things.
- They are forever loved by their God. I will never be there 100% of the time, and I will miserably fail them no matter how desperately I try not to. But He is the one that never falters, and above all else they should always cling to Him. He is the only refuge and strength that will remain the same no matter what comes at them on this side of heaven.
- They are so immensely loved by their daddy and by me. There is not a thing that they could ever do that would ever make us love them less. We are always on their side, we are always rooting for them, and we always want the absolute best for them. Through discipline, praise, and even through the moments we are silent, we love them more than we can ever convey.
And from my desire to instill these two truths, I pray daily that they will grow to be kind. That they will be compassionate. They will love others above themselves, and they will love the way God has crafted them, too. I pray that my words lead them to believe that they are important. That their stories matter. That they are beautiful. That they are so, so loved.
Every morning that I wake up, I am reminded by my own sweet mama’s words. “Speak to Henry gently. A little boy’s first love is his mama. You are his world right now.”
And every morning I intentionally remind myself of what a gift my little Henry is. And I will do the same when his baby sister arrives and I am as tired as I have ever been. The “terrible twos” are followed by the “three-nage” years, and then by the “four-nado” and so on. There is a whole list of terms we could bestow upon the hard years, but the reality is- all the years of parenting are hard in their own ways.
Every story is different. Maybe you are like me, and never expected to be a mother as soon as you became one. Maybe you have more kids than you can count on two hands. Maybe you are a foster parent, just trying to help some kiddos through a scary time in their lives. Maybe you have an only child, want no more kids in the future, and are happy with loving your one babe. Maybe you flew to impoverished countries to bring your babies home to you. Maybe you wanted your babies for years and years and years, and are finally now blessed with them.
Whatever your story- you, mama- you, daddy, are doing an incredible job. Just keeping a little one alive is a feat in and of itself, because I swear, their sole mission is to find all the ways that they could possibly hurt themselves. There is a reason that we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and you deserve to be thanked and to be cherished, whether you have been the “perfect parent” or not. You are still a parent. You are doing the biggest, most important work you will ever do, whether you believe you are doing it well or not. The days are long, the tantrums are infuriating, and the sleep is scarce. The patience runs thin, and the TV occasionally just runs all day- because sometimes Paw Patrol can calm your kid like nothing else can. And the days are hard, but they are so important. It is never too late to begin instilling in your kids the things you want them to grow up knowing and believing with their whole hearts.
Find time in the morning to evaluate your upcoming day, and to pray for the moments that you need His unfailing grace. Take a breather. Take the time to collect before you react. Tell them daily through your words, but mostly through your actions, that they are loved, cherished, smart, capable, independent, kind, and compassionate. Sail through the hard days with a desire to understand WHY the days are hard, and why their little hearts are so frustrated. They see the world through unexperienced eyes and brains, and they are not always able to process the things we think they are. I promise, the behavior of your children will make so much more sense when you stop for a moment to see the world from their tiny little two-foot perspective.
The days are long, and they are hard, but the years are so short.
And ultimately above all else, on the hardest of these days, always remember to love them the hardest.