Ignoring the News to Stay Sane

In the months after I had my first child, I was plagued by a variety of gruesome visions. I’d be walking down the stairs, holding my son in a blanket, and picture myself falling and smashing our heads into the wall at the bottom. I’d be driving to Target with him in the backseat and picture a head-on collision at 50mph. I’d see him wide-eyed underwater in the bathtub, struggling to breathe.

mother-watching-daughterI thought I was going crazy. I thought I had become some morbid, fearful person due to lack of sleep. Then I talked to another new mom.

“I do that all the time, too!” she said. We were both relieved. And we came up with a perfectly logical reason for envisioning the horrific deaths of our children on a daily basis:

We were practicing being good moms.

It makes sense. Our brains were warning us of all the dangers that could happen, so we would protect our children. So we would walk down stairs carefully, so we would drive more defensively, so we wouldn’t run to answer the phone with our children in the bathtub. We were good moms.

Fast forward seven years and my visions have become less frequent, but they still occur. Only now I also see a depressed young man walking into my son’s school and shooting the children as they eat lunch. I see sections of sports stadiums blowing up and cars driving through storefront windows into groups of people. Things like that. Things out of my control.

A while ago, my dad said to me, while arguing that too many of my generation are helicopter parents, “You’re all walking around scared. It’s like you’re shell-shocked.” And it hit me—we are. We are shell-shocked. And maybe we aren’t on the front lines, and maybe it’s disrespectful to suggest we suffer the same as the men and women who are. But we parents have suffered from the slow, insidious, creeping terror of the last two decades.


The Case for Stopping at Two

I’ve read a few essays lately that argue for having one more child—the love a baby brings, the joy, the chance to revel in babyhood again and use all the skills you’ve honed over the first couple, why three children are better than two, and four better than three.

I’ve long dreamed of a large family and a wonderfully chaotic home, the kind you see in movies with laughter around the dinner table and children running freely. But my husband and I have two children (6 and 3) and we’ve struggled with whether or not to have one more. We continue to avoid making a decision, and the longer we do this, the more sure I am we won’t have another.

There are very real and logical reasons against having a third: we love to travel, and the cost of flying is already prohibitive. Our children are still young, and we already need twice the groceries. We have only two, and we still sometimes forget to feed them lunch.

On the other hand, it makes me want to cry to think that I am past babyhood and might never be there again, that a significant and lovely and messy part of my life is gone. That my baby is already three makes me anxious. I try to hold onto every minute and yet they still slip away like wisps of smoke. And, if I’m being honest, if my babies are no longer babies that means I am older, too. And I don’t want to be older. The single strongest lesson my children have given me is the realization that life is fragile and fleeting. I understand that now, and I’m not sure I want to be old enough to be the mom of tweens. I want to forever be a young mom of babies. I also feel a pull toward whatever person might exist—the life inside us waiting to be created. That “what if” calls to me.

Over the last few months, I’ve realized these feelings—the melancholy over something lost, the angst of what if—are the force behind my desire to have a third child.

And that’s exactly why I don’t think we should: because refusing to let go is not a good enough reason to bring a child into this world. In fact, it would be selfish.

Because, really, when I take off my rose-colored glasses, I remember that I actually dislike the infant stage. Sure, I love cuddly, giggling babies. The problem is the other 80% of the time. Having babies taught me that I am a different, more impatient, person when lacking sleep. I don’t need a lot of sleep, but I need it. They also taught me that I am easily over-stimulated. If the TV is on, my youngest is crying, and my oldest is talking over everything in an effort to educate me about dinosaurs, I lose my mind. Impatience and losing one’s mind are not good parenting traits.

I also realize that the feeling of “what if” will never go away. It will always be there; I just have to cut the cord. And if, in a few years, we decide we really do want another, there are many, many children waiting to fill a home.

For me, it has been harder to say no, even by default—to be honest with myself about my weaknesses, to understand what’s at work in my desire to have another, to realize that yes, a bigger family, the one I dreamed about, could bring joy beyond measure, but to accept that maybe we’re just not cut out for that kind of life. And the joy I feel now, spread among my wildly wonderful two, can be enough.


Do You Drive Your Kids to School?

The other day I sat chatting with my mom at her kitchen table, in the house I grew up in. The house is half a block from the elementary school, in the middle of a neighborhood with no busy streets. My mom was lamenting the fact that she sees so many neighbors driving their children to school.

I admit, I was also a bit floored. This seemed to me, even though I’m aware that fewer and fewer children walk to school anymore, beyond the pale. Lest I sound like my father, who insists he walked several miles to school in northern Minnesota even in winter…well, I’m going to go ahead and sound like him: I walked or rode my bike everywhere as a child, especially if it was under a mile. I remember as a teenager asking my dad for a ride to work at the local drugstore a mile away one early Sunday morning in January, when it was 15 or 20 degrees. His answer? “Put on a hat.”

It was never a question that I would walk to school. The few times I remember my mom driving me, it was pouring rain. I’m glad they raised me that way. I think it built independence, confidence, and self-reliance. Not to mention the benefit to my physical health, my mental health (the minutes my mind was allowed to wander as I walked and watched the world around me were precious), and the environment.

But if you’ve read much of this blog, you know I value difficult conversations and different points of view. I love gray areas. My friend, Heather, helped me see the gray in this.

A few days after the conversation with my mom, I said to Heather: “Can you believe they drive their children half a block to school?” I mean, obviously everyone saw the issue as I did.

But she said, “Well, yeah. I would.”  Oh.

She amended that to say while she might not drive them half a block every day, she would at least walk them: “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I consider it my job to get them to school. I like that the last thing they see as they enter school is my smiling face, and the last thing they hear are words of encouragement from me.”

And as a former school social worker, she feels a lot of bullying takes place on the journey to school, whether walking or taking the bus. And, she admitted, she was concerned about strangers.

These are worthwhile reasons. I’d still let my children walk by themselves if I lived that close to school, but I like that she put me in my place a bit, and that the issue is more complex than it seemed to me at first. I’d never thought of the positive aspects.

I’d love to know what you think. Would you/do you/did you take your children to school? Why?



BOOK REVIEWERS: An advance copy of my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is now on NetGalley. Click HERE to request an e-book.

How I Know I Love My Children Unconditionally

Before children, I merely loved. It was a selfish love. When my husband reached a hand across the table to snag something off my plate, I slapped it.

I know I love my children unconditionally. For instance, when I’ve just sat down at the kitchen table with a warm breakfast and my daughter crawls onto my lap and starts shoving it into her mouth, I don’t toss her across the room. I let her have some.

When I eat a cookie, I munch around the center until only the soft middle is left, the part I used to save for last and eat with relish, and then I hand it over to my son, who loves it, too.

When I recently came upon my daughter standing in a puddle—yes, a puddle—of diarrhea on the bathroom floor, my thought was, “You poor, sweet, lovely thing.” I would never have thought that about my husband.

When my son asks to play make-believe with his Angry Bird stuffed animals for the eight-thousandth time, I nod over my horror, grab the red bird, and pretend to launch it at a pig.

When my daughter shovels snow off of the lawn and onto the driveway, I smile.

When my children wake me up three times a night, and then enter our bedroom for good at 6am, I say, “Good morning” and pull them up to cuddle. This has been my hardest struggle. Since having children, I’ve learned that I am no good without adequate sleep. I’m touchy and angry. I have to swallow my urge to snap, and then on top of it, I have to smile. I am mostly successful at this.

Looking back over six years of being a mom, I think parenting is hard not because of dirty diapers, missed naps, or whining. Those are the details. What’s hard, for me anyway, is the fundamental transformation I’ve had to make. Henry and Clara have forced me to face my faults, to figure out what I don’t want them to emulate, and to change. Their well-being is important to me. And so I share. I compromise. I slough off the hard edges and I give them the soft center.







The Cure for Melancholy

Today, my daughter’s Big Girl Bed arrives. Today, I put away the crib that has been in one bedroom or another for six years, the crib I once arranged lovingly, tying little knots into bows and folding soft blankets in preparation.

The ends of things have always saddened me. My family still jokes about the car ride home from the cabin we stayed in for one week every summer–the whole way home, I cried. For five hours. Sometimes, according to my dad, I’d stop crying just south of Madison, leaving the final two hours blissfully quiet.

When I was nine years old, I fell in love with American history while watching North and South, a TV miniseries about the Civil War. I think it was a two-week series. I’d place my red tape recorder next to the TV speakers so I could “record” it. Guess what happened after the final episode? A whole lot of crying.

I’ve already cried today. Just a bit, but I haven’t even disassembled the crib yet. All I did was move it to make room for the new bed when it’s delivered soon. And I thought, “That crib will never be in that spot again. I’ll never hold my baby in my arms and rock her while I sing, before placing her down to sleep.”

It’s in my blood, I think, this tendency to start with, “Never again….” instead of the more optimistic, “What’s next?” It’s been with me as long as I can remember, a melancholy view of the passage of time. I can look on the bright side, and often do. But melancholy is sometimes my natural resting place.

It’s also the mood in which I feel most creative, when since I was little I’ve taken out my diary or notebook or computer and started writing. I learned early, accidentally, that putting words on a page lightens the weight. The act of writing is my cure, the melancholy in my heart released, bringing me to a point at which I know that of course I will still hold my baby and rock her to sleep. She might be heavier, her legs might dangle longer, but I still have more time.