Be patient. In a house that sometimes reverberates with the simultaneous melody of two crying children and two barking dogs, we are all rapidly learning patience.
The toddler is learning that that his meals will not magically appear the moment he feels his first pangs of hunger. The infant is learning to cope with a wet or dirty diaper for more than 60 seconds. And the dogs are dangerously close to learning what it's like to live on the streets.
Oh, and mom and dad are learning how to keep their cool when surrounded by needy and demanding creatures whom they really couldn't imagine living without (with the possible exception of at least one dog).
In the moments of greatest chaos, I find myself taking a deep breath and (true story) singing to my kids. This might shock those of you who know me, especially if you've ever been unfortunate enough to hear me sing. My go-to song is 'You Are My Sunshine' because it somehow calms both me and my children...and because it's in a comfortable mid-range of pitch that even I can't butcher too badly.
Eventually, our kids will be less needy and our dogs will be dead (hopefully of natural causes). But the need for patience and a method to calm those inevitable moments of chaos or frustration will no doubt live on.
If someday, while standing in line at the DMV, you spot a half-crazed looking woman quietly humming 'You Are My Sunshine,' feel free to step over and say 'hi.'
Be kind. By nature, babies and young children just plain aren't capable of being malicious. They don't hold grudges, make snide remarks, or pass judgement (did you see Suzie's onesie?). Sure, they might steal a toy on occasion or accidentally barrel over another toddler when headed for a desirable piece of playground property. But this never comes from a place of malcontented mean-spiritedness and it certainly never occurs as retribution.
Adults and young adults on the other hand (the worst offenders generally being teenagers and women--sorry ladies), have the capacity to be real spiteful bitches. Can we all just agree to let our nasty behavior stop short at stealing toys until our attention wanes and accidentally knocking each other down in a moment of tunnel-visioned enthusiasm (like, say, when we spot a delicious-looking brownie sitting alone in a crowded room)?
Be forgiving. There's no way to sugar coat this admission, so I'll just say it: The other day, I stepped on my son's hand.
I was rushing down the stairs feeling overtired, overworked, and immersed in a moment of self-pity.
The sudden squishy unevenness of the last step, paired with an immediate squeal of pain snapped me right out of my self-involved state and straight into a heaping pile of guilt and regret.
I scooped the wailing toddler into my arms and rattled off a thousand apologies, each accompanied by a kiss and a hug. You really haven't seen pathetic until you've witnessed a scene like this.
Two minutes later, the little guy was happily waving plastic tools at
me like we were best buddies and I had never tried to break his hand into sixty pieces with the entirety of my postpartum body weight.
As adults, we sometimes step on each others' hands. We usually do it unintentionally, because we are in a hurry or caught up in our own moments of self-involvement. But it still hurts and it still warrants apologies (kisses are optional since they could be totally inappropriate -- as in let's say, the workplace). The apology is usually the easy part, depending on the grip of our egos and our ability to admit fault. The forgiveness is the part that takes real guts. We have to realize that the pain is temporary, the act was probably unintentional, and it's ultimately better to just go back to playing with our tool set than sit around feeling sorry for ourselves and our nearly broken fingers.
Be loving. If you're looking for a moment to melt your heart, look no further than a cuddly toddler just before bedtime. We 'love on' each other whenever I can get him to sit still for five seconds and I can't get enough of how it feels to have those chunky little arms wrapped tightly around my neck or shoulders or be on the receiving end of an awkward, open-mouthed 'kiss' on the cheek or chin (especially when it doesn't morph into a savage bite - there's a thin line...?).
I say as long as it doesn't have the possibility of ending in a sexual harassment lawsuit, we should 'love on' one another whenever possible. A little affection can truly go a long way, even if it's as simple as a reassuring pat on the back or a firm and sincere handshake.
Be brave. Our toddler apparently has an innate need to defy his own death and/or stop his mother's heart on a regular basis. Whether it's his fascination with power outlets (they were his first destination when he learned to crawl), his signature headfirst sliding technique on the playground, or his recent preference to dismount the couch by way of the armrest or the end table, he is constantly testing the limits of his own mortality (and also my sprinting speed).
The lesson here is not that we should take a dive off the nearest building; but rather that we should not always settle for the safest route simply because it is tested and familiar.
Imagine if Mr. Ben Franklin hadn't monkeyed around with a kite, a key, and a lightning bolt two and a half centuries ago (a move that probably gave his mother fits)? Or if women suffragists had stayed home to cook dinner instead of heading out and rocking the political arena? Or if those crazy bastards Lewis and Clark had been too chicken to forge into the uncharted wilderness (thus inadvertently causing significant disruption of the previously peaceful existence of Native Americans...hm, bad example?).
Anyways, for better or for worse, our world wouldn't be what it is today if people hadn't been brave enough to engage in activities that their parents might have discouraged. The power outlets in our home have all been covered, but we've learned to allow for certain (supervised) courageous moves in order to learn to trust his abilities to stand, walk, and safely climb on and off the couch (although, being boring adults, we prefer the traditional routes).
Be silly. My otherwise no-nonsense grandfather was known to pass behind us kids, plant the tips of all five fingers on our scalps, and plainly state, 'eagle on your head.' He would also, on occasion, stop mid-stride, lift one arm and one leg at an obscure angle, lean slightly forward and call out, 'Hooley!' And no, he was not suffering from even the mildest case of dementia. On the contrary, he was a brilliant man who maintained all his mental faculties to the bitter end. It was just that he knew his grandchildren would never tire of his silliness...not even as we became adults ourselves.
I pray I will never lose sight of that notion. Silliness is like a second language to my toddler, who can play peekaboo until we're all blue in the face. His face is overrun with dimples and an impossibly enormous, baby toothy grin when we put things inappropriately on our heads or dance around the living room like fools (that one is mostly just me).
Silliness reminds us not to take life too seriously and in my opinion, there's just not enough in the world
Be gentle. If I could figure out how to collect a nickel for every time my husband or I say the words, 'be gentle' or 'nice touches' to our toddler, we could probably quit worrying about how to pay for collage.
Obviously, the little guy has no real intentions of removing eyeballs from the sockets of our infant or our dogs, but that doesn't change the fact that his fingers seem determined to do so. The truth of the matter is that his enthusiasm over both his puppies and his baby brother get the best of him and fingers just go flying willy-nilly.
Sometimes us grown ups need to be reminded that our actions may seem natural and totally acceptable from our perspective, but in reality, they're putting others in danger of losing an eye -- or perhaps just perceiving that an eye might be lost, which is sometimes just as dangerous. And as we all know: it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Be in the present. I'm not sure I totally appreciated the art of living in the moment until I became a mother. Up to this point, my whole life seems to have been a series of mundane preparations: prepare for collage, prepare for grad school, prepare for my career, my wedding, my children. Womp, womp, womp...I am robot-lady, I will live predictable life...womp, womp, womp.
Even now, my days are filled with necessary anticipations of my next move: get breakfast ready, scout out clean clothes, distract the toddler to provide for peaceful nursing of the baby, load up the diaper bag...Hell, if I don't plan properly, I won't make it to the bathroom in time to avoid necessitating a change of pants. If an appointment must be kept and I am sans husband, preparations to leave the house begin a full hour before departure. And I will still be 5 minutes late.
And so, I have come to fully appreciate the beauty of experiencing the moment...for two reasons.
1) I have so few opportunities to do so (see above) but all it takes is a quick flash of my toddler's dimples or a gummy, gassy grin from a peaceful infant snuggled in my arms and I am transported into the sweet, beautiful present (even if just for a split second).
2) I once heard somewhere that for parents, 'the days are long, but the years are short.' I am finding that this statement could not be truer. Time seems to have somehow split with the birth of my first baby and since then, each part has moved in parallel, all at once both rapidly and at a snail's pace. Somewhere in the middle of that warped space-time continuum, my children are growing at an alarming rate. If I were into clichés, I would say they're growing like weeds. But I'm not, so let's just say they're growing like children.
I am determined not to miss out on these fleeting seconds of their infancy and toddlerhood because I am too busy preparing for the next meal or to be five minutes late for a doctor's appointment. I am determined to make each moment matter.
...and hopefully my babies will continue teaching me how to act like a grownup, so this life thing can go down somewhat gracefully for all of us.