I was chatting with a mom the other day. It started out as regular chit chat. How are your kids? Did you have a fun Halloween? Isn’t the weather mild? That sort of thing. But then, as small talk sometimes does, it abruptly turned a corner into something real.
And I found myself talking about my worries about my children. About my daughter who suddenly won’t sleep unless all the lights are on, who gets nervous when I leave the room.
Is this normal? Is it a phase? Should I wait and see what happens? Is there a parenting book that addresses this? What would you do?
I had no idea what she would say. In fact, I had no idea how we even got to this place. She is not a mom I talk with often, not someone I commiserate with. Her kids are older than mine, but I’ve never looked to her for guidance.
I waited for her response, her advice, her reassurance.
And this is what she said to me:
“Do you love your kids?”
“Do you tell them?”
“They’ll be fine.”
In less than a minute, she saw my anxiety, my tendency to hyperfocus on a behavior, to turn it into a problem, then try to control it. This anxiety and desire to control is like my security blanket. Well, not like a security blanket, because I never feel warm and cozy with these wrapped around me. More like a cane really. Something to grip until my knuckles turn white, something that holds me up, that helps me walk through the uneven stones of parenting.
Do you love your kids?
Do you tell them?
They’ll be fine.
In three sentences, she ripped the cane out of my hand and I felt myself fall to the ground. Into a pile of uncertainty.
“How do you know they’ll be fine,” I asked, looking up at her, shielding my eyes. The light of what she was saying was too much for me to take in all at once.
“I work with really messed up people.” (She works in mental health and I’m sure she used a more professional term but it escapes me). “They weren’t loved as kids. Their parents never told them. They have problems. Real problems.”
“Your kids will be fine. Just love them. Tell them that you love them.”
And I knew in that moment she was right.
It seemed so easy. Too easy. But I knew she was right.
I can’t control my daughter’s need to be in the room with me at all times. That’s her need. Her feeling. Her fear. But I can stop myself from making it into more than it is. From obsessing about it. From showering her with my anxiety.
I have no idea what is going to happen to my kids over the years. I can’t control how they will perform in school or sports, what fears they’ll have, how other people will treat them. I can’t stop them from experiencing pain, from suffering.
But I can love them. And I can tell them. And I can trust that they will be fine.
Commiserating with mom friends is a must right?
Raising kids is hard. It’s nice to be around people who get that. I kind of thought I would be awesome at it and I would have all these great instincts and my kids would act perfectly because of my superior mothering skills. Turns out, that’s not the quite the case for me. I’m often without instincts, my kids do misbehave, and no one has ever described me as superior! At this point in my life, I’ve given up the ideal of what I thought mothering would be and am just trying my best. Trying my best to raise my kids and trying my best to enjoy them, even in our messiest moments.
Commiserating with other moms who really get it helps me to find the humor in our not so perfect moments.
Here’s how a typical commiserating session might go:
Me: You are never going to believe what happened to me this morning! I was upstairs on the phone scheduling a doctor’s appointment and when I came downstairs I saw that one of the girls had been cutting her hair with kid scissors!
Mom friend: I know the feeling. My daughter and I walked away from her homework for a second to look something up on the computer and when we came back, her little brother decided he wanted to do “homework” too and colored all over her paper!
And then we all laugh because at the time those moments are hard and stressful, but after a while it is funny, and it makes us feel better to get that off of our chests, and here’s another mom who really gets it. The rest of the day is a little easier.
So, that brings us to this week. Here I am at a mom event, a play date, a meet up, an excursion or whatever you young moms are calling it now, and I am commiserating with another mom.
Me: So get this, I’m running my 9 year old to the bus because we are late! Again! And my 5 year old apparently thinks I’m leaving forever because she runs out of the house in the cold with no pants on screaming, “Mommy, don’t leave me!”
I chuckle and wait for her to bounce a story back to me.
Mom friend: (pensively says) That’s funny. But, yeah, how do you make sure they don’t go outside without you? My oldest can reach the door knob now and I’m a little worried about it. Did you keep your doors locked all the time, or did you have a talk with them about safety?
Ummmm. Ok. Not a funny story, but…
Me: I don’t know. I can’t remember if I locked the doors when the kids were younger. But mine are pretty obedient and it wouldn’t really occur to them to run out of the house without me. I think this time was like a one time thing.
Ok, now that’s out of the way – let the commiserating begin!
Mom friend: Your kids are pretty obedient aren’t they? I saw them holding hands in the parking lot this morning. At what age did they start doing that?
And then it hits me. Like a ton of bricks. We are not commiserating. She is asking me for advice! Which in and of itself is not a problem really. It’s kind of flattering actually. The problem is that I was seeing us as contemporaries and we were going to COMMISERATE! But what’s happening here is I’m the older mom! The more experienced mom. The mom she can go to with questions. I know these moms. I love these moms. I’ve peppered these moms with questions. The their children seem great, so they must be doing it right, so let me get some tips moms. But that’s not me! I’m not “older.” I’m a mom with young kids!
But then I glance over to this woman’s children, a three year old bashing blocks with a plastic hammer and an 11 month old gnawing on the corner of a board book. The rest of the room shows a similar story. The kids are teeny. Babies crawling around eating cheerios off the floor. Toddlers impulsively grabbing toys and shouting, “mine!”
My kids are 9 and 5. We haven’t eaten a board book in ages. My youngest can dress themselves, brush their own teeth, and pour their own milk (kind of). My oldest is reading chapter books and gets off the bus on his own. She’s right! I am the older mom!
There will be no commiserating. There will be no laughing release of tension at the end of this conversation.
I politely answer her questions, give her all the best tips and tricks I can remember. I let her know she is a good mom and doing her best. And then I get the hell out of there! I certainly don’t mind giving advice to the younger moms. Just not when I thought I was one of the younger moms!
I run home, pull out my phone and call one of my best mom friends for some real commiseration. “You are never going to believe what happened to me this morning!”
I have a big family and I came from a big family. It’s not quiet in my home. It wasn’t quiet in my home growing up. When I was a kid the TV would be on in one room, maybe a radio on in another, a wrestling match that almost always ended with a broken lamp, and maybe a fight or two – all going on at the same time. And I loved it!
Second Generation Chaos
There’s a little less wrestling and a lot less TV in my house, but the noise and chaos remain. We have a school age son learning to play the violin. We have triplets worn out by their first year in kindergarten who occasionally melt down in tears. We have a mom who whistles and sings and dad who shares his loud music collection. There’s fighting, yelling, and more than one conversation happening at once. Our nearly dead clothes dryer squeaks so loud you start looking for the earplugs and sometimes there’s food burning on the stove, setting off the smoke detector.
And it’s not just noise -it’s a little bit lack of organization and schedule. I don’t know if it’s me or being raised by hippie parents, but my body does not want to be on a schedule – I feel a physical aversion to it. I’m like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed on time, even though she needs the sleep. My brain throws itself down on the floor in a complete tantrum, “I don’t wanna do the same thing at the same time every day!”
My Calm Friends Have Peaceful Homes
I’ve had the privilege of visiting my calmer friends’ homes, where there is less yelling and more patience. The space is cleaner, neater, more organized. A load of whites is done every Wednesday. The vacuum is run every day. There’s no faint scent of “litter that should have been emptied yesterday.” It’s so nice to walk into a space like that. And not just the neat part, but the calm part. Some of my friends just exude peace and to be near them is like stepping a sweet scent. I feel calmer when I’m near them, just being around them helps keep my crazy at bay. Now, I’m not saying these women are perfect. I know there are no perfect moms.
I used to think this was my goal – the calm, neat home. To curb my temper. To clean up the house. To run a load of whites every Wednesday. To get my act together. But now I know better. My calmer counterparts are not my goal. They are not me. It’s in their nature to be calmer and more peaceful. That is one of the reasons I love them and love to be around them. But, calm and peaceful is not my default setting.
My New Goal: Embrace the Chaos
So instead of trying to be something that I’m not, I’m going to start embracing who I am, to appreciate my nature.
What that means is yes, our house is filled with noise and chaos, but that’s not a bad thing. The noise comes from dance parties, sock skating, tickle fights, and attack hugs. The chaos that begins with a burned dinner ends in a pizza party. Embracing the chaos means throwing out the schedule to play my violin along with my son, staying up late on a school night to let the kids watch the Princess Bride, and throwing a birthday party for our guinea pig. These are great times for our family: loud, joyful times. And they’ll be great memories for my children.
Already I’m more content at home, now that I have given up trying to be something that I’m not and trying to make our family like someone else’s. Now we have the freedom to be our amazing, loud, crazy big family.
When I first learned that I was going to be a mom of triplets, my biggest fear was that we would be like some freak show and get stopped all the time and barraged with questions and comments.
Actually, that was like my 7th biggest fear after:
- Will the babies be healthy?
- How long can I carry the babies?
- How will this impact my son?
- How will this affect my marriage?
- How will I care for three babies on my own?
- How can we possibly afford three babies?
But you know, it was in the top ten.
We do get a lot of annoying questions and comments. It does take up a lot of time stopping to answer questions. Aaaand some of the questions are intrusive and insulting. I know you don’t want to insult a mom of triplets. So here is a handy 3 Part Guide to follow if you happen to meet a mom of triplets.
SECTION 1: AVOID DOING OR SAYING THE FOLLOWING:
- Are they natural?
Please, please, please, just don’t. I know reality TV is kind of a big deal, but I am not on a show spilling my guts about my family life, my fertility, and my sex life on TLC. Just because others are happy to do so, doesn’t mean I am comfortable getting into this issue with you, Random Person in the bra section of Target. (Although I am at this very moment writing a blog about my personal life, so…. But you can’t assume every triplet mom you run into is writing a blog so, still not ok).
Also, just speaking of babies and using the word “natural” is weird. Try this: the next time you are out and see a baby, a real live adorable baby, look at that baby and ask yourself, is this baby natural? Feels weird, right? The word to use is spontaneous. But don’t ask if they were spontaneous either. Because it’s just really none of your business.
- Do triplets/multiples run in your family?
Let me ask you, Random, Person at the Bakery, are you really interested in my genealogy and genetics? Or are you just more politely asking if my babies were the result of fertility treatment? If you are interested in my genealogy, I’ll get you in touch with my dad. He’s running out of people in my family to bore with that. If you are asking about my fertility, see answer to No. 1.
- Don’t look at mom’s belly immediately after finding out those are triplets.
Here’s how this normally goes.
Random Stranger in Library shockingly asks, “Are they triplets?”
Random Stranger, “Wow,” glances at my belly, looks back at my face, “Did you get really big?” Glances at belly again.
I know, you’re curious. You’re imagining how big a person gets while carrying triplets. The answer is hopefully very, very big so the babies aren’t born too early. You’re wondering if triplet mom’s belly survived. I get it. But you are not being sly. I CAN SEE YOU LOOKING AT MY BELLY! Even as you are asking the question! Just ask about the babies and sneak a peak later when we aren’t talking any more, ok?
- I’d shoot myself
This is a comment I’ve only gotten once. From a woman who was smoking a cigarette, leering over the stroller, calling over to a friend, “Hey, come look at this” as we were leaving the hospital when the babies were finally discharged from the NICU. The. First. Comment. I don’t really think it’s anyone’s dream to have three babies at once. You might not wish that for yourself and believe me, I get it. It’s hard work. But for the love of God, please don’t ever utter these words to a triplet mom.
SECTION 2: SAFE QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Here are some questions and comments I get that I may not love, but I don’t really mind.
- Are they identical?
This is okay. I think my kids look so different I’m even wondering if maybe some of my babies got switched at the NICU. But, since you don’t know them and your brain is processing three children born at the same time, wondering about my fertility or lack thereof, and trying desperately to not stare at my belly, I can’t really expect you to spend a lot of time distinguishing facial features. So, go ahead and ask.
- Are they all yours?
I get this a lot, especially since my kids are older. People are trying to piece it all together. Do I have twins and I’m watching a third child? Is this a birthday party? Why are there so many kids? This is fine. Ask away.
- You have your hands full.
This is by far the comment I hear the most. And I get it. When I see my friends with 3+ small children, I think to myself, “Dear Lord! How is she doing that?” But it is a hard comment to respond to.
If I say something like, “Oh, it’s nothing” then I feel like I’m coming across like I think I’m super-awesome mom and that it’s really not hard having triplets which isn’t true.
If I respond by saying, “You have no idea! I’m barely surviving today!” I feel like I’m giving people the impression that I can’t handle this, or that I don’t enjoy having triplets and that’s not true either.
But I totally get the comment, so go ahead.
SECTION 3: IT DEPENDS ON YOUR TONE
There is only one comment in this section.
And that is:
- God Bless You.
This can go one of two ways. This first way is said sarcastically and usually with an eye roll thrown in. The You is usually changed into a Ya. And sometimes there’s a Jeez or a Whew thrown in front.
Like this: barely audible, “Sheesh” then louder, “Wul, God Bless Ya” with the eyeroll starting on the God.
I usually interpret this as the person saying, “better you than me” or “that must really suck.” And although, yes, better me than you and yes, at times it can “suck,” this is not okay to say to someone. Because saying God Bless You in this way, well, it’s hurtful.
Here’s the second way: Genuinely. When people genuinely say, “God Bless You” to me, there just isn’t anything better. It feels like support. Like someone is on my side. It reminds me that I really am blessed. Truly. How many people get to have triplets? It really is special. And my girls are healthy and happy. It feels amazing to be a mom of triplets and to watch them grow and interact and love each other. So, if you meet a mom of triplets and you just don’t know what to say, I’d go with this one.
And if any of you are expecting triplets and are worried about the comments, please know two things, 1. the anticipation of the rude comments is worse than the actual comments. 2. You are not obligated to answer any of the questions or respond to any of the comments that are put to you. Simple answers with no explanation work best for me.
I saw this mug in Joann Fabrics when I stopped in to buy fabric to make my little Eva a pumpkin costume for Halloween.
It was in the corral they make you walk through before you get to the registers. It was nestled next to lots of other impulse purchase items. Mod Podge, small inexpensive kid crafts, ribbon, you know, the Joann’s version candy bars and bubble gum.
I knew what was happening. Joann was trying to lure me in with that cute design and the price, $5, like exactly the highest amount I would ever consider paying for a mug.
I’ve fallen victim to impulse purchases before. I mean, I have been to Target. I see something and it looks so cute and I think of how it will be so amazing in my house and how I’ll feel so happy when I bring it home. But you know how this story ends. I bring said item home and immediately regret it because it’s not great quality, or it just doesn’t fit right or whatever.
So, I was not going to be drawn in. “I’m on to you Joann! I’m not buying this mug.”
And I didn’t. At first. But then I went home and thought about it for a week. I loved the colors and the pattern. I imagined myself drinking my coffee in the morning, reading the mug and getting all the inspiration I needed to kick the day’s butt. “Actually, I can.” I mean, how great is that? I can kick today’s butt. And I will!
So I went back and bought it. I brought it home, washed it and made myself a cup a coffee at 3 in the afternoon. Because, “Actually, I can.” I felt invigorated immediately.
Except….it’s like a really big mug. Like, it’s so big it’s kind of too big to hold with just one hand. But, I refuse to admit this was one of those impulse buys; how can it be, I waited a week before I bought it! I’ll just hold it with two hands. Yes, it will warm my hands up on chilly, fall mornings. Perfect.
Except…I mean, it’s really big. When I pour a normal amount of coffee into the mug it barely passes the halfway mark. So, it literally takes forever for the coffee to get to my mouth. Ugh! I don’t know, maybe this was an impulse buy.
No! I refuse to admit it.
So, I’ve been forcing myself to use this ginormous mug and pretend like I really enjoy it.
And I do, a little. I still love the saying, “Actually, I can.” As in “Actually, I can” walk past impulse items without buying them from now on.
I’ll remember this saying next time I go to Joann’s and see those cute little sparkly pumpkins for wait, what? 50% off? At first I’ll think, I just can’t leave here without those extremely fragile, glitter shedding pumpkins. I just can’t! Then I’ll remember that “Actually, I can.”
So you see, that will make this mug not an impulse purchase. Because I’ll remember the motto. It will have all been worthwhile. All thanks to my mug. I will have learned my lesson about the “dollar” bins at Target and the cattle shoot Joann forces me to walk through to get to the registers.
Unless I buy the sparkly pumpkins. Which I might. I’ll wait a week or so to see if I still want them.
It’s a beautiful sunny day. It’s autumn. The leaves are at their peak in bright colors. The weather is cool and sunny. And here come the perfect moms walking out of school.
I pass them as I’m walking in. They’ve dropped their kids off already. On time, of course. They are laughing and smiling and talking on their way out. They are younger than me and beautiful. Shiny long hair, no gray yet. Wearing hip, casual clothes effortlessly. They could be in a magazine, with a caption, “How to be the Perfect Stay at Home Mom!” These ladies are killin’ it!
First-time-mom-me would hate them. She’d be jealous of these perfect moms because they are beautiful, they are fit, they are wearing expensive clothes, they seem like they have it all together. They’ve formed a bond with each other where I always felt a little out of step. And first-time-mom-me, well, I didn’t feel like I had it all together. And I felt like I should. Like it was obtainable. Like those women were the models for it and I had to achieve that before I could enter into the perfect mom club.
Well, current me knows different.
Current me knows this: Shiny long blond hair mommy, she just found out she needs a hysterectomy and her heart is aching at thought of not being able to carry another child. Designer jeans lady, her father is at home on hospice care. Yesterday the nurses told her it was going to be very soon. Cute work-out clothes mom, well, the teacher thinks something is “going on” with her son and she recommends taking him to a behavioral therapist for his “strange” behavior. And that mommy holding the perfect looking 2 year old, her husband had an affair. She wants to get as far away from him as possible, but when she looks at her kids, she’s not so sure she can.
Of course I don’t actually know these women. But I do know that there are no perfect moms. I have met some amazing women in my 9 year career in mothering and not one of these moms didn’t have some battle going on in their lives. I know the perfect mom is a myth.
So even though I don’t know these moms, I know these moms. I know that they are taking care of their aging parents, that their child hasn’t slept through the night – ever, that they are recovering alcoholics, that they are late on their mortgage, that they haven’t spoken to their sister in three years, that they had several miscarriages, that their son has a developmental delay, that their daughter has cerebral palsy, that they fight with their husband every day, that they are dealing with depression.
There is so much behind the looks, the designer clothes, the manicure, the salon hair, the handsome husband, the pretty house.
As current me walks past these women, I am happy for their smiling, happy for their laughing. I know there’s pain behind it. I’m glad they have each other. I smile at them, wave to the 2 year old, and walk my kids into school.