Why No One Comes First in My Family

Spending Time with One of My Precious Men

Spending Time with One of My Precious Men

Earlier this week, I read an article entitled, “Why My Husband Will Always Come Before My Kids.” (Read it here – really, please read it; I promise, it’s short.) The title evoked all kinds of nasty thoughts. It might as well have said, “Why My Children Will Never Come Before My Husband” – doesn’t sound as nice that way, does it?

But what if it’s one of those articles with a cool twist? I wondered.

So instead of continuing to judge, I read it. Then I got my husband to read it, then my mother. My husband – and this is the man who should be all for this kind of article – noted that author Amber Doty had a good point when she said parents should be good role models of what a marriage should look like. “But the rest is just crazy,” he said. (What’s he talking about? you ask. I told you to read the article.) He thought Doty was making excuses for relinquishing parental responsibility. Ouch.

My mom’s reaction was quite different. As soon as she finished it, she was full of praise for Doty, who values her relationship with her husband and has discovered that a child-centered lifestyle is not ideal for either parents or children.

I came away wondering who I put first – husband or kids? What does always putting one before the other look like? According to Doty:

With very few exceptions, you will not find our kids in our bed at night. If we can only afford one vacation a year, we take it alone, and I feel no guilt about soliciting the help of family so that we can have a date night where we talk about anything but our children.

Our household is not a child-centered one, but I can’t say that I follow Doty’s prescription, either. And I think the reason is because I don’t boil my life down to a marriage that has remained unaffected, despite the birth of our two children. Maybe this is where many people go wrong because they assume that a baby is simply another person sleeping in another room. They don’t expect the sudden wellspring of love that is born with the baby. Nor can they comprehend exactly how much care that baby will require. So there are pros and cons, and both can blindside new parents.

There’s a certain amount of preparation new parents can and should do to avoid this (although parenthood isn’t like the SAT, where you can just try again in a few months if you don’t like your results the first time). When I was pregnant with my first child, my sister-in-law gave me her copy of On Becoming Baby Wise (read my review here), and one point that authors Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam stress is the importance of marriage. Baby Wise parents are encouraged to welcome the new baby into an already-established family of which everyone is a contributing member. Children are raised in a household where they are loved and where they grow to learn to respect others.

So when Peter was born, even though there was that incredible insta-love that kept Thomas and me glued to his bassinet, watching in wonder as he slept, ours was not a household that centered around our new little guy. (But don’t read this to mean that we neglected his needs in order to not be child-centered – please!) We already had a structure in place that allowed us to take care of Peter while still taking care of us – the new, parental us.

Unlike Doty, who seems to think that one person must be ranked first, I’m not big into hierarchies. To use an absolute like “always” or “never” suggests that if I put Thomas before the kids, he might get a hot supper while the baby wails to be nursed. In reality, needs change from moment to moment. After changing my newborn’s diaper, I helped Thomas carry his food from kitchen to table because he was on crutches and couldn’t carry anything. (Yes, Thomas actually sprained his ankle within a few days of coming home with our first baby.) But you know what? Thomas also realized that I was sleep-deprived (so much so that, once with each baby, I referred to my new son as “her” because I was too tired to remember that I had not, in fact, delivered a healthy baby girl), and he hopped around on one foot and changed diapers in order to give me a few extra minutes’ rest.

This isn’t some sort of magic but rather how a good marriage turns into good parenting. We were and continue to be attuned to each other’s needs, as well as those of our children.

Baby Wise suggests parents have couch time every night, so the kids can see that the parents make time for each other. Couch time has never been my thing. It wasn’t before we had kids, and so I wasn’t about to contrive something to “show” our boys someone else’s idea of effective communication. Thomas and I cook together and bathe the kids together and talk as we go, and sometimes that means telling the kids not to interrupt us while we catch up. Sometimes we get away to see a movie. Even more rarely, we may go out to eat without them. And I don’t consider us martyrs because of this; I actually like spending time with my husband and my kids. It’s something I did with my parents growing up, and since it was a positive experience, it’s something I want to continue with my kids, and the way I see it, my time with them is short.

And here’s a shocking revelation: when we are away from our kids (and this isn’t often, especially on vacations – I’m a family vacation girl all the way), Thomas and I can love being together but miss the boys at the same time. Yes, we talk about them. We marvel that we made two such amazing, unique people. No one loves our kids the way we do, and that is something very special that we share.

The two main points of Doty’s article are that 1) she wants her kids to be able to have the same kind of loving marriage that she and her husband have, and 2) she doesn’t want to discover, as an empty nester, that she no longer knows her husband. Some people are so wrapped up in their kids that they lose each other. They allow their children to be the glue that holds the marriage together. This isn’t fair to anyone in the situation, and when the kids fly away, so does mom and dad’s relationship. Sometime over the years, the kids were nurtured, but the marriage wasn’t.

One commenter on this article mentioned that on airplanes, adults must secure their oxygen masks before tending to children. So in the same way, parents need to make sure that their needs are met in order to take care of the kids. This makes logical sense. Sometimes that means “me” time or time apart as a couple, but as Thomas pointed out, we can’t use this as an excuse to ditch our kids on a regular basis. What are the oxygen masks of our relationships? By all means, let your kids see you and your spouse in a stable, loving relationship, but also give them the time and attention they crave.

What makes me sad is Doty’s answer: “I love my kids and would do anything for them. But I love my husband more.”

Wait a minute. Does that mean we have to make a choice between the two?

My choice is for a healthy balance. My choice is for my family. I love my husband and chose to marry him because he’s the man I want to grow old with. And he’s also the guy I wanted to have a family with, not so we could get away from our kids, but so we could be a family and grow together. We love our kids more than we ever imagined we could love anyone. And in loving our boys, our love for each other has grown. Even though Doty seems to think so, I don’t believe that love is quantifiable. Just as I don’t love one son more than another, I don’t love Thomas more than the boys – or vice versa.

If your marriage is solid, your children will see it played out in everyday life, not just in the times when you get away to prove how much you love each other. And while Doty seems to think “sacrifice” is bad, what I thought would be sacrifices (like not being able to go out on a whim or patronize my favorite restaurants as often because diapers eat up the former entertainment budget), don’t matter to me as much now as they used to. Spending time together with one or both of my kids and as a family is precious, and when Thomas and I do get to have an evening together, it feels more special. But also, some of the sacrifices, such as spending time and money on my kids’ education rather than the latest technology and our dream home, are the kinds of things my parents did for me and that Thomas and I want to do for our kids because it’s part of being responsible for the people we brought into this world, and we want to show them what it looks like to do something special for others besides ourselves. And I guess if it’s something you want, it’s not really a sacrifice but another act of love.

I know the nest will be empty one day, and while Thomas and I will be grateful for renewed freedoms, my hope is that our boys will realize how special our family is – and they will return to the nest often.

Support the Locals

The Family Business

The Family Business

This week, I’ve had a hard time finding my inspiration. In addition to this being just a crazy-busy week, I’ve watched my grandmother decline from what seemed a somewhat stable condition in the hospital to being restrained, sedated, and placed on a ventilator. It doesn’t help that this all happened right before Christmas.

As my family tries to figure out what to do and what our future may look like, I can’t help but think that this could have been prevented. While I am grateful for today’s technology and the comforts and progress it has afforded us, I can’t help but yearn for the days (long before my time) when doctors rode their horses out to homes in the middle of the night to deliver babies. Of course those “good old days” were stressful for those involved, but at least the doctors knew their patients. They lived in community together. In contrast, my grandmother has gotten lost in the shuffle of hundreds of other patients, and one of her nurses actually refused to help her find her pen the other day because she was a nurse and above such piddling duties as actually helping a patient.

I’m not going to apologize for sounding bitter. My grandmother isn’t the only victim, here. The problem is that people are turning into names on charts that aren’t read thoroughly, numbers, statistics. And it’s not just in hospitals, either.

Yet yesterday afternoon, I was reminded that there are places where people are still known as individuals. I had to go to our pharmacy, and it is not a chain store. My parents and I have used them for years, and all the ladies who work there know me and my kids. The parking is atrocious, and they aren’t a superstore, where you can buy a TV while you’re waiting. But if you need a pharmacy, I can’t think of a better place to go. When I go there, they always hug my kids and want to know how I am – not just medically, either. I support this local company and get so much more than a product at a good price.

There is a reason why people push “buying local.” For food, it’s about the healthiest way to go, especially if you can find something like local honey, which helps people fight allergies in their particular regions. But there are other benefits, as well. In a world where it seems that everyone now wants to achieve viral video fame, it’s nice to go to a place where there are real people who know me for me. It’s something that I think has gotten lost in the digital age, kind of like my grandmother getting lost at the hospital. The good thing is that there are people fighting it, people who want to create and maintain real relationships.

I work with my parents at our family’s business, and although there are many hardships that come with running a small business, there are so many benefits. Many people don’t understand, when you’re in a niche market, that you don’t serve everyone. You serve the people whose needs fit your particular skills, and in that way you provide services and products of a higher quality than big businesses that try to please everybody and, in doing so, turn out shoddy work. And we have customers who continue to come to us because they know they’re stimulating the local economy (one family’s economy, in particular!) and that we will remember their names when they come back.

Get to know the restaurant and shop owners of places you frequent. By supporting the local businesses in your community, you will get back some of that humanity that our world is doing a good job of suppressing. And if you find yourself becoming a statistic one day, the relationships that you make at these places will become so much more important than having thousands of followers on your favorite social network.

Acts of Kindness – Random or Otherwise


Hospital (Photo credit: José Goulão)

This time of year can be painful for so many because while everyone else seems to be enjoying the seasonal festivities, someone is spending a first Christmas alone. Someone else is spending it in the hospital with a bleak outlook. A whole city is in mourning on the anniversary of a terrible elementary school massacre. But do you know what the survivors of the Sandy Hook murders want? Not media attention but kindness, random acts of kindness. If their beloved children and teachers can no longer be with them, at least they – and others – can do good in their memory.

This week, when I became one of the stressed out loved ones of a person in distress, I was reminded just how important these acts of kindness are.

I awoke Tuesday morning to discover that my grandmother had a bout with congestive heart failure in the night, and rescue had broken down her front door and transported her to the hospital. This is the woman who beat a rare brain infection over twenty years ago and basically lived with few medical problems until her first experience with congestive heart failure four years ago. My elder son and I were with her the afternoon it happened, and I felt absolutely helpless. This week, she was alone, and I feel like I should have been there. I drove right by her neighborhood earlier in the day, foregoing a visit because I knew she would be taking her afternoon nap. I will always wonder if I could have helped her if I had just stopped by.

Our family is fortunate because we all live in the same vicinity, so we’ve taken turns helping. And this week, it’s taken a village. Someone has had to stay with her almost constantly. Deprived of oxygen and sleep, her usually tack-sharp mind became delusional, and she blamed us for conspiring to put her in a home and take her money. It hurt us to see her in such a state, not to mention our own bruised feelings.

I met my cousin at her house on Tuesday, figuring that I could at least help get things ready for the repair man to fix her door. Being in her empty house, seeing it untidy, finding the phone where she dropped it – it was tough. But we had work to do. I had exactly $100 in my wallet, which happened to be what the repair man required for materials and labor to fix the door. I left the money for him rather than make someone else run to the bank. After all, I didn’t think I would need it that day.

My cousin and I gathered a bag full of items Grandmama needed, and I took them to the hospital, which by the way, charges two dollars if you want to use their parking garages (which I did because it was pouring). After a quick visit, I got all the way up to the sixth floor of the parking garage before I realized I had no money. I went back in, figuring I could ask one of my aunts for a couple dollars. Then I got lost. And I was already ten minutes late to pick up my son from school.

I saw a man dressed in scrubs, and I asked him for directions to the ICU. He didn’t work there and didn’t know. “Well, I really just need an ATM,” I said. He did know where to find one of those, so I hopped in the elevator with him, shaking my head at my ridiculous situation. When he realized why I needed money, he pulled out his wallet and gave me two dollars, insisting that I not waste my money on ATM fees.

Shocked, I stood in the elevator with his money and called, “God bless you!” as he walked out. I felt like saying something cheesy, like I would pay it forward, but the doors closed, and I was on my way to the parking garage again.

The beginning of what turned into a rough week for my family was touched by this simple act of kindness. It didn’t seem like much – just two dollars. But it was something he absolutely did not have to do – but did gladly anyway. He gave me back some of the time I was already borrowing from the receptionist at my son’s school, who sat with Peter while he waited for me to show up. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and am determined to pay attention to those times when I, too, can make a small but significant difference in someone else’s day.

In the season when my family celebrates the greatest gift ever sent to Earth, so many people have allowed themselves to be consumed with wanting – and then not even being satisfied when they get whatever it is they think they want. They don’t see the people around them who would trade all the gifts in the world for one more Christmas with a deceased loved one – or a peaceful Christmas at home instead of in a hospital or nursing home.

Yet there are others who give, even when they don’t have to. They may not even realize that their small gestures mean so much. To them, I say thank you. Thank you for keeping me from being totally jaded, for reminding me that there is, indeed, still good in this world.

The Work-at-Home Covenant

Working mom

Working mom (Photo credit: rankun76)

I’ve been working on an article about the balance between being home with kids and trying to work at the same time. I think this is something that needs to be addressed for frustrated moms out there (like yours truly) who sometimes feel helplessly at sea. But it seems like the articles already out there fall into one of two categories: advice from people who clearly don’t have kids (or are empty nesters and have forgotten) or are written by frustrated moms who just need a friendly reader to commiserate.

Yet there are successful work-at-home moms who make it look so easy. I’m sure it’s not rainbows and unicorns for them all the time, but they’ve turned their time at home and considerable talents into profitable careers. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while she was out of work and a single mom. Madeleine L’Engle stayed at home and wrote, even during a decade-long drought, in which she worried she would never be published again.

So while I’ve wrestled with my own situation (which is more often work-on-the-go than from home), I’ve tried to piece together what I do that works and what doesn’t, aspiring to be as successful as one of these greats. And it was actually my son who made me realize what the most important aspect is. It was a truth that’s glared at me for months, but sometimes it takes the brutal, innocent honesty of a child to bring it home.

Granted, it was a rough week for us. My husband was gone for five days, something that only happens a couple times a year, if that. I really admire single moms, military wives, and other women whose spouses travel frequently. We made it, but it wasn’t pretty. I cook most of our meals from scratch, and Thomas often takes the boys outside to play while I cook. Or he helps me in the kitchen. On my own, my kids ate a lot of chicken nuggets, I’m afraid, and I rarely got to eat before they were done. Chores went unfinished, and my temper got shorter and shorter: there just wasn’t time for me to do what I needed and sleep and play with my kids. And we’re talking bare minimum here. Forget reading a book or doing anything fun for me.

One night, after getting the little guy down, I sat at the table with my laptop, writing an article. And my elder son came to me and asked for something. I am ashamed to say I don’t remember what it was – I was barely paying attention then, immersed as I was in my work. What did catch my attention, though, was what he said next: “Mom, sometimes you’re not very fun. You don’t spend enough time with us.” I stand condemned.

No matter how many hours my husband works, he gives our kids one-on-one (or one-on-two) time when we’re together. The boys eat it up. They crave time with their daddy and miss him when he’s gone. The way things have been going, I wonder if the boys feel the same way about me. Something has to change. I don’t want to look back over my mothering years and realize I missed a number of small, meaningful moments while I wrote another article.

Last week was an exception, but it’s no excuse. I’ve had too many days recently in which I allowed myself to become a passenger in my own life – a passenger who barely even looked out at the scenery. And it’s my life. If I am imprisoned by my choice of lifestyle, I can only blame myself because I am the warden and hold the keys.

Because freelancing is so open – so “free” – it’s easy to get swept away in the current of work and never stop. And since there are no paid vacation days, no sick leave, and I don’t make a salary while I apply for jobs that may or may not come to fruition, I sometimes feel an almost self-denying need to write while everyone else takes time off. The idea that I could squeeze in full workdays every weekend was seductive. With no need to rush out the door for school and with most of my other chores finished during the week, I could just sit around and write all day – and let Thomas deal with the kids. First of all, that’s not fair to him, and it makes me unavailable to all three of them. Second, I ended every weekend looking back on everything I didn’t get done and feeling like I’d let everyone down. I’ve heard freelancers say to set a schedule, and the longer I’ve been at it, the more I agree. It doesn’t have to be nine to five (and in my case, it’s not going to be), but I do need some parameters. At some point, I need to say, This is my family’s time; writing can come later.

I have preached about this before – to others as well as myself. But for me, walking the talk is more than just saying, “I need to.” My almost immediate mental turn-around – the decision to not let my writing interfere with my family – was akin to other life choices I’ve made. These are things I’ve decided to do, no matter the cost, like nursing my babies for at least twelve months, getting up early to exercise on weekdays, and cutting wheat out of my diet. This was more than a simple decision but what I think of as a covenant with myself. I write because I love it, which means it should feed me, not starve me. The only way I can keep on writing is to protect myself and my family from freelancer’s burn out.

I implemented the plan this week. I wrote during the day, cutting myself off at supper time. I still checked e-mail, and if necessary, I wrote after the kids went to bed. But one of the reasons I’ve been so irritated lately is that, along with having little family time, I’ve had absolutely no me time, no time to recuperate. So I’ve made sure to only write sparingly at night, allowing myself a little time to read for the fun of it.

When I received three assignments with a tight deadline on Thursday, I met my first challenge. I either had to write them all on Friday, or I would break my promise and work through the weekend. So I stayed up a little later, finished the assignments, and when I woke up this morning, instead of heading straight to the laptop, I went into my younger son’s room and helped him build a train track.

This little bit of structure – of making myself accountable – has helped me be more productive than ever, believe it or not, and extra conscious of my family’s needs. Work-at-home moms have to decide what’s most important and tailor their lives to their particular covenants. That doesn’t mean there won’t be rough days or emergency writing assignments, but there will be something to answer to. All the other bits of practical advice I’m saving for my article are secondary to this. If we work-at-home moms can’t define the purpose of staying home – and I certainly hope it has something to do with spending more time with our families – why did we choose to be at home to begin with?

If I Die Before I Wake

English: Sloughan Glen A great place to spend ...

A quiet Sunday afternoon with the family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that I’ve read more and more posts and memes lately about people—artists and innovators, particularly—pursuing their dreams so they won’t have any regrets at the ends of their lives. One was from Anne Lammot, and I gave her a resounding, “Yes!” After all, I was raised by parents who believe that it is more important to do something fulfilling than pocket-filling. My father has always been baffled by people who suffer through a miserable work week to make it to a weekend during which they will spend half their time bemoaning that it’s almost over. It is a wonderful ideal, to wake up excited about work every day. But what if it doesn’t pay the bills? There is a reason we’re called “starving artists.”

The question for the artist in me is: If I give up on a writing career, will I regret it when I’m eighty? But an even more important question is: If I die tomorrow, what regrets will I have? Put another way, if I knew I only had twenty-four hours left to live, what would I do?

This is a question that was posed to my mother’s Sunday school class twenty-nine or thirty years ago, when I was a baby. Her answer (in part, at least) was that she would still have the same number of diapers to change during that twenty-four hour period as during any other; even if she was leaving a number of unfulfilled dreams, she was still the mother of a dependent baby.

For myself, I would probably spend too much time writing instructions or creating spreadsheets of online usernames and passwords for my husband. What I cannot imagine saying is, “Gosh, I’m not published yet; I’d better get on it.” Mainly, I hope, I would want to be with my family. There are people every day who go home from hospitals, unable to be treated, and their only goal is to spend what time they have left with their families. Those who are left behind will have to survive on the memories made during that time.

As a healthy young woman, I could easily live another forty to fifty years. I could also easily pull out onto a busy street tomorrow and get hit by a careless driver. I apologize if this seems like a downer, and I certainly don’t want to live with my last will and testament in my back pocket, but I also don’t want to forget that life is so short and precious.

My husband and I pretty much follow Dave Ramsey’s guide to debt-free living (see The Total Money Makeover Workbook), and we’re well on our way. Ramsey promotes a lifestyle of delayed gratitude, which I think is healthy (the real world won’t give me a cookie just because I kick and scream for it), but in a way, it’s also sad that many people will never make it there. I don’t mean that a debt-free life is unattainable, just that it could possibly be attained and then not enjoyed. Several years ago, I met a woman who told me that she and her husband had everything they wanted after he retired. They finally had the means and time to travel, and they bought their dream house. It was there that he died, less than a year later, the victim of cancer. Sometimes, she said, they laughed hysterically at the irony of it all: they finally had the house in which they had always wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, yet the rest of their lives wasn’t long enough to enjoy everything for which they had saved.

I still follow the Dave Ramsey method to a point, but Thomas and I also decided that living on beans now so we can enjoy steak and lobster some thirty years down the road is not exactly how we want to live and raise our kids. If our vacations are modest road trips that only last a few days at a time, at least we hope to make good memories with our boys as long as we are able. And if we can achieve a more comfortable lifestyle in the future, so much the better.

With money and careers in mind, there is a part of me that has always said, “When I publish, I’ll finally prove that I’ve done something. The last piece of the puzzle will be in place.” But another part of me knows that I’ve already done a lot, and publishing does not guarantee authorial success, nor does it guarantee mansions or good health or unanimous acclaim.

About five years ago, I met an out-of-state friend for coffee. While we summarized everything we’d done and all we’d hoped we would do by that point in our lives, I lamented that a writing career seemed impossible to attain. I’d gone to a good school that turned out lawyers and doctors, and what was I doing? She pointed out that I was happily married and a mother. She couldn’t say either of those things for herself. Although she had achieved a level of success that I never hoped to claim for myself, she graded me according to different standards. I never thought someone would look at my life and think it enviable.

Similarly, in Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand, Abbie Deal gives up a possible musical career to marry the love of her life and raise a family. Her children never appreciate her true potential, how great she could have been. They don’t really understand her at all, in fact. Two of her daughters make conscious decisions to never have children and never marry, respectively, in order to pursue careers instead. Only the one who doesn’t marry regrets her decision later in life, when it’s too late to go back to the man who once loved her.

Abbie Deal made a choice that many people wouldn’t—and don’t—make. She chose something for herself—love—but something so much more than herself: she chose relationships, in this case, a relationship with her family. Abbie Deal lived a (fictional) life that I consider was without regret, even though it wasn’t what she initially wanted.

When I think about the people who are going home to spend their remaining time with their families, I realize how important yet how difficult it is to live in the present. What if the present is stressful? As much as I want to spend time with my little boys, my husband and I still have to earn enough money to keep them fed and clothed. And sometimes spending time with them isn’t what I want. I want something for me; I want to read or write or simply have a few moments’ peace.

There must be a balance. Whenever the end of my life is, if I have the luxury of any kind of reflection, I don’t want to wish that I’d spent more time with my family; I want to be thankful for all the time we did spend together. I don’t want them to say, “Well, we didn’t get to see her much, but thank goodness she had such a successful writing career.” (At this point, they won’t be saying that anyway, but they might lament that I spent too much time chasing said career.)

While I won’t for a minute say that I’m totally selfless, that I never make decisions based on what I want to make myself happy, I hope that I can share my life and my time with the people I love. Since I won’t be able to take anything with me anyway, I can leave a legacy of many meaningful memories. Besides, watching my two little boogers dive face-first into Nutella and recite Mother’s Day poems provide good fodder for creative writing, anyway.

Five Years of Blessing

Peter Patter – November 6, 2007

The morning I decided to write this, I walked out the door ten minutes late, forgetting the baby’s blanket and leaving a sink full of dirty dishes for my sleep-deprived husband to deal with. I wondered if I really wanted to write this when my life felt more like “Five Years of Frustration and Disappointment.” When I allow something like running late to get to me, I turn into a mommy monster, complete with devil horns, forked tongue, and yellow eyes. While Peter, my elder son, moved at the speed of molasses, I frantically did everything that I had already asked him to do, and with my hands full, I saw that the baby had kicked off his shoes. I almost threw the things I was holding on the floor but caught myself and resorted to disgruntled muttering. Then Peter said, “But you know you still love us.” That’s his go-to line whenever I lose my temper, and it did the trick, yet again. I calmly replaced the shoes on the baby’s feet while Peter waxed eloquent about how adorable his little brother is and how much he loves him.

“Blessing” won. Let’s be honest, I was going to write this anyway, but making myself go through the exercise has made me hyper-aware of how I choose to live every moment. You see, five years ago today, I became a mother, and even with those many moments when my patience is tried to the limit, it is no exaggeration to say that these have been the best five years of my life.

When Peter was born on November 6, 2007, I understood what a friend meant when she said she fell in love with her daughter. During pregnancy, I knew I loved my baby, but until he was born, I really had no idea how much love was in me. I in no way imagined what becoming a mother would do to me. Those first few days, my husband and I just stared at Peter in wonder while he did nothing more than just lie there–asleep, awake, cranky, it didn’t matter to us. Everything Peter did was (and still is) art.

Now, don’t misunderstand, I loved my life before children. Thomas and I had a great time going to movies on weeknights if we wanted or going across town on a whim, not tied down by nap times or the endless chores that come with child-rearing. And if I didn’t get my coveted eight hours of sleep per night, I only had myself to blame. But when I had Peter, it finally made sense how my parents could love me so much, could sacrifice everything for my well-being. I never could understand how, when Mama’s mother died, she was able to cope, to seemingly love me so deeply when she no longer had a mother for comfort. I know now. When my boys need their mommy, I only pray that I can be as good a mother as the women before me.

I am not overstating it when I say that Peter’s a good kid, but he does have his moments when he tries me past my last nerve (throwing a shoe at me, for instance, then not understanding why I’m irate). And as stupid as I’m sure I look and sound, doing silly things just to hear Ian laugh, there are those dark times that I hope to never relive. Parenting is not all rainbows and unicorns, folks, although it’s my choice to either keep going or to throw my hands in the air and give up. With Peter, the bad moments were just that—moments. And they weren’t often. Since Ian’s birth, there have been much longer stretches of time when I have felt like a miserable failure. For the first five or six weeks of his life, if I slept at all, it was usually on the couch, holding a pacifier in his mouth while he screamed. There were times when I had to put him down, close the door, and walk away–for his sake as much as my own. Of course, it’s not his fault that he had colic and reflux–but so did Peter, who didn’t seem to cry nearly as much, nor spit nearly as projectile-y.

But there are those moments of peace, when both boys are happy (if not quiet), and moments of triumph (like when potty-training finally clicked for Peter or Ian started taking naps without screaming himself to sleep). And when those rough times come, they still somehow love me, even when I’m in the midst of a Sigourney Weaver-turned-Zuul type tantrum (minus the levitation, of course).

What did I ever do to deserve such love? No, what did I do to deserve them at all? There are women who have lost babies late in pregnancy, due to no fault of their own. There are children who have leukemia or other rare diseases, but the worst either of mine has had so far is reflux and the occasional ear infection. There are so many women out there who would do almost anything to just have one child, yet I have two. Sometimes my husband and I joke that people will look at us and say, “Who let them have two kids?” and whisk our boys away. Because there is no good answer as to why we have this double blessing.

Five years ago, almost to the very day, the recession hit my parents’ small business, where I am the bookkeeper. If I hadn’t gone on a two-month maternity leave and come back with a severe cut in salary, I would have lost my job completely. It’s been tough on our family, even tougher with the second child. If we’d been strictly logical about it, Thomas and I would have waited (might still be waiting now) and then probably only had one child. I could have bettered my job situation at a time when it still would have been possible, and today, I might look back on five years of financial blessing. Instead, I am a statistic, but the trade off is that I see my parents every day and can bring my children with me to work. And, of course, I’m struggling to do something with this writing career that has been taxiing on the runway since I graduated from college. Maybe it will take off someday. But if it doesn’t, I’m enjoying myself, even if I’m not raking in the cash. I’m glad that we risked it all to become parents. I would never trade a chorus of “Ian’s a Rockstar” (that’s a Peter original) or “Albuquerque Turkey” (accompanied by Ian’s squeals and “bluh-bluh-bluh” in place of the lyrics Peter can’t remember) for a career.

I hope for many more years with my boys. In the moments when Peter feels the need to remind me that I love him, I can be thankful that I have fodder for my blog–but most of all, thankful that, as my grandfather always used to say, “I am blessed beyond belief.”