Imagine you are four. The legs in front of you are not your mother’s.

Imagine you are 4. The county fair is loud and noisy. You look up, and realize the pair of legs you have been following are not your mom’s. You turn around wildly. Your eyes brim with terror and confusion. You cry out. She rushes over to you, saying, “It’s okay, my darling. I’m right here. I was here all along.”

You are 28. The doctor says it’s early yet, don’t get too attached. But you are attached. Your cells grow side by side. Days later, the blood leaves you and you have never felt so empty.

You are 16. You have never seen the intricate underside of your car, the one you spent two summers saving for. But there it is, smoking in the sun. You stare at, amazed you crawled out alive. Your phone is in your pocket. You wonder what he will say. Were you going too fast? Yes. Did you screw up? Big time. You know I still love you? Yes, Dad. I know.

You are 30. She’s six months. She won’t stop crying. She. Won’t. Stop. Crying. You hop in the shower for five minutes, just five minutes please. She wails. You coo from behind the curtain, “I’m right here. Mommy’s right here.” You dry off and scoop her up. Her cries cease. You are her home.

You are 9. Your teacher tells you about things you can’t imagine. Trails of tears. Auction blocks of tears. Camps of tears. Your classmates jabber, “That’s crazy! Why did people do that? Man if I had been there, I would’ve fought on the right side. They don’t do stuff like that today, right?” Your teacher sighs. She doesn’t know what to say.

You are 23. The gangs have spread like a contagion to your village. Your husband has gotten mixed up in it. You told him you didn’t want it in your home. He took you he didn’t have a choice. He tries to leave. You hear what they will do to you if he does. What they will do to your daughter.

You start walking.

You are 5. It is your first day of kindergarten. The boy beside you is crying. Your mom says she will pick you up in a few hours. You believe her, you think. The teacher smiles warmly. You are happy. You are happier to go home.

You are 8. Your dad has carried you for the last several hours. It is hot and your water bottle is empty. You ask your dad if he is sure they will let you in. When they hear what we’ve been through, of course, my son, of course. It is s nation of people running away. Their founders were men like us, he tells you. Men running away from a country that did not want them, men committed to building a better life. They will understand. You ask again if he’s sure. He is silent. A minute later he tells you, “No matter what, I will be with you.”

You are 45. You see pictures of crying babies and your stomach churns. You turn off the news. Everything is so depressing these days. Why bother paying attention.

You are 26. The doctor places the scrawny, bloody alien on your chest. Something overwhelms you, but you cannot put a word on the feeling. Is it love? Is it fear? You vow everything. You promise everything.

You are 12 and you wake screaming. Your mom rushes in to your room, whispering. It’s okay. It was just a bad dream. You ask if you can sleep in her bed, just tonight. She smiles and says you haven’t asked that it a long time. You make her promise not to tell anyone.

Imagine you are 4. The room is loud and noisy. You look up, and realize the pair of legs you have been following are not your mom’s. You turn around wildly. Your eyes brim with terror and confusion. You cry out. She does not come.

Imagine you are 4, and now you live in a cage.

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Votes for Moms

It wasn’t long into the first session of the conference before my baby started getting noisy. While my fellow attendees discussed climate change and air pollution, I swayed in the background, trying to shush her to sleep.

I had been nervous about taking her. It was a three hour drive – longer when you have to pull over to change diapers and replace pacifiers. Sleep was a bit hit or miss. My husband had been working crazy hours lately. There were a million reasons not to go, and one good reason that I should.

I really wanted to get out of the house.

I know, I know. That’s not what the reason should’ve been. The reason should’ve been that I care deeply about the world we are leaving our children. And I do. I promise I do. And being a stay at home mom to two wild preschoolers and a baby during one of Montana’s worst winters had left me with a raging case of cabin fever. So despite my nerves and reasons why not, I decided to attend the Moms Clean Air Force Mama Summit outside of stunning Livingston, MT.

“What’s this conference about again?” my husband asked before I left. “Uh, like moms and kids and climate change and clean air and stuff,” I answered, all the while thinking, “It’s about spending a weekend at the gateway to Yellowstone while getting out of having to cook dinner for a few nights.”

When I got there and I finally had an uninterrupted chance to peruse the agenda, I realized it was about more than kids and climate and stuff – it was about encouraging women to get involved in their local governments.

As I listened to various session leaders encouraging the attendees to run for office, I scoffed. I could barely listen to a talk between blow outs and spit ups. The idea of running for something like the school board seemed laughable. I had young kids – it just wasn’t going to happen. Plus I was a stay at home mom with a gaping, diaper shaped hole on my resume.

But when all the pacing in the back of the room worked, and my baby did fall asleep, I realized it probably wouldn’t kill me to attend a school board meeting. Or call my city council members and ask what they are doing about local air pollution. I could check in with my neighbor and see how her fight to get HEPA air filters in classrooms is going.

My baby, being my third child, was not used to receiving my undivided attention, plus the adoring attention of twenty or so other women. She relished returning their smiles, and when she fussed, the other moms shot me sympathetic glances, or offered to take her for a bit so I could get a break. She wasn’t a nuisance. She was the reason I was here.

It dawned on me – our children shouldn’t preclude us from getting into politics. They should encourage us.

Moms have perfected the art of excusing ourselves to the back of the room. We hide our messes in our Instagram photos. We hush and rock our babies. We apologize for tearing up when talking about emotional topics – lead in the blood of babies growing up next to superfund sites, ER trips for children’s asthma attacks. We see the decorum of formal meetings and tell ourselves that the political world is no place for children – and by extension, no place for moms.

As the weekend continued, my conversations with other women flowed from swapping pie recipes to the latest developments on superfund projects. I was surrounded by community leaders – city council members, executive directors, state legislators. “Oh, what do I do? Um, babies, and blog and write sometimes and stuff…”

Although I was less worried about my baby interrupting the talks, I still felt inadequate and unqualified. But as we talked more about climate change – I realized how it would take far more than a few elected officials to create change. It would take an army of people standing behind them. No, I didn’t understand the intricacies of all the science, or the details of every policy.

But I knew what it was like to hear my kids cough from smoke pollution.

So, listen up moms. (And dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles)

It’s okay if your baby cries in the background while you call your representative to ask if they support rolling back car emissions standards.

It’s okay if you ignore the growing pile of laundry to send a letter during nap time to the school board to ask if they’ve considered banning idling in front of schools.

It’s okay to show up to a town hall with a restless kid and ask why air quality is so poor that they’ve had indoor recess every day for the past week. Heck, it might prove your point.

Women, especially moms, have been told for a long time that we aren’t a good fit for politics. We’ve got babies to take care of, and heaven forbid, we might get emotional. But we wold be mistaken to think these are our weaknesses. Our strength lies in our passion – for our families, for our communities, for our home.

So pick up the phone and call.

Pick up a pen and write.

Maybe even pick up a candidate filing form and change the world.

This post was sponsored by Moms Clean Air Force and The Mission List. If you want to learn more about how you can take a stand against climate change, check out Moms Clean Air Force’s work to get involved.

Mindfulness: The art of really noticing your day go to hell

You might wonder how I got here, with spit up cascading down my back and drinking a beer for dinner in my middle son’s room while rocking a baby to sleep.

Mindfulness, that’s how. It’s all the fault of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness!” I thought, hearing the word thrown about in some progressive parenting circles. “That’s what our family needs, to be more mindful. Deep breaths could quell tantrums! Meditation could help them stop spinning around like they’re auditioning for HGTV’s demolition crews.

And maybe it could have. Maybe mindfulness would’ve been the answer. After all, the sleep relaxation audio book I have blaring at the top of my phone speaker’s capabilities seems to be working. At the very least, it’s drowning out the trying to stay awake noises coming from my oldest child’s room.

Mindfulness is the art of being present in the current moment, intensely noticing and experiencing the world around you,” I read. Sounds simple enough, I thought. And being present in the current moment probably would’ve been a great place to start.

But I didn’t start there. I started with glitter.

If I have one piece of parenting advice, it would be to never allow glitter to cross your home’s threshold. If I had a second, it would be to parent before Pinterest was invented.

On Pinterest, one may unfortunately come across a craft called a “mindfulness jar,” an apparent “timeout alternative” for people whose kids probably never actually go in time out and do things like ask if they can have second helpings of kale for dinner.

The craft itself sounds simple enough – buy fancy looking water bottle, drink the fairy wing infused contents that merit buying a fancy plastic water bottle, fill with the glitter glue it took you three stores to find, add in some of Satan’s seed (I mean glitter), and fill plebeian tap water. Then watch your children gently meditate on the mysteries of water soluble solutions and gravity as they firmly resolve to never call you a poopy face again.

Unfortunately, upon reading the directions yesterday I had not firmly committed myself to mindfulness. And thus missed the part where it did not say to pour the entire contents of the glitter bottle into the overpriced water bottle. Should you do that, the contents of the glitter will not settle. Neither will your children who will have already moved on from this craft.

No problem, you think, impressed at the new found clarity that mindfulness has brought to your life. I will simply spread the contents out amongst a few mason jars. Because hello, mindful people use mason jars. Then I will have a half dozen mindfulness jars, exactly six more than I need seeing as how my kids have already declared them stupid and boring. Maybe I can sell them! I should really spread the good news to others about what mindfulness has brought to our family.

At this point, it should be noted, I am beginning to notice my world intensely.

I am really noticing how glitter has gotten everywhere – all over the sink, the table, the floor, and somehow even the baby’s diaper. I am really noticing how my plan to just water down the jars’ contents did not work, and now the new water will not mix with the old gluey mess. I am really noticing my blood pressure beginning to sky rocket. I am really noticing the baby projectile spitting up on the glitter covered floor. I am really noticing how I could’ve just brought some of these damn things on Etsy for like half the price. I am really noticing the very unmindful amount of tv my children have watched as I tried to get this done.

At this point, my children have become very aware of the present moment, and are especially tuned into the fact that they can say or do anything and my response will be to take deep mindful breaths until I hyperventilate and scream, “Just for the love eat your dinner and let’s get to bed!”

One child takes it upon himself to lay in the living room screaming that he can’t eat dinner because his knee hurts and can’t go to bed because he’s too hungry. When I finally convince him to go to the table, he takes several bites of whatever I grabbed out of the fridge and threw on their plates before deciding to apply a spoonful of applesauce directly to his brother’s pants.

At this point, the baby has begun to fervently whine that I should be meeting some basic need of hers. I also really notice how loud the kids who are playing volleyball outside are. I also wonder if it would be weird if I asked them if to watch the baby for just like ten minutes while I get the other two kid to sleep. I decide against it, and strap her to my back for the time being, hoping that whatever basic need she has isn’t being fed or getting her diaper changed because I just can’t right now. She promptly spits up.

Meanwhile, one child wonders outside completely naked to watch said volleyball game. He also screams that he can’t find his water bottle. “Mindfulness would probably help with remembering where you put stuff,” my brain snarks to itself.

I find the water bottle and fill it. It rolls off the bathroom counter onto the back of another child who is yelling at me from the floor to “WIPE HIS BUM AGAIN BUT BETTER THIS TIME IT’S STILL SQUISHY.”

We finally get into pajamas, and enjoy a few peaceful minutes of book reading before I realize an undisclosed child has spilled the contents of his water bottle all over his pajamas, and I have to change him again.

At this point, I am fully immersed in the present moment, which I can definitively say has gone to hell. I tell the kids if they get into their beds right now, they can have a chocolate muffin for breakfast.

I really notice bribery is an effective parenting technique.

My son screams I need to rock him to sleep. The baby screams that she is a baby and really should get some attention at some point today. I rock them both for about ten seconds before the older one climbs into his bed and passes out.

I decide to fully enjoy the present moment by having beer and ice cream for dinner. Let me know if anyone needs to buy a mindfulness jar. They really work.

Love me less tomorrow

It has occurred to me that I can’t go on writing dreamy musings about the beauty of motherhood forever. And not just because the paying market for freelance writers is ever dwindling. As it turns out, all those annoying mothers who quipped, “little people, little problems, big people, big problems,” are in fact, right.

My people are growing, and their fears, worries, and challenges are growing too. Parenting has evolved from googling “What is the cheapest baby monitor that still works?” to figuring out how to calm the fears of a child who thinks his schoolmates will laugh at him if his pants aren’t cool. I rock him and promise that they won’t laugh at his pants. At least not this year. Next year is kindergarten and I can make no guarantees.

I have a littlest one in tow now. She reminds me how parenting began, when I was someone’s entire world. It is a startling thing, to be loved so intensely. My husband may have promised to love me all the days of my life, but he doesn’t sob when I walk out of the room.

In the first few months of a child’s life, they cannot even comprehend that their mother is a separate entity from them. Instead she is a constant source of food and warmth, available whenever called upon. Slowly, they start to turn their heads and realize their is an entire world out there apart from their mother’s embrace.

And when that happens, they start to love their mother a little less.

My older two children don’t love me with the same enthusiasm as my baby. Yes, they run to me in tears when their favorite toy breaks, and snuggle onto my lap whenever they can steal a few moments alone. They have informed they plan to live with me their entire lives and only go to college for three days a week.

But in fits of frustration and disappointment, they have also told me they hate me, that I am the worst mother in the world, and so on and so forth.

This isn’t just some sad side effect of growing up. No, it is the sacred duty of mothering – to make your children love you a little less.

I have no desire to push my children away. I would rather hold them tight and safe forever. But that is not where they are meant to be.

Their true loves lie outside of this home. And so each day, ever so gradually, I must guide them away and into a wider world – one where they will learn about daffodils, soccer, aerospace engineering, yo-yos, and international relations. They will enter a world where they might begin to understand why I so emphasized kindness and respect. Because here their future waits.

Now that my role has transitioned from milk provider to teacher, my flaws are no doubt becoming more apparent. I yell too much; I fold under stress. But that is not why they love me less – they do so because I gently nudge them to their greater lives.

In time, they might appreciate me more, or understand me better. But they won’t look up at me with the same big doe eyes of a child who needs nothing more than to snuggle on his mother’s lap. I won’t be the one they run to in moments of triumph or trouble.

It is all by design. So children, love me a little less tomorrow.

And I will love you more.

I, writer. Or am I?

Sometimes I still wonder what I should be whenever I get around to growing up.

It’s hard not to question what I am doing when I kiss my husband and preschoolers good bye. I sip coffee in my perpetually sticky kitchen, bounce my baby on my knee, and debate how I should spend my morning. I should fold laundry, but first that would necessitate washing it. I have a few work assignments I should stop putting off. It would be prudent to get a jumpstart on dinner, but frankly a workout sounds more enjoyable.

Invariably the baby then fusses, and I spend the rest of the morning in my rocking chair, awkwardly twisting my wrists to type on an iPad.

Around my thirtieth birthday, I finally settled on a profession. I should be a writer. It was, after all, what I had dreamed about becoming as a child. A handful of publications had featured my work, and it gave me something to do while my husband watched Game of Thrones and other shows I didn’t have the stomach for. I even eventually began to earn an income.

But still, the words choked in my throat every time I had to answer the “So, what do you do?” question. The vast majority of my time was still spent changing diapers and cooking dinners. To call myself a writer seemed to be a deceptive description of how I spent my time, but to commit another point of fraud as well. I wouldn’t be simply naming a profession, I would be claiming a talent – an act I wasn’t sure I had the right to do.

I asked a few writer friends when they thought someone could call themselves a writer. “Oh, instantly!” they all cheered. “As soon as you put pen to paper, you are a writer!” I appreciated their encouragement, but I knew it was just that. My ten year college reunion was nearing, and I imagined standing among my accomplished peers and trying to tell them I was a writer.

“Oh, I’m just staying at home with the kids!” flows out much more easily.

Recently, I lost one of my writing gigs. The website folded, taking a good chunk of my credibility along with it. I understood. Even the internet could only hold so many “I’m get my pants on just like any other mom, half an hour after getting out of the shower while begging my kids for just five minutes’ peace.”

I know I can’t write about parenting forever. There is a perpetual wealth of articles decrying “Mommy bloggers” for sharing about their children’s lives, and while the points are not without merit, I cannot help but notice it is this female dominated genre that takes the most heat. I have tried my hand at other areas of writing – health journalism, tax policy, a few failed attempts at children’s poetry, and even a science fiction short story which will never gain an audience larger than my husband.

This is what I hate about freelancing. I am perpetually wondering. “Am I doing this right? What am I doing? Should I keep this up, or move on? It is to forever be dating, without any hope for commitment.

Perhaps I should’ve grown up by now, and decided on a profession before I had children who have begun to tell me what they want to be when they grow up. Or perhaps this is the path I’m meant to be on, one of wandering without destination. After all, what else is writing but an account of the journey.

Every thought I had after hearing “it’s a girl!”

Months 1-3

I don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.

Months 4-9

That’s stupid. Healthy or not, I will still love it.

Week 39

I don’t care, as long as it gets the #$&@& out of me soon.

Friday

6:10am: @#$#$@!

6:12 am: If I push hard enough, I can find out.

6:13am: It’s here! And healthy!

6:13:01am: SOMEONE MOVE THE DAMN CORD OUT OF THE WAY.

6:13:02am: It’s a girl! A girl! A girl? I’ve never had one of those.

6:15am: It is a girl, right? Can someone double check? Did anyone else get a good look?

8:07: Family knows now. Everyone is excited. Too excited? Did they all really want a girl? What’s wrong with my boys?

8:08: I can’t believe I have a girl. I don’t know anything about girls. That’s absurd. I am a girl.

9:01: Guess I’m not a #boymom anymore. That’s a bit sad. Gotta admit, I kinda liked being Queen Bee of the wild ones. But I suppose it’ll be nice having some company in the testosterone zone my home has turned into lately.

9:36: Crap. I’m going to have to explain how to use a tampon one day.

9:45: I get to plan a wedding! Go prom dress shopping! There’s no way those will be emotionally fraught and stressful events because we will have a perfect bond because the media only makes mother-daughter relationships seem stressful and strained because sexism and OMG she’s going to hate me.

10:32: What will the boys think? One wanted a brother, one wanted a sister. We are in for some tears.

10:35: The big brothers are both excited, thank God. Life will be good.

10:37 They now have lost interest in her and now just want to make my hospital bed go up and down.

1:00 pm News alert on my phone. Harvey Weinstein is a terrible person. Having a daughter is terrifying.

1:36 I am still in so much pain. I wonder if she will have kids and give birth one day. Most likely. Poor little SOB. Well, DOB.

2:57: News alert on my phone. Harvey Weinstein is a terrible person. Update: Worse than previously thought.

2:58: Having sons is terrifying. Am I doing a good enough job? Which is harder, keeping a daughter safe or a son good?

3:31: Visitor time! Wow, that’s a lot of pink. And flowers. And pink. Man. Don’t they know I want her to grow up to be empowered?

3:49: Okay, she actually looks really good in pink.

3:50: Remembering I actually really like the color pink. Well, certain shades anyway.

5:16: She’s asleep. Dang, this baby is easy. Girls must be easier. Am I stereotyping already? Maybe she’s easy because she’s my third. Or because I’ve just gotten to be a really good mom. Or maybe I just deserve an easy baby for once.

6:47: Nursing again. Time start doing a little Christmas shopping on my phone. Does she need a Women of NASA lego set? Husband says she’s a bit too young. STEM-themed dresses with dinosaurs? YES, NEED. Okay, but maybe that can wait until she knows what a dinosaur is. Pippi Longstocking? Heidi? Harriet the Spy? Ramona Quimby? Anne of Green Gables? Having a girl is going to be SO MUCH FUN.

7:54: I should email clients and let them know I’m gonna be out of commission the next few weeks. How can I work AND have three kids? How can I have three kids? Maybe I should take more time off. No stop, I’m leaning out already! Quick, lean back in! Be a good role model for your daughter!

7:56: Eh, screw society’s expectations and lean out if you want to. No, lean in more! Maybe this is why moms are always rocking back and forth whenever they see someone holding a baby.

9:03: Look at her. She’s so beautiful. Is it okay to say that? My boys were beautiful too. Still are. Ah, happy tears. And she’s asleep! Easiest baby ever.

11:32: Maybe not the easiest baby ever. Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry, don’t let the weight of the world’s expectations grind you down, go to sleep pretty (and strong and empowered) baby.

Saturday

1:45: Husband, can you swaddle him? I need some sleep.

Husband: Who?

Me: You. I’ve done enough today.

Husband: Change who? You said him.

Me: Habit. The baby. Whatever I’m tired.

Me: We have a girl, huh?

2:24: This diaper thing is easier than with boy- oh wait no, apparently girls also pee during changes. Great.

6:00: The phlebotomist wants to know if I’m excited to have a girl. Everyone wants to know that. I want to know why the phlebotomist needs to do blood draws at 6am in the morning.

6:17 One day and four minutes old! I missed it. Should’ve sat an alarm. Am I excited to have a girl?

As long as she’s healthy.

Nope, that’s still stupid.

I’m just happy she’s here.

Captain’s Log

Day 38 of exile. I’m not sure how much longer I can last.

Earlier this year, we had heard the enemy had infiltrated our community and took the initial precautions. I placed tanks of elderberry syrup, tea tree oil, and hand sanitizer at every entrance. I stood guard, threatening to dump buckets of Purell into a moat built out of placebos and denial should the enemy approach our gate. But it stayed away.

At first we laughed. It worked! How clever we were, never touching bathroom door handles with our bare hands and foregoing any public gathering. Sure, we hadn’t seen anyone who didn’t share our last name in eons. But I had my ways to communicate across enemy lines. “OMG THIS WINTER IS THE WORST!” I posted. My friends sent back faces showcasing a variety of emotions and we patted ourselves on the back for having achieved some sort of human interaction for the day.

Daily, my husband tunneled through the snow into the battle zone. Each morning, he texted me the casualty report. “Three people out with the sniffles. Two reports of the stomach flu. One suspicious sounding cough down the hall.” In the afternoon, I would survey our rations. Our total sun exposure for the past month came from the amount of time it took to bolt across the parking lot to the doctor’s office in sub-zero weather. It was quite possible the children were developing rickets and/or scurvy. But milk and oranges were housed in an encampment set squarely in enemy territory.

We decided to make do with our store of goldfish crackers and multivitamins.

The inhabitants of the fort grew listless, but no one had resorted to cannibalism yet. Fine, just one or two cases of cannibalism but it didn’t break the skin and toddlers just explore the worlds with their mouths so don’t judge, OKAY? We kept up our training with fitness exercises such as “run around the couch three hundred times” and “pile everything we own that’s stuffed into the hallway and jump on it” and “barricade the bathroom door shut so I can eat a piece of candy in peace.”

Those were the first casualties of the winter. Those poor chocolate bars and stuffed animals never stood a chance.

I tried to keep my plans a secret lest the enemy discover them. It became a game of cat and mouse. We scheduled play dates only to promptly break them once one party had been infiltrated. When a rendezvous absolutely needed to occur, we would ask a series of questions to ensure the other party hadn’t been compromised. “Are you sick? Are your kids sick? Have you been exposed to anyone who has been exposed to anyone with an illness in the last six months?”

Then we cancelled anyway, just to be sure. This was war. You didn’t know who you could trust.

All communication became virtual. We texted friends, video chatted family. Then we took a Lysol wipe to our phone screens, just to be sure. You can’t be too careful.

But alas. No fortress can withstand powers such as these. Our walls were breached.

It might have something to do with that enemy training camp I send my kids to three days a week. They come back singing their ABCs and covered in hidden combatants. I had considered installing a decontamination shower in our doorway, but the department of common sense ruled it unnecessary. #MakeWinterGreatAgain. I regret that decision now.

All the great houses fall eventually and ours was no exception. Air raid sirens rang out hourly from my children’s beds. Buckets and humidifiers were stationed in critical combat zones. We pulled out every device that could show a purportedly educational cartoon and set it at full blast. Tissues were also left at strategic places, but my soldiers regarded those as torture worse than the enemy itself.

Eventually, we struck a deal. The enemy would retreat from our fort if we agreed not to leave the premises until winter ended. It was quite possibly a trick, given the several feet of snow outside threatening not to melt until the spring after next.

Beer supplies are low. Attitudes and temperatures are negative. Send in the damn robins already.

Hey Mamas, it’s not about you

I don’t mean to brag, but my three month old slept through the night three nights in a row.

I promise you I’m not bragging, because my three year old did not. No, he crawled into our bed, slept their for an indeterminate number of hours before being discovered and returned to his own room. He then returned at an ungodly hour, repeatedly yelling, “Guys! It’s morning! Wake up, guys!”

It was, according to the sun, decidedly not morning.

Our middle child simply does not like to sleep, unless it is in his car seat at a decidedly inconvenient hour. Or on the couch right before dinner. Or in the middle of the hallway, mid-temper tantrum. When he was a baby, and well into his toddler years, I read every article on sleep possible. I soaked up every bit of advice I could. Nothing worked. When he was about eighteen months old, our sleep schedule looked like this:

* Put him to bed at 8pm.

* Comfort him when he woke up several times over the next two hours.

* Rock him in rocking chair from 11pm to 1 am.

* Put him down in his crib from 1am to whenever he woke up, 2 am, 3am, 4am.

* Switch with husband who would sleep with him in the recliner from then until about 5:30 when he would be awake for the day.

It was not ideal.

He has gradually gotten better, but I still wouldn’t say he sleeps through the night on any consistent basis. We tried everything to help him do so, from cry-it-out (fail) to co-sleeping (also fail). All he wanted to do was sleep in our arms, while we stayed awake.

When this baby was born, we braced ourselves for the onslaught of fatigue that was sure to hit. We went to bed each night, fully expecting to wake up never having slept. But it never came, and not because we have tried some new fantastic method (unless you can count giving up all hope).

Because it has nothing to do with us. Mamas, if you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and wondering what the hell you are doing wrong, let me tell you: Nothing. It’s got nothing to do with you.

We like to think it does. All day long, all of the parenting advice I’ve read from leading child psychologists and experts swims in my head. “Acknowledge emotions without condoning bad behaviors.” “Tell your child when you need them to do something, don’t ask.” “High iron foods are best absorbed in conjunction with Vitamin C.” “Children need at least 1 hour of active time a day, but 15 minute spurts are best.” “Calling girls beautiful hurts their self esteem.” “Overexposure to branding limits creativity.” All these tidbits of advice and rules I’m supposed to follow are harder to remember than formulas I was supposed to memorize during that semester of organic chemistry in high school.

Do you memorize formulas in organic chemistry? I don’t even remember.

We start to think that we can craft our children, making them exactly who we want to be if we just follow all the rules correctly. It’s a lie modern parents are sold (often by writers just like me, who want to share with you the latest research or interesting study). But we can’t craft them, because in reality, parenting has so little to do with the parents. We only get to guide our children down the path that nature has chosen for them. We don’t get to choose it ourselves.

Because I know you might not have chosen for your kid to be the biter in the preschool class, or to refuse to eat anything other than crackers (but the RIGHT crackers), or to scream uncontrollably every time it’s time to get in the car seat. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen for my kid to wake up approximately 37 times every night.

That’s not all to say all that research or advice is useless. For instance, I absolutely believe that early exposure to vegetables, not exclusively serving “kids food,” and only making one meal for dinner does make your kid less likely to be a picky eater. It just doesn’t guarantee it. Otherwise, my kids wouldn’t fuss every time I served a meal that doesn’t include ketchup as one of the sides. And I’m sure there are a good number of babies that can fall asleep if laid down “drowsy but awake.” And there are a good number who will scream bloody murder if you come within three feet of a crib before they are comatose.

But we don’t get to choose. We get to nurture, guide, influence, and hope. We just don’t get to choose.

Five

I never understood why parents made such a big deal about turning five. Or ten or eighteen for that matter.

“I can’t believe how much you’ve grown! Just yesterday I held you in my arms!”

As if the passage of time were somehow a shock. Of course he was going to turn five. He was always going to turn five. And I’m not surprised at how quickly it came because I have lived each and every one of those sleepless nights, unending tantrums, and days that we just simply had to survive. And I know they equal five years. Not one day more, not one day less.

I remember holding him when he was a baby, as I did for almost every single hour of my maternity leave. For months we sat on the couch, nursing, watching tv, and getting used to the idea of each other. I studied his hand, the curve of your ear, and thinking that no one on earth knew him as well as I did.

Now he surprises me. He tells me facts about dinosaurs I did not know. I look them up and find out he is correct. He has preferences and opinions that I do not know, and frankly, do not always understand. His interests blossom and we connect, and diverge. He has grown into his own person.

Occasionally when I think to, I check his wrists to see if the little line between forearm and hand, the hallmark of baby chubbies, is still there. It’s been a while since I last looked, seeing as how I’ve come to the realization he is no longer a baby. I don’t believe it is.

I see his hand, and wonder when he became.