the dichotomy of convenience.

One of the most inconvenient things I ever did was have kids.

This is not a cynical essay about how terrible parenting is. It’s a life I wouldn’t trade for anything (the good and the bad included), but lately I’ve just been thinking about how inconvenient it is most of the time.

Sometimes Jake and I will sit on our front porch after the girls are in bed and remember the simpler times. Times before fully stocked diaper bags and nap schedules. Before discipline and middle of the night accidents became things you had to worry about. Times when you didn’t have to reheat your coffee four times before you finished.

I still remember someone asking me the age-old question right after Lily was born: “Haven’t you already forgotten what life was like without her?”  

Oh, you mean, two weeks ago when I was reading a sappy Young Adult novel on my balcony waiting for Jake to get home, so we could go out for dinner and then maybe see a movie?

You may willingly surrender them, but I’m not convinced anyone really forgets those times. How could you? Everything was easier.IMG_5267Embracing inconvenience comes with the parenting contract. Your child will throw a tantrum at the exact moment you need to leave to make it to library story time on time. Your child will have to go to the bathroom immediately upon entering the public pool. Your child will wake up from her nap early the one day you actually have plans to be productive.

Oh, just me? Yeah, whatever.

But here’s the thing: For all the times inconvenience gets in the way of my very specific, pre-made plans, lately I have been finding that there are many more times that inconvenience is appreciated and even wanted. (This coming from someone who dreams about ways to make things more efficient.)

I have approximately nine hours to fill (not including nap times) each day I spend with my girls. Some days I get really creative and plan extensive, fine-motor activities for them to engage in. And then, after all that work, I’m usually still left with about 8 ½ hours to fill. Toddlers, in case you didn’t know, have particularly short attention spans.

And, so, there are days (especially during the winter when we haven’t been outside for weeks) that I will pack the girls up in the car and drive to Starbucks. And, let me tell you, I am beside myself with joy to see a drive-thru line full of cars. Thirty minute wait? No problem. We’ve got hours to kill.

Putting on sunscreen before we go outside. Emptying the dishwasher while my one-year-old hands me each piece of silverware individually. Trying to pick up and vacuum a single room while both girls are awake.

It’s all so inconvenient, and yet, I’m finding that there’s something to be said for embracing things that help spend our time. Sure, we’re doing things more slowly, but we’re still doing things. It’s time, and I’ll take it.beachMaybe I just like to find silver linings. In any case, I’ll take my long drive thru lines and my three-year-old’s insistence to sweep the floor after lunch (even though I know I’ll end up doing it again anyway). Sometimes when I choose to embrace a tiny inconvenience, my day moves in a better direction than I could have planned anyway.

Of course, until someone, who will not be named, decides to spill coffee all over the floor right before church.

It’s fine. He cleaned it up pretty quick.

perfect advice is a fairytale (but it’s still worth asking for).

Once upon a time there was a maiden princess. She was spirited and animated and greatly full of life, but oh, did she also love to sleep.

Until one dark day when her parents, not knowing the magical powers it possessed, took away her pacifier.

As soon as the pacifier’s sleep spell was broken, the princess was turned into a tiny monster each naptime and bedtime. She would scream and cry and get out of bed until exhaustion finally got the best of her and sleep returned her to her normal state.

“Set a clear bedtime routine,” a kind villager said. “Try positive incentives,” suggested another. “Don’t engage with her,” added the town wiseman, Google.

Her parents did all these things, and then some more, yet still the tiny monster would return each day.

And they all lived happily ever after as long as there was coffee in the castle.

castleI’m thinking about a career in realistic children’s books.

But really, I’ve been thinking about our house’s sleep battles a lot over the past week. This was really the first “toddler-y” thing we had to deal with in our parenting, and in trying to figure out how to best deal with it, I reached out to my village (and Google, as any millennial mom would) for advice.

It’s frustrating when the things that work for other people don’t work for you. When you watch people skim across the tricky phases while you’re still wading through the muck of the deep end. And, I think this is true in a larger margin than just parenting even though I tend to have toddlers on the brain most frequently. In any walk of life, you get advice from those who have gone before you, and I guess I have realized recently (in a fairly non-cynical analysis), that you can’t fully trust anyone else’s advice.

Why? Sure, thanks for asking.

First, we are raising different human beings (see also: we are married to, roommates with, children of, etc. different people). Your kid is not the same as my kid. I will be in awe of your kid who sits quietly in your designated “time-out chair” just as you might be impressed when Lily responds to correction when her book time is threatened. Trying to perfectly replicate another mom’s solution to a problem hardly ever works because, news flash, her kid is different than mine. 

We are also annoyed by different things. My kids are covered with food after every single meal. For whatever reason, keeping kids and/or clothes clean during meals is not a bridge I care about dying on. Just come and find me later in the evening though while I’m trying to coerce Lily to wear matching pajamas. I know it doesn’t matter. But still, here I am fighting the unwinnable battle for no other reason than because it annoys me when clothes don’t match. As people, we’re just agitated by different things, and I think, tend to offer solutions about things that might not necessarily be a problem to someone else. 

Similarly, we have different breaking points. What sends me over the edge with my kids or my tipping point with Jake might be no big deal to any other person. Our thresholds vary. Some people can maneuver around a screaming toddler with ease and patience (see: Jake). You could suggest that I try reasoning with my kids because that is what works for you, but I know that is what will push me to my breaking point real fast. Instead? You’ll probably find me taking a timeout in the bathroom. 

Finally, our life stages don’t line up perfectly. You welcomed your second child when your first was five; I had two kids under two. You got married in your thirties while Jake and I had just stepped into the twenties. The same phases hit us at different times and in different ways and will certainly affect us differently. Me telling you that the best thing Jake and I did for our marriage early on was to take a year off before we started our respective careers doesn’t make any sense if you already have careers.

But it certainly does take a village, doesn’t it?

beth and girls

mom girls.jpgI don’t know how how anyone could navigate through life without the advice of others. Parents and mentors and marriage counselors and pastors and teachers and friends–these are the people who go before us and make us feel like we can do whatever it is that comes next.

I need their advice and their wisdom even if it’s frustrating sometimes when their life circumstances or breaking points are different from my own. It’s when I understand who I am (another essay entirely) and who my tiny tribe is that I can begin to use my sieve to sift through their advice. Some of it will work for us, and some of it won’t, but it’s still worth seeking it out. Plus, you’re bound to find some hidden nuggets of gold because everyone’s got some tucked away in their pockets.

Two of my favorite never-failing pieces of advice? Love people well and always have coffee in the house.

(Of course, if you don’t like coffee, then you probably can’t trust anything I have to say.)

parenting: a few things I know.

I’ve been at this parenting thing for almost three years now–long enough to learn that serving a graham cracker broken in two is a surefire way to ruin 45 minutes of my afternoon but not quite long enough to figure out how to convince two kids to sleep through the night on a consistent basis. As it is, though, I feel like I’ve figured out some pretty key things which I would like to chronicle here (mostly, so that in ten years I can look back and think, “It was so cute how much I thought I knew back then.”).girlsFirst and foremost, I know that finding a functional cart for two toddlers in a store is not as easy as it should be (and letting one kid walk is no longer an appropriate option. Just ask the lady who told me the whole store could hear Lily screaming.) Some stores think the best cart design is to place tiny people on seats which a.) face one another and b.) put one child so close to the edge that one swift kick from the sibling across the way could send you right off the side. Yes, of course my kids are buckled in, but the other problem with these carts is that a.) half of their buckles don’t work and b.) the other half of the straps are so twisted that you can barely tighten them. These are deeply layered problems, you see.

In a similar vein (and, often, situation), I know how to master the art of the well-timed snack. My friend, Breanna, described it perfectly to me recently: It’s a math problem. The ratio of snack to time children need to be occupied is an important balance to iron out. For instance, I know that two and a half handfuls of cheerios mixed with a spoonful of raisins will give me about 25 minutes of uninterrupted shopping time once the bag hits their hands. A single graham cracker? Forget it. I might as well just stay home.IMG_5071When I do decide to stay home, I know (and am surprised by how frequently I have to remind myself of this) that toddlers are affected by boredom and that sometimes this is a problem of my own making. I went to visit my parents a few weeks ago and about two days into the trip was wondering why Lily was having so many more meltdowns than usual. That’s when I realized that I had shaken up her entire routine and basically given her a free play option for two days straight. Special thanks to my sister for swooping in with her clothespins, cotton balls, and hand-made fine motor activities. She really saved the day and reminded me that a little stimulation and focus can go a long way. 

And with that, I am reminded that every day brings a new challenge. I like being good at things. I suppose we all do, really. In parenting, however, I was never given the novelty of choosing to do only the things I feel well-versed in. You have to do the hard things and you have to make the decisions whether or not it all comes naturally. There is no other option. On top of this, toddlers are tricky and will convince you that you’ve mastered them one single day before they flip the game board on you.

But God. This short phrase from the book of Ephesians has been changing the trajectory of my bad days–helping me put the pieces back on the game board each time it flips. Because despite my shortcomings and my flawed nature and my tendency to lose my cool when Lily won’t, for the love, wear clothes that match, God is rich in mercy and makes me alive by His grace. But God. It’s the turning point. The reminder that this thing can’t be done on my own accord if I want to do it right. It’s my new mantra for each day (which certainly beats the Daniel Tiger jingles that get stuck in my head).but godSo that’s what I know now. So much, I know. Tune in next time to hear about how I’ve figured out a way to keep two toddlers in the bathroom so I can shower (warning: bribery involved) and why minivans are the greatest invention since, well, cars. Oh, and, if anyone out there is an expert on getting two toddlers to play nicely with one another for longer than three minutes, please teach me your ways. I’m all ears.