These are the Days

Working Mom of Littles, here. This moniker is held by so many women I know and love and respect. Sub out the two adjectives and it applies to almost every woman I know. This year, I’m running a school for the first time. It is the hardest I have ever worked in my life, but it’s also the happiest I have ever been with my job. Alongside my husband, I am raising two tiny citizens who are on track to be strong and opinionated, just like their mama. Let’s talk about my girls…

Elizabeth, you don’t go five minutes without voicing an opinion about something. You want so much, so many things. Whatever we are doing, you want to talk about what we will do next. At breakfast, you ask me what we are having for lunch. When we are at the park, you ask where we will go next. On Monday, you ask when is the next day off. You are such a miniature version of me that it freaks me out sometimes. Whenever I tell Grandma about things you do and say, or whenever she watches you play, she just laughs at how hard it is to parent you because she knows. She parented me. But also true to my form, you love so hard. You are the first to ask for a cuddle. And you don’t just cuddle–you form a lanky, 37-lb human blanket because you want to feel the cuddle with your whole body. You give so much spontaneous affection, regularly calling out how much you love us and that we are the best mommy and daddy ever. Seriously, YOU are the one who is the best. I’ve been obsessed with you since the day you were born, and you prove to me over and over that this long, exhausting road of motherhood is worth every single exhausted second. Your imagination is magical–that creativity comes from your daddy. You are so smart, so beautiful, so funny.

Caroline, you are changing every day, choosing each day to show us another glimpse into who you are going to be. You jabber nonstop in your own language, but we are all learning to understand what you are saying. You play chase, peekaboo, and you are learning body parts. Right now, all you have fully mastered is where is your belly, so round and beautiful and perfect. You pull up your shirt and rub it and it’s the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. You believe strongly in waking up in the 5am hour most days, and you scream your head off until we give you a bottle. As long as we keep you fed and on a schedule and around your sister, you are good as gold all day long. Your laugh is electric and your smile fills my heart. You squeal every single time I come pick you up, running toward me as fast as your little legs can go. Yesterday you struggled with a task that you mastered today. You are growing so fast that it takes my breath away. My last baby, you are. I can’t get enough of you and your magic.

These days, though they are exhausting, they are magical. After ten hours of leading a school each day, I rush to pick them up and soak up as much time as I can before putting them to bed. Each weekend is filled with their wants and needs, followed by household demands and work schedules that creep into days off. There is little time for Jon or me as individuals or as a couple, but we are working so damn hard to be present and enjoy this time with our small children and our demanding jobs. And when it feels like it’s about to be too much, it’s never anything that hiring a babysitter and going on a date can’t fix. I am 100% certain that I will look back on this time and miss my babies being babies.

I keep thinking about a line I read on my first maternity leave: The days are long but the years are short. This is the hardest season of life so far in my 37 years, but it’s also the most rewarding and the sweetest. I am tired, but I am thankful.

2018: A Wild Ride

This year started with me on maternity leave, recovering from hand surgery, and managing a premature newborn all day every day, followed by a toddler in the evenings and on the weekends. After going back to work in February, life went into overdrive, playing catchup from 14 weeks out of the building. Then my boss announced she would retire that year, and I began preparing to apply for the job. Then I applied. Then I interviewed. Then I got it. In June, I began my first year as a principal, but not just at any school, at my dream school. I’m six months into this gig, and I can honestly say this is my dream job. I don’t just like my school, I love it. I love this community, and I fiercely love our kids. Becoming a principal after five years as an assistant principal feels sort of like moving from the kids table to the grown-up table. Or like getting behind the curtain. All of a sudden, I am privy to all of the information, all of the whys, all of the hows. I happen to work in a tiny district with twelve schools, where the superintendent knows each of us personally, and I am continually asked, “What do you need? How can we support you?” So many battles that first-year principals face were already won for me just by having the relationships already formed. They trust me, they like me, they believe in the work I am leading. And now, six months later, we are getting some data back that is giving us little pats on the back, little victories. It already feels better around the building, and that’s saying something in itself. Don’t get me wrong–the job is hard. So hard. The days are long without a break. If I don’t eat during a meeting, I don’t eat at all. I hardly type a sentence in an email at my desk without being interrupted. Taking calls comes with the pressure of knowing I am where the buck stops. By the time it gets to me, it is often escalated, emotions running high, sometimes very serious. Sometimes not. But what I know is that it is always serious for a parent when it involves his/her child. I get that. Being a parent helps me understand that on a level I would never have otherwise. I love the work. Some days it kicks my ass, but even then, I would not want to do anything else. I love being a principal.

As we close out the first semester, and my babies both just celebrated birthdays, I can honestly say that things are a little easier than they were when I wrote that post eight months ago about how hard it was to have two kids. Elizabeth just turned four, and I can see glimpses of the tantrums fading. Her logic is developing along with her language, and I know that she is listening to everything we say, even when we don’t think she is. She loves ballet and tap, coloring and writing, playing Barbies and baby dolls. She prefers to be in a costume if at all possible. She has a lot of opinions. Her best friend is the next-door neighbor, Paige. Their friendship is so special. A childhood dream, really–they play sweetly, in and out of each other’s houses.  Caroline is 14 months old and getting more fun every single day. Her personality is coming through, and she’s dropping her gold-star status some days, but I love it. Lately I’ve been joking that she is going to join her daddy as the antagonist of the family. Elizabeth tends toward my personality of being a thinker, a dreamer, sensitive, sweet, passionate. Caroline pulls things off the shelf and then looks back to make sure we saw her do it. She climbs on furniture. She would go head-first down the stairs if we weren’t on her every move. Last night she climbed out of the bathtub with me sitting right in front of her. She wasn’t even upset–it’s like she just wanted to know if she could do it. She is becoming more affectionate, which is just the best feeling ever. She hugs, she lays her head on us, she presses her open mouth to our face. She is not walking yet, but I think it’s because she is so fast at crawling. She doesn’t say many intelligible words, but she has long, twisting, turning conversations in her own jibberish language, complete with inflections and intonations. I don’t remember Elizabeth doing that–I think she waited until she knew the correct words before she talked. Again, so much like me. If we can’t do it well, we are unlikely to attempt. I’ve got to work on that with her because I don’t want her to be a late-bloomer like I was, afraid of being in the spotlight, ashamed of so much about myself. Instilling confidence in my girls is my primary goal as a parent. That, and teaching them to be kind.

Jon and I are enjoying our jobs and being parents. We dream of travel and of getting away together, which is our love language.

Year 2019 will bring us a pre-K student, a toddler, a second year principalship, probably a new-to-us house. And maybe some new adventures…

 

On Having Two Kids

I knew life would change when we had our second child…but I was not prepared for just how different life would be. Having two kids is not just double the work–it’s 234937826x more work. We have had Caroline for just over 5 months, and we cannot wrap our heads around how much harder life is with two kids. I have absolutely no idea how single parents, how parents with multiples, or how parents with lots of kids do it. Mad respect to all of you! We are a two-kid family. Done.

With two kids, especially with a 3-year-old as the eldest, you cannot just divide and conquer. That toddler…she’s got opinions. My strong, beautiful, opinionated girl might just kill me one day. She is so hard, so much work. I hope this contrary phase is just that, a phase. Whatever we suggest, she does not want it. Unless it’s chocolate or playing with her friends–those things she’s all for all the time. She’s also always down for some Chick-fil-A and some cookies. Otherwise, forget it. If it’s your idea, she’s against it. Bath? No. Play outside? No. Dance party? No. Daniel Tiger? No. Now if those things are her idea? Game on. It’s exhausting. I never really know if I’m going to get my sweet, affectionate, I-want-to-cuddle-you child or my fit-pitching, screaming, ornery child who cannot be pleased. It changes from minute to minute some days. I had heard of the term “threenager” before, but WOW, I didn’t know how accurate that moniker really was. Teenagers I get–I love them, I (mostly) understand them. My threenager is an enigma to me on most days. Her tiny little body can take on the strength of three men when she’s in the zone. Her screams can hit octaves that cause you physical pain. But then, the sweetness…her creative imagination, her dance performances, her big big big hugs and messy kisses, her spontaneous affection and out-of-the-blue, “I love you, Mommy.” Wow. I didn’t know my heart could swell so much. Living with Elizabeth is like living at the beach: beautiful, magical…but then there’s the grit, the storms.

We thought Elizabeth was an easy baby until we had Sweet Caroline. I call her a gold-star baby. She is easy, predictable, not reliant on a strict schedule. If Caroline is crying, I know exactly how to calm her down, and it’s almost instant. Elizabeth had a full-blown witching hour for months when she was a baby. Honestly, E still has a witching hour. Caroline just smiles, coos, and squeals through life…sleeping on-the-go, getting passed around, hanging out on her play mat with her toys. Easy peasy.

So many friends have told us that this is the hardest year, the first year of having two kids. Jon and I remind ourselves of that constantly, even though we really know that there are more hard phases to come. Thank goodness we have each other, that we work every day to strengthen our marriage, that we reflect on how we can make life better for each other. We fail plenty of days, and we fight and fuss more than we would care to admit, but at the end of every day, we know this is the life we built together and this is the life we are going to choose every day for the rest of our lives.

Two Months with Sweet Caroline

It’s about time I wrote about my baby, my sweet girl who, apparently, wants to be just like her sister. Caroline Rose entered this world in an eerily similar fashion to Elizabeth: five weeks early, breech, strong, beautiful. They look so much alike that I have to look twice at pictures to figure out which baby I am looking at. Caroline is such a good baby: predictable, consistent, easily consoled. I have been home with her for 8.5 weeks, and I have absolutely loved every minute, especially now that my body is fully healed from the C-section. Recovering from my surgery with a toddler and a newborn was one of the hardest times of my life. Thank goodness for my sweet husband and my amazing mother! For the first five weeks, Caroline took a bottle every two hours, like clockwork, which means that for five weeks, I never got more than 60-90 minutes of sleep. I felt like I was living underwater–forming complete sentences was a struggle. I apologize to all visitors we had during that time–I have no memory of our conversation and was probably wishing I was asleep every minute you were here. But thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and generosity, especially to those of you who brought food!

These days, Caroline sleeps 4-5 hours at night, and let me tell you, a woman can just about do anything on four hours of sleep. Game changer. After the holidays, we will start a sleep training schedule to hopefully get over the hump of 6-8 hours of sleep. My kingdom for eight hours of sleep!

Our days are mostly spent snuggling. I am painfully aware that this is my last baby, my last chance to freely hold and snuggle a baby, my baby. I will never get this much time at home again…until retirement, I guess. I am truly savoring every moment, at the expense of a scrubbed kitchen, folded laundry, vacuumed carpet, clutter-free corners and tables. I’ve never been more thankful to be able to afford a cleaning lady!

Elizabeth is a sweet big sister who loves to help the baby, especially when she is crying. She loves to put the paci back in the baby’s mouth, turn on the swing, and read to her. She pulls up a little chair beside the swing and “reads” her books to the baby. It’s just about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been more proud of Elizabeth.

Jon is fully committed to his world of girls, showering us all with love and attention and fun. He is learning the world of Barbies, snuggles, hairbows, and braids. He really was always meant to be a daddy of little girls, sweet man that he is.

On Getting my Doctorate

I did a thing, a really big thing. I completed my Doctorate of Education in 3.5 years. Last Sunday, I was hooded at the University of West Georgia December graduation, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Doctoral students get to graduate first, so I was the third person to cross the stage, leaving a few hundred names to be called after me, which left me with a significant chunk of time to think. As I reflected on the experience, I became verklempt.  What an emotional journey this has been. From my seat, I could see my family and their proud faces cheering me on. Seeing Elizabeth witness my accomplishment was so emotional for me. Her mommy has her doctorate. When I started the program in May 2014, I was six weeks pregnant, and unsure whether I was really going to be able to go through with this whole graduate school thing. Elizabeth was born at the end of my second semester in the program, and my professors for Spring classes were absolutely wonderful to work with while I was on maternity leave. After that next summer, Jon and I realized that I had gone too far to quit. Too much money. Too much time. I had to keep going. But man, did I want to quit. It was SO HARD. The next year, course work morphed into dissertation work, and that’s when shit got real. I was already used to doing schoolwork after we put Elizabeth to bed each weeknight, and I was already used to spending a chunk of Saturday and a chunk of Sunday doing assignments, but when I added writing actual chapters of my dissertation to the mix, the seriousness of the work was compounded significantly. I wasn’t just cranking out discussion posts, projects, and papers; I was writing my dissertation, a document I would live with for the next two years, a piece that, when finished, would leave me changed in its wake. Right after writing Chapters 1-3 and defending my dissertation proposal, I got pregnant with Caroline. I love that my program started with a pregnancy and ended with my seven-week-old second child. My girls were with me all the way. They will always know Mommy as a doctor.

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My topic was an investigation into the underrepresentation of women at the secondary principalship, studied through the lens of the career aspirations of female high school assistant principals. The hundreds of articles and books I read ignited my little social-justice heart and truly changed the way I see parts of the world and how I do my job. I love my topic and in a masochistic way, I miss living with it. Actually, I don’t think I’m ready to leave it–I’m considering reaching out to journals and trying to get an article published. The marginalization of women is a hot topic in current events right now in the light of dozens of revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men, and my study looks into the marginalization that female leaders experience in education, especially at the secondary level.

If doctorates were easy to get, many more people would have one. It was, by far, the hardest thing I have ever done. The work is mind-blowing. The amount of reading and writing I have done in my coursework and dissertation is monumental. The professors are challenging. The balance is impossible to reach at times. For 3.5 years, I have not watched much television. I have not read a single book for pleasure. I have not been the wife, the mom, the friend I want to be. The time just has not been there. So many people have asked, “How do you do it?! You’re an AP, a new mom, AND you’re getting your doctorate?!” I just smile and shrug my shoulders because, honestly, I have no idea how I did it. I just did. I had tremendous support from Jon and from my mother so that I could work on the weekends and evenings. I missed out on a lot of fun things. I just did the work. It was important to me, and I love to learn. I really will miss being a student.

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On the Eve of Elizabeth’s 3rd Birthday

Tomorrow my baby turns 3. THREE! To say she has been the light of my life for the last three years would be, well, perfectly accurate. Elizabeth, you are such a joy. You are full of love and light. You are tender, sensitive, funny, and smart. Your little world was rocked seven weeks ago with the birth of Baby Caroline, and you have surpassed all expectations I had of you as a new Big Sister. You are so sweet and concerned when the baby cries, suggesting that she needs her paci and putting in her mouth for her. You know to have clean hands before touching the baby. You are sharing your parents so beautifully, and our family is now complete with our two girls. Here are some things I want to remember about how magical you are…

Your favorite things to play are hide and seek (you are so bad at hiding!) and doctor. You  pretend your toys are hurt and they always need a pink bandaid to feel better.

You sleep in your Big Girl Bed every night and never get out of your bed. When we talk about things that will happen the next day, you say, “When I wake up?”

When we are driving, you yell SCHOOL BUS every time we see one, and you look to see if there are kids riding it. You also like to spot convertibles and motorcycles. We say prayers for emergency vehicles. You constantly ask which way we are going. This way or that way? (We are using this to teach you left and right.) Every single day when I pick you up you ask to go to Kroger and get a cookie. Every day. Ms. Toy works in the bakery at Kroger and she always makes sure you get a cookie. Pink cookies are your favorite.

Your bargaining skills have improved. You ask for two minutes, just a little bit longer, and just one more time when we try to transition away whatever you are doing. I give in more often than I care to admit.

You have learned to glide on your balance bike. You can run fast but you don’t always watch where you are going.

You can sing Jingle Bells, Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, You are my Sunshine, Let it Go, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Wheels on the Bus, Row Row Row Your Boat, ABCs, I’m a Little Teapot, and Happy Birthday, but you say, “Had a Birthday to you…” instead.

You would choose to be naked all the time if we would let you. You prefer to wear dresses if you must wear clothes.

Dance class with your friends is your favorite thing to do during the week. You are learning so much in ballet!

Shows you love right now are Doc McStuffins, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Peppa Pig. You still love Frozen, but you call it Elsa Anna.

Our bedtime routine is a long bath where you play so sweetly with your toys, a bargaining discussion of whether you have to wash your hair, and then you love to go get your stuffed giraffe and run through the rooms upstairs saying, Giddy up! When we finally get in the bed, we read at least three books, usually more. You absolutely love books. Tonight as I was putting you to bed, we were reading our last book, and you said, “Mommy, I don’t know how to read. You teach me?” My heart just about exploded.

You love the color pink and will always ask to eat off of your pink plate or pink bowl. Your favorite foods are cereal and milk and PBJs cut in the shape of a heart or a flower.

You made me a mommy three years ago, and changed me forever. I love you, love you, sweet girl.

Pregnancy: Just over the Bump

I’m just over halfway through my second pregnancy, and I am struck by how different this one is from my first. I hate to admit this, especially in writing, but I have really struggled with this pregnancy. I am so tired, so overwhelmed, and so busy with Elizabeth and my dissertation that I haven’t had–or taken–the time to be amazed by the miracle that is going on inside. Yesterday marked a shift for me. For most of the morning and again later in the afternoon, Baby Girl was a little ninja, giving me the pleasure of feeling her move all over my tummy. It was the first time that she moved for so long that I was 100% sure it was her and not…gas. I was in a workshop and as I was listening to the presenter or reading a passage, I would just smile as I felt her do her little dance moves inside. How special of an experience it is to carry a child. How lucky and blessed I am to be able to do it. I didn’t really know it, but I needed yesterday to get my head and my heart on track with this pregnancy. Up until now, I mostly just resented the restrictions (good god I miss wine) and felt tired and scared that something was wrong with the baby. And my back is already aching, which is not a good sign for the 18 weeks left to come. But I’m growing a tiny human. She and I are together all day every day. We’ve already started bonding, a process that no one else can start until she is born. I already love being her mommy.

Other not-so-sappy things I love about pregnancy:

  • My protruding tummy pulls in my love-handles, so my sides are much smoother and more taut
  • I don’t dwell on my hips and thighs, problem areas I’ve bemoaned since I was 12, because my tummy gets all of my attention
  • I absolutely love to eat, pregnant or not, so now I can eat more often and feel fully justified
  • Clothing choices are simple because I don’t have a whole closet full of maternity clothes

Five months down, just over four more to go…here’s hoping she doesn’t make an early debut like her Big Sister did!