Leading With Love

“Do you grit your teeth?” my dentist asked during my most recent checkup.

“I don’t think so,” I murmured. “Well, maybe, sometimes. I’m not sure. I might. I have three kids so…”

The bright light continued to shine overhead as she explained that I had identical fractures in the enamel of two of my lower teeth. Twin defects, on either side of my mouth. They would eventually need to be repaired. I left the office imagining how much that would cost. And, with strict instructions to not clench my jaw so tightly.

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I know that I grit my teeth, that I clench my jaw. I’ve caught myself doing it many times since that dental appointment. I do it when I get frustrated. Or, when I lose patience. When the kids are being especially trying. When I get exasperated. It’s because I get angry. See, I’m kind of an angry mom. An angry mom that yells too much. I don’t think that’s necessarily how my kids would describe me but, that’s certainly how it feels sometimes. I never seem to have enough patience. Or, grace. Or, tolerance. But especially patience.

My temper is my least favorite thing about me. If I could magically change one attribute of my personality, I would change how quick to anger I am. I’ve felt for years like I’m missing some critical DNA that gives women the ability to deal with their children in a rational, reasonable way. Calmness with my kids doesn’t come naturally to me. It never has.

In Henry’s early years, I was woefully unprepared for the incessant demands of parenthood. I was a wreck when Henry was a baby. A combination of new-parent anxiety and just a complete inability to deal with the noise, the destruction, the mess that babies wreak on your body, your home, your life. Henry and Charlie are spaced more than three years apart mostly because Bob wasn’t sure I could handle a second baby. I don’t begrudge his doubt. I was a high-strung disaster for awhile there.

I’ve gotten a better grasp on parenthood, my emotions and my temper as our family has grown. I think, as more kids join the ranks, it naturally forces parents to be more tolerant, more relaxed. To embrace the chaos. To go with the flow. As a result, I’m a better mom now than I was six, seven or eight years ago. But, I’m still not the most patient parent.

And, I know moms that are always patient. Always able to deftly handle any meltdown, tantrum and mood swing with aplomb. They maintain their poise and an acceptable volume to their voice with little to no cursing. Moms that draw from a bottomless well of reserves to face anything their kids toss their way. I bet a lot of you are that type of mom.

I am not that type of mom.

When my son tosses a ball in the kitchen and, through some cartoon-esque ping-ponging, it breaks my special sugar bowl, I don’t react calmly. I react angrily. Especially, when HE BLAMES THE BALL.

When my daughter throws a temper tantrum because we can’t get her little fingers to go in to their appropriate glove holes (MY GOODNESS THIS MIGHT BE THE MOST DIFFICULT OF LIFE SKILLS), my patience is exhausted rapidly. We both lose our cool.

When I say, “be sure to use two hands,” and then immediately hear the sound of 300 Honey Nut Chex crashing to the kitchen floor because, guess what, THEY DIDN’T USE TWO HANDS, I am definitely not the picture of grace as I grab the broom and dustpan.

I get irritated. I am quick to fly off the handle. I get consumed by the noise and chaos and the mess and the Honey Nut Chex and the everything that goes along with each and every day of parenting and I get screechy. I would like there to be less of me screeching in our lives.

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I don’t necessarily make new year’s resolutions. At least the kind that are all pronouncement-like, official. Rather, I keep a running tally in my head, throughout the year, of what I’d like to be working on or big things I’d like to accomplish. Mostly that list includes items like finally finishing the kids’ baby books and finding more crock-pot recipes that we like and maybe, possibly, agreeing to go tent camping.

But, I want 2015 to be a year filled with better everything. I’d like there to be less anger, less frustration, less hollering, less gritted teeth. I want this year to be filled with more patience, more laughter, more fun, more love.

This year, I’m going to lead with love. That sounds so hokey, doesn’t it? Leading with love. Even I’m rolling my eyes right now. But, it’s true. That’s what I want. And, having a mantra to repeat has helped me remember my goal whilst dealing with the red-faced rage of a toddler meltdown. Or, children that are fighting over one (1) Lego. Or, when someone pees on the floor adjacent to the toilet but not actually in the toilet.

Leading with love.

The kids have heard me mutter “lead with love, lead with love” often enough now that when I was lecturing (possibly a bit shrilly) to Henry recently on the importance of eating the food that’s put in front of him, he looked at me and asked quietly, “are you leading with love?” To which I replied, “OF COURSE I AM DOESN’T IT LOOK LIKE I AM THE TONE OF MY VOICE JUST MEANS I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT YOUR FOOD YOU SHOULD BE QUIET AND EAT YOUR DINNER.”

See? No cursing. Progress!

I love my children. I love them a lot. They are amazing human beings. And, they deserve an amazing mom. They deserve the best me. They deserve the less screechy me.

This year, that’s what I’m going to give them.

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Three is More Than Two and Less Than Four

I can vividly remember the nurse handing a newborn baby Charlie to me as I rested in the surgical recovery area of the hospital following his birth. Charlie’s arrival was the exact opposite of Henry’s in that it was incredibly calm, extremely joyful and mercifully brief. I didn’t know delivering a baby could be like that. That… relaxing. I cuddled Charlie in my arms for the very first time and I thought to myself, I cannot wait to do this again.

That feeling of wanting a third child never relented. Even Bob had to eventually concede that, yes, Charlie, even as a baby, seemed destined to become a middle child. He was born with the personality of one.

For as much as Charlie seemed predetermined to be the second child of three, Millie has always felt like she was meant to be our youngest. As if her slot was there but simply unfulfilled until her arrival. The new hire, so to speak. When she was born, I gleefully celebrated that my last ever pregnancy was over. Everything about her birth and first few months solidified that our family was complete.

We wanted three children together and are profoundly blessed with three children.

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So, then, here’s the rub. Turns out, three kids is… a lot of kids.

I vaguely recall a survey that some media outlet conducted last year that basically asked parents, when did your life go off the rails: was it with one kid, two kids, three kids or four or more kids? The gist of the results were that the official Chaos Tipping Point seemed to occur for most parents when they had their third child. Anything less than three and you had adequate coverage to meet demand. Anything more than three and parents just seemed to admit defeat and embrace their destiny of complete bedlam.

But, three kids is a sort of no man’s land, stuck between the manageability of two and the inevitable mayhem of four. With two kids, I was able to stay organized, stay sane, maintain order and a somewhat dignified household. With three kids, I’m intent on staying on top of things, just like when I had two, but completely incapable of actually doing that. With four kids, I think I would probably just get really good at letting certain things go. (But, let us never speak of a fourth child. Unless you want me to cry.)

Three kids was definitely our family’s tipping point. It was our Big Adjustment. The point where Bob and I switched gears into survival mode. Our expectations lowered and our resolve hardened, full of sheer determination to just make it through.

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The noise level with three kids is completely absurd. There is never a time in my house when someone little isn’t talking. Never. Someone is always talking. They are usually talking about Lego. Or, Star Wars. Or, Lego Star Wars. Add to that, at any given time in my house someone is probably, most definitely, crying. And, they are most certainly crying over something ridiculous. Usually, when someone steals their Lego piece. Or, their Star Wars piece. Or, their Lego Star Wars piece.

Just keeping three kids in weather appropriate clothing is basically a part-time job. There are bins and bins of clothes in the basement yet no one’s pajamas seem to fit quite right. Why is that? Also, everyone is always losing hats and sweatshirts (Charlie lost TWO last week alone). Add to that the fact that no one ever seems to have shoes that fit, despite the towering pile of them in all shapes and sizes by my garage door. It’s maddening.

Also, did you know that kids should see doctors on a regular basis? That you have to keep track of who needs a check-up with which physician, who needs their shots updated, what month that one is supposed to see their eye doctor, which one did I forget to follow-up with the orthodontist about, who had the appointment coming up with the dermatologist and so on and so forth. With three kids, I need a spreadsheet people.

I could also use a spreadsheet to keep track of the last time everyone bathed. School is back in session so we have a renewed focus on hygiene around here. Boys get smelly. Very smelly. With three kids, I spend a lot of time sniffing things. I think bath night would become 78 percent less stressful if I taught a couple of the kids how to shower all on their own. Also, how to cut their own fingernails. Henry is a nail biter and I’ve never held it against him because it’s ten fewer talons I have to trim.

And, on top of everything else, it appears our three children are legitimately bottomless pits of nothing but hunger pains. They are always eating. Or, talking about eating. Or, inquiring about eating. The carts at Target are, legitimately, not large enough to hold the food I must purchase to keep the ravenous tenants of my house satiated. It’s embarrassing when I round the corner and things actually go careening off of the cart, cartoon-style. I can feel people staring and saying to themselves, “Wow, lady. Have some self-respect with the Goldfish cartons there.” I feel like wearing a shirt that says, “FEEDING FIVE!”

Yes, they are adorable. Yes, they are totally worth the effort. Yes, we love them to the moon and back. And, yes, according to everyone else, they all look exactly like my husband which is incredibly unfair to the person that actually gestated them.

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When Bob and I sat down to dinner on the back porch one night last week, we both noted that it was nearly dark. Our day had been a busy one with a doctor’s appointment, soccer practice, homework wrestling and a grocery run, all sandwiched in between the many other ordinary tasks we completed that day. As we dug into our meal, I looked at him and said, “It was a long day, wasn’t it?”

Bob replied wearily, “They’re all long.”

We are tired. All of the time. There is almost never a time when we are not tired. We work hard at this parenting thing. We are diligent in the care of our three children.

Maybe the fact that we’re so tired is a good thing. Maybe it means that we’re doing something right. I can only hope.