On Mothers


Mothers.  We all have one – that’s how we got here, after all.  And, for the most part, they seem to have been fairly successful.  Mine managed to raise my brother, my sister, and me essentially on her own.  We all seem to have turned out pretty well.  It sure can be hard to listen to them when it comes to our own kids, though.  Am I right?

Last year, the small one developed a paralyzing fear of the water.  He refused to go in a big pool – anything over 1.5 feet was strictly off limits.  Earlier in the summer, he slipped off the bottom step of the pool and went under for a few seconds.  Swim lessons were a real treat after that…  He refused to even sit on the steps of the pool for most of class.

As summer approached, my mom asked several times about swim lessons for the boys.  I know they need to be strong swimmers, but even the mention of swimming in a big pool resulted in the total meltdown of the small one.  I thought maybe I could get him used to the water, especially now that he’s tall enough to actually stand in the shallow end.

Last week, Mom called me about swim lessons.  Again.  And I knew she was right.  She signed both boys up, and I had the pleasure of letting them know.  It did not go over well. The small one cried.  Sobbed,  Completely melted down.  The big one informed me that he already knew how to swim and didn’t need lessons.

I did what any good mother would do in this situation – I bribed them.  Kind of.  The small one had been asking to go to Build-a-Bear.  The big one had mentioned wanting a board game earlier in the day.  We discussed using swim lessons as a means to earn these things.  They had to be active and willing participants in their lessons – every day.  Plus, the big one is a Cub Scout.  He kind of liked the idea of being a strong enough swimmer to help someone in need.

The small one started swim lessons last Thursday – today he finished his third one.  This is a child who clung to me in the pool last Tuesday, begging me to please take him back to the small pool.  He leapt into the pool before his teacher was ready – and survived.  He had his first tea party on the bottom of the pool because, you know, “It’s really fun under the water, Mom!”  He swam to the rope with the noodle on his belly and his back without the teacher holding the noodle.  My heart was most full when he swam to his teacher.  On.  His.  Own.

The small one did it!  He came so far in only three lessons.  He tells me how much he loves swimming – it’s all he wants to do.  He practiced for hours this past weekend.  And you know what, if I hadn’t listened to my mom, none of that would have happened.  Sometimes, Mother really does know best.




I don’t have a lot of gray hair.  You may not even notice it.  But, I used to pluck them as soon as I saw them.  Every.  Single.  One.  Sometimes, my loving sister would do it for me.

And then I turned 37.  Suddenly, the grays seemed a little different.  They represented the years I’ve lived.  The nights up with kids.  The nerve-wracking Aprils, waiting for pink slips for fifteen years until I was finally in a place long enough to have tenure.  Worry for students.  Frustration with Justin and then remembering that we’re on the same team and working through the situation.

It wasn’t so important to me to have my hair look like I was still in my twenties.  I’m not in my twenties – and I don’t want to go back.  Sure, there were some great things!  My mom and stepdad got married and have been an amazing example for me.  I graduated college and earned a Masters.  I fell in love and got married.  I moved from Kentucky to Georgia to Massachusetts.  I went to Europe for the first time.  Robbie was born.

My thirties have been the best years of my life.  I finally got the hang of this marriage and motherhood thing.  I graduated from Boston College.  I became more confident in my teaching.  I ran not one but two marathons.  I started a successful clothing business.  I grew closer to family.  For the first time in my life, I became comfortable with who I was.  Why would I want to hide that?

Now, I may feel differently if there was more gray in my hair.  But there’s just enough for me to see every morning as I get ready for work, just enough to remind me how far I’ve come from early adulthood.

Family Sleeping…


I know, I know.  I thought the same thing before I had children.  You know, back when I knew everything about parenting?  Back when the children would, without fail, respect the sanctity of our bedroom.  They would knock on the door before entering our bedroom.  They would never, ever sleep in our bed.

Then we had children.  And we stuck to our perfect parenting ways the best we could.  Robert always started in his bed.  Occasionally, he would come down in the middle of the night, but he rarely woke us up when he came in.  He stopped doing that about the same time that Alexander started.

Fast forward two years, and here we are.  I’m not sure how it happened, but, at some point, we grew tired of fighting the tears and begging when we tried to sneak out of the boys’ room.  Yes, I know.  If you keep doing it, they will adjust.  You must be strong.  You make the rules, not the children.  Remember?  I was the perfect parent before I had kids. I knew all of these things.

Robert will fall asleep upstairs.  Alexander will wait us out.  Like until 10:00 at night.  He will stay awake until I can’t take it anymore and have to go to bed myself.  So, here we are.  Sleeping in the family bed.

Every night, we (well, I) tell stories.  Alex started asking for the stories first, wanting to hear stories about when he was little or when Robbie was a baby.  Then he wanted to hear about when I was a little girl or how Justin and I met.  It’s become a part of our routine, more than actually reading books before bedtime.

We all pile into our bed (twin bunk beds aren’t conducive to snuggling with two growing boys and, occasionally, the husband), so I can start the stories.  Sometimes, they ask me to tell about specific things, like their first bite of ice cream or a trip to the beach.  Other times, I share stories of things I’ve remembered throughout the day.  But you know one of my favorite parts?  Telling stories about when I was a little girl.

There are so many things about my childhood that I had forgotten.  Not forgotten on purpose – but, as time goes by, seemingly insignificant memories go dormant and are replaced by things happening later in life.  I’ve shared stories about camping on a farm I completely forgot we had, riding horses through the creek on a summer day, and climbing trees so high we swayed in the breeze.  Suddenly, I’m more than just their mom.

The other night, Alexander had a solution for us.  After all, we are struggling with space in the bed.  Alex sleeps between us and Robert sleeps at the foot of the bed with the dog.  There are usually a few cats sprinkled in there as well.  As we were transitioning from one story to another, Robert shared that he would sleep in his bedroom alone if our bedroom was upstairs; he just doesn’t like being on the second floor by himself.

Alexander, completely agreeing with his brother for the first time all day, piped up with, “I have a idea.  Let’s put another bunk bed in our room upstairs.  It can be all of our bedroom and then we can always sleep all together as a family.”

“Oh, well, that is definitely an idea,” I replied, glancing at Justin with by eyes wide.

“Yeah, it’ll be great.  We can all get in our beds.  Then we can read stories.  And we can sing songs.  And everyone will have enough room.  Then your room can be all of our playroom!”

Justin is now returning my wide-eyed look.  “Wow, Al.  You thought of this?”

“Yeah.  I thought of it yesterday.  I’ve been waiting to tell you.  So, we’re gonna do it this weekend, right?”

No, we probably won’t be building another set of bunkbeds this weekend.  And, eventually, our kids will get tired of sleeping with us.  We will go back to having more than enough room.  But for now?  I’ll “read” stories about when we were all little, snuggle with my boys, and listen to Alex tell me he loves me when he rolls over in his sleep.

Dealing with Change


Change is difficult, isn’t it?  Even when you know it’s something good?  I joke that it’s a good thing babies take nine months to bake because Justin needs that much time to adjust to the idea.  Well, maybe it’s half joking.

We are in the throes of change at the Manna house right now.  And, like most change, I think it was the anticipation that was worse than the actual implementation.  Last week, Justin accepted a new position at a company based in Houston.  A position where they actually want him in the office every day – not working from the kitchen table at our house.

As things developed, I went into panic mode, which is a little strange because I’m used to Justin traveling for work – just not this much.  The boys and I rely on him so much – he does all of the dentist and orthodontist appointments, stays him with sick kids, grocery shops, and cooks.  He keeps me sane when the children are being ridiculous, laughing when they have lost their minds for something ridiculous.

Tuesday night, I dropped Justin off at the airport with two suitcases and a belly full of nerves.  I knew we would see each other in eight days.  We’ve spent more time apart in our marriage.  But, this time, I know we won’t get to see him again until 20 December.  That’s a lot of days apart.  And a lot of tears on my end.

Three days later, and I’m feeling a bit more normal.  The boys have gotten out the door on time – and without tears or yelling – every morning.  We made it to church Wednesday night and to the book fair last night.  Bedtime has been smooth with everyone at least falling asleep in his own bed.

So, things are going to be fine.  And I can watch all the trashy reality shows I want.



It’s back.  That little red pouch.  It seems so innocuous – the directions to return assignments on Friday, Robert neatly written across the top.  The promise of a whole week to complete the assignments.  What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a delicate balance, this homework pouch.  Doling out the homework assignments, knowing what our schedule holds for the week.  Do we get all of the math finished in one night?  Could we get a jump start on that over the weekend, since it’s all online?  Maybe we get the reading journal out of the way early in the week?  And the sight words?  Lord, help me.  The sight words.  They have to be able to read them, well, on sight and write them in five seconds or less.  And Robbie’s interest has waned after the first night of reviewing them.

I’m stuck in this limbo of wanting my kid to be the best he can be, not wanting to push so hard that school isn’t fun, and letting him be a kid.  But to be the best?  Not really.  There’s so much pressure in trying to always stay on top.  Somewhere in the middle?  Yeah.

Did I do flash cards and math skills practice over the summer like I should have?  No.  Did I read to my kid every day?  You bet.  Make sure he was playing outside, catching crawdads in a creek, building forts, and coming home filthy?  Absolutely.  He’s not going to be little forever; all too soon, that will give way to test prep courses, jobs, and real life.

Tonight was a battle.  There were no sight words to contend with, but we had to get our first reading journal entry, literally, in the books.  I’m at school for open house until 7:30 tomorrow night, and trying to finish this at 8:00 the night before the little red pouch gets returned to school after a 12-hour work day didn’t seem like a good idea.

There was crying, avoidance, begging, and, finally, submission.  It took 30 minutes to get three sentences and an illustration out of Robbie.  In between his distractions, he focused so intently on being perfect, using his finger to space his words and erasing letters that weren’t perfectly formed.  Ultimately, we got three sentences down about Man on the Moon, even though Robbie would have preferred to stop at just one.  Or, even better, just the required illustration at the top of the page.

I struggle with this – the mother and the teacher in me are at odds.  I tell students in my class, “You think these three paragraphs are awful to write?  Wait until high school.  I’m just trying to prepare you for what’s to come”  But when Robbie asks, “Mom, what is homework for, anyways?” I just don’t have a great answer.

A Little Buggy…


Monday night, just as I was falling asleep, Alex started fussing upstairs.  I did what any good wife would have done after being on her own for two weeks: I pretended to be asleep and waited for Justin to go upstairs and deal with it.  Eventually, he made his way upstairs and stayed with the baby for half an hour.  Every now and then, I would hear fussing, but, I figured Justin had it coming.  Eventually he made his way downstairs and stopped in our bedroom door.  The conversation went a little something like this:

“Hon, I hate to wake you, (Really?!   Then don’t!) but Alex has thrown up twice.  I’ve pulled the sheets off his bed.  He probably needs to sleep down here.”

“Oh, poor baby!  Are you feeling sick?  Come see Mommy.  We’ll make you feel better.”

“Is he going to sleep down here?  Maybe I’ll sleep upstairs with Rob to give you more room.”

Please, please tell me he was kidding, you implore?  No.  I can’t.  Up he headed to sleep with the healthy child, while I snuggled with the baby.  Eventually, Alex put his head on my chest.  And threw up all over me.  Miraculously, the sheets stayed clean.  I changed and got back in bed, sure that nothing was left in Alex’s stomach.  I was wrong.  Minutes later, he sat up quickly and looked at me funny.  I managed to haul him over the side of the bed just before he threw up again.  My patience was gone as I called Justin to find a towel for me.  After yelling his name five times, he stumbled down the stairs to find a towel.  The second conversation went a little like this:

“You do not get to sleep upstairs with the healthy child while I get puked on all night.  Get in bed and be miserable with me.”


Except he wasn’t miserable with me.  He was asleep within a minute and snoring within two.  I may have kicked him.  More than once.  Which may have prompted him to get shoot up out of bed, asking me what in the world I wanted.  I’m sure it wasn’t one of my finer moments, and whatever I said in the passion of the moment resulted in Justin taking Alex upstairs to sleep.  I’m a smart woman, and I value my sleep, so I didn’t argue.

Five minutes later, I heard coughing and crying.  I shot upstairs, expecting to head into the guest room.  No.  Justin had taken the sick child to sleep in the same bed as the healthy child, and there was vomit all over the bed.  Off Robbie went down to our bed, and off Alex went to the bathtub.  Now, I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do laundry over the weekend, and Alex was out of pajamas.  I found a not-so-dirty pair in my laundry basket and got the child dressed in his fourth pair of pajamas for the night.

Hoping there was no way he would throw up for a sixth time – but not confident in my odds – I put Alex in the crib with a towel under him.  I sent Justin downstairs with Robbie and headed into the guest room to sleep.  Within minutes, I heard Alex get sick again (thank goodness for the towel!).  I picked him up to soothe him and earned the opportunity to change into my third pair of pajamas.

Surely this was it, right?  Kind of.  Twenty minutes later, just as I was really about to sleep (it was only 12:45 at this point), I heard screaming from Alex’s room.  A diaper change later, and I was just sure things were winding down.  They weren’t.  Mere moments after my head hit the pillow, there were even worse cries coming from Alex.  This time, he required a full change.  For the fifth time.  Unfortunately, we only had two choices for the poor boy.  Dress pants and a button down or pajama bottoms with no shirt.  I opted for pajama pants and no shirt, thinking I could just wipe him down in the event of an eleventh emergency.

Being out of sheets, I took Alex back to the guest room to sleep with me.  We curled up, ready for a few hours of sleep.  I’m not sure when it happened, but, at some point, the sweet boy leaned over and kissed me on my forehead.  That, right there, made everything right in the world.  Well, that and the two-hour delay the next morning.

Big Helper


Tonight, Justin had a meeting, so I was on my own for bedtime.  The boys and I got home and headed upstairs.  Robbie and I were in a race to get on our pajamas when Alex started crying.  I tried to hurry, but, before I could get back to the hallway, the crying stopped.  Instantly suspicious, I finished changing quickly and headed towards Robbie’s room.

As I got closer to Robbie’s room, I could see that the car seat had been moved into his doorway.  And it was empty.  Still, there was no crying, but I did hear voices.  I peered in the door to discover both boys lying on Robbie’s bed, Robbie with his arms under his head.

“See, Alex?  We’re just relaxing.  This is how we do it ’cause we’re bros.  We don’t need to cry.”

What I would have given to have seen them get there.  I’m still not sure how Robbie knew how to undo all the buckles and get Alex extracted from the car seat.  And then there was book selection, as Robbie informed me once I walked in the room, before they headed to the bed.

There is nothing like seeing Robbie look out for his little brother, even when he’s doing something I’ve asked him not to do (like carry his brother around).  He has such pure motives and is so genuine in his attempts to help.  The pretty incredible part is that it really seems to work.  If I had gotten Alex out of his car seat and laid him on the bed (on top of the covers, Robbie informed me, because there were rattle snakes under the comforter), Alex would have continued screaming.  Robbie does it, and Alex happily sat through all of story time.  There’s nothing quite like a big brother.



The other day, on the way to school, I heard a small voice from the back seat say, “I’m so, so sorry, Mom.”  Nearing a red light, I glanced in the rearview mirror, curious about what had Robbie seeking forgiveness so early in the morning.  Our day had been smooth so far, no yelling or crying on the way out the door that morning or at bedtime the night before.

“For what, love?” I asked.

“For dropping Alex on the floor.  I’m just so, so sorry, Mom!”

Fortunately, the car was stopped at an intersection, giving me a moment to process the information.  “What do you mean, Rob?” I asked.  And then, suddenly, I knew exactly what he was talking about.  About a week prior, I left Robbie and Alex in my room while I was in the kitchen fixing dinner.  There had been a sudden, panicked screaming from the bedroom, but, by the time I got back in there, everything seemed OK.

“Robbie?  Was this the other day when Alex was crying really loudly in my room?”

“Yeah, Mom.”

“Well, what in the world happened?” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry; after all, Alex seemed to be fine.  And Robbie was so sincerely upset that I wanted to cry for him.

“Alex was crying, so I was holding him and standing up and bumping Alex,” Robbie started.  Let me interject here – we have a very clear rule that Robbie is not allowed to hold Alex while he is standing up.  Also, “bumping” Alex means jostling him to calm him down.  “And I was singing ‘twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are,'” he sang, taking a pause.  “And then Alex was on the floor.  I’m just so, so sorry, Mom.”

“But, Robbie, when I got in there, you were both back on the bed, and you told me you thought he was just hungry.”

“Well, he might have been a little hungry, too.  I’m just so, so sorry!”

What can you even say to that?



A good friend had her second child last spring.  When I asked how it was, she told me she was totally in love with her second child; she couldn’t even bear to put her down.  I was doubtful – how could I love anyone as much as I loved Robbie?  How could I ever be more smitten than I was with Robbie?  And then another friend told me the second child was “the one you can enjoy.”  Again, I was doubtful.  Nothing could ever replace the excitement of a first child.  But then Alex was born.

He really is the child I can enjoy.  With Robbie, I was terrified and overwhelmed.  There was grad school, work, and an administrative practicum.  We were a thousand miles from family.  I’d never spent so much time with a baby, and I can remember thinking, at the end of the day, “I did it!  I survived the day!”  Then I was hit with the realization that no parent was coming to relieve me.  “Oh, shit!” I’d think.  “I have to do it all again tomorrow.  And every day for the next eighteen years.”  For some reason, this never occurred to me when I was pregnant.

It’s different with the second child, perhaps because (unless God is laughing as I type this) Alex will be our last.  All of a sudden, I’m not worried about surviving the next day; I’m worried that the days are going to go too fast and I won’t have soaked in all the baby time.  I don’t mind being up in the middle of the night to nurse because it’s only going to happen for a very little while.  I’m trying to breathe in every baby-scented breath I can sneak because, all too soon, he’s going to smell like a sweaty little boy (which is wonderful in it’s own odd way).

Already he’s growing up too fast.  We’ve passed being able to count his age in days, and I’m barely hanging on to how many weeks he is.  Soon, we’ll be into marking his age by months and then years.  Just today I registered Robbie for kindergarten.  I’m so thankful to have so much time between the two of them because, just maybe, it will make the time slow down a little bit.



When Robbie was first born, the days seemed interminable.  I would get to the end, proud of myself for surviving, only to realize that no one was coming home to relieve me and that I’d have to do it all again the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  When I communicated this realization to my mom, she imparted some wisdom.  “The days are long,” she told me, “but the years are short.”  I had no idea how right she was.

All of a sudden, with two boys, time seems to be passing twice as fast.  Robbie has gone from a baby to a grown-up little boy over night, even more so since Alex was born.  He has intense conversations, offering insight I’m not even sure I possess.  He does big kids things – skate boarding, playing basketball, walking the dog.  And he drinks tea.  How in the world can I get him to slow down?

With Alex, I have time to enjoy a baby again, time to revel in the things that I forgot or didn’t take the time to truly enjoy.  Even so, I can’t grasp the time; I can’t hold on to him being a baby as much as I would like.  It’s all slipping through my fingers.  Before I realized it, he was to old to say how many days he was; we were onto weeks.  And shortly, I’ll be forced to say how many months he is because I will have lost count of the weeks.

I suppose I’ll just breathe in the baby scent and soak in all the cooing and toothless smiles I can.  Because, my mom was right.