We’re Done Having Kids… (Touch Wood)

We're done having kids... (touch wood)

This week our youngest child turned four and the last of the baby-gear items left our house. The item in question was our trusty Ergo baby carrier which we had kept in our minivan (aka the rolling jail), for just-in-case occasions.  But this last week we also said goodbye to the a/c-less minivan (and hello to a blissfully cool SUV), and when cleaning out the minivan I realized it had been months since we’d used the carrier. It was time to bequeath it to a new family. In so many ways, it’s the end of an era.

We are officially a house where no bicycles have training wheels, no-one except Mommy needs to nap, all seat belts can be buckled by their occupants, and everyone can wipe their own butts. (<< note I said can, not does. There’s yet work to be done.) It’s been a long nearly-nine-years but we have made the transition from being the parents of babies and “little people” to being the parents of articulate, opinionated, growing-in-competence, medium-sized people.

There are some really beautiful things about this change. We all usually sleep through the night. They can tell me where it hurts, and they laugh at jokes. Sometimes, when the planets align and all my mommy-mojo is at work, they play nicely together and I can read a book while the children are awake and occupying themselves. I mean WHAT?! Really?!! There were a couple years there that I didn’t think that kind of daytime luxury would ever be mine again. For these changes in season, my primary emotion is one of gratitude.

There are also moments of unmitigated sentimentality. Like the day we dismantled our youngest’s crib and left it to rest in pieces, and there was something so sudden and unexpected about that change that I cried on and off for several days about it. Every now and then one of my kids will climb into my lap and ask me to read them a story, and I know that one day it will be the last time and the thought catches in my throat. But that time isn’t today, and so I read and try to keep the schmaltz at bay.

But between the gratitude and the sentiment, I just wanted to confess one more feeling: fear. For I know a handful of people who were just settling into this sweet post-toddler zone I’ve been describing, who had just given away the last of their baby gear, only to discover that—surprise! surprise!—they were pregnant again. And lest you think we only keep company with Natural Family Planners who rely on calendars to keep them child-free; let me say we’ve heard this story from people who’ve taken permanent steps to stop them brooding breeding.

(Joke from my husband: What do you call people who practice the rhythm method? Answer: Parents. Crazy voice in my head taunting the “what if” scenarios: What do you call people who’ve had vasectomies? Answer: Very surprised parents??)

So this week, as my children buckled themselves into their seats and I drove across town to drop off that last baby item to a new foster family… I’ll confess I felt a little fear. Because what if this is our story, too? Just when we feel we survived the baby-years and are settling into the sweet season of the elementary years?

Well, I guess we’ll cross that bridge should we come to it. We had been hemming and hawing about if and when to have a third kid when God short-circuited our decision-making with a surprise pregnancy… and he was possibly the best surprise ever. We have laughed more and loved more every single day on account of that unexpected little boy. And I suppose that even if we were to have a (VERY!) surprise fourth, we would look back with gratitude and a “we couldn’t imagine life without them” testimony.

But for now, as I look at my baby-gear-free house, what I feel mostly is a quiet gratitude for the years past and the season we’re in. We have three kids and that seems a good number to us. The bakery is closed: no more buns will be baked in this oven… that we know of.

That’s our plan, but I know from experience that God pays little attention to my plans. So I’m giving away that baby gear, but—as with all things—leaving room in my soul for some divine mischief and mystery.

Courage to find Significance in the Every Day

It was my great joy and honor to speak at MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) this week. I was asked to please post my talk online. Here it is. Try to imagine yourself in the company of a room full of moms of little ones while you read, won’t you? 

Motherhood requires courage to find significance in the every day. Read this, and take courage.

 

I am often really uncomfortable with being introduced at a speaking engagement. Usually, the person introducing me will have asked about my background and then they go ahead and give the crowd the “highlights reel”, and it makes it all sound so impressive that even I am intimidated by me. I feel like I need to stand up and confess something just so that people will know I’m a real person: “Hi, I lose my temper and fart. I am the worst potty trainer in the world and am pretty much a walking Pinterest fail waiting to happen.” #settingexpectations

But I think moms of little ones are pretty good at keeping it real. After all, we are a crowd who have all known the mixed glory and indignity of having people see your most intimate parts naked while giving birth (and, mortifyingly, there may have even been poop.) We have had to learn how to breastfeed. We have handled more human bodily fluids than we dreamed it was possible to touch without withering. We carry embarrassing things in our purses. So we are a crowd who are…. Humbled.

And so perhaps, for that reason, I feel like it’s important too to tell you that I do have a highlights reel. That I was valedictorian of my high school, and that I graduated from law school with honors at the age of 21. I should tell you that before graduating, I landed a job with the highest paying outfit out of all the recruitment opportunities they were farming for at my college. And then, through a strange and God-tangled web of events, I landed up forfeiting that job and going to seminary, where I graduated with honors before the bishop of our denomination created a job in women’s ministry for me to develop some new models of ministry for how we reached women in the workplace.

And I tell you this not to brag… really, because there’s that whole body-fluids-humbling and muffin-top shame thing going on all at the same time… I tell you this because I want you to know that it was only when I became a mom that it came CRASHING DOWN on me how much significance I had put into that highlights reel. I thought I was a humble person, aware of my failings, and reliant on God’s grace beforehand. But it was only when all those achievements in career and ministry were taken away that I realized how much doing well in life, and being seen to do well in life, had factored into my sense of identity and calling.

The truth of this became most obvious to me just after my daughter was born. All of a sudden, my only job in the world was to get this tiny human to eat and to sleep. And I could do neither. I had significant problems with breastfeeding – my milk didn’t come in for nearly a week, and when it did, it came in drips: not nearly enough to feed my big girl. And worst of all: I didn’t even know my baby was hungry. On the 3rd day after her birth my husband and I drove anxiously to Urgent Care because she would.not.stop.screaming and would.not.sleep. The kindly pediatrician asked us a few questions and asked if she could observe me feed her. Nodding wisely, she said “ah yes, your milk hasn’t come in” (I had no idea). She told us our daughter was hungry and gave me a breast pump to get things going and gave my daughter a 2 oz of bottle of formula, which she drank and promptly fell asleep for the first time since she had been born.

I felt like such a failure. Because I couldn’t feed my baby. Because I didn’t even know there was no food. Because I didn’t know she was hungry. Despite having read ever Mommy-and-Baby book I could get my hands on so I would be AWESOME at this mom thing: it turned out I couldn’t even do the basics – feeding my child and getting her to sleep. She was a fussy baby and a terrible sleeper. They were the most humbling few months of my life.

All of this served to highlight to me how much of my worth I had put into being a DOER. We live in a world where we are told we can, and we ought to, do something EXTRAORDINARY in our life, and make a SIGNIFICANT use of our time. The extraordinary and the significant are the measures of our worth – and we despise, and even fear, the ordinary and the seemingly insignificant.

Motherhood – above all things – is one long lesson in learning to find the significance in the very ordinary, and dare I say, even boring. If we add to this the cultural narrative that considers children to have a very low rank in terms of life accomplishments, this adds to the stress. Think of all the things people say about deciding to have kids: Will I be able to finish college, or grad school? But we wanted to travel first. But kids are expensive and we’d like to save for our own home. I’d like to get established in my career first. Not that any of those things are bad – but the way our culture talks about them tells us that children rank lower than our own personal goals of accomplishing education, career, travel, financial or physical goals.

Motherhood gets in the way of that: it’s lots and lots of “not achieving”, day by day – all the while faced with our very real and in-your-face limitations. Michael Horton, wrote a fabulous little article entitled “What if having an extraordinary life isn’t the point?”, in which he says this: “Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified of boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around me is much more difficult than chasing the dreams I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.”

Yes. Exactly.

I get that. And it explains to me why, in my earlier days as a mom, I found myself irrationally jealous when my former interns came to visit me and complained that they had had a week full of admin and making copies… and I was SO JEALOUS that they were making COPIES.

BECAUSE AT LEAST THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SHOW FOR THEIR DAY.

I think this explains what drives many of our love for Facebook and Pinterest. Because our day to day jobs don’t feel significant, but if we share pictures of the gorgeous meal we made, or the cutest Halloween costumes EVER… we are putting out public post-it notes which says “I have something to show for myself.” See, I made that. I did that. Isn’t it cute, everyone? Getting lots of “likes” or “pins” ticks our “feeling significant” and “feeling worthwhile” boxes. Or at least, it does mine.

And it also explains why one of the things I love about writing is that it is something I get to work on and then when I click “publish” or “send” – then my words go up onto the shiny surface of the internet and NO-ONE CAN PUT STICKY, JELLY FINGERS ON THEM. My words remain there just like I left them, and I marvel at that.

Because everything else in my life is not about accomplishing or doing or even making progress. It’s about a full-scale, full-time effort to HOLD BACK THE CHAOS. My goal at the end of the day at home is not to take it to the next level: it’s to work all day to prevent us from sliding into an abyss. When I signed up for Google + a few years ago, It asked me what my job was. I wrote “opposer of entropy”. For that is what I do. All day long: I hold back the chaos.

What this calls for is a great amount of courage – and more courage, in fact, than it takes to complete a huge project or organize a big event. It’s the sheer everydayness of life, the tedium of the ordinary and the relentless forces of entropy at work in our house that call for a DAILY mustering of courage. Courage calls for commitment and strength in the face of insecurity and intimidation. It means keeping going, even though the end is not necessarily in sight, and we have often feel we have no idea whether we are doing well or whether this is all going to turn out okay.

Because honestly, if my children’s behavior is my only performance review on this job, I sometimes feel I really suck.

And so it takes courage to keep working on a job where there are so few measurables.

I think, in particular, mustering this kind of courage to face the great cliff of the ORDINARY, takes two things:

 It means learning to take the long-range view of what we are doing.

My mom used to say that she often reminded herself that she was not raising children: she was raising ADULTS. Putting it that way reminded her that she wasn’t just trying to control the behavior of a tantrumming 3-year old in the supermarket, the long-range goal was to raise an adult who was well-adjusted and had healthy relationships with her and with society. And so she tried to think about the long-term: which gave her hope (because they wouldn’t always be 3 and tantrumming), but it also gave her a direction. She was parenting towards a goal, not just parenting in the moment.

Along similar lines, a friend of mine pointed out the story of Philip the Evangelist in the book of Acts in the Bible. In Acts 6, shortly after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, the church was still really new and figuring things out, and 7 leaders were appointed to organize the new community and help care for some of the pressing social needs. Philip was one of the 7 appointed and commissioned by the 12 apostles: a leader from the get-go.

In Acts 8 we read this:

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

We find Philip preaching, dealing with demons, and healing people in Jesus’ name. Wow. A few verses later we read that he was out on the road when an Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot came driving by who just happened to be reading puzzling verses from Isaiah, and then God tells the Ethiopian to ask this guy Philip to explain it to him, and Philip tells him about Jesus and the man puts the puzzle pieces together and realizes that Jesus IS the promised King and the one who would take the sins of others that the Old Testament had been talking about – and so he decides to change his life and follow Jesus and Philip baptizes him right there and then in the river. The eunuch continues on his way to form and found the first church in Africa, and Philip – well, let me quote the verse directly: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

Wow, Philip. Very impressive. One of the few people who ever got to ride by Holy Spirit Taxi Services.

But you know what? After that extraordinary introduction – Philip disappears from the story, and we don’t hear a single word about him again… Until 20 years later, when he turns up right at the end of the book of Acts, and we are told that Philip was there, along with his 4 unmarried daughters, all of whom were prophetesses.

And it makes me think. Philip went from a ministry that seemed so impressive and awesome, and then seemed to fade into obscurity. But we see him 20 years later and realize THEN that he had been doing something significant for those 20 years: he had been raising daughters who knew and loved God, and who were fully equipped for service.

I wonder if, when he had 4 girls under the age of 7 all fighting about who got to sit where, whether Philip ever thought “Sheesh: remember that time when I was doing something USEFUL for you, Lord?” Or, when they were teens, “I used to feel like I was really being used by you God… but now it’s just hormones and boys and tears all day long with these girls. Is this really what you want me to be doing?”

All those years time it may have seemed like Philip wasn’t doing anything significant, but he was. He had taken a long-range view: raising adults who would know and love Jesus as he did.

This gives me hope. Because in 20 years, all these “insignificant days” will total up to having 3 grown children. And it won’t be the one gorgeous thanksgiving meal, or the one awesome mommy moment or vacation we took that stand out as “the thing that made their childhood” – it will be the sum total of the ordinary days.

Not just the one fantastic meal, but a lifetime of ordinary, nutritious meals to raise a healthy adult.

 Not just one I-killed-it-with-that-explanation conversation, but a lifetime of saying “I love you,” “I believe in you”, “this is what is right, and this is what is wrong,” which will be embedded into their souls.

Not just the one vacation we spent together, but the habit we had of snuggling to read a book, or of always listening attentively and talking with them while we did our daily commute.

It takes a lifetime of ordinary courage to make a significant impact in raising adults.

So: finding courage to face the everyday calls for taking a long-range view, and it calls for another thing:

 It calls for faith.

I use the word FAITH, meaning that it refers to a belief, or trust, in something we can’t fully see yet. We see a little bit of the truth, but we don’t see the whole thing and so we keep pressing on in that direction, trusting that it’s the right one.

Rachel Jankovic wrote an article some years ago which made such a big impression on me, in which she talked about how motherhood may be regarded as of little importance by others and a very lowly job, but in fact it was a calling of the highest honor because as parents, what we are doing is modeling the gospel to our children every day.

In laying down our lives for them, and learning to deny our own ambitions for others’ benefits, in taking care of their daily needs and investing in the work of shaping their characters – we are showing them something significant about the gospel of Jesus, who laid down his life for us, denied his glory and privileges for us, who takes care of our needs and, even thought we don’t deserve it and are exasperating raw material, is deeply attentive to the daily work of character formation in our own lives.

This business of shaping people into becoming God’s children was Jesus’ great goal, according to Hebrews 2. It cost him his life, but the joy of relationship was unsurpassable.

Jesus was in it for the long-haul with us. And even though he had days when he rolled his eyes at his disciples and said to them “how long shall I put up with you?”, he kept at it. Hebrews 12 says :

“.. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

I believe it takes faith to keep being a mom. Races are run one step at a time. Lifetimes are lived one minute at a time. It is sometimes hard to keep going when no one step feels particularly significant, and no one minute feels worthwhile – but, Jesus showed us that in the long run, it takes faith to remember the joy set before us and to keep going – so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

We are so quickly impressed by the big once-off acts and accomplishments, but we forget the power of the daily, persevering ones. We love to think of God as the Creator of all, but often forget that not only did God create, but he also continues to sustain and provide. He is awesome not only became he created life, but because he continues to give every breath, open every flower, animate every heartbeat. Those Divine acts of sustaining providence are deeply significant.

And so are ours.

The creative act of bringing a child into the world is incredible and deeply significant. But so is every sustaining acts of fixing a snack, leaning in for a snuggle, every encouraging word which sustains a weary soul. To preserve and sustain reflects God too. As it turns out, opposing entropy is a profoundly godly thing to do.

All this brings me to say one more thing, and that is to highlight the role we play in one another’s lives in helping one another to find significance in the every day.

The word ENCOURAGE literally means to give one another courage. We encourage each other by setting an example or perhaps by acts of service and huge, but I think chiefly we encourage one another with our words. The Bible tells us the “Faith comes from hearing”, and while in that context it is talking about the saving faith in Jesus, the message is still true for our purposes – because the faith to believe that the daily grind of everyday motherhood is worth it, comes from HEARING from others often, and being reminded of the big picture and the long-range view.

When we remind one another that we are loving our kids as God has loved us, we are ENCOURAGING: literally giving one another COURAGE to face the day. That’s what MOPS is all about. When we remind one another that God is not only the Creator of all things beautiful, but the Sustainer and Giver of Daily Bread and Daily Breath – and that those daily offerings of mac and cheese and carrot sticks are also, in some way, modeling the work of God who sustains us daily – we give one another courage. When we notice our friends showing patience and gentleness with their kids and we tell them it’s beautiful to see – we affirm that they ARE doing good and they should keep it up.

And so we speak life to one another. We give encourage, and give courage by helping one another to take the long range view and to keep the faith… because this daily job of mothering is not extraordinary – but by God, it is significant.

 

Photo credit: Kim MyoungSung “drying laundry” (Flickr Creative Commons) – edits by Bronwyn Lea

The Sniff Test

Who knew parenting would smell so bad?

Of all the indignities which are visited on us by motherhood, I vote that the sniff test is the worst.

You know: that horrid and humiliating practice we moms have of putting our noses way up close to the most gut-lurchingly awful things in order to correctly diagnose a predicament.

I have become one of those people. 

I remember being pregnant with my eldest and attending a baby shower where one of the ice-breaker games involved a number of diapers with various types of chocolate smeared inside them. Bending low, we took deep sniffs and giggled as we scribbled: “milky way”, “reeses”, “junior mints”. Imagine eating that, we thought. Hardy har har.

My newborn smelled nothing like that chocolatey mess. Her head was pure heaven: baby and angel and natural and breathtaking. I sniffed her head like a hormone-addled addict. I tried not to think about where she’d just come from and why she might smell so good… but there was just nothing like the smell of her newborn head.

Input leads to output, as the lactation consultant euphemistically quipped, and pretty soon our sweet-smelling newborn was producing plenty of regular ‘output’. I took mental notes watching my adept-with-infants mom whose babies had all used cloth diapers: to check if a baby was wet, she would hold the baby up to her chest and gently feel inside the leg hold of the diaper to check the moisture level. Was baby wet? Yes? Grandma was quick to supply a dry outfit.

I followed my mom’s trick once, twice, three times. With the “stay dry” diaper technology, my baby always seemed dry enough. And then there was that paradigm-shifting fourth time – when I reached my finger into her little diaper to check for wetness, and was met with an immediate and sickening squelch. I pulled a bright yellow finger out, yowling for SOMEBODY TO GET ME A WIPE!

That was the day I started the sniff test.

It was cumbersome to get a winter-born baby sufficiently unbundled to see what was happening in their diaper, and far too dangerous to feel  what was going on down there – so I became one of those people I had always silently judged for their Public Acts of Grossness. When I suspected that there was some output activity (<— see how tactful that was?), I would lift my baby high in the air and press my nose to her cushy tush. Relying on the science of olfactory sensitivity – it never took long to diagnose disaster.

Quick. Clean. Efficient. And still: totally gross.

I think what surprises me, though, is that seven years later, I am still doing the sniff test, and it just gets grosser. 

Has this shirt been worn? (Let me smell)

Have these underpants been worn? (Let me smell)

What are you drinking? (Let me smell)

Did you make it to the potty on time or did you drip just enough to make you smell like a truckstop urinal? (Let me smell)

How long have you had milk in that cup? (Let me smell)

“Oh…. that’s what that smell is. Let Mommy get that moldy apple/old yogurt/soiled pair of shorts/dead mouse out of here…”

Ew. ew. ew.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. A friend and I were lamenting recently that we preferred the old Bible translations renditions of ‘patience’ as ‘long-suffering’ – because at least the latter admitted that what we were enduring was both suffering, and it was taking loooong. Parenting requires long-suffering. And encouragement. And a sense of humor. And lots of deep breaths.

Just don’t make them too deep.

 

On why we said no to preschool

In the past few weeks, our 4-year old has been keeping us entertained. I’ve been posting side-splittingly funny quotes and anecdotes on Facebook, and noticed that in a number of them I’ve referred to him as our “preschooler”. Except, he isn’t in preschool. Nor was his sister (who is now in kindergarten). And at the moment, it seems unlikely that our youngest will go to preschool either. For us, ‘preschooler’ is a handy way of denoting this phase of life when they are older-than-toddlers but not-yet-school-goers. They are pre-schoolers only in the sense that they are not yet in school.

Dirt school

Dirt school

Every year we consider whether preschool is something we could or should do, and every year we have landed up saying “no”.

Now before I go any further, let me say this:

This post is not about whether YOU should send your kids to preschool. This post is about our personal choice which I find myself explaining to people fairly often, since it seems we are in the minority in our decision.

Also, this post is not about whether preschools are great places for kids. I absolutely believe they are. I believe my kids would LOVE preschool and would benefit from it. I know a number of preschool teachers, and a whole host of kids who are in neighborhood preschools, and I admire their curriculum and kind of envy that experience. I think preschool is amazing.

However, year after year, I keep finding myself saying no. And more than that, every year, I feel I need to justify my ‘no’, because there is pressure (I don’t know where it comes from) to do what others do and enroll our kids in fabulous preschools with their fabulous friends. But the reasons for our annual “no” remain.

1. We don’t need preschool, because I get to stay home with my kids. Chaotic and messy as that choice may be, we have built-in child care at home. We count ourselves fortunate that we have a choice in this matter and don’t need day care. For us, preschool is a want, and not a need.

2. It was important for us to recognize that preschool is a want, and not a need, because it helped us with the math of household budgeting.

  • Mortgage = need.
  • Food = need.
  • Ice-cream = want.
  • Coffee = need
  • Clothing = need
  • Shoes = want
  • Gas & electricity = need
  • Netflix = want
  • Preschool = want

Families the world over have limited budgets, and we are no exception. We choose where and how to spend our money: taking care of needs first, and then weighting our wants if we have the luxury of indulging any of those. We choose to give money away, we ask “should I buy this?” of almost every purchase we make, we are grateful for the things we have. We have spent time discussing whether $7.99 for Hulu plus is worth it, when we already pay $7.99 for a Netflix subscription.

It was irrationally hard, then, to look at the cost of even a modestly-priced preschool. 3 hours a day, 4 days a week would run us between $200 and $325 per month, per child. The cost is fair, given the quality of the teachers and the rich environment these schools provide… but oh my hat! That’s $3000 per year, per child!

I’ve looked this over again and again, and I just can’t do it. If I had $300 a month to spend on my child’s enrichment (and I don’t, really), I choose to put that towards their college enrichment rather than their preschool enrichment. Again and again, I’ve had people ask curiously: “why wouldn’t you send your kids to preschool?”, and more and more I wonder, “would would I?”

In that moment, I know why I would: because preschool is wonderful. They would learn social lessons and scissors skills and have circle time. They would make friends and get invited to birthday parties and go on field trips. They would mix paints and experience conflict and be under the guidance of an adult who actually knows what kindergarten readiness looks like, as opposed to my blindly feeling my way to the school start line.

But I just can’t do it. For us, preschool is a luxury: one my children would enjoy and learn from, but a luxury nonetheless. And so my children are at home: knocking about, perhaps sometimes a little under stimulated, perhaps sometimes a little jealous that they don’t get invited to as many birthday parties as other 4-year olds… but we’re doing our best. I try to remember to make play dough. I try to create opportunities for social interaction. We read, we play in the dirt, we work in the garden and we bake cakes. Also, sometimes they watch too many shows and complain that they are bored.

I second-guess this decision constantly. I suspect my son would thrive with the schedule of a preschool and the learn-to-respect-another-adult’s-rules atmosphere of a classroom. We are finding it “challenging” to have him home, to say the least. But not for $3k a year. Nope, sorry. I just can’t do it. In the mean time, I let the guilt of our “no” try to motivate me to get more organized and try a little harder at home; and I look forward to the day that we can one day send them off to college and say: “here you go, kiddo, here’s a little something we saved from your preschool days. We’re sorry if you missed out then, but we didn’t want you to miss out now.”

Don’t do me any favors

This is my official public appeal:

Please can we do away with party favors?

This week I cleaned out 4 bags of chips, 5 transferrable tattoos, 2 pencils, 6 brightly colored erasers, 3 small containers of bubbles (none of which really work), and a handful of candies-my-kids-don’t-eat. All relics from this summers’ birthday parties, with the obligatory “party favor” bag hastily pressed into our hands on departure.

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Somewhere in my closet, among the boxes of things serious, sentimental and seriously sentimental, I also have a box of unused wedding favors from our own wedding. Over the years, whenever my husband and I have debriefed our wedding, we laugh about those favors. They cost extra time, extra money, and a whole lot of extra stress. They were the one thing that we felt our wedding day could have done without, and nothing would have been lost. In fact, ten bucks for any of our guests who can even remember what our wedding favors were. (To my bridesmaids who sat for hours bundling them, you only get gold stars if you can recall. But they are very shiny stars.)

Now wedding favors might serve a few purposes: 1) they might serve to thank people for coming (but we do that verbally, and in any case it is an honor to be invited to a wedding!) 2) in years past, they could give the couples’ new contact information (but these days, aren’t we all about gravatars and facebook anyway?) 3) They might form part of the table decorations (Ok. I’ll grant that’s one way of making things look pretty).

Perhaps a couple might WANT to do wedding favors, (and more power to them to make it the wedding of their dreams), but to those couples who feel they HAVE to do wedding favors, and to those Moms who feel they OUGHT to do party favors for kids, let me say this:

I don’t think we should have party favors, and I’m not just saying this because I am deathly afraid of Pinterest.

We go to parties to celebrate life events with people we love. It is a privilege to attend. Witnessing milestones and being counted as witnesses of babies being born, years well lived or new families started are tremendous honors.

A bag of treats is no substitute for teaching our children to look their guests in the eye and say “thank you for coming to my party”. And those bags of treats may not have been very expensive, but it is still wasteful to waste – even if it was only $25. Twenty five bucks can pay for 500 malnourished kids to be dewormed. It can provide a simple handwashing tap in a village and keep life-threatening diseases at bay.

Our twenty five bucks can do so very much good in the world, all while saving parents from another day’s whining for leftover candy.

So would you do me a favor? Please forgive me if we don’t do party favors. And know I’ll love you just the same (perhaps even more), if you forego them too.

This one mamas tips on flying with kids

On our last big trip abroad, The Daddy of the family flew back 2 weeks before me – which meant that the final trip home was just me and my two littles aged 1 and 3. This was no joke of a trip: from door to door it was more than 40 hours: 1 hr check in, 2 hr flight, 3 hr international layover (and baggage change and passport control), 16 hour flight, 2 hr international layover (and baggage change and security/passport control), then RUN to make final connection for a 5 hour final flight…. but we missed it… so add another 2 hour delay, 3 hours flight, 2 hour layover, 3 hour flight. With the 1-year old on my lap. And THEN we got home.

And yet, apart from an all-three-of-us disappointment-meltdown when we missed our connection – the kids did not cry on this trip. They were happy, go-with-the-flow dream kids. They even did some sleeping! On the 16 hour flight, a number of the air hostesses complimented my kids on how well they were doing, and suggested jokingly “you should run seminars on traveling with kids!”. I was flattered and encouraged – but for what it’s worth – I also know that the smoothness of the trip did not happen because of my perfectly adjusted, never-whining kids. Ha! The trip went smoothly for two reasons: Firstly – because I had been stressing about it for months before and had asked every praying person I knew to pray for our trip. I fully believe God answered their prayers. But secondly – the trip went smoothly because I had been stressing about it for months before and had planned planned planned and planned some more.

I hope that by writing some of that planning planning planning down, perhaps some of you who may have to travel with littles in the future can save yourselves the months of stressing, and just do the smooth-travel part 🙂

So without further ado, here are some of the globe-trotting tips we put into practice:

littleboy-airport“Let’s pretend“:
In the weeks before the trip, the 3-year old and I played “let’s go on an airplane” trip. We pretended to stand in a long line, we played hopping games to pass the time, we pretended to go through security (climb under a table after removing your backpack), we carried our own backpacks, we got “on board” (the couch) and buckled our pretend buckles. We listened for the “ping” of the fasten seatbelts sign. We talked about how long a trip it would be and we practiced getting out her bear and blanket and taking naps. And waking up. and taking more naps. And having a snack. and taking more naps. (Lather rinse repeat). This may not sound like a fun game for us grownups, but believe me – my preschooler was ALL OVER IT.

“A big kid gets their own suitcase“:
I let my daugher pick out a $7 backpack with rolling wheels at Walmart (forgive me), which she called her “suitcase” for the trip. Together – we packed her bear and blanket, her headphones (more on that later), and her water bottle. She felt very grown-up, and she also had all her security items on her. The rolling backpack also turned out to be a total hit with the 15 month old, who rolled it around every departure lounge we stopped in!

“Mommy’s yummy take-off (and landing) snacks”:
My kids are too little to chew gum or know how to ‘pop’ their ears for pressure changes, so I packed little snacks specifically for take-off and landing so that they would chew/sip throughout the ascent and descent. Think mini bags of goldfish, fruit snacks, raisins, animal crackers etc. Little things with not too much sugar or salt. We had eight ascents and descents on our trip, so I tried to pack a variety. I also asked for a bottle of milk on the plane for my youngest to drink during take-off.

“Mommy’s amazing bag of tricks”
This was, for sure, the piece de resistance of my planning. I put together about 20 small, novel things in one gallon-sized ziploc bag. Each item was wrapped in tissue paper (unwrapping it is a novel activity in itself), and a few were produced on each leg of the trip. I wrote what the item was on the outside of the wrapping – my kids couldn’t read it anyway, and it helped me decide what ‘trick’ to dish out next. My bag of tricks included:
2 small dinosaurs for imaginative play
a little slinky
a truck
a travel sized aquadoodle – a brilliant toy for kids which uses a pen filled with WATER (no mess!) to draw!
a ‘slinky pop tube‘ – this $1-bin toy was definitely my best buy – it made fun sounds, fun shapes, could be used as a microphone or telephone system, a telescope etc…
sticker books
two small new reading books (on trucks and princesses respectively)
a new pack of crayons and coloring book
a mini etch-a-sketch
a cheap wind-up squirrel that spun on the tray table
a hand puppet (this was particularly helpful before take-off when we had about 45 mins to wait as people boarded around us. I sat on the floor under my daughter’s quilt (more about that later too) and played peek-a-boo with a polar bear puppet the whole time.
A squishy ball.
Party-favor sized bubbles (these were marvelous at the airport. I felt like the pied piper as I blew bubbles in the Atlanta airport departure lounge and had about 15 kids joining mine to chase and pop the bubbles)
a small tub of play-doh (in a small zip loc bag)
A $1 pack of “gel stickers” in the shape of airplanes. The kids had great fun sticking them on the airplane windows and “flying” them around.
An “I spy” book- fabulous for take-off and landing too!
There were a couple more things I can’t remember… but I promise, it all fit in a gallon-sized bag! I borrowed a few items, had a few items at home which I hid about a month before the time so they would be “new” again for the trip, and then bought a few. I did not spend more than $25…. dollar store items mostly.

Other nice-to-haves:
* I had one “emergency melt-down” little bag for my 3-year old – for the “extreme situation” when she could not handle the waiting anymore. It was a little silk purse and contained 5 shiny stickers, two chocolate coins, a ring for her finger, and a special ‘color-me-wonder’ painting book with dora-the-explorer. I pulled it out when we missed our flight and I had to stand in the re-booking line for an hour as my kids nearly lost it. Thanks to the emergency melt-down bag, there was no melt-down in that emergency 🙂
* we decided some time ago to invest in kids headphones: they are small and have volume control and fit over their ears (the airline ear buds don’t work for kids – they are too big to fit in their little ears). We use these headphones at home or in the car sometimes with our portable dvd player, and decided to take one pair on the plane. it was a great call – on the long haul of the flight, the 3-yr old could watch in-flight movies with comfortable headphones that she already knew how to control the volume on. I highly recommend it!

Hands-free kit:
What to check? What to carry-on? My rule of thumb was all about having free hands. So I chose NOT to take our car seats, but to borrow/rent at destination – because I didn’t have a free hand to deal with getting a car seat on and off the plane. I chose not to take a stroller for the same reason: I cannot push a stroller and handle our bags simultaneously. So all I took with me on the plane was:
– a back-pack style diaper bag containing 4 changes of clothes for the little, 2 for the big. For some reason, poop blow-outs are almost guaranteed when you fly – so go prepared. I bought compression bags at target and squished the clothes in there to save space.

– diapers, wipes, butt paste, tissues, kids ibuprofen, kids benadryl (I tried drugging them on the way there – it didn’t really work)

– 2 bottles for baby’s milk, assorted snacks, sippy cups.

-my Ergo baby carrier (so I could carry the baby in the front, with the backpack on the back)

-One carry-on suitcase with wheels which contained:

  •  a change of clothes for me,
  •  my amazing bag of tricks,
  • a small ziploc bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and travel size moisturizer for me,
  • my camera, my cell phone, another small folder with itinerary, passports and pens,
  • and then the other half of the suitcase was filled with my daughter’s quilt. She sleeps with it every night, and it doubles as a tent/puppet show veil, comfort blanket, tug-o-war tool etc. we debated whether it was worth packing such a bulky item – but it was totally worth it.

– the preschooler’s toy rolling suitcase (which was her job to carry).

EVERYTHING else went in one large rolling suitcase which I put in checked baggage, and could attach to my small-carry on suitcase during layovers (so I only had one thing to pull instead of two).

Yep – so go ahead and picture it – tired woman with a backpack on back, a toddler on front, two suitcases being towed in one hand, a tired three-year old held by the other hand who in turn is dragging a bright pink rolling suitcase… RUNNING down the Atlanta concourse trying to make that plane…. and as tears ran down my cheeks my sweet kid was shouting “you can do it mommy! good running! we’ll make it!” Talk about overwhelming…

And yet we made it – and we did more than survive! We had fun 🙂 With a bit of preparation and a lot-of-prayer, this scared-and-usually-unprepared mama traveled 35,000kms with 2 kids 3 and under… with almost no tears. And friends, if I can do it – you SURELY can!

I hope your travels, even with little ones, will be smooth and tear-free this summer.