Mom to Mom, Day to Day by Danielle Bean

I will never forget the day I met my future friend, Kathy. Kathy had just given birth to her fourth child, and mutual friends were organizing meals for her family. My oldest child was 9 months old, and I thought it quite heroic for me to manage to make her very large family a meal considering I had an infant of my own. I drove to her house and anxiously left the baby in the car (I couldn’t carry him and the meal, naturally). She let me in, and I stood dumbfounded as she calmly introduced me to her mother, showed off the newborn babe in her arms, and attempted to point out her other three children among the dozen or so running amok throughout the house. The parents of the playmates were nowhere to be found.

Fast forward to a month or so ago. I offered to take a meal to a neighbor – a friend of a friend – who had just had her second child. I made a double batch of stew (for her and for us) and some homemade rolls in between my regular duties like laundry and school. I put the toddler and the food in the double stroller, bundled the four others in their coats and mittens, and walked everyone around the corner to her home. And I smiled inwardly as she and her husband stared in obvious shock and amazement that I was even able to get everyone dressed, let alone to make and deliver her a meal.

Danielle Bean’s newest book, Mom to Mom, Day to Day, is just the book for both of those young, struggling mothers described above. How do you do it? I often get this question, sometimes actually spoken, sometimes as a pleading look in their eyes. Being a wife and mother, managing a household, passing on the Catholic faith – these responsibilities are challenging even to a battle-hardened woman with nearly a decade of experience. To a young mother who hasn’t yet acquired a taste for cold or reheated coffee, the job seems daunting or even impossible.

Many parenting books just make things worse: do it just like this or you are a failure, they seem to say. Mom to Mom, Day to Day is refreshingly different. Instead of a list of musts and shoulds, Danielle encourages women to discover what is best for their family. She de-emphasizes perfectionism without encouraging sloth, recommends a positive attitude without condemning our occasional fits of impatience, and suggests ways to live out our Catholicism as a family without overwhelming us with lists of things we simply must do in order to fulfill our obligation to teach our children the faith.

Mom to Mom, Day to Day has short, easy to read chapters – perfect for the hectic mother of little ones who snatches reading time between diaper changes and the cleaning of spilled Cheerios. If a woman ever wanted to pick the brain of an experienced mother just to get to the essence of how to live out that vocation, this book is it. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout, and had Danielle, myself, and another mother been sitting at a playground together sharing advice about raising families, I’m sure all I would have to add is, “Yeah, what she said.”

It is high praise for me to recommend a book – higher still if I actually give it to someone. I’ve already purchased a few more copies of Mom to Mom, Day to Day and can think of a couple of women from my church who could use it. And I need a spare copy, of course. So the next time an exhausted woman juggling her toddler on one hip and a newborn on the other asks, How do you do it? I can simply say, Here, read this.

My cough

I’ve had a cough for three weeks now. It’s been more annoying than anything else, but last week, I also started to feel short of breath and very lethargic. Sick? Me? The cough was bad enough to actually get mentioned in conversation with my sister (who suggested bronchitis) and with my mother (a RN and my personal health line who suggested a trip to the doctor). So I went to the doctor.

I hate going to the doctor. Especially when the diagnosis is basically we-don’t-know-why-you’re-coughing-here’s-a-drug-to-make-you-stop. I hate taking drugs. I’ve been pregnant or nursing for 9 years now, and basically anything and everything is not recommended to take while your body provides nutrition for another body.

And yes, I’m still nursing that 17 month old who is at that obnoxious, demanding and possessive stage that signals to me it’s time to start seriously weaning him.

“What is your plan to wean him?” asks my skeptical husband as we debate the prescription drugs sitting on the table near me.

“I’m already working on it,” I claim. He cocks his eyebrows in doubt. “It’s a gradual process.”

I asked the doctor if the cough would go away untreated. “It’s been three weeks,” she said. I agree that three weeks can seem like an eternity, but it’s really not.

We talked about possible causes – something triggered the cough. A cold? Maybe, I can’t remember that long ago (it seems like an eternity). An allergen? Maybe, we did start closing all the windows and turning on the heat, and I have a bad habit of starting fires in the kitchen which generate smoke.

Bill and I decided that changing the air filters in the house was a good idea. It had been about a month since he replaced the 30 day filters with other 30 day filters. We went to Home Depot and bought “up to three months” filters with extra allergen filtering capability. They are a bit more expensive than the standard 30 day filters. We also bought an air freshener that goes right on the filter. Right now my house smells delightfully like cinnamon. Cool. But probably releasing an irritant into the air with every cycle of the heater!

And for the cough? I’m taking the one medication at night after Pete goes to sleep and skipping the morning dose. I’m a really bad patient. But I am noticing an improvement – not only am I coughing less, but my minute per mile pace is getting better – not good, just better. Yeah, I’m sick, but I’m still going for my morning run when I’m motivated to do so. Not only am I a bad patient, I’m an annoying sick person too. See, look at me! I’m sick but I’m running two miles anyway. And making dinner, and doing the dishes and tending to the needs of the whole family. And you think you can spend the day in bed because you have a witty bitty cold?

Ah, time to go to work now. I’ll consider being sick some other time. Perhaps when I hire a nanny and a governess and a cook.

Motherhood: A Barbaric Vocation

At this time seven years ago, I was excitedly pregnant with my first child. Little did I know the tremendous changes that this new vocation would affect. Although not raised with high society standards of conduct, I did manage to function well in polite company. Motherhood, however, has led me to certain behavior which can only be described as, well, barbaric.

A few days ago, my three-year-old daughter shoved an entire bowl of rotini in her mouth. It was so full that she couldn’t even close it. As she attempted to chew the pasta, half-mangled pieces started to fall from her gaping jaw. Of course, since she’s only three, this bothered her none at all, and she didn’t even attempt to catch them. Appalled, I made her spit out the contents of her mouth and then kicked her out of the kitchen declaring that no barbarians were allowed there.

However, this is not exactly true. Although I have not sunk so low as to allow food to fall from my mouth, my table manners are not as refined as they were seven years ago. For example, I used to be able to enjoy a leisurely meal. No longer. A mother of young children learns early that if she wants her food hot or even warm, she must eat it as quickly as possible. Interruptions will come, and a screaming baby doesn’t care if you’re hungry or not. Yes, older children can and must be taught to wait for their pressing needs while mom has lunch, but in the last six and half years since my son was born, I have had at least one child (usually two) under the age of two, excepting one month before my fourth child was born.

So, I know where my daughter learned to shove an entire bowl of pasta in her mouth. I, barbarian mom, do it all the time.

And let’s take the generally accepted rule that one does not talk with one’s mouth full. As I just explained, mealtime is a time when I am consuming my food as rapidly as possible. There is never a moment when it is empty. Not talking with my mouth full would mean going ninety seconds or so without correcting my children. And when your oldest of four is under seven, that is just not an option. Throughout dinner, I am barking orders: “Sit down!”, “Finish your green beans!”, “Leave your sister alone!”, and, of course, “Don’t talk with your mouth full!”.

Now, the command to sit down at meals is frequently heard. My children are popping up and down so often that I feel like I’m living the carnival game where you try to hit the rodent on the head with a mallet. Of course, am I able to sit down throughout a meal? Of course not. The older children can fetch missing items from the fridge or cupboards, but babies inevitable want something that requires mom to get up to get. The green bean lover will suddenly decide that they are no longer acceptable, and mom begins a quest for a vegetable that will please the fickle palate. I become one of those rodents in that game.

Now another fine example of barbarism is climbing on the furniture and general jumping and running in the house. I often tell my boys that they are acting barbaric when they get a bit wild and wound up. But again, are my actions any better? With a baby around, the furniture becomes a convenient barrier to prevent her from wandering in forbidden territory. Of course, this only serves as an obstacle to the rest of us as well. The phone is on the third or fourth ring as I come running up from doing laundry, and I find the ottoman in my way. So, I leap over it to make it to the phone before the machine picks it up. Or, I am unable to find the ringing phone and begin to leap and dash around the house in an effort to find it. Or, I give up on finding the cordless phone and make a mad dash to the stairs and over the baby gate to the stationary phone on my desk.

Barbarians use fear and intimidation to dominate others. Just this morning, as my boys were climbing down the basement stairs in a particularly dangerous manner, I found myself saying, “If you hurt yourself while doing something stupid, I will beat you and make you hurt more.” Trumping that logic was that of my four-year-old who said, “But, Mom, we’re being secret agents.” Of course, secret agents are expected, nay, compelled, to engage in risky behavior. And which was the greater risk: falling down the stairs or suffering Mom’s wrath? Undecided.

And then there is that mother’s wrath. This is the final proof that motherhood is a barbaric vocation. I used to have a pretty even temper. Yes, there were moments of righteous indignation, but for the most part I did not often rant and rave. But those pregnancy books just did not prepare me for the behavior of real children. And I don’t mean the babies, who are angels despite the sleepless nights and the sleepless days. No, what puts me on the warpath is when I mistakenly think I’ve been blessed with fifteen minutes of peace only to discover that the damage done behind closed doors will take me an hour to clean up. Just hand me my spear and helmet.

Recently I walked into the living room and spotted the cap to a bottle of glue. Just the cap. A bad omen. I discovered the empty bottle lying on the floor near a white puddle and near a bed with two mysterious and giggling lumps and near the baby who was playing in the goo. And only a few days before the glue incident, for the second time in as many days, my children, with the six year old as ringleader, covered the floor and furniture with baby powder. The only thing that spared their lives that second time was that Dad, not Mom, discovered the disaster.

I do hope that in time, as the children age, my own manners will improve. I fear, though, that my behavior is predicated on their behavior, and unfortunately, I think things will get worse before they get better. In a few years and with a bit more education, my oldest child will, I’m sure, feel inspired to refer to me as Attila. The results are predictable.

teething baby

The baby is up often during the night. She wants to sleep only in my arms attached to a breast.

Sleeping in a semi-upright position on the couch is like charging a cell phone while it’s on. You don’t get a good charge, and eventually the battery wears out.

This has been going on for two weeks now.

I am so tired…