Please Consider Helping My Childhood Friend This Christmas

Dear Readers,

This post is a little different. I am asking for your help. Renee is my childhood friend. She has been through a terrible medical situation. As a Christmas gift to her and her family, I am trying to share their story to help her and her husband and children. Even though this link is to a donation page, I am simply asking you to please consider reading and sharing their story.

Renee’s Story- The Heart of the Family

Renee is an amazing person. She is so positive and happy, even in the face of such pain. She is a great inspiration to me when I am feeling down during a hard day with my three little ones. She always has an encouraging word ready for me! I can vouch that her story is real. If you can forward her story on your blog, webpage, or even your personal Facebook/Twitter/whatever, I would be very grateful.

I have never asked something of my readers before. Thank you for reading. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Love, Melissa

Screwing Up Christmas: The Stories Behind the Pictures

I cannot stress enough to my readers – or to my children – how much effort it takes to do normal things in this house. If unloading the dishwasher is nearly impossible, the idea of Christmas is, um, whoa. “It was like trying to borrow a dollar, getting turned down, and asking for fifty grand instead.” (Although, don’t Google that High Fidelity quote, because it’s about sex, not Christmas.) You can look at the pictures of our Christmas season, and think, “Oh how cute/picturesque/normal…” BUT IT’S NOT! It’s only okayest, at best. I want my children, as well as other overwhelmed mothers, to know that providing anything “normal” these days takes great strength, planning, and patience. The pictures do not tell the whole story in my house, and I sure hope they don’t tell the whole story in your house either. Here are a few normal things that took Herculean effort in this house.

First snowman

Photo: Perfect cute snowman

Photo: Perfect cute snowman

Wow, so cute. So normal, right? Well, Daddy had to be home for this to get done. Momma couldn’t quite manage to get all three kids dressed in boots, coats, snow pants, hats, and mittens. I break out into a sweat just getting them dressed in a diaper with regular clothes. Plus, I don’t think we even have enough snow gear for all of them- they might have to share.

Reality: Babies hide snow gear and get stuck inside while crying "BUBBA!"

Reality: Babies hide snow gear and get stuck inside while crying “BUBBA!”

So, when Daddy was home, I asked him to take R outside to play in the snow. Getting him dressed involved about seven trips up to the bedrooms and down to the basement to dig out appropriate-sized snow gear (to include two boots that are the SAME). Meanwhile, the babies ran amok. I finally got all of R’s gear piled in one spot, and, while we wrestled him into these clothes, one baby managed to run off with the boots and hide them. The other baby took off with the mittens and dumped them behind the dog crate, I think. We finally got R dressed and out the door, and then the babies stood at the window, crying “BUBBA!” (“Brother!”) My mommy-guilt was sky-high. Daddy built the snowman with him, though, so I’m gonna go ahead and call this a victory.

Christmas-Tree Farm

Photo: Cute family at the cute Christmas Tree Farm

Photo: Cute family at the cute Christmas Tree Farm

Looks so picturesque, right? Looks so easy, huh? Let me impress upon you the amount of planning it took to even GET to the farm in the first place. Here is a window into the conversations going on between Mr. and Mrs. Okayest before and during the tree farm trip:

1)      What vehicle would we drive? We used to take the 1988 pickup truck. I used to squeeze in the middle, between Mr. Okayest and a carseat. Now, our family is too big. I would prefer just to throw the babies in the bed of the pickup, but we’d probably get arrested. So we would have to take two cars this year. Wait, no, maybe the tree could just fit on top of our VW? My husband found an old yoga mat to use as a pad on top of the car. Yep, we’re good to go. We would just take the VW to the Christmas tree farm this year so we could all ride together.

2)      When would we go? Every Saturday is filled with obligations and/or chores and/or homework. Okay, we could go on one of Mr. Okayest’s Fridays off. Yes, that would work. Wait, what do you mean the tree farm is only open from 2-5 PM on weekdays? That’s naptime! We have to skip nap to get a dang tree? Uh-oh. It’s worth it, right? It’s only once, right?

3)      How would we get around the farm? Hmmm. Our babies can walk, but they can’t exactly cover great distance on uneven, snow-covered, mud-puddle-ridden ground. We usually take the triple stroller with off-roading wheels for situations like this, but we knew that with the recent snow melt, it would be far too muddy for that. Hmm. Maybe we could use the Ergo carrier and the hiking backpack? What is the weight limit on those things? We haven’t used them in a few months. Would the babies still fit? Would they tolerate not walking? How would we wear an Ergo with a coat again? Would the buckles of the hiking backpack fit around my big husband and his coat?

Reality: Daddy has to saw the tree down with one twin on his back, while R saws with a plastic saw and cries.

Reality: Daddy has to saw the tree down with one twin on his back, while R saws with a plastic saw and cries.

4)      How would Mr. Okayest cut the tree down with a baby on his back? Maybe he could take the hiking backpack off and set it on the ground, with the baby still in it? Oh, wait, it’s too muddy this year. He could just cut it down with a 28-pound kid on his back. Saws and babies – that’s cool, right? Yes, that would work.

5)      How would we make sure  R is included? R insisted on bringing his own saw to the tree farm. He has three toy saws (hand saw, hack saw, and chainsaw), and he knew the right one to bring. How could we argue with that? (You can see him using it in the pictures. He got a face full of sap for that.)

6)      How would we even pay? What do you mean you only take cash or check? Holy crap, we never carry cash or check. Ugh.

It would have been so much simpler and cheaper to get a tree from the grocery store. I’m not even going to write about how long it took us to get loaded up to go home.

Putting up the tree

Photo: Perfect Tree

Photo: Perfect Tree

1)      First, where would we even put it? We bought one of those baby fences (actually two), but we ended up using them around the fireplace and the speakers and other untouchables. Hmmm. With one kid, I totally trusted him (or could just watch him well enough), so this wasn’t an issue. With three kids, I can’t manage. I just can’t. We decided to put it in the dining room and keep the whole room gated off.

Reality: To get this done, we had to gate ourselves into the dining room during the babies' nap, while Momma had a migraine. R put a million ornaments in one cute spot.

Reality: To get this done, we had to gate ourselves into the dining room during the babies’ nap, while Momma had a migraine. R put a million ornaments in one cute spot.

2)      How would we do the ornaments? There is no time – or, more accurately, no energy. Last year, we put lights on the tree, but never got around to the ornaments. This year, R was old enough to be excited about decorating. (He says  the word “decorate” in about 17 syllables.) I had to find the energy to do this. I had to. Mr. Okayest put the tree in the dining room and got all the lights on it – but the ornaments were up to me. I had a 4-day migraine. I could barely see or handle basic life, but I had to do this. I got the ornament box from the basement, gated R and myself in the dining room during the babies’ naptime, and started to unwrap the ornaments. R was tremendously interested and gentle. He helped me for a good hour with his lengthy attention span. He put about 25 ornaments into two square inches of tree, but it looked cute and I left it that way.

I fail at a lot of things with this many small children. I can’t make the cookies I used to make; I forget to put Christmas music on; I am not reading them Christmas stories; we have no Christmas lights on the house this year; all their presents are hand-me-downs or consignment sale toys. But, THIS, this is the one thing I did right:

Photo IS Reality: My son plays with the nativity that his Great-Great-Grandma made by hand, and learns about the birth of Jesus. Win.

Photo IS Reality: My son plays with the nativity that his Great-Great-Grandma made by hand, and learns about the birth of Jesus. Win.

And it’s the only thing that matters. Here is a picture of R playing with my nativity set that my Great-Grandma made – and by “made”, I mean she hand-cast the porcelain and painted it. He was playing with his Great-Great-Grandma’s nativity, and learning about the birth of Jesus. It’s the only thing that matters. I did it.

In Loving Memory of Washing Machine, 1990s to November 2013

In Loving Memory of Used Washing MachineUsed Washing Machine died while working hard, surrounded by his longtime partner, Used Dryer. Used Washing Machine was born sometime in the late twentieth century, and was neither modern nor efficient. He was born into a good home, but was later adopted by the Okayest Family of Virginia. They worked him too hard for too many years. He died with a load of twin laundry inside and sadly gunked up the last load with his innards. It was a gruesome death. The Okayest Family was unsuccessful in trying to revive him.

Used Washing Machine enjoyed his early life with the Okayest Family. In the early part of the twenty-first century, Used Washing Machine led a quiet life. He was only used twice each weekend, for one load of darks and one load of whites. In his later life, as the Okayest Family grew, he was expected to perform two to three times each day. He was especially unhappy with the Cloth Diapering Decision of 2010, the Birth of Twins in 2012, the Okayest Family Great Intestinal Apocalypse of 2013, and Potty Training.

Used Washing Machine experienced a major overhaul during his midlife crisis. His owner, Mr. Okayest, once took him outside to determine the cause of the moldy smell. While he enjoyed his first taste of sunshine, he was embarrassed to be taken completely apart and to show his private parts to the whole neighborhood. He retaliated by continuing to emit a moldy smell for the rest of his life.

Used Washing Machine is survived by his longtime partner, Used Dryer. Used Dryer has been repaired many times by Mr. Okayest, and most often lets his thermostat be replaced. In lieu of flowers, Used Dryer is hoping that someone will send him a new partner to be by his side for the rest of his life.

The funeral service will be held at the dump.

Furlough and Food Storage

I swear my walker isn't part of my long-term food storage.

I swear my walker isn’t part of my long-term food storage.

With two mortgages, three kids in diapers, two kids in formula, and six mouths to feed (if you count the 100 pound dog), we now have zero income. No matter what political views you hold, we can all agree that this is a scary time. My husband is a pawn in this political chess game, and that means I am too. And so are my children. While I just felt angry and scared at first, my husband made me fall in love with him all over again when he came home that first unpaid day. He said something so kind and sweet about the situation, but  I can’t type it here because it’s too polarizing. (This blog is my story, so I’m not about to throw Mr. Okayest under the political-view-bus.) Just pretend to swoon and feel better like I did.

Having him home is wonderful. We can stay up late. He can actually finish his homework for once. I have two extra hands’ worth of help in a very hectic day. My day-to-day life is actually much better. There have been times when I have thought that having him home would be invaluable to me… and now is the time to put my money where my mouth is. Except I don’t have any money. How much is his help worth? How long will it be worth that much? The truth is, I just love to have his beautiful face around during the day.

But how do you pay the bills during this time? How do you buy food? I heard that some establishments offered free food to furloughed federal workers (alliteration much?). Jackpot! However, when I looked it up, I realized a few ironic things:

1) Most of the free “food” is alcoholic drinks. Dang.

2) Most of the “free” food is just 10% off with a government ID. How exactly do they expect people to pay for the other 90% with absolutely zero income? Seriously, people!

3) Here is the best one yet:  “Thirty percent off spa packages to furloughed employees.” Umm, if you are going to a spa while unemployed, you have some major problems.

I did find a few that said, “Free food to federal workers. Congressmen will not be served.”

So, really, how will this work? What will become of this one-income family if Mr. Okayest is out of work for weeks? I have no idea. The kids keep us too busy and too tired to have “scheduled” a good sit-down. But immediately I knew two things:

1)      I am so thankful for my food storage.

2)      I can’t believe I just sold my cloth diapers LAST WEEK. Idiot!

I swear I tidied this short-term pantry for the photo.

I swear I tidied this short-term pantry for the photo.

Anyway, as for the food storage, our LDS church has always encouraged every member to be self-sufficient. We are taught to keep as much food storage as is reasonable for our home and family. Ideally, we are to have three months’ worth of regular food in the house, which I call “pantry food” – just  large quantities of what we usually buy and eat. It’s part of the rotation. We’re talking about pasta, tuna, canned veggies. (Ok, ok, and also boxes of Kraft and cans of potted meat… I’m southern, remember?)

In addition to a three months’ supply of short-term food storage, we are also taught to aim for up to a year of what we call “long-term food storage”. This includes survival basics. I call it “under-siege food”. We are talking rice, wheat, beans, oatmeal, dry milk. Stuff that your kids would probably cry about if they had to eat.

Our church does not promote doomsday scenarios or wild schemes you see on NatGeo about building a fortress with spikes and “keeping a box with crushed glass by the door for security” (that’s a Doomsday Prepper quote, folks!).  Instead, we are simply taught to keep food storage for personal emergencies. If the husband were to lose his job or become ill, then at least that family wouldn’t have to buy groceries. What savings they do have could go toward the mortgage. We need to be self-sufficient in an emergency. How would you ever help “thy neighbor” if you can’t even help yourself?

Our church also promotes having three months of your salary in savings, as well as two weeks’ worth of water storage. We follow these guidelines. We always have. I built our food storage over years, proudly canning much of it myself into large #10 cans with oxygen absorbers inside. I have a 72- hour kit packed and ready for each member of my family (including that dang dog), if we were to have to leave the home during any of the natural disasters that have occurred here, including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or trees falling. Political chess games require more of a shelter-in-place plan.

I hope someday I can help our family be even more self-sufficient. I hope to grow food. I hope to have chickens and goats. (Hey, a girl can dream, ok? I owned a dog-walking business  in a rural area, which meant that I mostly fed chickens, goats, and horses. I was good at it. I liked it.) It’s hard to do these things with three babies, but someday I will have three sons who can help. The trick will be to start when they are young enough to want to help, but old enough to walk and not put everything in their mouths. I want to tap into that “industry” phase of childhood before it’s too late.

We will be fine. I know how to make emergency flat-bread out of a paste of flour and water and salt. (Although that does sound eerily similar to the recipe for homemade play-doh, now that I think about it.)  I know how to cook without power. I know how to make my family poop in a bucket. I know how to … wait, those last two had nothing to do with furlough, did they?

We will be fine. We don’t have any car payments because my husband is freakin’ MacGyver and can make anything work right. We don’t have any debt other than mortgages and student loans. We have savings. If things get bad, we know how to sell things. And how to market my MacGruber’s skills.

We will be fine. We will not be buying the salmon, avocado, and blueberries on which my sons gorge. We will not be spending any gas money to visit the grandparents on the weekends. We will not be buying balloons or presents for the babies’ first birthday this week. However, we will be relying on our precious food storage and being thankful that we followed the advice of our church.

Now if only I hadn’t sold those cloth diapers. Argh.

***

Notes: I’ve had some inquiries about where to find more information on building your own 72-hour kits. Information on the web is plentiful, but start here: http://www.ready.gov/document/family-supply-list

Here’s a handout I made for a lesson I taught at church: How to make a 72-hr kit

Here is the LDS church’s preparedness page: http://providentliving.org/self-reliance?lang=eng

By the way, I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert on 72-hour kits or anything else. I just really like to try.

Moms Are Not Good for the Environment: An Apology to the Earth

I guess I do bathe them sometimes.

I guess I do bathe them sometimes.

As my dad always says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!” Despite my good intentions, since I have become a mom of three, I apparently no longer care about the environment. Well, I do, but you would never know that because of all this naughty stuff I do.

I used to be an environmentalist. I was careful with resources. I have been taking care of this earth since I convinced my parents to start recycling in the early 90s when I was a mere pre-teen.  It was no easy feat to recycle while living on a mountain with no trash-pickup! It required going all the way into the next town to the real dump, and not just to the dumpster in our own little town. We paved the way to the recycling center!

Anyway, sorry, Earth, here’s a list of things I used to never do… but now I do them because I am an Okayest Mom. I am an Okayest Mom who is paving the way to hell – or at least to the landfill – with my good intentions .

Using paper plates sometimes: I swear, I never did this before kids. I never even bought paper plates before! But now, sometimes the dishwasher is just too full. And sometimes I haven’t unloaded it. Also, it already takes me about 20 minutes to clean up after each meal at this stage, because of all the food on the floor and the two high chairs, and sometimes I can’t spare any more minutes that the dishes would …oh, well, nevermind. Excuses.

Using paper napkins: I was raised on cloth napkins. I used them in the first eight years of my marriage. I like them. They were not a big deal. Now they are.

Using ridiculous amounts of paper towels: We go through a Costco-sized pack of paper towels more often than I’d like to admit. With my first son, I wiped the cute little sweet potatoes off my cute little sweet potato’s cheeks with a cute little washcloth and let it dry on the cute little towel rack. No. No more. There is no towel rack big enough to hold all the washcloths I would need to clean these twins. Also, we have a lot of clean-ups that involve things that I don’t want to see on a regular towel.

Using ridiculous amounts of disposable diapers: I used cloth diapers for a short time with my first son. I actually kind of liked it. It wasn’t too bad. Plus, his bum was enormous – and enormously cute – in those things. However, once my twins came, those cloth diapers were out the window. (Or, to be more precise, they were on their way to the consignment sale.) At our peak, when I had three kids in diapers and the twins were doing that pooping-every-hour newborn thing, we used more than 25 disposable diapers per day. To the landfills of the world, I am truly truly sorry.

Using ridiculous amounts of wipes: To all those more-hippie-than-me moms who are using those reusable washcloth wipes or making their own wipes, I salute you. I think.

Wasting gas by driving around to keep a sleeping baby asleep: I would have never ever done this in my pre-mom life. But a parent will do ANYTHING to keep a baby asleep. Tiptoe, stop breathing… you name it, we’ve done it. And so have you! Don’t lie.

Wasting gas by idling the car to keep a sleeping baby asleep: See above. (Funny how I didn’t waste gas back when it was only a dollar per gallon, but now I will willingly waste it at four dollars a gallon when the budget is tight. Go me!)

Not recycling as much as I used to: Okay, for this one, I am super ashamed. It is hard to admit, but sometimes I am too tired or too busy to rinse out the dang yogurt container, and I just throw it away because it’s easier. Seeing other people do that used to make me really angry.

Letting a kid pull out all the wipes, tissues, or toilet paper: If it allows me to shower or make dinner, who am I to stop him? I calculate how much that roll or box cost me, and then I ask myself if the peace is worth that price, and the answer is always yes. The earth might disagree.

Using more propane, oil, or electricity: Turn that heat up, baby! If my kid is waking up with cold hands and feet after being clothed in a long-sleeve onesie, socks, and fleece footed zip-up jammies overnight, then it’s too cold in here. (By the way, that was only one of my kids. I also have one normal one and one who feels like a furnace that has a fever.)

Letting the water run: I will happily let the water run in the sink for 45 minutes to keep my preschooler occupied quietly. Sorry. It’s water therapy, right? Besides, I make up for it by hardly ever bathing my children. And, when I finally do bathe them, all three share the same bath water.  Also, my own showers are super short. As my friend Anne once said, “My shower is only as long as the crib mobile’s song.”

Okayest Mom wants the earth to know that she is SO SORRY. When my kids are in school, I will make it up to you.

Because I will be sleeping, in the dark, all day long, without using any resources.

The Phrase “Upscale Resale” Makes Me Want to Gag

thrift store bragging

Everyone knows that I buy almost all my kids’ clothing used. The exceptions are underwear, socks, and sometimes jammies – but only because those are hard to find. I actually think it is kind of stupid to buy new clothes for kids (sorry), unless you can’t find what you need or it’s a special occasion. Like Easter- isn’t it good luck to have new clothes in Easter or something? Most of the time, kids outgrow clothes before they get all used up and pilled anyway, so it’s super easy to find good stuff.

Plus, I’m a little spoiled because people take pity on families with three boys in diapers and often donate bags of clothes. I consider that to be extremely generous, because they could have sold those clothes for money. It’s as if they donated money to my family.

When I was on bedrest and my 2-year-old was outgrowing his clothes, I panicked when I realized I couldn’t go to the thrift store like usual to get the next set. I was worried that I would have to buy all new clothes online or something. (Unless Mr. Okayest were to make a trip to the thrift store to pick out a season’s worth of toddler clothes, which he would be perfectly capable of doing, but somehow I just didn’t see that in his job description…) That’s when my friend Jen told me about something called online consignment. Holy cow, I had hit the jackpot. I didn’t even know something like that existed. You could buy used clothes online? Without using ebay? Sweeeeeeet.

I quickly realized that most of the online consignment places billed themselves as “Upscale Resale.” Gag! At the risk of quoting that awful John Stossel, give me a break. “Upscale Resale” seems to be infiltrating this market. The phrase “Upscale Resale” must have been invented by someone who was too embarrassed to shop at the thrift store. Most of these online shops bragged about their “flaw free” clothes, “zero imperfections”, and, of course, the Holy Grail of Nothing, “name brand children’s clothing.”

As a crazy mom of three children three and under, may I just say that I am super proud of myself if they are dressed at all?! Do you think I care if my kids’ clothes are “flaw free” and made by J.Crew? Do you think that “upscale resale” matters to me when there is always puke, pee, peas, or poop on every article of clothing at all times? An outfit lasts maybe an hour in this house.  Twins quadruple (not double!) the mess, because not only do I have two babies who make themselves dirty, but I also have two babies who smear mess on each other.

Or maybe I don’t care about name brand and “flaw free” because I was a teenager in the 90s, when girls could stay covered up in oversized thrift store flannel. That’s a blog post for another day.

And the prices? Well, if the Upscale Resale used shirt is $7.99 and shipping is at least $2.99, and I can get a similar shirt NEW at Target for $5, or used at the thrift store for $2, what is the better option here? Duh.

I have taken advantage of the online consignment to sell overflow and/or outgrown clothing, because they just mail you a prepaid mailer bag. You can stuff it and schedule a mail pickup, and it’s easy enough for even a mom like me to handle. However, most places don’t accept Wal-mart brands or even Target brands! When did used clothing become snobby?! Someday when my kids are in school and I am free to watch Teen Mom all day long, maybe I can sell the clothes myself at a proper consignment sale – where they accept regular old kids’ clothes. (Or, probably more appropriately, pass them on to another mom who is as overwhelmed as I am.)

Give me a real thrift store any day. I’ll take the clothes that smell like a stranger’s B.O. and have a few flaws. I’ll take Wal-mart brand. I’ll take the kind of clothes that need baking soda or vinegar and a couple heavy-duty washes to get the stink out. Downscale Resale for this family.  Hey, at least my kids are dressed, okay?

When Vacation Isn’t

SRP_9909

(Please note that I am sinking into the sand here. I told you I never carry both of them.)

Woe is me: my beach vacation was hard! Just before I packed my 3 diapered children off to the beach, I saw an article from The Onion entitled “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties In Closer Proximity To Ocean”. I actually elle-oh-elled. (Okay, I’m totally snorting while reading it again right now.) The last line is, “At press time, [mom]  was reportedly busy preparing a meal identical to what she would have made back home, except that she planned to serve it on paper plates.”

Oh, this is such a First World Problem. (Or, as my college roommate would say, “A White Person Problem”.) I suck. I will complain about my vacation when most people don’t even get vacations. Let me serve some cheese with my whine. Or get out my mini-violin. Go get your tissues, people, this is gonna be a tearjerker!

My mom always said, “Why would anyone want to stay in a beach house instead of a motel? If I wanted to makes beds and do dishes and cook, I would’ve stayed home.” I guess she wrote that Onion article.

Mr. Okayest and I were a perfectly matched beach couple. We both liked to spend all day (and I mean all day) on the beach. We read books, we napped until we were too hot to breathe, and then we jumped in the ocean and kissed between dodging waves. Repeat. At night, we went out to dinner and took moonlit walks and dared each other to swim in the black ocean. We did this for years and years, and it was the one thing that I loved about not having children. (Maybe the other thing would have been my Mormon Nap after church on Sundays.) I think the beach was the one place I felt content without children.

Fast forward a decade.

Woe is me. In addition to normal vacation gear, I had to pack formula, baby food, a potty seat, a stool, two high chairs, two pack n’ plays, a baby gate, three floaties, one blankie, diapers, pull-ups, night diapers, swim diapers, and wipes for the beach. I had to spend the first sunny morning shopping at the Food Lion with my cousin. I had to plan and prepare dinners and lunches that would appeal to six kids, ages six and under. I had to keep all my children from drowning, burning, or dehydrating. I had to convince all my children to sleep in a strange place because this is fun. I had to do dishes and wash bottles and clean the dang floor under the high chairs three times a day, because we didn’t bring the dog along to do it for me!

Woe is me. I hauled cranky children into the house for every lunchtime and naptime (2 twins x 2 naps per day). I hauled slimey suncreened children back out of the house for every beach time, praying that they didn’t pee on me while they were smooshed into their too-tight pee-through swim diapers. I dealt with vacation-inspired diaper rash so bad that it called the doctor all by itself. I had to bathe my children way more than I ever do at home, because of the sand/ diaper rash/ sunscreen patina. I had to let my oldest kid get knocked down by a wave so he would have a healthy fear of the ocean.

You know what? SO WORTH IT!

So worth it: Mr. Okayest was with us for days on end – no work, no grad school, no homework, no car repairs or house repairs, and, oh yeah,  no house chores that he has to do because his wife didn’t. (At home, I call myself a “garage widow”.) I loved having his help with the babies, but mostly I just loved seeing his tanned, scruffy, beautiful face all day, every day. I miss his face when he goes to work.

So worth it: my serious introverted toddler actually had fun. Fun. This kid can sometimes go an entire day without smiling….but here, at the beach with his cousins, he was laughing. He was running and jumping and splashing and sand-castle-building and pretending weird things.

So worth it: My kids slept better in a strange place than they do at home. Must have been all that sunshine. And all those rowdy cousins.

So worth it: I did get to swim in the ocean with my husband a few times (i.e., he threw me in) because there were more adults back on the beach to help out. I did get to sneak out to dinner and go on romantic moonlit walks on the beach with my husband after the kids went to bed, because there were more adults back at the house to stay with the kids. It had been a loooong time.

***

And, lest I forget, here are three more vacation-related things for which I am grateful:
1) We did not get evacuated for a hurricane this year. We were actually evacuated two years in a row.
2) I was not on bedrest this year. Thankfully my cousin bought out our share of the beach vacation last year, after the doctor forbade me to go.
3) Most importantly, we are not the owners of that beach house. It was falling into the ocean – much like the one we rented last year, which has fallen into the ocean.

 condemned

19 Things That Help a New Mom (And I Should Know!)

Clueless about how to help? Here you go.

After months on “modified bedrest” with a high-risk twin pregnancy and a 2-year-old, then almost dying during birth, and then spending a month learning to walk again and get my strength back, I learned a thing or two about service. Other people took over my life for me. They cared for my bodily needs, the needs of my toddler, the needs of my home, and the needs of my new babies. My husband cared for me with the strength of an army, but it wasn’t enough, between working full-time and going to grad school. So another army came. Several people have asked me for a list of things that would be helpful for a new mom, and, dang, I should know!

19 Things That Help a New Mom – Don’t ask! Just do!

1)      Come over, but call first. Call the husband if you have to. Ask them to tell you honestly if they are overwhelmed with visitors.

2)      If they are too tired for visitors, ask if you can take the older child away for a lunch date or a playground date for an hour or two.  I guarantee he hasn’t had enough attention or exercise lately.

3)      Arrive in your jammies, with no makeup, and your hair in a scrunchi, so momma won’t feel like such a slob.

4)      Bring food. Preferably:

  1.  Fresh veggies or fruit that are already washed and cut, or
  2. A dinner that can go in the freezer if someone already brought dinner

5)      If there is an older child, pay attention to him first. Maybe bring him a trinket. Nothing fancy. A crazy straw. A cool leaf. A matchbox car.

6)      Take out the trash.

7)      Take the baby in your arms and insist that mom go upstairs and take a nap. Insist again.

8)      Take the baby in your arms and insist that mom go upstairs and take a shower. Insist again.

9)      Ask her how her pain is. Let her cry.

10)   If she’s feeling down, or doesn’t want to talk, just sit with her. Maybe just watch TV together.

11)   Load or unload the dishwasher. Wash the dishes. Don’t ask. Just do it.

12)   ASK if you can throw in a load of laundry. Unlike dishes, laundry is a little personal and momma may not want you to wash her afterbirth-y undies.

13)   Fold any laundry you can possibly find.

14)   Vacuum.

15)   Quietly wipe down the bathroom counter and toilet seat when you’re in there. Use a baby wipe if you have to.  Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Just do it.

16)   Bring in the trash can and the mail.

17)   If they have a (nice) dog, ask if you can take her for a walk. I guarantee she hasn’t had enough exercise lately.

18)   If the mom has recovered enough, ask if she’d like you to help take her and the baby on a walk. I can guarantee that she and the baby haven’t had enough fresh air. The sunshine will help her mood improve and help the baby sleep better at night.

19)   Don’t ask  “Do you need anything?”   Instead, when you are on your way to the grocery store or Target, call and say, “I am on my way to the grocery store or Target. What can I bring you? Diapers? Wipes? Dog food? Hemorrhoid cream?” Ask again. Insist that you are going anyway. Be specific.

Someone did each of these things for me at some point. No one has to do ALL these things- just pick something! Each person has her own strengths. My mother-in-law always brought fresh fruit – and washed and cut it and fed it to my toddler. She always sent me upstairs for a nap. My mother always did my dishes and my laundry. She would bring ingredients for a meal, and then make it here, while enlisting the help of my son. My father-in-law always took my son to the playground or out to lunch. He also always brought in the trash can and the mail and fixed anything he could find. My church friends always brought dinner – in an orderly fashion, on a schedule, for five weeks. When nursing was slow-going at first, they poked and prodded my boobs, checked my latch, and brought fenugreek pills and tea. (Also, during the bedrest, my church sisters made a schedule of who cared for my son each day.) My cousin Emily redirected my toddler’s tantrums with fun and laughter. She also cut all 60 of my childrens’ nails while I was in the shower once! My Aunt Susan cleaned all my bathrooms, vacuumed, mopped, and even washed my kitchen trash can! My Aunt Cindi provided me the valuable service of letting me cry. She also just sat and watched TV with me while we held babies and laughed until my stitches almost burst. Each of those things was exactly what I needed at that time.

I never expected (or wanted) any one person to act like any other person when providing service to me. All together, they covered everything. The list of people who helped me is enormous, and I can’t name them all. I am indebted to every one of them. They volunteered their time – including, in some cases, time off work without pay, time away from a dying husband, and time away from their own children – to help me literally get on my feet again. I cannot express the love I have for them all. They have taught me how to help others in the future.

blessing day(the babies’ blessing day, 2 months old, with just a fraction of the people who helped us…)