Some Days I Feel Like a Terrible Mother, But He Loves Me Anyway

I start putting a load of laundry in the washing machine when I hear the kids begin to argue in another room, no doubt over one of the many tractors that line the halls. “No, you need a time out! You go to your room!” my son yells. As soon as I hear it, a familiar sense of shame builds up in my stomach. I walk down the hall and calmly say, “Please don’t talk to your sister that way.”

Why wouldn’t he? He had obviously heard those very words before in this house.

 

To read the rest of my story, click over to my latest on Her View From Home.

 

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His Favorite Part of School

Last fall I dropped you off for the first day of school. By the end of summer, you asked every day, “Does school start tomorrow?” I would say ‘no’ as we counted down the weeks, then days.

We walked into school the first morning, your little hand clutched in mine. You walked behind me, peeking out from behind my legs. Who was this shy boy? I bent down, gave you a hug and said, “I’ll be back at lunch to pick you up, okay? You’ll have fun!” I smiled big and hoped my excitement would rub off. You wrapped your arms around my neck and didn’t want to let go.

The weeks went by. You clung to my legs at drop-off for a couple months.
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Although you never cried, some weeks I had to practically pull you off to get you to stay. Later, your teacher would tell me that within minutes of my being gone, your smile was back and you loved being at school.

Each day I would wait for you outside the classroom with the other moms.
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Without fail, you came barrelling out of the classroom toward me. You ran with your arms wide and an even bigger smile on your face, “Mom!” You locked your arms around my legs and looked up at me. “Mom, you came back!”

I tousled your hair, knelt down to meet your eyes, “Of course I did.”

Last night I brought out the chalkboard to mark the occasion of your last day of school. I began filling it in, asking you who your best friend is, and what you want to be when you grow up. In September on your first day of school you said you wanted to be a ghost. Now you want to be “an ambulance guy.”

I asked, “What’s your favorite part of school?”

I expected to hear:
Snack time.
ABCs.
Playing with my friends.

Instead you said, “When you pick me up.”

I asked again, to be sure. “Your favorite part of school is when it’s done?”

“Yup, and when you pick me up.” You looked at me with a big grin.

I thought back to all the times you ran to me and wrapped your arms around my legs.

I smiled, “It’s my favorite part too.”

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This post was originally shared on my Instagram, then was posted by Coffee + Crumbs.

 

Take Your Time

 

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“Okay, I just need to get a few things. After we’re done we’ll get lunch and go home, okay?” I said as I peered into the backseat of the car.

I glanced down at my list before throwing it in my purse: diapers, wipes, new socks for Rhett. Get in, get out. You can do this.

After unbuckling both kids from their car seats, with Allie on my hip and Rhett’s hand clasped in mine, we marched into Target. We went straight for the cart rack and I grabbed the behemoth cart, wondering how many racks I would accidentally ram it into before we left the store.

Rhett immediately started climbing into the bottom rack of the cart.

“No, Rhett. You need to sit IN the seat. Not underneath.”

I braced the cart with both arms and began pushing us down the aisle. Have you ever tried to drive one of those? You practically need a special driver’s license to operate it. After I managed to get the cart going in a straight line, we headed for the baby section. I parked the cart in the center of the aisle, hoping neither one of them could reach out and grab something from their side of the cart.

Diapers. Wipes. Check. Check.

As I pushed the kids through the rest of the aisles, I felt like an ant underneath a microscope. My parenting was on display, magnified for everyone to see. Allie began pulling shoes off the shelves and putting them into the cart, while Rhett begged for a snack. I looked around before lowering my voice to its stern, “I mean business” tone. “We are almost done. If you don’t stop pulling things off the shelves, you won’t get a snack. Do you understand?”

When my kids misbehave in the store, do people think it’s because I’m a bad mom? Do they think I have bad kids? Or maybe they aren’t even thinking of us at all.

I tried to squash any outbursts before they became too big. Too big for me to handle in the home goods aisle, at least. I glanced at my list to see if all the items were checked off, then made one last stop for an item not on the list: fruit snacks. I wondered as I opened the box and handed them each one package if I was doing the right thing by giving them a sugary snack to get through the checkout line.

As we were checking out, I’m sure I looked overwhelmed (that’s how I felt on the inside, at least). I didn’t notice the older woman that was checking out behind me. I don’t know what she saw. Had she watched me from a distance the whole time I was shopping? Or had she only seen us at the checkout line . . .  when each kid had a package of fruit snacks in hand?

As I was trying to wrangle my bags and contain both kids through the automatic doors, their hands now holding empty wrappers, she looked at me and said, “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

I was so taken aback, I’m not sure I even said thank you. I smiled and we walked out the door.

As I strapped my kids into their car seats, I kept replaying her words over and over.

I’d spent most of the time in the store rushing. Ramming the cart into the ends of the aisles in a race with myself to get out of the store. I wanted to cross all the items off my list and be back in the safety of the car as soon as possible—my jaw noticeably clenched, my face tight. My voice growling. Did I even smile once at my kids? Smile when Rhett helped his sister get into the cart? Smile as the kids pointed to books they recognized from our own bookshelf at home?

What gave her the impression I was a good mom?

As I drove out of the parking lot, I wondered, What if we told each other that more often?

What if we told ourselves that?

I left the store that day feeling a little bit better about myself. A little better about my parenting. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe when I wiped the tears from Allie’s face when she pinched her finger. Or me standing in the diaper aisle, scrutinizing over all the brands: making sure to pick the good ones, yet not the ones that cut into their college fund. Or maybe she just recognized a little bit of herself in me: a woman trying to be a good mom, but also acknowledging the challenge it is to shop with two young kids. Whatever it was, I appreciate that she saw my struggle. Saw me.

So if no one has told you lately: “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “We’re Better Mothers Together.”

The Best Kind of Surprise

whitneyriehlphotography-38“Do you know what you’re having?” My friend asked as she pushed her stroller along the path.

Gripping my stroller, I looked over at her and said, “A girl.”

“A girl?! Aren’t you so excited?” She exclaimed.

Two years earlier, with my belly swelling, I sat eating cake at my baby shower.

“Well, I think she’s definitely having a boy. Boys run in the family.” I overheard my sister-in-law say.

I put my hand on my belly and smiled. Girls run in the family on my side, although I suppose science would argue that doesn’t matter.

“It’s probably a boy.” I agreed. Part of me hoped if I said it enough, I would be okay if it was true.

“I can’t believe you’re not going to find out what you’re having! That would drive me crazy!” one of my best friends laughed.

I was well over halfway through my pregnancy, happy with our decision to not find out at the 20 week ultrasound what our first baby would be. Maybe I’d seen too many movies growing up: the woman on a hospital bed, the magical moment when the doctor held the baby up and announced, “It’s a boy/girl!” 

Before my baby shower, I walked the aisles of Target, scanning items for my registry. When I made it to the baby clothes, I paused when I reached the girl section. My fingers reached up to touch all the pink outfits: dresses, rompers, onesies. All the outfits looked so cute and I imagined years of dressing a baby girl. I kept pushing my cart to the boys’ section: everything looking dull. Nothing jumped out at me.

That night I came home and told Rich about all the cute girl outfits I saw when shopping.

“You do know it could be a boy, right?” He said, raising his eyebrows at me.

“Yes, I know. But I have no idea what I would even do with a boy! I never imagined having one.” I replied.

It was true. Having grown up with one sister, the thought of having a son never crossed my mind. I am one of two girls, my mom is one of two girls, my dad is one of two boys, and my sister had one boy, with a second one on the way. The way I saw it, I was bound to keep with tradition and would deliver a baby girl that fall.

Summer quickly passed to fall, and seeding time kicked off, keeping Rich out in the field most of each day. After months of Braxton Hicks, I found myself having what I thought were real contractions and thinking this might really be it. When he came in the house around 9 p.m. to grab something to eat, I headed back out with him in the tractor, knowing I would be unable to reach him (no cell service) if things really ramped up.

After uncomfortably bumping along in the tractor, I decided to sit in the pickup at the end of the field. After lying in the backseat and reading for less than an hour, the contractions were picking up and my excitement and nerves did too. I turned the headlights on and started flashing them: letting him know it was time to go. Fast forward to the next morning, when, after eight hours of unmedicated labor and two hours of pushing, the doctor held up our baby. Rich, beaming with pride, announced, “It’s a boy!”

My head hit the pillow, exhaustion taking over as the adrenaline wore off. When I think back, most of that morning still feels like a blur. Later that day with my new baby clutched to my chest, Rich hesitated as he said, “I was a little nervous to tell you he was a boy. After you’d done so much pushing, I felt bad. I didn’t know if you would be disappointed.”

I was shocked when they placed a seven pound thirteen ounce boy on my chest. I had really been carrying a boy for nine months? Even though I’d packed two outfits for the hospital, I didn’t really believe the girl outfit wouldn’t make it out of the bag.

Almost two years later, pushing the stroller with my busy toddler boy, I hesitated to tell my friend I was having a girl. We’d known for almost a week, yet had only told my parents and my in-laws. When we decided to find out the gender for that pregnancy, I assumed I would be elated to announce it to everyone I met. But the biggest feeling I had was guilt. I felt guilty that I wanted to be excited. If I acted excited, did that mean I didn’t love the boy I already had? Guilt washed over me, so much so that it took me weeks to get excited about having a girl.

Although I never expected to have a boy; I’ve never regretted or been disappointed to have him for a moment.

Since having a son, a few of the phrases I often hear are:

“He’s all boy!”

“Boys are so wild!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I have to admit, for him, they’re all true. Rhett will find any mud puddle to jump in or ride his bike through, even if it’s the only one for miles around. Slow is not a gear he has, he runs everywhere he goes. (My favorite is when he runs to greet me at preschool pick up. I’ll never tire of that.)

But.

He often tells me, with his arms wrapped around my legs, “Mama, you’re beautiful! I love you.” 

He plays hard, but he loves even harder. While I didn’t know what I would do with a boy, I’m thankful I get to keep finding out every day.

 

Photo by: Whitney Riehl Photography

// This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on “Rewriting the Script.”

The View From My Kitchen // On Coffee + Crumbs

In the kitchen, I can hear the kids yelling in another room. It sounds like my son is trying to get his sister to play and from what I can hear, she isn’t being compliant. I am about to call out for them to “play nice,” but think better of it and let them be. When I glance down at the floor I notice the flour dusted on the carpet. I can’t remember when I had the flour out last and suspect the kids might have had something to do with it.

I hear the hum of the fridge and the tick of the old oven as it heats up. When I turn toward the window I notice the crunchy snow that is still on the ground, surrounded by patches of brown grass peeking through. Out of the corner of my eye I see the dishes stacked beside the sink, and think it’s a never-ending cycle of cooking and cleaning. The snow on the ground is a lot like my kitchen lately. As soon as the snow begins to melt and I think I can finally shout “spring is here!” It snows again. In the same way I feel a satisfaction when I wipe down the counters at the end of a long day, tomorrow there will be another meal to cook and another sink of dishes to wash. Our dishwasher has been acting up lately, leaving me to wash all the dishes by hand. Surprisingly it hasn’t bothered me as much as I anticipated; it’s somewhat relaxing to have my hands in warm water and the feeling of accomplishment when the dishes are clean and dry.

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Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

Why I Take My Wild Child Out in Public

This post was originally published on Her View From Home one year ago today. I wrote this after a particularly challenging day in town with my kids. I wrote this and submitted it for publication without telling anyone, I was afraid it would be rejected and I wanted to keep the rejection to myself. But, it wasn’t rejected! Thank you to Her View From Home for accepting my first piece for publication (and all of those since then) and giving me the courage to keep writing. And thank you to my kids for continuing to challenge me, giving me things to write about.

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“You’re a brave mom for being out in public with him.” I could have easily been offended by the older woman’s words, but truthfully, I was feeling like I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide, or at least go home. The words she said after that, as she squeezed my shoulders, told me that she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings—but that she had been there. “My boy was the same way. I had to tie him in his crib for two years.”

My three-year-old gets referred to in many different ways: spirited, busy, wild, a handful, and many others. And he is all of those things. There are times I do feel brave for being out in public with him. But mostly it doesn’t feel brave, it’s a necessity. I have to get groceries, and sometimes I have to take him with me. Sometimes we need to eat lunch in public, although I would prefer to avoid it.

I never pictured myself being a “boy mom” (although I don’t fall strictly into the Boy Mom Club, as I also have a one-year-old girl). I was that person in the past who would see a spirited child in the store or at a restaurant and think, “Wow, do they not care that he is jumping around and making so much noise?” Now I realize, yes, they do care.

I’ve read a lot of articles on how to deal with “spirited” children and it seems like whenever I’m in the moment, I don’t know the right thing to do or say. And then it just seems like I have zero control over my child. But I do care. I would love for him to sit quietly and eat his lunch. I would love to be able to enjoy a meal in public without having to reprimand him every 15 seconds. But that’s not who he is right now. What most people don’t see though are the times when he will say, “Hug you,” meaning he wants a hug. Or when he says, “I’m going to give you a kiss.” Or when you have a Band-Aid on and he says, “Are you okay, Mama?” He is a wild boy with a big heart.

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The older lady reminded me that kids do grow up. And I’m sure if she had sat down and had a conversation with me, she would have told me to enjoy his wild ways and big smile and to not feel like everyone is watching me (although I am certain they were). She would have said that someday I would be able to sit and have lunch with a group of my friends in the quiet. But would I enjoy the quiet? Or would I want for the times when my little boy is testing every ounce of my patience?

I know that this window of time is so short in comparison to a lifetime. He will spend most of his life, God willing, as an adult and on his own. I won’t get to be on other side of all of his sticky hugs and slobbery kisses. I won’t hear, “Mama, look at this!” or “Mama, watch me jump!”

I know how cliche it is to hear, “You’ll miss this time when it’s gone.” And I know that I truly will. But some days, it really does feel brave to be a mom of a spirited boy. I could have been offended by the woman’s comment, but really, I took it as a compliment. I am brave. I have been reading Annie F. Down’s book, 100 Days to Brave, and every chapter feels like it was written just for me. I have never really thought about being brave and what that means in everyday life. God wants me to be brave, and not just live my life passively. My little boy teaches me that I can be brave, too. If he can jump off the couch without any fear (although sometimes I wish he would have a little fear), then I can be free to be me, not just a mom. I can explore my interests and hobbies and remember who I was before I was the mom of wild boy. And sometimes it takes a little nudge from a three-year-old and from a stranger at a restaurant to remind me that I am brave.

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.

When a Farmer Has a Son

The first step into our home brings me onto the chocolate and caramel colored floors, which run the length of the house. The rich color attracts dust, something that is in great supply on the farmland that surrounds our home. The floor is smooth under bare feet, but I feel the grooves as I walk over each plank. My feet have become worn, my heels, smooth. I have trudged these floors bringing in groceries from the garage and pacing them with my newborn.

We spent nine months not knowing if we would be bringing home a boy or a girl. I had dreamed of a daughter, not imagining what it would be like to have a son. When the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” my eyes widened and my mouth was empty of words. After the initial shock wore off, I was in total awe of this dark-eyed boy. I never could have imagined the heart-stopping moments that come along with raising a young boy. Or how much I have began wondering what having a boy means for our farming family.

Twice now, we have brought babies into our home. Both times we were filled with excitement and fears, each in different ways. The first time was fear of the unknown, the second, fear of the knowing. We brought our son down the hall to the living room to introduce him to his new home.

When a son is born to a farmer, does a father immediately take a sigh of relief, knowing that his land will be passed onto a future generation? Does a mother draw in a breath, imagining the pressures for this baby who just entered this world?

While my son is still young, he appears to have an interest in farming. A farm boy has the privilege of seeing trucks, riding in tractors, and getting dirty in real life. His toys are replicas of his daddy’s work equipment, and play means driving the combine to the field and hauling cows to the spring pasture. I love seeing my son following his dad, taking two steps at a time to keep up, his little cowboy boots kicking up dust. His eyes lock onto his father, his little face shaded under his baseball cap. But moms of future farmer boys worry over all this fun. During our most recent trip to urgent care, my son pleaded with me several times, “Mom, we have to get back to harvest!” All while the doctor was stitching his finger.

Just like the dust that is constantly surrounding us, so is the work. As I glance out the picture window, I tire at all the work that is to be done. Farming is a family affair: from harvest meals in the field delivered by the farmer’s wife, to the dryer full of grain long after the last stalks of wheat are cut. Work begins when the sun comes up, and the tractors don’t shut down until after the sun is long gone.

I am not sure if we will ever know how much our influence has impacted his passion for farming—are we steering him toward this future? Like the reins on a horse we must be careful to guide, not push. Children, like seeds planted in the fertile soil, bloom and grow up. But I am raising my son to work alongside us. The harvest may be great.

When harvest is in full swing, my days are mostly spent alone with the kids. We feel the long days with my husband not home. After the dishes have been washed from the latest meal brought to the field, I find myself walking down the hallway in the quiet dark. Everyone is asleep. The floor is lined with plastic farm equipment, ready for another day of harvest. Behind this door, sleeps a firstborn son who is living up to the hope that the farm will be passed on to another generation. I pray that we lead him in the way that he wants to go, all while giving him every opportunity to succeed in this humble life if he chooses it.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

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This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.