Tag Archives: family

Our Number Two Turns Two


January 12, 2012  |  Mabel Claire Brunner


You, my dear child, were sent here by someone who really knew what they were doing. You fit into this family like a well-oiled glove. Nothing about you seemed to not belong. Your humor, your grace, your ability to get your point across using only your eyebrows and the tip of your nose…you were one of us from the get-go. And we welcomed you with open arms that cold January day.

Today you turn two. You’ve become an insanely talkative, playful and smart little bugger! Your dad and I could not be more proud of you and the person that you are. I almost don’t dread the 5 a.m. growling wake-up calls (“Moooooooooom”) from your crib anymore because, from the moment I turn on the hall light and you get a glimpse of who is coming to get you, our day starts off on a bright and joyful note. You have never failed to greet me with a smile and immediate conversation about the “guys” in your crib (and you will name them all before you can be removed…”Nemo, Mikey, Raph, Molly, Millie, Dorrie, etc. etc. OMG etc.”). When you wake up, we eat breakfast together. You like Special K with berries, but really you only eat the berries and leave the flakes (I don’t blame you much). If you can’t have pop for breakfast (which you can’t), you love juice. Usually during breakfast you will tell me about your family or whatever little bits you remember from the day before. This morning, I heard all about grandma and grandpa, your Sully cake and then we counted to 9 without the 3, 4 or 5, of course. We chased balloons in the living room and threw all the ninja turtles in poor Chloe’s dog bed before turning on Mater Tales and settling in to our Dora chair. Even TV doesn’t distract you for long (our best shots are Bubble Guppies and UmiZoomi) because you’d rather use your energy playing monster or running from room to room with your hands behind your back like Donatello, which is wonderful! 

Some days you go to Amy’s Daycare. Amy loves you and you love her, but we all know the real reason you adore her house – Noah. Don’t deny it, little girl. You’re smitten, and he’s cute 🙂 You play hard there with your buddies Georgia, Ella, Lula and Baby Mila and we are very comfortable with your days there. But, man, the days I get to spend with you? I tear up just thinking about them. Yes, they have their difficult moments. Nearly once a day, you and Coen get in some sort of brawl due to wanting the same toy, and my obvious pointing out of the six million other toys in this house goes unnoticed, so you both get to duke it out in the privacy of your own room. Your brother is patient with you and loves helping you learn. In your car seats, he will often have you repeat after him. “Mabel, say A. Say B. Say C.” Sometimes you jump ahead and you’ll say “D” before he prompts you, and I smile because I know you’re already smarter than he thinks you are, but it puts a small nick in his big brother armor. When you get frustrated, your default is to scream. And, you, my small one, are not quiet. You will do it in the middle of a restaurant, a grocery store, or an elevator. It is all tied to your independent and determined demeanor, which I love about you but definitely had to learn to embrace after raising that cool-and-collected brother of yours. You are just starting to try things on your own without fear. You’ve always wanted to – I could see it in your eyes. Just yesterday, you did the frog slide at the splash pad by yourself and only took a couple tumbles (shook yourself off…no tears…typical) and got right back at it. And similarly, but without the potential for accident, you will open the cupboard doors and bring out the snack bin over and over and over and over and over until you finally get one parent to open those darn Teddy Grahams. Determined, I tell you. And charm might have something to do with it too. But, that charm doesn’t always work, especially on your peers. When you play with your cousin Ruby, I am often reminded of the saying by Margaret Atwood: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another, they are not cute. They are life-sized.” Some day, you will be best friends – I promise. For now, you will do everything in your power to protect your space. I guess bullheaded could be added to your descriptive adjectives as well.

Things you enjoy: taking baths, playing monster, swimming, Ninja Turtles, Thomas the Train, the Peanuts collection, making pretend “pea soup,” greeting your brother in the morning (“Hi, buddy Coen!”), neighbor Kayla, sleeping in your brother’s bed, talking, and talking…and talking, being naked, blueberries and strawberries, sitting in the big chairs at restaurants, climbing (literally anything), fruit snacks and applesauce, watching home videos on daddy’s iPhone, plane rides, car rides, inserting tokens into games at Chuck E Cheese (but not actually playing the games), smelling flowers, dumping out puzzle pieces and refusing to put them back, and dogs.

Things you don’t enjoy: Carnival rides, snow, wearing coats, and cake. Yup. That’s about it.

You, our strong and beautiful Mabes Babes, have such a way of bringing joy into people’s lives. The way you use your comedic timing to make us laugh at the most unexpected times, the way you walk with such confident diaper butt that passersby point and giggle, the way you adore, replicate, and physically love your brother to the point that he needs to push you away, the way you talk. Oh my, the way you talk. We don’t call you “Pebbles” for nothin’. Everything about you, child – the good, the bad and the ugly – You are ours and we are yours. If that isn’t God’s work at its finest, I don’t know what is. 

Happy birthday, baby girl. May all your dreams come true.


January 12, 2014  |  Mabel Claire Brunner



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Handmade Family Rules

This project has been in the works for some time now, so hanging it on our wall tonight was a really big deal! I read awhile ago on one of those parenting blogs that kids respond better to direction when they are not overwhelmed. I don’t blame them – all day every day they hear, “Don’t touch the candle!” “No yelling in the car.” “No somersaults on the bed!” …the list goes on. Nate and I sat down and came up with nine. Just nine that we thought encapsulated our children’s most regularly-needed instructions. We kept them short and sweet because this mama had a creative plan in mind…

Here are our Family Rules in all of their idiosyncratic glory:

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I love it. It makes me happy, and it’s the obvious centerpiece of our family room, which worked itself out perfectly!

Want to make your own? Here’s how I did it (Please know upfront that I fear most, if not all, things on Pinterest because I know I’m just not that crafty, so if I can do this, you can do this):

1) Find a frame with multiple openings. I got mine at Marshalls about six years ago (and yes, the stock photos of rocks and waterfalls were placeholders until today…so pathetic). I found these guys on Etsy and think their work is whimsical and fun for this project specifically.

2) Create rules in Word and save them in a fun, bold and clear font. I sent my files to Office Max Impress and asked them to print them on transparencies.

3) Get out the paper and let your kids be creative. We used fingerpaints and sponges and made shapes in various colors.

4) Then it’s just a matter of layering the painted paper under the transparency in each photo opening. I taped everything in place, so the back of the mat looks like a gift wrapped by a 2-year old.

5) Hang on the wall and admire!

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A Case of the Momdays

Today I had a semi-serious case of the Momdays. So, I’m creating this entry as a mini-mama-mantra to reflect on in days ahead when I feel a relapse coming on. Don’t be scared, dear reader. I won’t hurt you.

No mother is perfect. No mother is flawless. I’ve never known a mother who has never yelled, lost her patience, or wanted to hand her children off to the nearest circus that passes through town. And, it’s true – I too am a mother. And today I yelled. I lost my patience. And, at the wrong moment, had there been a Barnum and Bailey recruiter in Minneapolis? Well, yeah, I may have traded my two brown-eyed beauties for a bicycling grizzly bear.

I took my kids to the zoo. It was an impromptu stop after dropping off Nate’s laptop that he had accidentally left at home. In my short time packing up this morning, I slapped together two PB&Js, packed them each their own favorite-flavored juice box, and, upon arrival, was already pushing one in the stroller while the other rode on my shoulders so they could both view the clumsy baby giraffe from different angles. I am not one to half-ass motherhood, and it’s something on which I (humbly or not-so-humbly) pride myself. Every day should be filled with joy, lessons, memories, long talks, kisses, more lessons, and plenty of “I love yous.” The zoo was a success. Naps on the car ride home were a success. Even transferring them from the car to their beds was indeed a success.

During nap time, I tried to do some work, wash some dishes, fold some laundry, and concoct some sort of Italian dinner. I balanced some of my bank accounts, paid my bills, looked in to a new weight loss app, and focused on a few other personal vendettas I’ve been trying to fight day in and day out. I played with the dog, replanted a flower pot, uploaded some photos to Shutterfly and actually watched 5 minutes of Bethany Frankel’s new talk show. Then the kids woke up.

During those 90 minutes of glorious, silent slumber, my “give-’em-everything-I’ve-got” fuse grew short. I’m embarrassed to even admit that, but then again, I know I’m not alone. Er, I hope I’m not alone.

I caught myself snapping at Coen for putting the hose too close to the sidewalk chalk. I reprimanded Mabel for throwing her popsicle into the hostas. I smacked Chloe’s nose when she barked at a skateboarder. I was finished. I felt unappreciated. And I know that’s ridiculous. I’m a MOTHER. That is precisely what we sign up for the second that kid makes its grand entrance into the world. My kids are FOUR and ONE, for Peter’s sake!! And, for four and one, they have damn good manners. We are having lots of talks about gratitude and it’s nice to instill these lessons in their minds before they are too old to have it make a difference. Coen knows when I ask him, “How many people is mommy?” that the answer is, “One. So I can only do one thing at a time.” But, today, I expected too much.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

I wanted to finish the dishes. I wanted to finish ANYthing I had started. I wanted to shop online. I wanted to mow the lawn. I wanted more time. And that was the issue… I got a glimpse into a little me-time, and it was taken away abruptly (as it is every day so don’t ask me why today felt so different). We, as parents, take on too much. And that’s fine, as long as it’s accompanied by a breather here or there. Seconds after I snapped a “STOP! Just everyone stop talking!” and started crying in the kitchen (good LORD, woman, pull yourself together), I texted Nate and told him I needed some time alone tonight. He agreed and after we ate the dinner I sort of whipped together, I grabbed my laptop and walked away.

After two hours of catching up on work emails at a local (what I thought was a coffee shop, but wound up being a) kosher deli, I had kicked some project booty, eaten the world’s greatest peanut butter crepe, and gotten my head back on (as straight as it’s ever been). I shot Nate a text apologizing for being a hot mess, and he reminded me that I had a great day with a bad hour. Always wise, that man.

Walking in the door at 8:30, I was greeted with smiles and loud “MOMMY!” chants. Even Mabel the Anti-Cuddler wanted a hug. I scratched my dog’s belly and thanked Nate for, well, everything and settled in to watch The Great Pumpkin before bedtime. Of course, I finished those dumb dishes first.

Momdays will come and go. Some weeks, Momdays will occur more than once. There may be stretches of time when EVERY day is a Momday. Just remember that you’re doing your best, no one is perfect, and even those impossibly hard moments too shall pass.

Then, if time permits, take an evening retreat to the nearest wine bar to enjoy a flight of expensive reds. Alone.

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An Ode to the Folks

I was reading a website the other day, and the writer included one of those quote graphics that read: “Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.” I giggled. I shrugged. I turned to see my son emptying markers on to the kitchen floor (approximately 7 inches from the pile of magnets he had just removed from the fridge and the treasure bounty he had dragged out to play pirates, which by the way, was as quickly disregarded as it was thought up), and I said, “No! You will clean up one mess before you make another.” I turned back to the article and, as ah-ha moments often lead you to, I gasped!

Let me start out by saying that my parents freaking rock. I’m talkin’, “who’s-the-first-person-I-call-when-I-am-feeling-my-lowest, please-be-in-my-wedding-party, can-I-borrow-those-stylish-shoes-mom” ROCK! I can’t remember a time that I was so embarrassed by them that I hid my face, or was so mad at them that I threatened to run away. I was always excited for sleepovers with my friends because my house was fun and my parents were a giant part of what made it that way. We had rules and guidelines just like every other family. We had to pray before meals, we couldn’t sing (or whistle or do a little ditty of any kind) at the dinner table, there was no whispering in front of others, you couldn’t roll your eyes or glare or even cross your arms in front of my dad, homework was first priority, cable was canceled in the summertime, and laundry was always to be folded before Saved by the Bell was turned on. I remember riding Hot Wheels in our driveway, going on camping trips and long bike adventures where my brother and I would laugh because my sister had to sit in the yellow plastic seat positioned like six inches from my dad’s butt and that makes a 6-year-old chuckle a bit. We would “climb” Mt. Tom, which now looks like a small sledding hill with trees, and play hide-and-seek in the cemetery by our house (OK, that last one sounds weird). I cherished family vacations and Christmas mornings and ice cream stops for $.50 scoops at Nelsons after 9:30 church. Being a Machler kid was great, for the most part.

All that being said, there are times that I fight with Nate and look down at my kids, not-so-fondly recalling my parents’ “serious talks” from the bottom step in our basement. I watch Mabel hit her older brother and scold him instead out of sheer “you’re older and should know better” mentality, but remember being in that position with my younger sister quite often. I see a lot of them in my own parenting, in my own marriage, in my own decision-making, soul-searching and dream-chasing. I hear their voices in my head when I am challenged with a crossroads (even though they are sometimes atop opposite shoulders). My mom’s mantra is recited internally every time I am insulted, offended or disgruntled by someone’s objectionable opinion (it’s “Consider the source” if anyone else wants to write that down). And I take all of these lessons, mantras, statements, quotes, actions, memories and feelings, mix them up in a bowl, and create my own sense of self.

My kids need to be excused before they leave a family dinner. I always kiss my husband goodbye. My house needs to be spotless before leaving for vacation because – as mom used to say – no one wants to come home to a dirty house. “Because I said so” is my canned response for annoyingly complicated “why” questions such as, “Why can’t the bath toys swim in the potty, mommy?” I create made-up games with my children, use voices when telling stories, and am trying ever-so-patiently to get them to enjoy puzzles. I dress Mabel in clothes I would wear, which are clothes my mother would wear. I drink wine with my husband after rough days at the office and plan future family vacations based on a financial budget wherein I think we can afford being escorted through Disneyworld by Mickey Mouse himself and Nate reels me back in to maybe just standing in line and getting his autograph like other normal middle-income American families. I take my kids out to dinner and buy them an occasional gift from the mall because “you can’t take it with you when you go” – a quote from my father referencing money, death, and (probably hinting at) the lack of expectancies in their will. And, truth be told, I would have it no other way.

I’m a firm believer in “nurture” vs. “nature.” I know I am naturally dramatic and oversensitive and impatient, but I was nurtured to learn how to cope and deal with these traits (good and bad) and to use them throughout life – whatever that type of life might be. I had children, so I use those mechanisms to try and raise them right with good morals and confidence. I want to nurture them as I was nurtured, maybe teaching them to use a touch of humor to brush off negativity or discomfort. How I turned out may not work for everybody, but it’s what I know and I am so thankful for the memories, confidence, work-ethic, and standards that I now have as an adult.

I’m not sure if that quote graphic on that website I was reading was meant to be insulting or not, but whenever someone tells me I’m being “just like my mom” I smile and say, “Thank you.” I hope that – once you get past the gasp and the “ah-ha” moment – you too can see the comparative as a compliment…at least a little bit.

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A Little Love Goes a Long Way

As a mother of two very loved children, I feel obligated to comment on today’s tragedy in Connecticut. Another school shooting. Another mass of babies dead long before their time. Another news-filled day of horrid images and painstaking emotions written on the faces of parents waiting to hug their children. It’s a shame that the word “another” can even be mentioned in this context, but sadly, it is just that…another.

I recall in 1999 coming home from high school and seeing my dad lying on the couch in our basement crying while watching news coverage of the Columbine shootings. I took a simple glance at the TV and went to my room. Today I took a very different perspective on virtually the same news story more than a decade later. Mabel was sleeping in her crib and I was glued to CNN, despite my despise of Wolf Blitzer’s total and utter lack of emotion. Coen kept asking me to play games with him, so I turned down the volume and brought his chalkboard into the living room and we sat and colored pictures of Christmas trees and sunshines and smiling, happy cartoon animals.  As I glanced from the TV back to my son, so full of energy and life, I kept catching myself sucking tears back into my eyes. There are parents who will go home tonight without their little ones. There are parents who will have unopened gifts under their tree this year because one hateful coward felt some sense of societal justice was being served through this massacre. There are parents who need hugs and love and prayer on this day more than any. 

Colleges, high schools, and now elementary schools…all have fallen victim to crimes such as these. What’s next? I cannot fathom a human being with a heart of any size entering a preschool with a weapon. But, then again, I cannot imagine this in any scenario, so I guess I’m just naive. As they interviewed Dr. Drew, he proclaimed that “This Must Stop!” How do you make it stop? Why does it keep happening? There are no tried and true answers, but he advised that we must form a sense of connection as a family, as a community, as a state, a country, and a world. But start small…start with the “as a family” part.

As parents, we all have control over this one. I am proud to see so many of my mommy friends on Facebook posting about how much they are looking forward to giving their children extra long hugs tonight, because this is where we must start. Form a unit of love within your home and it will be spread to the community, and then upwards. “Paying it forward” isn’t just an expression – it can be a community-builder, a life-changer, and a day-saver. Love is the answer. We can all contribute love. 

Kiss your spouse when they walk in the door. Let go of the frustration of a dirty house and play Candyland with your toddler. Let them fall asleep holding your hand. Eat chocolate ice cream before dinner. Give a couple extra kisses before bed and TELL them “I love you.” Use those exact words. Our babies take so much of what we teach them into their adulthoods. Let’s make our lessons good and valuable ones. And let the greatest of these lessons be love. 

I am not often one for quoting scripture, but this one seems too fitting on a day such as today:

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

Thinking and praying for Sandy Hook Elementary today. For those committed teachers who daily gave their all to those kids for a small, unassuming paycheck. For the principal who had five of her own (who I can only assume are beautiful, based on her photo) daughters at home. For the parents and siblings of those precious, young lost lives. My heart is broken today, just as I’m sure my dad’s heart was broken when I walked past him 13 years ago on our couch. Same story, different day. Let’s do our part to make it stop. Love, people. Just give a little love.

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The Dandelion Debacle

The other day, Coen and I were playing outside before heading to the store. We were chasing each other around the yard when he looked down, paused and forcefully plucked a dandelion from the ground. He sprinted towards me yelling, “Mommy, Mommy!” As he got closer, he handed me the yellow weed and said, “I got you a yellow flower. Smell it.” I did, and it smelled like dirt and RoundUp. But, my reaction said it smelled like rainbows and unicorns. “Oh, Coen! This is the prettiest flower mommy has ever gotten. I love it so much, I promise to keep it forever and ever and ever.” What I really meant was, “That was one of the sweetest gestures my child has ever shown me and I want that moment to be engrained in my mind forever and ever and ever.”  But, that’s not what came out. And, that’s not what he heard. And that is all that matters.

I took my dandelion with me in to the car after pulling Coen up to his car seat and buckling him in. On the way to the store, I lodged the dandelion in the air conditioner vent below the radio and told him that’s where I plan on keeping it so I can look at it and think of him all the time. He smiled proudly and went back to loudly pointing out building colors outside his window. He didn’t mention it again for the rest of the night.

My pretty yellow flower

Two days later, I got in my car to drive to work and noticed my “pretty flower” looked like a yellow raisin. Definitely worthy of a garbage can. So that’s where it went – in to the garbage can. The next morning was trash day and off it went, to the city dump. An hour later, I packed the kids in the car to run some errands. I turned around to see Coen’s face drop in disappointment and, with a furrowed brow and wrinkled nose, he screamed, “Mommy, the flower! It’s GONE!” It was as if someone had decapitated Elmo right in front of his face. Something that meant so much to mommy three days earlier was now missing and that was not OK in the eyes of a two-year-old. He heard me say “I promise” and “forever and ever and ever” and those words really mean something to an innocent toddler. I threw that promise in the trash, sent it to the city dump, and didn’t think twice about it because, in my eyes, a dandelion is a dandelion and the neighborhood is far too full of them anyway.

When you become a parent, every sentence needs to be much more carefully crafted than they were sans child. Words need to be chosen with a (much) stronger filter for fear of repetition. What used to come out as “Christina Aguilera dresses like a homeless crack-whore” now needs to be expressed more delicately. “Christina Aguilera sure has an interesting taste in skin-tight, low-cut sequin bikini tops.” Then, to kill two birds with one stone, you can tack on your own “I hope” intro to subtly let your kids know your take on the situation. “I sure hope my daughter never buys clothes like that.” (I say it two inches from Mabel’s face in hopes that, even though she’s only three months old, she might pick up on my lecture.)

Every parent experiences that moment when you realize your kid is much more perceptible than you give them credit for. In my case, it could’ve been when I asked my pregnant nanny if she wanted to use my extra box of breast pads and Coen looked up from his morning toast and said, “You want a prest bads, Danielle?” It could’ve been when Aunt Julie (my role model sister) pretended to throw horse poop at Coen and he randomly shouted, “Mommy, there’s horse poop on your face!” in the grocery store. Or, it could’ve been when I scolded Coen for saying the word “stupid” and two minutes later, I told Nate something he said was “stupid” and…well, you can tell how this story of Mommy the Hypocrite is going to end.

The point of this story is that every parent does it, but the truly great ones feel guilty when it happens. Raising children is one of the world’s most accurate self-reflectors. We can all do our best to avoid cursing unnecessarily at crappy rush-hour drivers, tapping our dog on the butt when she barks during nap time, and complaining obsessively about your job on those truly horrible work days. A kid picks up on everything, including your behavior, your attitude, your temperament, and your phrases. Take the good ones as mini success stories, like when they drop an unsolicited “I love you” or add “please” to the end of “I want a cookie.” So, choose wisely. And always remember that accepting something as a lie is not an option at their age. If you say it, you mean it. A promise is a promise. Take it from me and my yellow weed…er, flower.

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(Please Don’t) Throw Mama from the Train

Mother: A unique specimen of female origin who births, protects, nourishes, guides, and worries for her young until her death (and probably thereafter).

This is not Webster’s definition of the word, I understand that. But, on this fine and beautiful holiday – a holiday that holds a special place in my heart – this is what a mother is. A protector. A worrier. A leader. A woman deserving of her own day…a warm and fuzzy day called MOTHERS Day. So, let me start out by wishing all the moms I know out there a VERY merry and relaxing, clean and inviting, breakfast-in-bed kind of Mother’s Day. You all know who you are, so do me a favor and pat yourselves on the back and know that I love your children (yes, ALL of them) and think you’re doing a phenomenal job in raising them. Lift a glass full of vino (the real kind – not grape juice, cheaters!) and be proud on this day. You’re surviving. You’re incredible. You’re someone’s superhero.

Speaking of superheroes, I’m going to touch on a subject that I’ve been avoiding in my writing for quite some time because I THINK I may have gotten past it. Maybe. My son is a toddler. He goes through phases. Spurts of likes and dislikes. One day he can’t eat his carrots fast enough and the next he finds more joy sticking them up his nostrils. One minute he is laughing hysterically at my rendition of Itsy Bitsy Spider, and seconds later it’s like a scene from Arachnophobia. I’m not asking you to explain toddlers to me. I know how they operate. That doesn’t make it less frustrating. But, every day Coen has the same superhero – his daddy. Nate is my best friend and as close a replicate of my own father as I could’ve married, so it’s no wonder I love him so much. He is sensitive and charming, funny and intelligent, and really freaking youthful. Which is EXACTLY why Coen is madly, truly, deeply in love with the guy! It makes perfect sense. And I can’t say I blame him.

Where my sadness sets in a bit (and this isn’t meant to be a pity-party…especially on Mother’s Day) is with this “phase” he’s been going through. First of all, phases don’t last 14 months, so I’m thinking people just call it that to make me feel better. Secondly, I am 99.9% sure I’ve never done anything to make him resent or fear me. But, for some reason, he has preferred his daddy for quite some time now. He’s the go-to for bedtime routines, book reading, bath time, and wagon rides. Sure, Nate pops wheelies with the wagon and makes a mean cup of milk, but I use sweet-ass voices when I read and my bath time bubbles totally make better Santa beards. It’s not a competition, this I know. I’m just proving the point that I do things equally as well, and for some reason, the boy prefers the man. And this might be how it’s gonna be. Maybe for a little while. Maybe for a long while.

Every time I convince myself that I’m over it or I don’t care and refuse to let it bother me, it simply eats away at me until I wind up crying in the bathroom because I sat too close to him on the couch and he screams and cowers into his father’s arms like I’m a 900-pound yeti who eats small dimpled children. Yeah, that’ll yank violently on some heartstrings. And of course, since one cannot share said emotions with a two-year-old, your marriage gets tested because you feel like something must not be written fairly in your parenting handbook to make him have such an obvious and dominant preference.

Mostly, the reason I cry is that I want him to WANT me. I want to be the one who kisses his owies and rocks him to sleep. I guess I just want to know that he needs me on some level. Not just to cut his spaghetti and fold his little sweatpants, but to do those things I defined above – protect him and guide him and beat up any poorly-raised punks that cause him harm.  It’s obvious his daddy would do all those things too, but we’re a team and we’re both here for him til death do us part. So, I try not to let it get me down, and every once in awhile I have moments – super-amazing Mother’s Day moments – that wash away any festering fears of neglect or favoritism.

Tonight Nate took us out for dinner to Tino’s Italian Cafe. We dined on spaghetti and meatballs and buttered noodles – a fine Mother’s Day feast. Now, I’m not sure what started this, but halfway through dinner Coen reached out and grabbed my shirt and pulled me towards him until I was nearly on top of the poor kid. It’s possible he was intimidated by the large and hairy goodfella behind the counter, or maybe he just needed a cloth napkin in the form of an expensive plaid Gap button-down, but my shirt was now greased up from little paws and I felt so very needed. I would pull away to try and take a few bites of my meal, and he would put his hand on my back and pull me back towards him. There was no way I was getting more than 3 inches away from this kid’s buttery head for the remainder of our dinner. And truth be told, I LOVED every MINUTE. He was slimy and he was mine.

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At that moment, he wanted me near him (like, tauntingly-“I’m-not-touching-you,-I’m-not-touching-you” near him, but near him nonetheless). Those moments during that meal erased all recent thoughts I’ve had at bath time, bedtime, story time or wagon time. This kid needs me. He loves me. He does know that I’m here for him. And, no, I couldn’t have taken down the mobster behind the counter should he have gone all “Godfather” on us, but Coen doesn’t know that. In his eyes, his parents are invincible and that is a standard to not be taken lightly. We are his protectors. His leaders. His role models. We are his owie-kissers and his wagon-pullers. We are his parents. And today, on this grand holiday, I was his SUPERMOTHER! I ate it up right along with my spaghetti and will never forget the fun we had.

And in case anyone was wondering, the actual Webster’s definition of the verb “Mothering” is:

Bring up with care and affection; look after kindly and protectively, sometimes excessively so.

Looks like Webster knows what he’s talking about. That guy should write a book.

Happy Mother’s Day, ladies! Live it up and enjoy the ride.

This post is fondly dedicated to MY beautiful mother, Dar Machler. Most kind-hearted soul this world has ever seen. Mom, Mother’s Day was made for saints like you. All my love.

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What doesn’t kill us…

You know that fear you feel when you wake from a nightmare and you’re convinced the killer is still in your closet? Or that pain you get in your chest when your best friend’s boyfriend cheats on her…again? Or that pit-of-your-stomach-instantaneous-gut-rot that overwhelms you when the car in front of you runs a red light and gets blind sided by a semi going 60? OK. So, maybe those are dramatic comparisons, but in the moment, I swear I felt them all today.

This evening, I was watching Coen by myself. He was getting sleepy, so I made a bottle and sat with him on the couch. Our dog decides now would be the perfect time to scratch, whine, and bark at the door to go outside. I hesitate, but decide she (obviously) can’t hold it. I sat Coen up with his bottle and made the six foot sprint to the front door to let her out, and that’s when it happened. I can still see it when I close my eyes, only now it’s in slow motion, like a scene from a thriller movie that is meant to send shivers down your spine. Stupid slow motion makes everything worse. He reached out for his mommy and when I wasn’t there, he tumbled forward, landing on his forehead, neck bending backwards on the wood floor. Nothing even had time to process. In fact, I am pretty sure I slammed the poor dog’s ribcage in the glass door as I bolted to his rescue.

I picked up my sobbing baby from the floor and held him so tightly to my chest, there was probably a suffocation hazard going on. As he screamed in my ear, about a jillion thoughts ran through my head. What if he’s paralyzed? What if he’s got brain damage or a speech impediment or dyslexia? What if he grows up like that guy in Memento? Oh, the horrors! I realize this was all a little unlikely and I was being slightly overdramatic, but a mother’s mind is entitled to run rampant when there is damage done to their children! So, I did what every mother would do…and panicked. I started to run around the house with him attempting to whisper a soothing “It’s OK…It’s OK…” (which probably came out more in the tone of “Oh my GOOD GOD, I’m going to jail for unintentionally paralyzing my baby and he’ll have to drink from a straw and speak using a voice machine and will probably be cross-eyed for eternity!”).  I ran my fingers up his spine and tested his grip and moved his neck from side to side. In hindsight, this is pretty ridiculous since I basically failed anatomy and I’m not even close to having a doctorate in medicine, so what the heck was I feeling for anyway? You’re lucky I know where the spine is! But, it was nature’s instinct surging through me and, though irrational and stupid, I was obeying.

I determined his legs were working, his toes were curling, his fingers were bending, and his back was arching. I breathed a sigh of relief as I laid him down for his nap and called Nate to tell him about today’s Failed Motherhood Challenge. Once again (you’ll notice this theme throughout my blogging), he was a calm voice of reason and logically said, “Kids are flexible for a reason.” Is that true? If kids are flexible for a reason, mothers should be more resilient to pain and heartache for a reason. Seems unfair.

I talked to my neighbor who has a 9-year-old girl, and she remembers the first time her daughter face planted out of her carseat like it was yesterday. Apparently, it’s scar tissue that doesn’t fade (kind of like those marks on your new stomach!) and it sticks with you forever. Her daughter is fine (and actually just ran over to show me her report card full of ‘A’s), so we’ll just chalk it up to “an experience that had to happen eventually.” My kid will be fine too. He has thick skin like his mama and plenty of back-up brain cells from his papa, so we’ll be alright. Lesson learned (the hard way, but learned nonetheless).

I have almost completely forgiven myself, though my rationale isn’t 100% returned (I wanted to keep him up all night in case he had a concussion in his sleep…again, I’m no doctor).  And, I was forced to admit to my father-in-law via Skype that “his mother” was the answer to his question, “What happened to his head?” So, there’s proof. Big, red, blotchy proof. That will fade, which is more than I can say for that damn slow motion replay running through my head every 5 minutes.

I am well aware that my future holds potential for much more dastardly catastrophes. Mental preparations must be made for the possibilities of falling off a bike, tripping down the stairs, touching a hot stove, sports injuries, fist fights, break-ups…the list goes on. And, you can rest assured that with each and every obstacle he encounters, I will feel like my nightmares are merging with reality or like someone just stomped on my heart.

Nietzsche said “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” My baby may be the one getting dropped on his head, but for some reason, I came out stronger. Maybe new moms remember that first time so clearly because it opens the gateway to a lifetime of mentally-exhausting, time-consuming, heart-wrenching, pain-staking strength training. The membership may be a bit pricier than Gold’s, but the payoff? I hear it’s remarkable!

My little guy is "strength training." Those shoes look good on him, Jules.

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The Battle of Guiltysburg

Crying will get you far in life, especially as a woman.

There. I opened my first blog with a general sexist stereotype. But… it’s true. No debating it.

  • Caught going 55 in a 30? “But officer (sniff), I just broke up with my boyfriend.” No ticket.
  • In trouble for missing a deadline at the office? “Oh, bossman (tear), I’m just so overwhelmed with my workload right now.” A raise.
  • Just having a rough time of the month and there’s no one else to take it out on but your husband? “Honey, I just (sniff, gulp, tear) need you to understand me better!” A hug, a dozen roses, and most likely a full bed to yourself for a night.

Really, it’s amazing where tears and drama can get you in this world. And, I shamelessly utilize this method whenever convenient or beneficial. I’ve never had a hard time with it. I’ve never thought of myself as pathetic or needy. As it is with most things in life, if used sparingly, it proves to be quite advantageous. Nearly 30 years of playing the waterworks card and I’ve only recently discovered the pain and guilt it could potentially cause others. Add it to the list of lessons motherhood has taught me. A lesson in plain and simple GUILT. And, boy, does it hurt.

As the mother of a 9-month old boy, I have already heard a good chunk of guilt-ridden wails. I’ve seen countless scrunched-up faces of displeasure. I’ve experienced numerous sleepless nights of nursery-filled crocodile tears. And, each of these happenings causes one of two things:

  1. My mothering skills are strengthened in a way that will allow me to withstand anything and love uncontrollably, all while thickening my shell of protection against naivete and bullshit. OR
  2. My heart bursts into a blistering, blathering cesspool of self-condemnation and the rest of my body follows suit shortly thereafter.

99.99% of the time, I experience the latter. And, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Being maternal can be a curse. It can cause you to turn into an irrational, overprotective crazy person. You just want the best for you child, but somewhere along the way you become Piper Laurie in “Carrie.” Guilt and over-protection will do that to a person. One minute, you’re simply wishing for your daughter to be careful at her prom. The next, she’s locked in a closet screaming anti-religious mantras hiding her dirty pillows from the world (if you haven’t seen “Carrie,” DO IT!).

Tonight, I listened to Coen cry for 45 minutes. We know he isn’t hurt or sick, but he is playing us to come pick him up and hold him. We know this from many, MANY nights of trial and error. He cries to get what he wants. He’s a smart kid. And, who am I to judge? I am guilty of the same crime. The thing I’m learning is that you need to pick your battles. That is important in the game of parenting. They will win some, you will win some. (They will probably win more, but overall, you need to be selective.) So, tonight, I sat up in bed and cried to Nate (so the lucky guy got to deal with 2 bawling babies simultaneously). I cried out of GUILT. I cried because the mother in me wanted to go pick him up and hold him close to my chest until he settled down. I cried. And I cried. And I cried.

Finally, he went back to sleep, and I was able to think clearly again. I remembered that we let him cry so he can learn to self-soothe. I recalled all the books and articles that firmly state this is hard, but necessary. I heard the voice of our pediatrician saying that it’s normal to feel pain, but you are feeling much worse than baby and he will still smile at you in the morning. OK. As long as he doesn’t create an escape rope made of crib sheets and run away overnight, I think I’m going to be fine. And, in the long run, so will he. But, in the moment, those tears are like a knife to the heart.

I will try to remember this feeling next time I get pulled over by the Twin Cities fuzz. And maybe, just maybe, I will suck up my 15-mph surplus without a choked-up girly guilt-trip. However, if the price of the ticket is more like a samurai sword  to the heart, screw it. I’m cryin’.

Now, as a sidenote, check out the little stinker we’re raising! The first 5 seconds remind me of his mother…

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Cate and Coen sittin’ in a tree!

Caitlin Willow

Two Fridays ago, one of my besties continued my friend trend and popped out a baby girl. I have never in my life paced so hard as I did that night between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. awaiting the call to find out health of mother and name of baby. FINALLY! A weary but proud Anna announced her 7 pound bombshell (and my future daughter-in-law) Caitlin Willow. As a sense of relief and excitement soared through my body, I was instantly transported back in time 7 months. I was the weary mom on the phone delivering the news with a noticeable high in my voice every time I said his name. I was the mom looking forward to maternity leave. I was the one complaining about exhaustion and converting my living room into four walls of worship (sponsored by Kodak and my shutter-happy husband).

It was very strange to hear someone else going through those same emotions, especially someone so close to me. The following day we were invited to the hospital to meet the new addition, so Nate and I got Coen dressed in his finest and headed off to play matchmaker. This was my first newborn experience since my own and I dove in head-first! Such a small human being – little wrinkly hands and the finest hair I’d ever touched. This is why they call it a “miracle” people! She truly was. And buried among the fatigue and fear in her parents was complete awe and anticipation for their new, bright, beautiful future together.

We came home that night and I had some thoughts. No, I didn’t have those cliche “new-mom-that-just-held-a-newborn” thoughts. In fact, the thought of doing it all again so close to numero uno made me a tiny bit nauseous and (no joke) gave me one solid week’s worth of nightmares. No. The thought I had came from holding my own little guy in the rocking chair, simply watching him fall asleep. I realized something: I know more about this particular person than ANYONE ELSE on the planet (Nate excluded). And that’s really sayin’ something.

I know exactly how long he will make sucking faces with his mouth after the bottle gets pulled from his lips. I know that he sleeps with his tongue sticking out (like his mama). I know what makes him shake with excitement. I know which PBS cartoons capture his attention and which ones he would love to see pulled off the air. I know just how much facial hair a guy can have before Coen will cry at the sight of them. I know the face he makes when he’s pooping. I know just the right rendition of Ave Maria to play for him when he’s fussing. I know his tickle spots. I know his sensitive spots. I know his bald spots. I know this kid like the, no, better than the back of my hand.

Then, I thought about Anna. I thought about the idea that Caitlin was probably still a bit of a stranger in her house. I tried to recall those first two weeks with Coen – trying to figure out sleep schedules, organizing an assembly line to prep bottles as fast as humanly possible, cleaning for company, googling poop to determine if “that was normal” – you are running on pure adrenaline. By the time you get your head above water, a month has gone by and you’ve subconsciously learned more about your child than you ever knew about yourself.

There is something special about that ability in this particular relationship. Maybe it’s the maternal gene rearing its ugly head YET again, but for some reason, you take pride in being the beacon of knowledge in your child’s life. After ten years, I know that Nate hates when his hair grows over his ears. He can’t sleep on a hard pillow, he sneezes when he walks outside on a sunny day, he can plow through an entire box of shortbread cookies in one sitting, he can’t buy anything without researching the living daylights out of it, and he doesn’t drink Root Beer. I know a billion other idiosyncrasies about my husband, but that doesn’t quite evoke the same feeling you get from your own child. Is it because we are their protector? Is it because we are their instructor? Or is it simply because we are their parent? I choose D. All of the above.

Upon further reflection, maybe I wasn’t happy for Anna just because I finally knew the baby’s name. I think we wish the happiest feelings upon the greatest people in our lives and there really isn’t a more spectacular emotion than a moment alone in a rocking chair with your very own tiny miracle. And, knowing you not only created that miracle, but you get to spend every day going forward learning more and more about her, is an eternal high.

It might not be tomorrow, but someday soon Anna will be the Yoda of all Cate Knowledge. What makes her tick? What makes her sick? What makes her laugh? What makes her cry? What does she look for in a boyfriend (hey, I can throw that in for personal reasons…it’s MY blog!)?

Anna and Steve – I’m so very happy for you guys! Enjoy the ride…


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