It’s funny how so many good things in life start out as accidents. Funny how making the best of a situation can sometimes turn out to be literally the best.
In New York, I made the best of a lot of things. I made the best of tiny apartments, struggling to turn a cramped 500 square feet into a home for my family. Today, I make the best of busy schedules, working to prioritize the things that matter, the things that I truly believe will bring my family happiness. Sometimes that means giving up leisurely mornings in favor of spending more time focusing on spiritual pursuits, and sometimes that means overlooking the dishes or laundry for an hour spent in the backyard picking petals and pushing a wiggly toddler in the swing.
But in all of those cases, what I end up with, be it a safe, comfortable home, the satisfaction of giving my best to God, or the joy of watching my adventurous little baby become a brave, thriving person, is just about always the best thing I could imagine.
You know what else I like making the best of? Dinner.
What? A deep blog post can’t also left-field into a tasty recipe?
Recently, I was running low on provisions and whipped up this pasta dish on the fly. It has since become a steady part of my dinner rotation.
I was going to call it “What I Have in the Crisper That’s About to Spoil Recipe,” but turns out that sucks for SEO, so instead…
Summer Vegetable and Chicken Sausage Pasta
3 cups pasta of your choice
4 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium to large zucchini, cut into quarters
Two fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 package garlic chicken sausage, cut into rounds
1 T fresh oregano, minced
1 T fresh basil, minced
2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup mozzarella cut into quarter-inch chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium. Once hot, add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about two minutes.
2. Add zucchini and cook until starts to golden brown, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Boil pot of water and cook pasta following instructions on the box. Drain.
4. While pasta cooks, add tomatoes to skillet. Season with herbs and salt and pepper.
5. In a separate small skillet, brown sausage rounds. Once cooked, remove from heat and add to zucchini mixture.
6. Add pasta to skillet with mozzarella chunks. Stir to combine ingredients.
Not surprisingly, motherhood is packed with an assortment of learning experiences. You learn that you can function on roughly twenty minutes of sleep. You learn that actually, no, four diapers is not enough to pack for your first long outing with an infant.
You learn enough about this tiny new human in your life to fill several books.
But you learn a lot about yourself, too. Sometimes it’s great. (“Hey! I am pretty good at X!”) Sometimes it’s not.
Recently, I learned that I am incredibly uncomfortable with failure.
I don’t feel like that sentence adequately describes the emotional turmoil I experienced when I had this revelation. Let me back up.
A couple of weeks ago, we attempted potty training. Yes, I heard from all the people that this was probably crazy. Yes, I realized that I was also packing for an out-of-state move, so, in hindsight, I should probably have predicted a few bumps.
But Vivi is so smart! She was already exhibiting all the traits of a toddler ready to potty train! She had even successfully peed in the potty a few times! And I had read a book! (Because I have always read a book.) I was so prepared to power through a week of intense training and emerge proud, victorious, and diaper-less.
And then real life set in.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but the essential details of this training method say your kid needs to be naked until they start to get the concept of going in the potty. Obviously, this leads to quite a few accidents. Meaning I was cleaning up a lot of pee. And, yeah, some poo. To be fair, Vivi was actually making really good progress. She went from being totally clueless about what her body was doing to being able to tell me about a second before it happened that she needed to potty. But a week after we started, I hit a breaking point.
For one, I was out of time. I had blocked out one week, and I simply couldn’t dedicate the rest of the month to this project because of the aforementioned move.
For another, my nerves were shot. It’s almost embarrassing how frazzled needing to catch Vivi peeing left me. But every night when I could finally put a diaper on her to go to sleep, I felt like it was the first time I exhaled all day.
One night, every time I would start to drift off, I would fall into a dream where I would be looking at Vivi just as she started to pee on the floor. I would wake up literally lunging to grab her, adrenaline pumping through my already exhausted body.
In short, I was a wreck.
It probably didn’t help that my life was completely turned upside down. We still didn’t know where we were living post-move, I had so. much. packing. to do, and we were beaten out on a house that we wanted to buy. Plus, I hadn’t really left the apartment for five days. Nothing felt like it was going right, and every time I would have to get on my knees to wipe up a puddle of urine, it felt like a personal insult.
That night I kept having the horrible lunging dream, I finally got out of bed around 3 a.m. to read the part of my book about troubleshooting. In short, it said that if your child is 18-20 months, they are capable of being trained, but they are most likely going to need more time. Time I didn’t have.
So, at 3:32 a.m., I made a deal with myself: I would give it two more days, and if Vivi didn’t show serious signs of picking it up, we would put it off until we were settled in our new place. A bunch of people had also warned me that moves can cause even well trained toddlers to regress, and the thought of taking steps backward was literally bringing me to tears.
Two days later, Vivi had improved, but not to the point where I felt like I could comfortably leave her unattended or even leave the house with her diaper-less. So I called it. The diaper went back on, and life continued as it was. (Except that now Vivi tells me whenever she’s peeing in her diaper.)
It was then that I had to face the music: I had failed.
Granted, no one likes to fail. But I realized that it embarrasses me on a deep, dark level. And, having realized, this, I felt embarrassed that I was so embarrassed. Because this wasn’t really failure, right? It’s a set-back. It’s bad timing. Why do I care so much? But I found myself in a position that, no matter how much I tried or focused on the problem, I had to admit defeat.
Defeat is really not my forte.
But, in happier news, this experience has also taught me how to let myself off the hook. Yes, things didn’t go according to my (arbitrary) plan. But we’ll try again, and Vivi will probably pick it up quicker with this experience under her belt (and once she’s in an environment where everything isn’t topsy-turvy). Vivi doesn’t hold it against me (or maybe she does? Guess we’ll have to wait for her memoir to know for sure…), so I can let it go too.
Parent readers, tell me about your own parenting “failures.” Did you beat yourself up as much as I do?
1. Buy a bunch of boxes weeks out from your move date whilst smugly telling yourself, “Gosh, I’m so on the ball! This will be done in no time.”
2. Spend the next week staring at boxes with remorse because #momlife.
3. Two weeks from your deadline, start attempting to pack at least five boxes a day when you first get up.
4. Promptly abandon this plan because your toddler keeps taking things out of the boxes or demanding to be held while you pack. Nap time packing it is!
5. Spend half an hour debating which toys she won’t notice if you pack now. Spend subsequent half hour asking yourself why you even have those toys. Deal with subsequent meltdown when she asks for packed toys the next day.
6. Repeatedly stub your toe/smack your funny bone while chasing toddler through growing towers of boxes. Consider burning it all for the insurance money, but stop because, well, you’re setting an example.
7. After bedtime, pour some rosé in a plastic cup (because the glass ones are packed) and tell yourself this will all be over soon.
In some ways, being a parent give you a lot of perspective. You suddenly appreciate your own parents. You reprioritize everything. You stop caring about everything being perfect all the time. (Mostly.)
In other ways, being a parent makes you lose all sense of time, space, and perspective.
Most of the time, Vivi is a really good kid. Like, really good. She’s happy. She’s friendly. She’s smart. She’s sweet. I hit the jackpot, folks.
And then…well, then, other times, things go differently.
A couple of weeks ago, we were at one of our religious meetings. I had spent the night at a friend’s house (she’s pregnant and her husband was out of town AND I DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY I AM ALMOST 30 AND HAVE SLEEPOVERS), so I didn’t see Vivi until the meeting at 2:45.
As soon as I got there, I could tell she was in a funny mood.
Not funny ha-ha. Not funny like a clown. Funny like, “Huh…maybe we should all go back to bed and try again tomorrow.”
She was also only wearing a shirt and tights because DADS. That part was actually hilarious. But I digress…
I heard about five minutes of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting because Vivi started to shriek as soon as the talk started. I spent the rest of the time in the lobby watching her literally sprint in dizzying circles around me while yelping every 15 seconds. Any time I would try to make her stop and calm down, she would full-on smack me in the face. I would discipline her, she would “apologize” (can you really take a toddler apology seriously? you know they don’t mean it), we would return to the public eye, and the spectacle would continue.
Everyone who walked by would give me a sympathetic smile or ask what was wrong with her. “I don’t know, it’s the strangest thing — there’s nothing about this in the manual!!!” I would rave at them. In my head. Out loud, I would say, “I think she’s just tired.” Or teething. Or hungry.
OR A TOTAL MONSTER.
Because, in those moments, in the darkness of parenting, you are convinced that this is your new demon baby and it is never, ever leaving. Your happy kid? Gone. And it’s probably your fault. It’s probably that time you let her eat a non-organic banana because she needed a snack and it’s all they had at the coffee shop. And now, look what you get for forgetting a dietarily appropriate snack: a demon baby. Your welcome, terrible mom.
Even if you don’t blame yourself for getting to this point, it doesn’t matter. It’s your fault that you are not a good enough mom to make the terror stop. Your new baby dictator will now rule for the rest of her days, and all you can do is pretend like you know how to discipline her and hold your breath to see if anything works. Scary voice? No. Pow-pow? Nada. Sticking her in a chair until she says she’ll be good? Nice try, Mom. If that is your real name!!!
Hopefully, by the time you get over a year into this gig, you at least have the rational state of mind to remind yourself (even if you don’t believe it) that this too shall pass. Remember the puking days? Remember the non-sleeping days? Remember the crying-all-day-for-no-apparent-reason days? You thought those would all last forever too, and look at you now. So you grit your teeth and count the minutes until bedtime, all with the faint hope that she will wake up tomorrow your sweet, wonderful baby again.
So back to the day in question. I’d like to tell you that we both had some kind of epiphany where we came to terms and understood each other and returned peacefully for the end of the meeting. But that’s not what happened. What happened is she started doing this thing where she would look me dead in the eye and open her mouth and just scream and scream and scream until she needed to take a breath.
The scariest part? She never broke eye contact. And her eyes were very clearly saying, “What are you going to do about it?”
And here’s what I did: I handed her to a friend and ran to the bathroom to cry. And then I came out, grabbed my stuff and Vivi, and we left. We just went home. Where she could scream and I could cry, and no one could see or judge us.
And eventually bed time came. And the next morning, things were better.
Because that is parenting. It’s crying and worrying you’re screwing it all up one day and loving the crap out of that little perfect monster the next.
So I’m trying not to worry too much if I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. If I don’t know what I’m doing ever. Because we’re figuring it out, all of us. And tomorrow? Things will be better.
I had a moment a few days ago that I’m not really proud of where I got unreasonably jealous of someone to the point where I nearly started crying.
That sounds horrible and pathetic, right?
You didn’t ask for my excuses, but, in my defense, I was also tired, after having to welcome in a plumber for an emergency visit at 7 a.m. and then having to clean up after said plumber and then having to clean up after Vivi about 8,000 times before 10 a.m., and I had just started my period. That sentence is barely coherent, but the point is, I wasn’t at my best mentally or emotionally in this horrible and pathetic moment.
So I saw something on social media (because OF COURSE #MILLENNIALLYFE) and immediately spiraled into a dark place.
I’m happy to say that this doesn’t happen often. When I was younger, it did. It happened all the time. But I worked on it, and I worked on myself, and it’s a small relief to me that, no matter how horrible and pathetic it is when it happens, it really, truly does not happen that often. (And, also, again, I had just started my period. BUT ENOUGH EXCUSES.)
The point is, it happened, and even as it did, I realized what an unattractive moment it was. I do not like jealousy in others, and I really don’t like it in myself. So I started making a mental list of all the good things in my life, because oh my GOSH, you guys. I have it so good.
I have a wonderful husband, who had actually just sent me breakfast that morning because he knew I was dealing with the plumber situation and might not have time to make myself something. Who, even as I type this, I hear reading aloud to Vivi in her room, making her giggle as they practice animal sounds with each turning page.
I have the most perfect baby, who astounds me and makes me laugh out loud (usually multiple times) every single day. Who is excessively talkative and confident and boisterous one moment, and then suddenly sweet, melting into my lap and spontaneously stretching up to kiss my chin for no reason at all except that she loves me.
We are all so healthy, and I’m not a momma who has to spend hours and hours at doctor visits and in special hospitals, holding her scared baby’s hand and unable to do anything except pray, pray, pray for something good.
We have a warm, safe home, and I don’t have to worry when I see the temperatures dropping than any of us will go to sleep cold and shivering.
We have so. much. food. And it never even crosses my mind that I can’t grab a banana or a squeezy pack or a string cheese the moment Viv whines in hunger at the park.
I’m able to work from home, spending every day with that precious baby and not missing a single moment or milestone while I help to support my family with a career I actually enjoy and find fulfilling.
We have so many luxuries, be it spur-of-the-moment coffee or the ability to order dinner in minutes or new clothes or an overabundance of technology and entertainment.
I have my faith, which sustains me through everything and brings so much purpose and contentment to my life.
I have everything I need, and so, so much more on top of that.
As I washed my second load of dishes for the day (dishes dirtied by that abundance of food, which was eaten by that ridiculously healthy baby), I repeated my list to myself and tears came to my eyes for the second time that morning.
The thing is, there will always be someone with more than me. Someone with more things, more money, more free time, more whatever. But you can guarantee they have their stuff to deal with, too. And me? Well, I have everything I need. (And so, so much more.)
Vivi has never been a great napper.
While overnight sleeping has been fairly simple since she was about three months old, daytime sleeping is ALWAYS a struggle. And, like most parenting struggles, it probably stressed me out more than it should.
But just imagine:
Vivi would GENERALLY nap around 10:30 a.m. and then again around 3 p.m. When she was around ten months old, we started cutting back to one nap, which could happen anywhere from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. As you can probably tell, that’s a pretty big range. As a work-at-home-mom, a big nap range means it was difficult to schedule (and count on) work calls, interviews, or even just work time.
For those of you playing along at home, that added even more stress to my life.
Before I carry on with my story, I have a little anecdote for you: Some of you may remember when I was putting together Vivi’s nursery. I made a big fuss about trying to ensure that the room was as dark as possible when Vivi would be sleeping. But when I actually put everything to the test with infant Viv, the black-out shades were not…well, blacking out. Anything.
And you know what I did? I let it go. Yup, me. Of Grand Sux Cafe fame. I shrugged it off and let go and let God.
So time went on. And, as you know, Vivi continued to nap terribly.
AND I NEVER MADE THE CONNECTION BECAUSE I’M A MORON.
Which brings us to a few weeks ago when Viv and I spent a week at my parents’ house. Their guest bedrooms are all in the basement, giving them all a cave-like darkness incredibly conducive to sleeping in. Which I realized when Vivi slept about 14 hours straight her first night there. And again when all of her naps were over an hour and a half.
Perhaps this whole “darkness” thing was really onto something.
When I got home, I immediately went out and purchased an actual black-out curtain. And you know what happened?
Suddenly, my 12-hours-every-night-without-fail started sleeping an additional half-hour-to45-minutes every night. And napping? A few days ago, she slept THREE HOURS. That turned out to be a (magical) fluke, but she hasn’t napped for less than half an hour since updating the curtain.
Basically what I’m saying is that I’m never going to let anything go ever again. (Kidding.)(Kind of.)
As a parent, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of those “if I knew then what I know now” moments. But right now, insist on the black-out curtains is topping my list.