Daycare is not the devil.

My daughters' last day at their childcare center is next week.  After that, our oldest will be in "big school", and our youngest will stay home with me.  Though I am eagerly anticipating our family's new adventures, I am also sad and nervous about the days to come.  With a few short exceptions, my children have stayed at this preschool since they were seven and nine weeks old, respectively.  It will be strange to walk out the doors of the facility that became their home away from home for the final time.

Some people see daycare as a detriment to children.  While I don't believe that every childcare center is quality or that anyone can be trusted to care for kids, our girls' preschool has proven that exceptional care can be found.  This place has been a blessing beyond words.  

For primarily financial reasons but also some personal ones, I have needed to work throughout the past four years of our kids' lives.  Thankfully, I have not had to worry about their well-being for a single day after I've dropped them off with their teachers.   

Piper and Caroline have blossomed at their center.  Their development and character are ultimately my responsibility, but both of their teachers have partnered with us to help them become the spunky, curious, sweet, smart, and loving girls that they are.  

Teaching (because that's what it is, not babysitting) at a childcare center requires skill.  The average four-year-old asks 400 questions per day, but even the little ones who don't ask questions yet poop their diapers, fuss, refuse to take naps, spit their food out, destroy things, and engage in other similar sorts of mischief.  Not only are childcare workers simultaneously dealing with all of this times eight to ten, but they are also training the children to be kind, to play with toys appropriately, to identify all of their letters and numbers, and to make wise choices.

At times, I am impatient with my own two children.  Our girls' teachers perhaps become impatient with them, too, but they do not show it by raising their voices or inflicting punishments not fit for the crime, as I do embarrassingly often at home.  I can also be lazy about teaching them important academic and life skills, while the girls' teachers are tirelessly intentional and persistent.  And people say that anyone could do their job.

Though I have paid for childcare, payment alone does not entitle me to the extraordinary standards that I hold.  Yes, their teachers have been required to check their diapers every hour, to make sure that their classrooms never exceed the established student-teacher ratio, and to follow a specific curriculum and schedule.  

They didn't have to bend over backward when my kids have had rough adjustments to new classrooms.  They didn't have to read books on the floor with them, hug them as I dropped them off the in mornings, send me pictures of their days while I've been away, or volunteer to babysit them outside of school hours.  

They didn't have to love my girls.  But they have, and they've done those parts for free.

Piper and Caroline may never remember Miss Barbara, Miss Sierra, Miss Michelle, Miss Shelby, Miss Nicole, Miss Tamara, Miss Eliana, or Miss Tracey, but I will.  Our family is forever indebted to these ladies who have made it possible for me to leave my precious little ones for a few hours each day, knowing that they will be happy.  

If your child attends a daycare, hug her teacher.  Daycare workers do a big job.

SAHM Status

I did it.

Last Friday, I officially handed in my notice and will be joining the ranks of stay-at-home moms (with the exception of night classes) when our oldest starts school in August.  

Photo by  Kate Bernard

Photo by Kate Bernard

I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified.

I left the teaching profession at the end of last school year so that I could spend more time with our family, but our finances still necessitated at least part-time work on my end.  My ultimate goal was to spend the kids' "little years" at home, and my husband's recent job promotion will allow me to do just that.  

Obviously, I won't arrive at the end of my life and wish that I had spent more time working.  However, the "terrified" part of me wonders if I will miss having an outlet for a few hours every day.  I worry about money.  I'm intimidated by other SAHMs, who appear to do all the things with all the kids and stay perfectly put-together in the meantime.   Will I fit in?  Will I be fun?  Will I share the "right" opinions with other mommas?  (Lord knows moms are never short on opinions.)

The "thrilled" part of me has been reminding the terrified part that I can do hard things, that I am bigger than my fears.  God gave my girls to me, and I have the unique opportunity to shape their hearts and minds like no one else can.

Above the other feelings, I am free.  For the first time in years, I'm free to say "yes" to all kinds of opportunities that a job outside the home never allowed.  At least for one year before I start my dental hygiene program, I get to live this dream that I've had since I was my daughter's age.

I've been wanting to say this for a long time: I am one of the lucky few.  I am a stay-at-home mom.

Stay tuned for our next adventure(s).  Big things ahead for Team Fenrick. :)    

They need me the most.

We wore the heat that day.  

Despite the reapplied sunscreen, tank tops, liters of ice water, and handheld fans, the three of us exited the zoo with tears and sweat streaming down our faces.  

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

We were supposed to leave for our adventure at 9:30, before the Oklahoma sun began beating down in full force, but our friends had car trouble.  Forty-five minutes after our planned departure, I finally piled my girls into our Santa Fe.  Our friends would meet us at the zoo after their car issue was resolved.  The heat index was already over 100, and my 11-month-old had not taken her morning nap, a sure sign of impending disaster.

The diaper bag ran out of snacks, and we all ran out of patience before our friends were able to leave the car dealership.  Determined, at the very least, to see them before we headed home, I bought an expensive and tasteless zoo lunch and coaxed my girls to "eat and have a good time, dang it".  

When the actual temperature reached 105, our friends arrived.  I unenthusiastically pushed my melting babes to the flamingo exhibit, where everyone (including me) completely fell apart.  Screaming ensued, and we made a beeline to our overheated SUV, but not before my two-year-old unbuckled herself from the stroller and crashed onto the concrete.

"At least they'll nap when we get home," I reassured myself.  They didn't.  They were both too traumatized to calm themselves down, and my own hysterics were definitely not soothing.

***

Going to the zoo was a horrible idea for many reasons including the heat, the ages of my kids, and the day's already-thwarted plans.  I knew that it was a horrible plan, and I went anyway.

I wanted to go to the zoo more than my kids did.  I just wanted to be a "good mom".  But I wanted it at their expense.  

Social media does this thing to us, but we also do it to ourselves, this placing of expectations and definitions upon us of what it means to be a good parent, or even a good person.  We see others' best moments through a filter and determine to make them our best moments, too.   

I longed to create an amazing summer for my people last year.  In my mind, this meant going to as many "experiences" as possible.  The zoo was one of them.  The splash pad was another.  My oldest HATED the splash pad, but I was determined to change her mind about it, so I kept taking her.  Everyone cried every time.

This summer, we've mostly stayed home.  We did go to the zoo, once, for an hour, and that was after rescheduling twice with my friend (which I should have done last year).  No one cried.  Even with the same Oklahoma heat that we all endured in Summer 2016, I would go so far as to say that this year's zoo trip was enjoyable.  

I've learned a few things in the past twelve months.

One.  At their young ages, my kids really can't handle much.  They like being home, and they like their little routines.  Often, they're okay with doing activities that I consider "boring."  Maybe I'm the one who isn't.  But I think I can learn to be.  I probably need to lower my expectations.

Two.  The moments between the "Instagram moments" are often the most precious.  Obviously, I take and post pictures at our bigger events.  I rarely ever post pictures of myself doing a floor puzzle with my oldest or reading my youngest's favorite book for the 87th time (today).  There are a thousand little things that we do as a family every day that don't get documented.  So no, I'm not "cool" in terms of giving my kids the most extravagant experiences.  In the "small great things" that we do, though, they're happy.

Three.  There is no better way to crush your spirit than by playing the comparison game.  This is true in all areas of life.  If you're scrolling through your social media feed, as I often do, and feeling as though you're not attractive, not a good parent, not well-dressed, not adventurous, not a foodie, etc. etc. etc., I dare you to turn off your phone and begin to consider the things that you are.  You cannot compare your own life to what you see of another's through a filter.

Four.  It's okay to say no.  As a mom of young children, I frequently feel as though I'm in a never-ending season of "no".  No, we can't go do that today because it's during naptime.  We've had a rough day, so I think we are going to stay home this afternoon.  We haven't had much time as a family recently, so we'll take a raincheck on dinner.  Be a Nap Nazi.  Take a deep breath.  Cancel your plans.  You might have FOMO or FOHOF (Fear of Hurting Other's Feelings), but I can almost guarantee that your kids don't and that your friends will totally understand. 

Hopefully my daughters won't remember that horrendous zoo day last year.  Maybe they'll remember this year's good one.  Either way, I want them to remember a mom who gave them herself, because they need me the most.

Lessons About Running From My 3-Year-Old Coach

My daughter completed her first marathon this past weekend in Oklahoma City.  

She's three.

Every year, Oklahoma City hosts a race called "Run to Remember" in honor of the victims who were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing.  This year had the highest participation ever, with over 25,000 runners completing either a 5k, half marathon, full marathon, marathon relay, or kids' marathon.

All of the other races are self-explanatory; you show up on race day and run the distance that you signed up to do. {Hopefully you've trained.}  

In the kids' marathon, the idea is for little runners to run 25 miles in the days leading up to the race.  Then, they complete the final 1.2 miles of a marathon on race day for a grand total of 26.2 miles over a period of a few weeks. Some kids just show up and run 1.2 miles on race day, and that's totally fine.

Piper did the whole thing.

I'm so proud of her, and I'm also grateful for the many lessons that she unknowingly taught me along the way.  I've run just about every distance of the OKC race at some point, but "training" with her for this particular event was probably more satisfying than crossing the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles a couple of years ago.  Running with my daughter changed me.

Through this process, I learned just how much my child watches everything I do and tries to pattern her life after me.  That is both terrifying and humbling.  Before every run, she asks if she can wear her Nike running shorts "like you're wearing Nike running shorts, Mom!"  She wanted to complete a marathon because I have.  Because of these things, I have been hyper-aware of my attitudes toward running, racing, and my body over the last few weeks.  I want her to have a healthy perspective, which means that I should model it for her.  

I needed a three-year-old to speak truth to me, because sometimes kids just seem to "get it" more than their parents do.  Piper reminded me of some practical lessons, such as pacing yourself and looking up instead of at your dang shoes so you don't trip.  But she also coached me in some other equally important areas.

Winning isn't just about being the first person to cross the finish line.  Of the 25,000+ people who ran the race, only five people actually won (one for each event), if you define winning in terms of finishing first.  As Piper was running her race, she looked over at me several times and asked, "Mom, am I winning?"  Of course you are, baby.  Why?  Because she's three and she's persevering and she's completing a marathon.

Speed doesn't matter.  Piper's good friend, Nora, ran the race, also.  At the beginning, Piper was excited about running with her and tried to keep up for a quarter mile or so.  However, it quickly became evident that Nora is a faster runner than Piper.  Piper let her run ahead and quit worrying about whatever Nora was doing to focus on her own run.  Novel idea.  

One of the goals of running is to still like running at the end of a race.  Sometimes I train so hard that I burn myself out.  Piper ran because she thought it was fun.  If at any point it stopped being fun for her, I would have let her stop.  I don't often give myself this grace, though, and maybe I should.

Walking during a run or missing a training run entirely is not the end of the world.  There were some days in the past few weeks when I had planned to run with Piper, but we decided to take the night off due to weather, a long day, or not feeling 100%.  Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.  Also, sometimes while we were out in the neighborhood, Piper's legs would get tired...or she would spot a dandelion that she just had to pick, and we would walk for a minute or two.  Again, Piper didn't care, and she still successfully finished her race.

Running solo is great, but running with people is, too.  Some of my favorite runs in the past few weeks have been the ones that I did with my daughter.  She's in preschool, so it's not like we were having deep conversations, but our runs gave me an opportunity to encourage her and to hear about her day.  Sometimes I love the idea of clearing my mind so much during a run that I isolate myself from running with people, which causes me to miss out on some really uplifting community.

"Exercise is not a punishment for what your body is, but a celebration of what it can do."  I heard this quote within the last week, and I wish I could remember where.  Isn't is amazing to have legs that obey your mind?  When you really step back for a second and think about how much blood your heart has to pump and how many times your lungs have to breathe in order to move even a few feet, aren't you stunned?  Watching my daughter complete this marathon as a three-year-old with short legs reminded me that the body can do truly incredible things.  I don't have a "perfect" body, but God has given me the ability to use it in a variety of awesome ways.  I should celebrate that instead of beating myself up over the insignificant imperfections I see in the mirror.

Piper is already talking about running the kids' marathon again next year, and about recruiting some of her friends to participate with her.  I hope she does, and I hope they do, because so many people would benefit from a three-year-old marathoner's mindset.  Thank you, sweet girl, for letting me be one of them.