My family watches The Middle more than any other family in America. Seriously. We do. At any given time we have around 70 episodes recorded on our DVR and if you stop by our house and the kids are home you can bet that’s what’s playing on the TV. A quick snapshot in case you’ve never seen it: two parents raising three kids with different personalities that live not only smack dab in the middle of the country but in middle class America. The daily struggles, triumphs, and humor are hilarious and so relatable to all of us. There’s a small lesson in each episode and a good take away on what’s really important in life. Even my husband loves this show and for the last 6 years or more on Tuesday evenings that’s how we’ve ended our day: piled on the couch watching the latest episode together.
This week that all came to an end. We’ve known for a while this was the final season but we’ve been in denial. Even when we saw previews of the final episode the kids would shake their heads and moan that they just can’t believe it’s coming to an end. And then it was time and the night had come: our last Tuesday evening excited to see what funny quirk would happen this week. It was so monumental that Chris and I bought special snacks for the evening. Our 3 year old was in bed and the rest of us were ready. I think that’s one thing that I love about this time together as a family…it’s something the 5 of us share. Not that we want to exclude our 3 year old but for a long time it was just the 5 of us and this is one of those things that is ours with no interruptions or distractions.
We watched together and enjoyed every minute. And then at the end something happened that surprised us all. I cried. Hard. It’s been a very long time since I’ve cried like that and the kids looked at me in disbelief, unsure what to do next. And then slowly one by one the chuckles started. Which turned into laughs and eventually turned into all our kids laying in the floor laughing uncontrollably to the point of tears. It was a good 15 minutes of emotions and laughing all rolled into one.
So why in the world did I have this unexpected emotional outburst? Ironically, the final episode was about how the kids had grown up and were going their separate ways. For this family we’ve come to love it was the end of an era. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. We too would soon be at the end of our era and our own kids will be grown and going their separate ways. These years, the ones we are in right now, are special. And fleeting. And this show, as insignificant as it is, will always remind me of these years. Change is scary. Change is hard. And change is constant. We must do our best to savor the era we are in because it won’t always be that way. So for now the reruns will play and my heart will smile hearing the familiar voices on the TV every time I come home. Instead of complaining that there MUST be something else to watch on TV I will try to appreciate the here and now. And once in a while encourage a new show!
I remember before we ever had kids hearing all about the terrible 2’s. So when our first year experiencing age 2 came and went fairly easily I thought well that’s not so bad… But then about halfway through age 3 I quickly learned the terrible 2’s are actually terrible 3’s. This proved to be true with Colin, Caleb, and Gracie. It has been a while but here we are again…with a 3 year old…and in the last few weeks it’s all coming back to me. The terrible 3’s are here. Our sweet boy…and also our spoiled boy…has some lessons to learn. Tough love is not an easy thing.
I’ve had that one defining moment with all 3 of our older kids when they were younger. That moment when they quickly learned that Mama meant business. The behavior was unacceptable. The punishment was tough. And it was the moment when for the most part it turned things around. I can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing in each case. The kids can each mostly remember it too. Like I said, it was defining. I can sense that moment is coming soon with our sweet Brady. It almost happened yesterday, in church on Mother’s Day, of all times and places. The funny thing is you don’t get to pick when or where it’s going to happen, it just does.
In the last few weeks Brady has had to be put in his place more than once, mostly by his dad, but I’ve had to get firm too. A few nights ago he was in trouble. He sat quietly in his chair, shaking, crocodile tears rolling down his face. It was pitiful and heartbreaking and necessary. His older brother came to me 3 times so I would rescue him. But I didn’t. I knew we needed to wait just a little bit and even though it was hard on all of us it was the right thing to do.
I know we will get through the 3’s. Age 3 is actually one of my most favorite ages ever, “moments” and all. They say and do the cutest things. They are so much smarter than we give them credit for and Brady amazes me every single day. I also know it’s very likely that an embarrassing outburst will happen soon at the most inopportune time. Yesterday after he misbehaved at church we rode home in silence. When we got home he quietly played and came to me sheepishly every 5 minutes and said “Mama are you happy? Are you nice yet?” It only took a few times of him asking me this before I caved, gave him 100 kisses and told him Mama is nice. And hopefully soon we get through our moments and Mama can be nice for a long time!
Planning a trip that will be fun for kids spanning ages 3 to 14 is not an easy task. We took our family to Washington D.C. for spring break this year and thankfully it was a winner. Being in our nation’s capitol has always fascinated me: the history, the beauty, the culture, the center of so many big decisions that affect our world every day- it’s pretty amazing. But the thing I loved the most was watching our kids and how they handled themselves in a city with all walks of life. Being on the metro in the heart of the city during rush hour is an experience in itself. It’s important to me that once in a while we take our kids out of our little bubble and show them a bigger world.
I was worried about our 3 year old who is scared of everything. It took him 2 years to work up his nerve to get on the train at the mall so we were all sure we would be carrying him onto the Metro kicking and screaming. To our surprise he got on that train like it’s something he’s done every day of his life. He cried only when we got off until we promised him we would ride it again. The dark tunnels didn’t phase him. When other trains flew by us in the opposite direction so close and fast you could almost feel the pressure he didn’t bat an eye. The biggest escalators we’ve all ever seen? No problem. He held our hand and marched on ready for the next adventure. He was patient in every long line and was a trooper the entire trip.
The big kids were pretty awesome too. Our daughter was patient, relaxed, and accepting of all the different kinds of people we saw. And she was kind. Every time we passed someone playing music in the street whether it was drums or a saxophone she took her own money out of her purse and gave them a dollar. She appreciated the culture; I hope this sticks with her as she gets older. The older boys were kind too. I saw them offer their seats to others more than once on the crowded train. I saw them respond to people who were talking out loud to themselves or yelling at the thin air in a way that was understanding and empathetic. They both said they’d like to live in a big city one day and I can see this happening for them.
It was truly a great trip but as with any trip we had our moments. We lost our 12 year old in Air and Space Museum. If you’ve not been there it’s huge. The line to get in was 30 minutes long and we didn’t realize we had lost him until we were all outside and he was not. So back in line goes my husband. While the rest of us waited we made one of many stops for funnel cakes and pretzels. I ordered a beer. When the 2 men behind me gave me a funny look I turned around and said “I know it’s barely noon. I’m in D.C. with 4 kids. This is necessary. Don’t judge me”. They agreed and said Cheers. I highly recommend visiting this amazing historical city. Be prepared to walk. A lot. Research what you want to do ahead of time and hit your top 2-3 choices first because time goes fast. And be prepared to have fun! If you plan it right you might get to see the cherry blossoms; we happened to be there at the perfect time and it was beautiful!
And the older I get the more I hope we can do these kinds of trips.
Trying to get our crew to church is quite the opposite of “Easy Like Sunday Morning”. The last few times we’ve gone has been especially tense: yelling, tears, and complete silence in the car. When we walk in it takes me a good 15 minutes to refocus and remember why went in the first place. There are some weeks where we really don’t have a valid reason not to go; I just simply don’t have it in me to make it happen. A few times I’ve attempted to hold our own Sunday morning sermon in our pajamas but that usually ends in an impromptu game of catch with whatever household item is in arms’ reach. Not a good substitute.
Our attendance is not as consistent as I’d like it to be. We are somewhere in between the Creasters (those that go only on Christmas and Easter) and the families that go every week (I’m always impressed me with their dedication). But these last few months our track record has not been good. It seems like every weekend we’ve had a really good excuse: visitors, ski trips, sleepovers, birthdays, too cold, etc. So this week I was firm: We are going. No matter what. Even if 2 of our kids are sleeping at my brothers for the night (thank you Uncle Josh). Even if our 3 year old stays up way too late and would certainly need to sleep in. Even if it happens to be daylight savings and we are losing an hour of sleep. Even if we haven’t been in months, our boys bedrooms are currently in complete disarray, and I have no clue where to find church shoes. No excuses. We are going.
I was preparing myself for what was sure to be a stressful morning full of frustration and dragging of the feet. But much to my surprise a small miracle happened. We got up, took showers, ate breakfast, and went to church. On time. There were no tears or raised voices. There were even a few laughs on the way. Everyone was dressed and looked very nice (contrary to looking like they rolled straight out of bed). The 3 year old did not cry about his church shoes. The teenager did not grumble and complain and move so slow that we were all late on his behalf. The 12 year old put on appropriate pants when told to get dressed. This was a big switch from not so long ago when he got in the car at the last minute wearing ratty old jeans because I said blue pants. I’ve since learned to be more specific. And our daughter had a friendly and positive attitude the entire morning; another big change.
I know it can’t be this easy every week but today was so refreshing. Even though getting there is a challenge and I’m sometimes distracted during the sermon deep in my heart I know it’s important. The kids have grown up at our church and there is a level of comfort and security there for them. They see friends they don’t see during the week. It’s another protective factor in their lives that all kids so desperately need in the current state of our world. We may not show up happy every time but we all almost always leave feeling better than when we got there. Our small Sunday miracle gives me hope that we will be able to do it again soon with smiles from start to finish!
I remember when I was pregnant with our daughter the doctors made a big deal about my age; every test in the book was suggested because I was 35 years old. So when I showed up 6 years later pregnant again I was prepared for them to throw their arms in the air in disbelief but surprisingly the reaction wasn’t quite that extreme. We still had a long list of tests but thankfully I had a lot of trust and faith during our last pregnancy and in the end we were blessed with our 4th baby one month before my 42nd birthday.
I recently took our (now) 3 year old to a birthday party. He had carried around the invitation for days and finally it was time. He hadn’t napped and wasn’t feeling great so I knew going in this may not be fabulous. And I was correct. He cried a lot, gained some new bruises, and was overwhelmed by unfamiliar faces and all the noise. After an hour (and another fall running) it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to turn this thing around. We said our goodbyes, grabbed our things, and quietly made our way out. We never even had a cupcake. A while ago I would have been completely flustered by this whole experience but not now. I was able to take it all in stride. It got me thinking about what a different parent I am now verses 10 years ago. Some things have remained the same but some have changed.
First, I treasure every second. Every single one. Because it goes fast. I was told that repeatedly over the years but I now see it really is true. I had a meeting just this week at the high school with our oldest to discuss college and career paths. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were playing Go Fish? I even treasure the not so great moments like breakdowns in the library or grocery store. And for the most part I’m no longer humiliated if he’s not behaving his best. I know it will pass. He’s 3, he’s temperamental, and eventually we will get it right. I know one day he will be rational about not getting everything he wants right when he wants it.
I’m also much more relaxed about not reaching certain milestones right away. Maybe I’m too relaxed. He still really has no interest in potty training but deep down I know he’s not going to go to kindergarten in diapers. Or will he? This one we might need to tackle sooner than later. He still loves his blanket and 5 stuffed animals and they go everywhere with us. Everywhere. And that’s okay because I also know in his own time he will not need them. For now I will continue to bring all the things with us even if it means 2-3 trips to the car every time we leave.
Are there some downfalls to parenting later in life? Of course. Parenting can be a lonely job. Especially when most of our friends have moved on to a place of more freedom and we are still working around naps and sippy cups. Sometimes that’s hard for both my husband and me but at the end of the day we wouldn’t have it any other way. I know we will get more freedom too, it’s just taking us a little longer. This little boy (who tells me quite often that I’m his BEST FRIEND) won’t be little forever. So for now we will continue to soak up every single moment. Because they don’t last long.
I’ve never been to Disney World. Neither have our kids. They would probably tell you they are the ONLY kids in their school who have never been. It’s almost like a rite of passage, one we’ve never crossed over. And to be quite honest I’ve never wanted to go. Sure, it would be exciting but I’m picturing a week full of long lines, heat, exhausted and whining kids, and shelling out money left and right for over priced frozen lemonades to feed their never ending hunger and thirst. Not to mention the cost for our family of 6. If we were going to spend that kind of money on a vacation I’m thinking more along the lines of the islands, an Alaskan cruise, or another country altogether.
I have plenty of friends who LOVE Disney. And somehow they manage to go several times a year. I see their posts and think WOW they are back at Disney again! There must be something magical but I just don’t get it. One day at Busch Gardens or a big water park and my patience is done; a week of it sounds like one of the most non-relaxing vacations possible. And lucky for my husband I haven’t ever felt like this is something we had to make happen. It’s of those things we can do without, besides he’s been twice as a kid so at least one of us has experienced it.
But just this week I’m really starting to re-think this whole Disney. thing. Perhaps we are missing out on something completely magical. Our oldest is there now and he’s finally gotten around to sending us a few pictures and videos. And admittedly I’m blown away by all he’s experiencing. Yesterday was Hollywood Studios. I responded to a video of Clone Troopers marching down the street with “Wow that’s amazing”. His text back to me: “Mom. You have no idea”. And he’s right, I don’t. Followed up with several more texts: “Tell Caleb this. Show Caleb that. This picture is for Caleb”. He later sent me a text saying he bought presents for all his siblings. I’m so excited for him and so endeared that he’s remembering his brothers and sisters at home. I can also tell this is a trip he would love to take with all of them.
.Another surprising change that’s happened this week is our son’s new found admiration of fireworks. This is huge. He’s been terrified of them his whole entire life and retreats to a quiet place every year on July 4th just before they start. But he says he’s now a fan and has sent us some incredible pictures.
Will we ever get to the happiest place on earth? Maybe. We need to get the 3 year old out of diapers and naps before we can really consider it. Life seems to be whirling by faster and faster but one of these days we might just make a family trip to Disney a priority. If anything, I’m more convinced now than ever before that we need to entertain the idea. .And from what I can tell Disney looks amazing for any age!
I love to do things with our entire family. All 6 of us. It’s when I’m the happiest. In the spring and summer there are lots of things we can do that’s fun for all: the pool, trips to the lake and the beach, and simple basketball games in the driveway. As long as we have a skateboard or a soccer ball the park works well too. But in the winter it’s challenging to find activities that are fun for both a 3 year old and a 14 year old and the kids in between. Our 14 year old rolls his eyes when I say let’s go to the library and get ice cream or explore the paths along the river. He still loves ice cream but would rather eat it at home in his boxer shorts.
And because our older kids are so busy with school and sports and robotics and friends it seems like I don’t get much time with them. I spend a lot of time with our 3 year old, Brady, and treasure our days together. But I sure do miss my time with our older kids. Brady is quite demanding of my attention so even when we are home he’s always by my side saying my name over and over again interrupting conversation after conversation.
Last weekend after dinner my husband agreed to stay home with Brady. It had been a long week and we all needed to blow off some steam so we jumped in the car and off we went to the trampoline park, somewhere I had never been. It was refreshing to blast music rather than listening to Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol movies playing on repeat which sometimes makes me want to bang my head in the wall. Just us and some music!
When we got there the kids couldn’t wait to show me around. As a bonus it was psychedelic night which made it all the more fun. Funky music, strobe lights everywhere, and kids literally bouncing off the walls. At first I thought I’d sit where all the other moms were and spend some rare time surfing on my phone. But the kids were having so much fun and I just had to see all they were doing. They had the coolest things to show me- flips, dunks, and tricks of all kinds. I was impressed! And tempted to take off my shoes and join them. Next time I just might. The other bonus is that we were given extra time and were able to stay until closing. At the end of the night the kids were beat red, hot, exhausted and sweating. They couldn’t wait to get outside into the cold air. They were worn out and had a blast! It was a great way to get some exercise and blow off steam from a long week.
I surprised them on the way home with a stop for some late night ice cream and they were thrilled. We were not on a schedule and I wasn’t worried about changing a diaper or a “we’ve really pushed the limits this time and it’s super late” meltdown. We were footloose and fancy free thanks to my husband. We had fun talks and even funnier laughs on the way home. I’m not sure they realize how special this night was for me. The best part was when we were almost home. Our 11 year old, Caleb, said “I’m so glad I came tonight. This was really fun!”. My thoughts exactly. Can’t wait to have another big kids night out!