Monday, September 15, 2014

Advice from a Mother of Five {Usually} Happy Children

I get told at least once a day "I don't know how you do it."

Well, I don't either. Probably with a little luck, a lot of prayer and some really good friends.

The other day a friend who is expecting her first child asked if I could sit down and write a list of things that I've learned as a mother, what I wish I'd known, little tidbits of wisdom that I've acquired. I laughed. Many times I still feel like such a novice at this motherhood thing. After all, I've only been a mom for 6.5 years and many days I feel utterly clueless. However, apparently having five children that are groomed, fed and relatively happy (and a foreign exchange daughter) qualifies me as some kind of expert...or just really crazy.

Sometimes I feel way too sleep-deprived to string coherent words together, not to mention to offer tidbits of wisdom but here it goes.

1.  Many of our most difficult moments are also teachable moments for our children. Our kids observe how we respond to situations of adversity and, though it's not always easy, many of our best parenting moments come from these tough situations. Car breaks down? Our kids see how resourceful we are and how we stay calm and come up with a solution. Wallet gets stolen? They watch as we call credit card companies, call the bank and life returns to normal. Friend doesn't show up for lunch as planned? Their watchful eyes and listening ears take it all in as we handle it with class. Every time a teachable moment occurs, we have two choices- make it a learning experience for our kids or simply react (a.k.a. flip out). Many, many times I've reacted, flipped out and failed to make it a teachable moment. The good news- seeing us react is also a good lesson for kids! It's okay to wig out every now and then if it's the exception and not the norm. It's good for kids to learn how to successfully handle challenging situations but it's also good for them to see us blow it and to watch us recover, apologize and move on.

2. "Me" time and "us" time is important. Don't neglect yourself or your spouse when you become a parent. The other day our kids were complaining that my husband and I scheduled a date night and that it "isn't fair" that we're going somewhere without them. I told them they're lucky that we still like each other enough to go on date nights! That being said, "me" time doesn't have to be a full day at the spa. "Us" time doesn't have to be a weekend getaway. It certainly can be! But when you're parenting in the trenches, when you have itty bitties at home, when time and money and everything else is tight, make do with what you can. A few minutes in the bath tub by yourself- sacred! An evening at home when all the kids are in bed and you can have an adult dinner- amazing! A morning walk together while a neighbor watches the kids- priceless. A few minutes at the gym while the kids are in the gym daycare- do it! Take care of yourself and take care of your spouse. It is a valuable lesson for kids to see that your needs, which will be their needs when they are adults, matter too.

3. Teach your children to become self-sufficient. You are not doing them any favors if you don't teach them to wipe their own bum, if you type their essays for them or if you complete their college applications. If it matters enough to them, they will learn to do it on their own. Let them do it and allow them to feel the satisfaction of having accomplished it themselves. If it doesn't get done (or if it doesn't get done well), let them handle the consequences associated with it. Of course there are times when mom and dad need to step in (bullying, a really hateful coach, special medical needs, etc) but it is our job as parents to give our kids the encouragement, skill set and opportunity to learn to be largely self-sufficient.

4. Self-control. Easier said than done.  Recently I engaged in a dialog with several other mothers of large families and we were discussing how self- control may be the single most important life skill that we can practice and that we can teach our children. If you have red hair and are of Irish descent like me, this one is challenging! When it's tempting to grumble, raise your voice, get a little hateful or lose your temper, rein it in. If you tend to over-spend, mention to your children that you would like to buy more but that you are setting limits on yourself. If you are overweight, be open with your children about how you are trying to monitor your food intake and get more exercise to become a healthier person. If our kids see us modeling self control and learn to practice it themselves, it's likely that they will be successful in social settings, in the classroom and as spouses, parents and employers/employees when they are adults.

5. Laugh. A lot. It's the only way to survive as a parent, especially as a parent of many kids. There are some days when you have to laugh to keep from crying. Recently we spent 10 days in a hotel with five kids and two cats. At one point a cat escaped and five panicked children chased him down the halls of the hotel for a good 10 minutes. I've caught poop in my bare hands when one of our preschoolers had to make an emergency pit stop when I'd forgotten to pack a plastic bag/wipes/extra pullup. One of our kids loudly yelled "So dark!" when they turned the lights down at Christmas Eve church service. Another kid detailed to her entire kindergarten class how a dumpster full of horse manure crushed mommy's leg, resulting in a trip to the orthopedic surgeon. One child wrote "crap" instead of "trap" on their spelling test. One child went missing in Michael's and it took several employees and a team of shoppers to help find him. Thankfully, a few weeks (and a few glasses of wine) after the aforementioned incidents, they were all pretty comical.

6. Know that this stage won't last forever. I swear that just yesterday I was up to my ears in diapers and tantrums and wondering if I'd ever get a full night's sleep with all of our toddlers and now I'm monitoring Instagram accounts and buying One Direction tickets and wondering if I'll ever get a full night's sleep with these teenagers. Whaaat? How did this happen? Just remember that both the good and the bad of every stage is temporary and won't last forever. Enjoy those sweet baby, toddler, childhood and teen moments. And, during those hard moments, remember that this too shall pass.

7. Embrace your tribe. Your mom friends are your tribe, your lifeline, your sanity. They are who "get" you. They are the ones who will give help when you don't even know you need it and long before you've asked for it. They are the ones who are right there in the trenches with you, fighting poop blowouts and teenage sneakiness and preschool backtalk. They are who will keep you sane, who will share your laughter and your tears and your pot of coffee. Isolation and keeping all of your skeletons in your closet is old school, girlfriend, so fling open that closet door and share your crazy with girlfriends who get it.

8. Remember who YOU are and tuck it in your pocket. For now you may be the lactating, bum-wiping, clothes laundering, ouchie kissing, lunch packing superhero but maybe once upon a time you were the workplace superstar or maybe you dream of going back to college when the kids are older. The time to follow your dreams might not be now but that doesn't mean it's never. Don't let go of those dreams. There is a time and a place for everything and, in the meantime, remember that motherhood is one of the most sacred jobs of all.

9. When we know better we do better. Maybe we've made some mistakes. Maybe we have regrets. That's part of the parenting process. We all make mistakes, learn and adjust. The mom we are in our 20's isn't the same as the mom we are in our 30's, 40's or 50's. Most moms aim to do the best job possible. We're all a work in progress. We need to be open to advice and constructive criticism but we also need to have grace with our fellow moms and with ourselves.

10. Prepare for the fact that our kids might not grow up to be the adults we expect. Maybe our son we thought was going to be an engineer goes to art and design school. Maybe our daughter will grow up and be attracted to women. Perhaps our kids will grow up and be professionals who have no desire to have children of their own. Maybe they'll move overseas and marry a foreigner. Just remember- our idea of happiness may not be what makes them happy. I'm pretty sure that my parents didn't expect their only child to grow up and have a half dozen children and to lead a spontaneous, unscripted life. I'm certain that my inlaws didn't expect their son to grow up and marry a foreign girl who was eight years younger. If karma exists, my husband and I have it coming!

11. If you want your children to respect authority, model it at home. If mom and dad complain about the school principal, baseball coach, our President and their boss, it shouldn't be a surprise when the kids aren't listening or respecting authority. We may not always agree with the decisions or morals of those in positions of power but, nonetheless, we need to teach children how to respectfully disagree or, if it is not their place, to stay out of it. Disagreeing does not equal a free license for rudeness.

12. There is nothing wrong with starting on the bottom and working your way up. Instead of telling kids to shoot for the stars, I tell my kids to start at the bottom and to see how far they can climb. Too often kids think that they are going to be self-made millionaires or that the only way to success is to start their own business or to be discovered by a big talent agency. This simply isn't true. I often remind our kids that I used to do laundry at the local vet clinic and that my husband volunteered in the morgue before he was accepted into medical school! There were many minimum wage paychecks, microwave dinners, late nights spent studying, college roommates and years of college in between where we were then and where we are today.

13. Give your children a moral compass. Kids thrive when they have clear, measurable rules. Whether you follow the Bible or the Torah or just have a good, practical foundation of morals, make these rules a part of daily family life. These should not be viewed as stifling and oppressive. Remember, kids crave structure and stability. Emphasize that we all have rules that we have to follow- laws of our country, rules of our workplace, rules of the swimming pool. As parents, it is our job to help our children practice following the rules set before them.

These are a few of the principles that I try to follow and a few of the lessons that I have learned as a wife and mother. I hope that you find them helpful. If not, keep doing what works and toss out whatever doesn't. There is no one size fits all mold for parenting. There is no instruction manual and no script. It's a fly by the seat of your pants, buckle up, hang on and enjoy the ride kind of process.

You know what? It's going to be fantastic. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Letter to My Kids' Preschool and Elementary School Teachers

Dear Teachers,

Since you have asked what you need to know about our children and our family, I thought it might be easiest to just write a little letter with some of the pertinent information.

First and foremost, we expect our kids to be nice. We have told them that they don't have to be the smartest, the most popular or the most athletic but they darn well better be the nicest kids. If they aren't, please let us know. We'd rather find out now than when they're sixteen and in jail.

Next, let's make a deal. I'll only believe half of what the kids tell me about you if you only believe half of what they tell you about me. I'm fairly certain that our three year old never walked down a major street by his preschool alone to help catch a lost dog so you can be fairly certain that I don't practice taxidermy on dead birds that we find in our yard and that I don't go grocery shopping in a negligee or whatever else they may tell you. 

Another thing. My kids are rhymers. If you ask them what rhymes with "truck" or "mitt", be prepared. They will think of *every* word that rhymes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Along those lines, their vocabulary may contain a few colorful words. Those awful, filthy words have never been uttered by these lips. I won't lie. They probably heard it from me. But just know that if you ever accidentally set something on fire in the classroom or drop a textbook on your toe and utter a profanity, I won't hold it against you. The "Oh no! I shouldn't have said that!" street runs both ways.

About teacher gifts. I won't give you a coffee mug or a Christmas ornament or another knick knack unless you really want one. I'd actually planned to give you a big bottle of that a bad idea? I only have five kids so, having a whole classroom full all day, I raise my glass to you. If you don't drink, I'll gladly gift you a massage or a gift card to a local bakery so that you can still indulge.

I won't do my kids' work for them. I loved preschool and elementary school but I have no plans to repeat those grades. If any of my kids ever submits a science fair project about hydrogen-fueled rocket accelerators or mapping DNA, you can be assured that my husband and I have both died and that their care has been taken over by someone else who is willing to complete their assignments for them. 

My goal when packing lunches is to provide healthy food to be consumed. If any of them ever show up with Pottery Barn-style sandwiches cut into cutesy designs with fruit cut into flower shapes and cheese carved into happy faces, either I've gone off the deep end or I'm out of town and some significantly more creative mom has assumed their care. No working momma of five kids has time for that.

I won't be high maintenance. I know you are busy and have a lot to do so I won't be all up in your grill about how my kid is doing and how their homework was graded and who plays with who on the playground. We try to teach our kids how to fight their own battles and we will only intervene if necessary. That being said, if there is a problem or concern, please call/text/email/send a note and I'm on it.

Education is our number one, tip top priority as far as how we spend our money. We have researched schools, moved across town and spent countless hours and dollars trying to find the best education for each of our children, not because we want to be part of an elite social circle and not because we have a lot of disposable income but because we feel like every dollar we spend on our kids' education is money well spent. We would get second jobs if it meant keeping our kids in the schools that, in our opinion, offer the very best education. We feel like you are the teachers who are most likely to help make that happen and that your school is the environment where are children are most likely to thrive. No pressure, though. If one of our kids grows up to be a XXX-rated movie star, we won't blame you.

We want our children to be tolerant. If a child has two dads or is raised by a single mom or has immigrated from another country or if they have a special need or if English is not their first language, we expect our children to include them and be kind to them. We're raising five children with three different biological fathers, three different citizenships (all of them dual or tri citizens), various native languages, a rainbow of skin tones and a few special needs so this family is up for any friend, any time.

Finally, I will not pretend to know more than you nor do I believe that I can do a better job than you. As long as you don't consult Dr. Google and decide that you have acquired the knowledge and skills of a veterinarian, I am happy to leave my children in your capable hands without question or doubt and go about my business of caring for sick animals. Deal?

Teachers, I've got your back. If you need something, call me. If you have concerns, please let us know. We're in this together. We appreciate all you do and we know that educating and caring for our children can sometimes feel like torture is no easy feat!

One Grateful Mom

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If You're Truly Pro-Life...

The car in front of us has a bumper sticker: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you... - God"
And it had a second bumper sticker: "They are called "illegal" aliens for a reason."

Later that night I flipped through the TV channels and saw a group of anti-immigrant protesters yelling at bus full of Mexican children, holding signs and standing outside a facility where immigrants were being detained. I wondered how many of them also had pro-life bumper stickers slapped on the back of their cars.

I saw a report about an American physician working in Liberia who had contracted the potentially deadly Ebola virus. He was being transported back to the United States, his homeland, for advanced medical care. Several people who were interviewed were upset that he was being brought back to the US for care, fearful for their own lives and for the lives of their friends and family. One person interviewed even went as far as to say that it was better for him to be left to die than transported to the US. I guess it's easy to be pro-life when it's your own life or the life of a friend or family member but maybe not so much when it's the life of someone with a highly contagious disease whom you have never met.

The fact of the matter is, if you cherish life, you need to cherish ALL life. Not just newborn life. Not just white people life. Not just American life. Not just healthy life. ALL life. Not just when it suits your particular agenda or political belief.

In the border state where I live, we have a saying: "Mi casa es su casa." It means "My home is your home." Isn't that a nicer message to send to the rest of the world about our country?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Congrats, parents. We did it!

The other day I was pondering why we have so.many.darn.graduation ceremonies these days. I mean, preschool graduation, kindergarten graduation, fifth grade graduation, eighth grade graduation, high school graduation. Really?

I totally get that graduations celebrate the closing of one chapter and the start of another. I understand that graduations celebrate milestones and achievements. But it's not like kids are going to finish kindergarten and NOT go to first grade. And, after eighth grade, there isn't much else to do besides go to high school, is there? As a mom of a soon-to-be eighth grader, I can't imagine sending her into the real world right now. Common sense? Sometimes. Good judgement? Maybe. Ready to live independently? Definitely not. So do we really need a ceremony to celebrate the fact that they need at least four more years of education?

If you spend any time on social media, all you've seen for the past few weeks and all you'll see for the next few weeks are pictures of kids' graduations. Preschool. Yep, they have a ceremony. Kindergarten. Another graduation. Fifth grade. You know, it's tough to complete elementary school. Eighth grade. Thank GOODNESS they survived those early teen years. And of course the big ones, high school and college graduations.

I looked at pictures and grumbled to myself. It seemed as if all of the "little" graduation ceremonies were spoiling it for the "big" ones. After all, there is a reason that parents don't buy their kids a brand new BMW for their sixteenth birthday. Why elementary school-age kids don't need to ride in limos on their way to the school dance. Why ninth graders don't need to have co-ed sleepovers. If kids get to experience it all and have it all when they're young, what is there to look forward to when they're older? Why grow up when you've already seen and done and have it all?

Then I watched my daughter's kindergarten graduation performance and I realized a little something. Graduation ceremonies are just as much for the parents as for the kids. After all, parenting is HARD work. And, knowing that our kids have made it, that WE have made it, that we have survived, is what keeps us going. I watched my daughter perform a choreographed dance and sing with her classmates, a confident smile on her face and it was like my own personal reward for the times I had to drag her out from behind me to learn to politely answer someone who had spoken to her. It made the fact that she'd told her classmates about the fact that (fill in the blank- we'd had a snake in our kitchen, our dog drowned in the pond, a trash can full of manure fell on and crushed my leg or any of the other hillbilly things that may or may not have actually happened to us) seem almost comical. It made me realize that, sometimes, while I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water that I'm still swimming. Still swimming and raising kids who are happy and thriving.

And if that isn't worth something, I don't know what is. Our kids' graduation ceremonies, however big or small, are food for our hungry parent souls. They are the thumbs up and slap on the back from their teachers that we need to keep going, a reassuring voice telling us that we've done alright and that we can manage to do it all over again next year.

Congrats to all of this year's graduates and an even bigger congrats to the parents of this year's grads. Survival. Success! Job well done. Our kids have done it. And so have we.

Monday, April 28, 2014

We Lazy Women

Today I saw this article. Women, take a deep breath and then read it.

Every day, I am up before the sun rises. I finish packing lunches for our five children and for my husband. I feed our horses, dogs, cats and chickens. I get dressed, hair done, makeup on and, one by one, wake the children and help them get ready for school and preschool. I double check backpacks for library books, homework assignments, water bottles and book orders. Morning commute and drop off begins and, an hour and a half later, everyone is delivered. I'm a mom. This is my job.

By 10 am, I have finished my first few appointments. Some days I work indoors but on other days I'm outside. Just today I euthanized a very large dog outside in the howling wind, holding down needles and syringes so they didn't blow away and placing the IV catheter as sand blasted my face. I've castrated pigs in the freezing cold. Sometimes the work is strenuous. I've pulled 100 lb baby calves from C section incisions and set them carefully on the ground. I've had my entire arm up a horse's backside. I've worked countless overnights, weekends and holidays. As a veterinarian and business owner, it's my job.

By late afternoon I'm wrapping up my appointments, picking up children, shuttling them to gymnastics, track, music lessons, dance classes and various other extracurricular activities. I nurse my baby for the first time since I've left him in the morning. I listen to stories about my kids' days, I help with homework and I start dinner. I give my husband a big hug as he walks through the door. I ask about his day and listen as he replies. We give baths, read bedtime stories and tuck our sweet children into bed. I tidy the house, start laundry and wash dishes. I check voice and text messages, respond to worried clients, return phone calls and often venture out again to see more sick patients as night falls.

By 11 pm I am usually home, bathed and my day is finally winding down. My husband and I spend a few quiet minutes together before the baby wakes up and needs to be nursed or before one of the kids has a bad dream. We watch the news together or look over our finances or laugh about something funny that our kids said or did. I'm tired but I know that this time together is fleeting and special. I'm a wife and it is my job.

None of this is said as a complaint or in self pity. We have a very fulfilling, blessed life and it's just the way we working women balance and coordinate our days. And I'm not unique. Millions of women spend their days and nights just like me, wearing several hats, balancing children and a career, kissing ouchies on knees and suturing wounds on patients, picking up our kids' prescriptions and calling them in for our own patients, cleaning our houses and hugging our husbands and then doing it all over again.

Exceptional? No. Extraordinary? Definitely not. It is our job. But anyone who calls women lazy and who says that we deserve less pay than men, anyone who thinks that women shy away from hard work and anyone who thinks that women choose the easy road career-wise needs to come spend a day with me or with any number of the fantastic women that I know and love.

Motherhood is a full-time, 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job (with no sick leave) and all of the businesses, offices, corporations and workplaces in our country that employ women can vouch for their contributions and value.

I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy doing life and all of the things mentioned above. But, since apparently I am not motivated by money and do not know the value of hard work, I figured I'd take a few minutes out of my day to share about exactly how unproductive and unmotivated and useless we women really are.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Proudly New Mexican

Having just opened my own practice, I have been slowly and carefully helping design the new web site. Today I told someone that I wanted one header in the "About" section to read "Proudly New Mexican!" He seemed bewildered. Skeptical. Perplexed. Then it hit me. He isn't from here.

Like 99% of New Mexican youth, when I was in high school I swore I'd move away someday. Then, I received a too good to be true scholarship offer to run college track and participate in a neat academic program at the university here in my hometown. So I stayed. I proudly wore the Lobo uniform, I lived in those "classic" campus dorms and I went to the Frontier after late night parties (where I inevitably ran into my parents, my parents' friends, one of my former elementary school teachers or any number of other acquaintances who also happened to be out late). Things like that happen in a town like this.

I did move away eventually, to Colorado for four years and to Canada for five. Those were glorious, wonderful years and I made great friends and acquired a veterinary degree and two children while "abroad". However, like about 99% of New Mexicans, I soon found myself moving back to what so many of us called "The Land of Entrapment". Maybe entrapped but I also had a new appreciation for my home state.

My oldest daughter takes dance class at the same studio where I danced as a child, with the same teachers who still remembered me after 20-something years. My kids' pediatricians are the same doctors who took care of me as a child. Our dentist has cleaned my pearly whites since I was in high school and his son was a classmate of mine. My kids attend preschool with my college roommate's child. The daughter of one of my mom's best friends is the director of admission at our daughter's elementary school (confused yet?). And that's just the way it is here. Six degrees of separation? Nope, maybe two.

When you walk into a store and a lady old enough to be your mom or grandma calls you "Mija", you know you're in good hands. Because, while you may not actually be her hija, you might as well be because you'll find out that she knows half the people in your family if you stay long enough to chat.

If you know who Zozobra is and if you aren't alarmed by the burning of a giant, moaning puppet in Santa Fe every fall, you're truly New Mexican. If you read "Bless Me, Ultima" in school (and then read it again in Spanish class, "Bendiceme, Ultima"), you're New Mexican. If you visited the Candy Lady as a kid and curiously peeked in at the adult confections, you're definitely New Mexican.  If you fill brown paper bags with sand and a lit candle at Christmas time, there's only one place you can be. And if you know why people call it the "505" (or, even better, if you have those numbers tattooed on you), you're probably New Mexican.

When someone owes you money and promises to come back the following day to pay and you know that they will, likely with a batch of homemade biscochitos in hand as interest, you're New Mexican. And when you know that if, by chance, they don't come back to pay that you'll run into them or your parents will know their parents, you're in the Land of Enchantment. When you've grown up hearing the legend of La Llorona and when you're a tiny bit scared of the ditches because of it, you're a born and raised New Mexican. And, of course, all of you New Mexicans know that if someone asks "Red or green?" they're not enquiring about which of the Christmas colors you prefer but rather what kind of chile you want on your food.

If you're not from here but if you've made it your home, we'll gladly bestow upon you honorary New Mexican status as long as you don't slag our state and as long as you make positive contributions during your stay.
There's no denying it. I'm proudly, shamelessly New Mexican. And if none of that made a word of sense to you, come visit. We'll show you a good time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Featuring Our Fam

I just realized that, with everything going on over here, I haven't shared our most recent family photos taken by the lovely Jayme at Jayme Charissa Photography. What better day to share them than on the holiday celebrating one of my heroes?
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.

We're so thankful that your vision is now a reality, Dr. King!