Eighteen months ago, I was uncomfortably waddling around my neighborhood on a warm September evening with my family, attempting to induce labor by walking, my giant, overdue belly leading the way and carrying him safely inside.
We were all bathed in pink moonlight from that night’s Harvest Moon, which glowed brighter than the rows of streetlights illuminating our path. The moon was so bright, I could see the faces of my children distinctly in the dark, making out the detail of their profiles, their fluttering eyelashes, their pouty mouths, while at the same time wondering who this new life might resemble. I remember all of us looking upward, noticing that enormous round lamp hanging in the sky, my husband and the kids pointing out its size and pinkish-orange hue.
Later that evening, I went into labor.
I remember nurses telling me how crowded L&D was that evening and how on full moons, they staff up with extra hands on deck because so many women go into labor. I remember thinking that couldn’t be true, until I heard the almost simultaneous wails of newborns throughout the night, minutes old, a choir of new life.
Of course his middle name had to be Moon. And now, that’s what we call him.
Today my little moon shadow, my little lunar eclipse is 18 months.
He’s undoubtedly a toddler, quickly escaping babyhood, graduating into that stage where he’s fiercely claiming his independence, where “no” is the word of the day, all day, every day. He wants to do everything himself and he wants to do it his way. He wants to eat with a particular fork, drink from his favorite Nemo (“Momo”) cup, read a specific book and wear shoes only he chooses.
Aside from “no,” “mine” is another word we hear a lot from him.
On walks, he refuses to follow the leader and forges his own path, going against the grain and veering away from us, an adorable stray sheep. We are constantly having to herd him back to us and of course, every time, we’re met with a hearty “No.”
Aside from his favorite word, he’s added lots of new words to his vocabulary lately: “poo” and “pee” (he’ll point and tell you when he’s done either)”hey,” “bye-bye,” “night-night,” “oh boy,” “apple,” “cheese,” “coo-coo” (for cookie), “please,” “dog,” “ball,” “up,” “down,” (while pointing in both directions) just to name a few. He’s starting to put two words together like “bye-bye mama,” but he’s still struggling a bit with the concept.
He’s still sweet and gentle and shy at first when meeting new friends. He plays coy and offers a bashful smile, but he’ll warm up quickly. He’s relaxed and mellow and overall just a quiet, easygoing, confident spirit who doesn’t want or need to take center stage like his brothers, or compete for attention. He’s perfectly happy hanging out on the sidelines, watching the show from the front row, doing his own thing on his own time, dancing to his own beat, exploring his surroundings his way.
He is without a doubt our guiding light, our moonbeam, illuminating the way, lighting up our world, just like that Harvest Moon eighteen months ago.
He was my most difficult baby and he’s still my most difficult child to parent. He is a classic middle child acting out for attention, testing his limits, pushing you to the edge with a wild look in his eye and a smirk that lets you know he’s precisely aware of what he’s doing. In fact, he enjoys seeing you sweat. He will blatantly tell you what he’s not going to do, no matter how many times you tell him exactly what he is going to do.
“No, I not go do that!” he exclaims all day long. He is mischievous and wild, determined and bold. He is also loving and devoted.
Today, he is three.
He’s no longer a toddler — I suppose I should refer to him as my preschooler now — yet that would be a misnomer because he’s not in preschool yet. He’s stuck in that in between stage of not quite being a baby anymore, figuring out who he’s supposed to be next. He knows how to clearly express his needs and desires with words now, while still not completely having a handle on his body or his emotions, getting frustrated because he wants his way all the time and acting out when he doesn’t get it.
He’ll hurl himself to the floor and scream, he will hit, he will cry and contort his body into 53 different yoga positions until he feels heard, but he also knows I’m relentless in not giving into his tantrums. Daddy? Not so much. With daddy, he gets his way if he demands it loud enough and he knows it. This is probably one of the many reasons he’s always been a daddy’s boy to the core and probably always will be. I’m definitely second best, simply a stand-in if daddy’s not around.
He’s headstrong, bullish and stubborn. He’s also full of the most adorable giggles and the purest joy. He’s grown so much in the past few months, both taller and developmentally. He recites his numbers to twenty with confidence and can tell you the names of most shapes and colors.
His language has exploded recently and he can articulately explain everything he’s thinking in his high-pitched voice, even if he sometimes gets his words a little mixed up. We once had a box of doughnuts sitting next to a bag of almonds on the kitchen counter and somehow he came away thinking almonds are doughnuts. So when he reaches for a bag of almonds and asks if he can have “doughnuts, please” I always get a laugh.
I still haven’t corrected him.
He is affectionate, playful and full of love. He is a cuddle bug, the one who needs the most touch and reassurance, the one who wants you to scratch his back on the couch as he purrs, then turns to stroke your cheek with the back of his doughy hand, imprinted with four dimples below his chubby fingers, tracing your face and studying your eyes with intensity.
He sees you. Truly sees you, with that knowing look that only those who really feel with intuition have. Those with that psychic-like energy who instinctively know your pain or joy or the kind of day you’re having just by taking your emotional temperature with their eyes. He is caring and compassionate and will ask you if you’re okay if you so much as cough or sneeze or stub your toe. “Are you okay, mama?” he asks. It’s endearing and sweet. When his baby brother fell at the gardens earlier this week, he dusted him off and picked away the leaves that had attached themselves to his romper, making sure he was okay.
Ironically, he’ll also smack that same baby brother over a stolen toy.
He’ll batter you emotionally and the very next second, run to your aide. His love is hard-fought and hard-earned, but it runs deep.
Happy Third Birthday, my fiery little Libra. You made your presence known the day you arrived and you still know how to command all the attention in the room, three years later.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re like me, you hate lugging a traditional diaper bag around in addition to a handbag.
Something about all the pockets and compartments and giant multi-colored polka dot patterns screaming “Look at me! Look at me! I’m a mommy!” just turn me off. Not that there’s anything wrong with motherhood of course, or broadcasting it for that matter, it’s just that the three children trailing behind me at all times are pretty good at screaming that I’m a mom for me.
So, yeah, I’m a mom and I need to carry diapers on my person around the clock. I currently have two children in diapers (although we’re working on changing that with the toddler), so there’s lots and lots of diapers a-changin’ over here.
Over the years, I’ve owned a diaper bag or two or three. Some were very generously given as gifts, others purchased when my first son was born and I was under the assumption that you had to own an actual diaper bag and couldn’t under any circumstances just own a handbag that doubled as a diaper bag. I ended up ditching the diaper bag a couple weeks after my second son was born. They were never big enough or functional enough to hold all the contents of my purse in addition to my baby gear and, as I mentioned, I’ve never liked the idea of having to carry both a handbag and a diaper bag. Plus, their busy, baby-centric patterns always seem to clash with my outfits, unless I live in one solid color and I tend to wear prints.
With my second son, I realized it’s so much easier to streamline the process and pare baby gear down to the essentials. About three years ago, I purchased a giant, slouchy leather handbag with shoulder straps and magnetic closures that I still use daily as a combined handbag and diaper bag. It works perfectly with any outfit, whether the kids are in tow or I’m out solo. If the kids are with me, I just toss in a few toys for the baby, a great oversized cotton, washable clutch I purchased from H&M for like $6.95, which I use for diapers and wipes (it’s so functional, I bought two and use one as a cosmetics bag and you can find similar bags on Etsy) and my trusty nursing cover for feeding on the go. If you’re formula feeding, just use a second cotton clutch to hold bottles (cotton is great because it can be tossed in the washer after any bottle leakage and it’s more eco-friendly than using plastic bags).
I really enjoy the ease of traveling light because — while strapping and unstrapping kids in car seats and strollers a zillion times a day — I just can’t be bogged down by any more stuff. I find that having a large catch-all handbag that can hold both mommy gear and baby gear combined, is essential. In my opinion, there’s really no need to carry two bags.
Here’s my handbag, which I purchased from Banana Republic. It’s still holding up quite well, even after enduring baby spit up, food spatters, spilled juice and an occasional poop explosion over the years:
These are the contents of my
diaper bag handbag on a typical day for the baby: diaper clutch to carry wipes and diapers, toys and teethers, a spare outfit, a portable fruit mash which is great on the go, nursing cover and maybe a light weight muslin blanket (I live in Southern California, so it’s rarely cold and even a lightweight blanket is sometimes overkill):
Recently, I stumbled upon a great tote while cruising Marshalls, which I grabbed for $19.99. I thought it was the perfect bag for an overnight with the kids or as an alternate “diaper bag” to change it up a bit, or when I’m not wearing a pattern it might clash with. It’s extra roomy and sturdy and can basically fit the entire nursery in it:
or at the very least, a 20 pound, 7-month-old baby boy.
So there you have it — the non-diaper bag, diaper bag. Proof that you don’t have to spend a fortune on a fancy baby bag to make traveling with baby stylish, functional and affordable.
The 6-year-old is on Spring Break for two weeks, so we decided to take a couple of days to enjoy the beautiful weather by the beach in Orange County. My parents still live in the area, in the same house I grew up in and spent the better years of my childhood in.
It was a fun, sun-soaked two days filled with splashing in the pool, walks by the ocean, purple-gold sunsets on the pier eating chilled shrimp cocktail and creamy clam chowder. The boys got to spend quality time with their grandparents and cousin and I didn’t have to think of a million ways to entertain them. It was a win-win-win all around.
I once again realized it’s an effort to pack for three children and yourself just to take a couple of days away. I don’t really call it a “vacation” because that would imply relaxation, but more an “excursion.” Sure, you’re in a hotel, but the baby is hoisting himself onto furniture that isn’t childproof, the toddler is picking up the phone and dialing the front desk over and over and screaming HELLO? HELLO! until we give up and just unplug it from the wall and the 6-year-old is talking VERY LOUDLY and throwing himself all over the freshly made bed asking repeatedly if he can eat the chips from the mini bar until I have to yell QUIET! which is sort of an oxymoron, isn’t it?
The pool is really just a test in multi-tasking and seeing how quickly my reflexes can respond as the non-swimming toddler (who has no concept of fear) tries to cannonball into the shallow baby pool and the baby’s cheeks are slowly turning hot pink and he needs sunscreen but I can’t take my eyes off the toddler and the 6-year-old wants me to watch him, look mom, look mom, look what he can do and…and…and…
I remember the days, pre-children, of weekend getaways to Palm Springs with my husband as we sunbathed by the pool ordering citrusy, iced cold margaritas and shared a chaise lounge, tangled up together, drunk off the sun and the love and maybe the tequila and the luxuriousness of it all. Nowhere to be, nobody needing us. I thought I was savoring those moments at the time, but if someone had foreshadowed for me what it would be like three years later, with three children, three wild things to keep track of and fret over and slather sunscreen on and watch out of the corner of my eye, I would have sipped those margaritas more slowly, held my husband’s hand tighter. Being pulled in three (four? five?) directions is both exhausting and wonderful. The chaos is beautiful in its own way, the tending to other souls, fulfilling. But it also makes those rare moments of uninterrupted quiet that much more delicious.
I get nostalgic visiting the area where I grew up as a child, with my own children now. There’s something both exhilarating and melancholy about it. I approach a stretch of beach with my boys and have to take a moment to let the sand run through my bare toes, as if that alone will transport me back in time to my own childhood. The memory is so clear I can smell it in the saltwater, the briny seaweed, the coconut-scented suntan oil rubbed across browned shoulders. I am 12 again, 9 again, 6 again, the age my son is now. I am running freely on the beach, tumbling in crashing waves, my hair thick with sand and foamy seawater. The sun is almost ready to descend behind the ocean, the light is perfect, casting a golden glow on young, unlined skin and I don’t want the day to end.
I don’t want the summer to end.
I don’t want my childhood to end.
I don’t want this life to end.
I look over at my boys and they are antsy and unknowing. They have no idea of my memories here, my memories here, at this strip of beach that represents so much of my youth. I’m not sure why I would expect them to. I’m not sure what I’m looking for or what I’m hoping to find in them.
They are hungry and they want to eat.
I stop and snap a few photos on my phone before joining up with my family, who are all anxious to move on.
The sun does its disappearing act behind the ocean.
March in Southern California can spoil you.
The weather was so glorious after a day of heavy rain, we brought out our t-shirts, tank tops and bare feet and headed to our favorite park.
The toddler still hasn’t officially accepted his baby brother, almost seven months later. Right now, there’s a lot of parallel play on a good day and outright aggression on many days. We can’t leave these two unsupervised for even a split second. The toddler has already tried to do some damage to the little guy. He’s jealous and doesn’t want to share the spotlight with him.
But this day was relatively tame. The sky was aqua, palm trees swayed in rhythm with a refreshing breeze, the baby took his first ride in a swing, the earthy smell of fresh cut grass was a clear reminder of spring, blankets were spread out and jungle gyms were climbed.
It was a good day.
Oh, this one.
He is complicated, this one. His energy is boundless. He hates to sleep, I mean truly hates to sleep. He’d stay up all night until the sun comes up if he could and many nights he goes to bed long after I do. He rarely naps. If there was a way to force a child to sleep, we would have done it by now. Aside from taping his eyelids shut, we’ve tried everything. My husband — the other night owl in the family — stays up with him most nights on the couch (our boy also refuses to sleep in his own bed) hoping he’ll wind down at least by ten, but sometimes it’s closer to eleven. Sometimes, it’s after midnight as he finally succumbs to the last pulse of electricity exiting his sweaty little toddler body for the night, clad only in a diaper because he also refuses clothing.
He is the most difficult of the three, requires the most patience and triggers the most “time outs.” Time outs mostly for me. Stepping away for five minutes behind a closed, locked door taking deep, cleansing breaths is often what it takes for me to conquer his fierce determination and tornado-like force. It’s funny, I never used deep breathing to get me through labor contractions, but I’ve employed this tactic numerous times to get me through the “twos.”
He will without a doubt be the source of my gray hairs.
On the flip side of this bullish, headstrong boy’s make-up is a deeply loving spirit full of intense affection and loyalty. He is tender at the core and perceptive too. He knows how to take a person’s emotional pulse better than some adults I know. If you’re melancholy, he’ll know it and he’ll move in with a gentle hug or a stroke of your hair to let you know he knows.
I can already imagine him as a teenager or young adult, the life of the party, demanding all the attention in the room, the last to leave after holding court all night, but the first to listen and let you know he cares and that all the hell he’s put you through with his crazy, stubborn antics is worth it because at the end of the day, he loves you deeply and he’ll show you with his words and gestures.
He’ll probably be true blue like that, no mincing words for him.
He does everything with gusto. He eats like it’s his last meal, commanding his fork like a mini backhoe, excavating every morsel off his plate, savoring and punctuating bites with “mmmm” and “dat’s yummy, mama.” He loves to sing and he does it at the top of his lungs like an “American Idol” contestant, not caring if he’s off-key or belting out the wrong lyrics. As for his speaking voice, it’s high-pitched as only a toddler’s can be, like he inhaled an entire hot air balloon filled with helium. It’s LOUD. He’ll let you know he’s entered the room with that voice.
Every morning, he swings open our bedroom door until it slams against the adjacent wall, a little bow-legged cowboy entering a saloon. And mama, he’s thirsty.
“GOOD MORNING!” He declares, predictably for us, but as if it’s the very first time for him.
Amid all the madness he can stir up with his cyclone of a great, big personality, with his demands and tantrums and screaming and insistence that anything and everything go exactly as he wants it to go all day long. With all the days he’s caused me to sweat profusely through my clothing in public places because he JUST WON’T GET IN the damn stroller or get out of the damn stroller or stay in the damn stroller and he wants that cookie RIGHT THIS SECOND, when I snuggle with him at night and his eyes, which were turquoise as a baby, then turned gray, then green and are now somewhere in between hazel and brown, meet mine, I see into him, through all the chaos, through all the resistance and mischief and storminess brewing inside and even if for a brief second I think to myself this is exactly what a matador must feel staring down his bull, I see nothing but the purest, most unadulterated love inside him.