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Been There, Survived That

Top 10 tried-and-true tips from a mom in the trenches

I know God has a sense of humor: I have proof living in my house! They're ages eight and ten, and they're the reason I invest in Clairol #5 every six weeks.

I have no idea why God would place two little boys in my care. I know nothing about boys. I grew up with a sister and lots of girl cousins. On occasion, when I would see a little boy up close, I would marvel at him with the fascination of a rubberneck driver observing a car accident.

When that wonderful moment of life began and the doctor announced I was the new mother of a beautiful son, I looked into that adorable face (the baby's, not the doctor's) and I was filled with hope.

How hard can it be? I thought.

That optimism started to fade the first time I changed a diaper without taking evasive action.

And when my second son arrived shortly after, it was obvious I was outnumbered and out of my league. I turned to the experts and read every morsel I could on what it takes to be a mother. Ha! I would've been better off turning in my Dobson books for full bodysuit armor! Forget those Super-Mom theories and self-help books, here are my top ten tried-and-true tips for moms:

10. Quiet isn't necessarily a good thing. Quiet children are acceptable at nap time and bedtime. All other instances must be investigated. I remember one time when my two toddler sons were in their bedroom with the door shut, and they weren't making a sound. Intrigued, I walked over to the door and listened. I heard whispers and then soft giggles. How nice, I thought. The boys are playing together.

I decided to open the door gently so I could observe them in their innocent play. I pushed open the door to see my three-year-old wearing his pirate hat, sitting on top of the bunk bed and holding onto the magnetic strip of a cassette tape. As I watched, he tossed the cassette into the air, held onto the magnetic strip, and giggled as the roll of tape lofted into the air and unraveled out of the case as it headed to the floor. His younger brother sat on the bottom bunk (the dungeon), imprisoned by bars of unraveled magnetic tape strips. Thirty-five children's cassette tapes were hung all over the room.

Quiet isn't necessarily a good thing!

9. Be wary of small gifts. Children delight in sharing treasures with the ones they love. Nothing warms the heart like a limp dandelion from the chubby fist of a toddler. But beware! One day my two-year-old came running up to me with a huge grin on his face and an outstretched arm. "Here, Mommy! Here!" he said as he dropped an odd-looking piece of lint in my hand. He then stood by to marvel at my appreciation.

"Why thank you, honey, what a beautiful . . . gesture," I said, trying desperately to figure out what it was. It looked like a tightly wadded roll of cotton thread with one loose string. I leaned closer to the unknown item in my hand, and that's when it moved. It took every ounce of restraint to keep calm and not fling the unknown thing against the wall.

I looked at my son, who was still standing there with a huge grin on his face, waiting for his praise. "Spider, Mommy!" he said. I finally realized what I was holding: a daddy longlegs with only one badly broken leg remaining.

Whoever said good things come in small packages obviously never has received a gift from my son!

8. Pictures speak 1,000 words (most of them inappropriate for small ears). Photos of the grandkids are a must for every proud grandparent's coffee table. Getting a good photo of the child, however, isn't as easy as it looks. After spending three days battling traffic at the mall and ending up with a photo of a skinny Santa and two terrified, screaming toddlers, I decided to take our own family portrait. I dressed everyone perfectly, positioned each in front of the brightly lit tree, and set the camera on automatic. One child standing, Daddy in the middle, myself sitting. I even had the foresight to set the youngest on my lap where I could whisper sweet threats into his ear so he would smile. We took all 24 pictures and then I rushed them down to the one-hour developer and started signing Christmas cards.

I should have known something was wrong when my husband returned from the photo store and the boys vanished. Twenty-three photos of the kids sticking out their tongues, crossing their eyes, and making goofy faces. Only one photo where the children flashed angelic smiles . . . and I had my eyes closed.

7. Washable markers are the only markers. I never was concerned about making sure my kids used only washable markers for their art projects. After all, our kitchen table was old, and they had plenty of play clothes that could handle a few stray marks.

Big mistake. HUGE. Two days before preschool graduation, my two angels decided to color . . . each other. I still have a graduation photo of my son with bright green circles on his cheeks, a large orange rectangle on his forehead, and a purple triangle on his chin.

6. Give specific directions. If you say, "Go take a bath," be sure to add "and use soap, and fill the tub up with water, and take off all your clothes before you get in." You'd think these are obvious, but I've learned they aren't.

We live in Alaska and get several feet of snow every winter. One winter day the boys asked if they could sled in the backyard. I thought for a minute about every possible danger, and came up with nothing. Smiling, I helped them into their snowsuits and went to make myself a nice cup of tea. I was enjoying the quiet (refer to tip #10) when I heard the strangest sound: crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, wham, SHWOOOOSH . . . WHOOOMP! It seemed to be coming from the attic.

Curious, I took my cup of tea and stepped out onto the back porch in time to see my four-year-old diving belly first on his sled from the top of the roof! He flew down the side of the roof, went airborne for several seconds, and landed on a big snow pile, giggling hysterically. Needless to say, I threw a fit! But the kids were completely mystified, and technically they were right—the roof is in the backyard, and I didn't specify they couldn't shin up the drainpipe to get to it. Thank goodness I'd made them wear their bicycle helmets!

5. Let them pick their nose. Every mom has a horror story about taking her kid(s) to the grocery store. My 18-month-old toddler was sitting in the cart, grumpy because he was late for his nap. I was eight months pregnant and struggling to maneuver the toddler, groceries, and a cart with one sticky wheel. I was nearly done when I noticed little Jeffrey had pulled a rather nasty booger from his nose and was playing with it. Disgusted, I pulled out a tissue and wiped away the slimy treasure.

That was the final straw for Jeffrey; he threw a full-blown temper tantrum. Between screams, his only distinguishable words were, "Booger! Back!" Of course there was a huge line at the checkout, and none of my sweetly whispered threats had any affect on Jeffrey. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I said, "Oh for Pete's sake, Jeffrey, just get another booger!" He stopped crying immediately and sat there contently digging in his nose. I was able to complete all my shopping in relative peace and quiet (if you don't count the hysterical laughter of the 40ish mother who stood behind me in line observing the whole ordeal).

4. Buy the warranty, no matter what. In 2000, my husband bought his dream truck, complete with leather interior and all the techno-gadgets. On Day Two of owning the truck, a certain four-year-old crouched behind it in a very long game of hide-and-seek. Said four-year-old grew bored of waiting and decided to pick up a rock and write his name on the tailgate of Daddy's new truck. Won't Dad be proud to see he can spell his name? My husband came home to find 12-inch-high lettering spelling "PAT" on the tailgate of his new truck. We managed to buff most of the scratches out, but on a sunny day you still can see a hazy rendition of Pat's masterpiece. My husband now buys every warranty available.

3. There's more to potty training than meets the eye. I thought I'd taught my toddler everything he needed to know about the potty. But apparently I'd forgotten to mention that the bathroom is reserved for doing his business, not for monkey business.

One afternoon, my girlfriend and I sat chatting on my living room sofa and enjoying hot tea. Our two toddlers were contently playing together. It wasn't long before our quiet tea time was interrupted by squeals of laughter. And why did we hear water running? Following the trail of giggles, we walked through our bathroom door just in time to see a Spiderman action figure shoot out of the toilet propelled by a volcano of water. Apparently 11 Matchbox cars and 1 action figure stuffed into a toilet bowl will create enough pressure to propel the six-inch Spiderman five feet. That commode still doesn't work right!

2. Teach them to pray. Yes, it gives them a way to communicate with God, and teaches them to take their troubles to him, but it also gives them an example to follow. Then maybe when they're asked to give the Thanksgiving prayer at the church fellowship dinner they won't say, "God, I sure hope you have a nice turkey dinner. My mom dropped our turkey on the kitchen floor when she took it out of the oven. Please keep us safe from germs, in Jesus' name. Amen." The congregation still teases me every year by sending me disinfectant cloths at Thanksgiving.

1. Enjoy them. All of the gray hairs, broken china, and temper tantrums fade when you hear their first prayer, watch them share a cookie with their sibling (even though no one told them they had to), and when they say "I love you, Mom. You're the best mommy ever."

Janet L. Waldron lives with her husband and two sons in Alaska.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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