Life, Parenting, Philosophy

Shall I Compare Thee…

comparison by sean dreilinger on flickr



“Life is one race I never want to win – I’d rather stroll around enjoying the scenery”

― Aditya Chandra

It’s funny how, in some things, my boys are so different.  Just looking at how they sleep and wake up, they are a study in contrasts.

Our A is a proper early-bird.  He bounces out of bed wide awake and ready for the day.  He’s immediately ready for conversation at a normal (if not louder than normal) level, and he breakfasts soon after waking (he is now, I’m grateful to say, competent at preparing this meal independently).  Because of these early starts, he’s often ready for a nap in the afternoon – although he rarely gets to indulge in one during the school year.  He falls asleep easily when he naps; his is often the first head to nod in the car; and he tends to sleep quite solidly (whether it’s a shorter day-sleep or the full night), although he does sleep-talk fairly often.  He’s soft in his slumber, curled and nestled and cuddly – he doesn’t at all mind being woken slightly with a kiss and blanket-tuck when West and I head to bed.

B is, in this as in many other things, A’s complete opposite.  He’s our night-owl.  With very few exceptions, he simply cannot sleep during the day.  He’ll whine and complain and moan from the confines of his car seat on a long drive about how tired he is but that he can’t fall asleep.  He stopped napping the earliest of any of our boys – even jetlag doesn’t push him over the edge enough to convince him to seek slumber during the day.  Once he falls asleep (he goes to bed at the same time as A, but often struggles to settle), he may wake again for any number of reasons.  He sleepwalks, sometimes, and he often falls out of bed. When we go to lift him back onto his mattress, he straightens his limbs in protest and it becomes an ungainly balancing act to manoeuvre him onto his pillow.  He protests thickly in his sleep if we bother him too much with kisses as we tuck him in again.  He sleeps in a hard line, often angled awkwardly along his bed. Because he’s such a night owl, he sleeps in longer than the other boys – and when he wakes, he’s still tired.  He rolls out of bed (literally – *thump*!) and creeps along the hallway to the living room, collapsing onto the floor for a little snooze at regular intervals.  I’ll often pass him like this – on my way to or from the living room – and I know enough by now to just whisper a greeting and step over him.  He’s not ready for food or conversation for at least half an hour – ideally an hour or more.

C falls somewhere between the extremes of his older brothers.  He normally falls asleep well, as long as we leave the light on a bit.  He has to be a certain distance from the wall alongside his bed, so that the ‘monsters in the wall can’t tickle’ him when he sleeps; he sleeps with a couple of beloved stuffed toys in his bed, but not in his arms, ‘because they got lost once’ when he went to sleep that way…  He has some of the ease of slumber that A enjoys – he’ll drift off quickly when we’re travelling in the car and falls asleep fairly readily in other situations as well.  But he’s more like B in waking; while A would show up  silently to our bedside if he needed something in the night (startling me and making me yelp loudly on more than one occasion), B and C shout from their beds.  C will call out for blanket-adjustments, water, comfort from nightmares, philosophical discussions, or religious queries.  He will have comments and complaints and questions ready upon his night-waking; the most common ones being, “Will you sit on my bed for one minute?” and “It’s too dark to sleep!”  When he wakes in the morning, he stretches and yodels out an arpeggio, belts out a few high notes with extra vibrato, and then trots off to do his little routine (bathroom, reading, cuddle with us) before he’s quite ready for breakfast and conversation.  He is cherubic in his slumber – all tousled curls and ruby lips – and snuggles into his pillow with a half-smile when kissed good-night.

Although still a baby in many ways (he just turned two, but I have a feeling he’ll be ‘the baby’ forever!), D already has his own little sleep signature.  He went through a phase – we’re thankfully on the other side of it now – in which he required the constant presence of West or me while he was drifting into sleep; but now he only needs a little cuddle while he drinks his bottle, and (after brushing teeth), music, dummy and favourite little stuffed elephant to clutch and he’s asleep very quickly.  He still naps during the day, too – usually for a couple of hours.  It’s hard to know at this stage which of his little sleep quirks will stick, but for now he’s pretty adorable with his little bottom up in the air while he slumbers.  When he wakens each morning, he stands up in his cot – cheeks rosy and fluffy hair forming a halo around his sweet head – and calls out to us:  “Hi Mummy!  Hi Daddy!”  As I lift him from his bed and into ours, he’s full of snuggles and lisped requests:  he wants ‘walkies’, ‘eat’, ‘Gogo-Bapa’ (my parents), ‘play car’, and ‘milkies’ – and he wants them all at once.  But he is placated by the closeness of us, and he’ll dandle a strand of my hair and bestow kisses as he shares our pillows; and that will hold him for a while before he starts to wriggle and sit up to begin on his day’s activities.

They’re all different – they’re all unique, and all special.  When I was listing off their various ways of waking up to my Mum the other day, my boys were all ears.  They grinned, and giggled, at the descriptions of their quirks.  They revelled in the differences; they recognized that I was appreciating those qualities that set them apart from one another.

Why can’t my response to comparisons be like that?

When I feel compared to someone else, my immediate reaction is often to become resentful, or defensive.  Right away, I assume that I’m coming off as the loser in this comparison – in any comparison.  When I feel compared, I become competitive.

So-and-so just bought an amazing house.  Her kids are taking Japanese lessons, and the family is going to stay at a manor in England this summer.  She only shops at Whole Foods, which she can afford, because her husband is a nano-technologist.

“Oh, really?”  I want to sneer, “Well, isn’t she lucky?!”  And I start racking my brains for the last time my children said or did something intelligent and I shoot them laser-beam looks as they giggle over the milk dribbling over their chins as their too-full mouths chew too-sugary breakfast cereal spooned from chipped breakfast bowls…  I start to wonder what I’m missing, that other people have it all together and they’ve earned – earned – the admiration of whomever it is who’s giving me this news.  I’m a failure, I think, and I hand my ill-bred boys a paper towel (not a linen napkin) with which to mop their messy mouths.

But that’s not how it should be, clearly.  How much better it is to be like my kids, and revel in the differences between myself and others.  I can celebrate the uniqueness of others’ lives just as I prize my own ability to live life in a way that’s unique to me and my family.

And here’s the thing: I am far better at doing that – far better at celebrating the differences and embracing my own unique path – when I have a strong sense of myself and my priorities.  The cure for the problem of comparison leading to competition, for me, is this: recognizing my qualities; having firm plans; and upholding strong values.

It’s easy to become envious and competitive when people are talking about someone else’s achievements or acquisitions as if these things were a mark of their superiority; but when I remember that my qualities and goals are different but worthy in their own right, I am spared from feeling ‘less than’ in the face of others’ abundance.

We can lose sight of truth, beauty, and abundance in our own lives when we focus on what other people seem to have (seem to – because we can never know the true measure of a person’s life from the outside).  So we need to re-calibrate from time to time.  We need to ask ourselves – and to really delve deep in doing so – “What are my gifts, and how am I using them?”  We should strive to make the world a better place through our actions; in identifying the things that we do well, and the things we’re passionate about, we are best able to discover our place and purpose in the world.

I’m a big planner.  I love making plans – and at times in my life when I’ve been thwarted in my desire to have a firm sense of the future, I have felt frustrated and adrift.  This doesn’t mean that I’m inflexible.  It just means that I feel better when I have goals, and when I can make plans to reach those goals.  When I have a vision for what I’d like my life to look like in five, ten, twenty years, or more (God willing), I am far more secure in my own path and thus less likely to engage in petty competition to walk in someone else’s proverbial shoes.

It is important to recognize that, while who I am and what my goals are may be part of an abiding contentment with life, more essential than either of these is having a strong sense of what my core values are.

I’ve developed my value set over my lifetime; and as I mature, my unshakeable belief in these values only grows richer.  While my abilities and gifts may change over time, and while my plans and goals are altered in the face of life’s serendipity and challenge, my heart remains true to these beliefs.

Some of my core values are:

  • A belief in the benevolence, omnipotence, and omnipresence of God (who is a personal, relational, God who desires good things for all His creation)
  • A belief in the immutable value of humanity and human life (and in our responsibility to relieve poverty and suffering, fight injustice, demonstrate love and mercy, and help others)
  • A belief (stemming from the aforementioned values) that the meaning of life is, in essence, relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others; in my estimation, these two things are paramount.

Knowing my values and trusting in the path set before me, it’s almost laughable when (for one example) I feel challenged by the material wealth of others.  I am passionate about social justice and stewardship of resources – surely those things aren’t often compatible with the acquisition and retention of personal wealth?!

When I’m sure of myself and my place in the world; when I have a sense of direction as I navigate through life; when my core beliefs are foremost in my heart and mind (where they belong) – this is when I am able to stand secure and avoid being competitive with others.

As a Mama, it’s part of my job to help my children develop these three aspects in themselves: to inspire them to find and use their gifts (and acknowledge their precious uniqueness in all of creation); to encourage them to set goals – and to hope and trust as they journey through life; and to nurture them into spiritual maturity as children of God.  We need to create in children this trifecta of strength – because this will afford them perspective and allow them to continue to delight in their differences throughout their lives, just as they do so naturally when they’re young.

“In the end, only three things will matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

-(Author Unknown)


Motherhood, Parenting, Philosophy, Relationships

Just A Drip Under Pressure

photo by Geoffrey Gilmour-Taylor

photo by Geoffrey Gilmour-Taylor, through

Having four kids – especially four boys – gives me a fair bit of street cred with other parents on the playground.

I can see people scanning my little group.  Noting.  Counting.  And then they make eye contact with me:

“Wow – they’re all yours?”

“All BOYS?”

“So wait – you’ve got FOUR BOYS?”

“What’s the age gap?”

… and so forth.

And then comes the inevitable,

“You must be BUSY!”


“Wow – that must be so hard!”

Usually followed by,

“I can barely manage one/two/three!” [as applicable]

Sure, it’s nice getting respect for having bred.  I mean, I’ll take some kudos for actually having popped them out the old-fashioned way and working hard to nurse them.  But mainly people are just impressed because we have so many kids.  Around here, one or two is the norm; three is a large family, and four is (judging by the looks and comments) right up there with 19 Kids and Counting.

A little honesty is in order here – there’s a subtle self-deprecation in these comments other parents make to me, and I can’t just let them go on appearances (classic over-sharer, right here).

And so I answer them, with complete honesty.

I could barely manage when I had one.  One was busy.  One was hard.

Two under three?  Been there, done that – got the spit-up stained T-shirt… Two was busy.  Two was HARD.

Three?  Yeah.  Sing it, sista/brotha.  Hard.  Busy.  I could barely manage.

And four?  Yep, same story.  Having kids is, by nature, busy.  It is, if you are doing it right, hard.  It requires things of you that have never been required of you before.  SO often (especially in those exhausting, amazing early years), you’re just barely managing.

I find it’s especially the harried, depleted mothers of two little ones who look on me with something bordering on reverence.  There I stand before them, freshly showered (they can tell, ‘cause my hair’s still wet…) and wearing matching shoes.  To them I appear to be a veritable paragon of togetherness; while their preschooler is pinching another kid in the sandbox and their toddler is feeding himself handfuls of bark mulch, at this particular moment, all of my boys are being good and safe.  My older two are walking on either side of my baby and my kindergartener is entertaining himself on the slide… This stage I’m in looks so idyllic, and so unattainable to a Mamma like this, who regards the scene with bloodshot eyes (which have to keep darting from one child to another to make sure she’s still got them both close at hand) and an undisguised tinge of envy.  She wonders at how it could ever get so easy, for her.

So I tell these Mammas, too, the truth of it:

It gets easier.  And in the ways that it doesn’t get easier, it gets different.

And I also tell them, as often as I can, that they’re doing so well.  They are.  I look at them, and I wonder at how they seem to have it all together.  There they are, with their two little ones whom they could just as easily have kept at home, and they’re out there providing them with fresh air and wide spaces.  As they sit there and nurse their babies while they keep an eye on a toddler by the swings, they really look like they’re rocking this motherhood thing.  I wish I could have managed so well when I was at that stageI was always struggling, and everything always seemed like…

When I was at their stage, I used to look up to Mammas like me, too – Mammas who had been in the trenches a while longer than I had – and I used to imagine that they knew all the answers.  I figured that they were experts, at least compared to me.

Of course, it’s not always a like a meeting of the Mutual-Admiration Society when I’m out in public with my boys.  There are also sometimes negative comments:

“Oh, you POOR THING!  All boys!”

“You must wish you had at least one girl!”

“Did you cry when the last one turned out to be another boy?”

Weirdly, cruelly, so often said within earshot of my beloved sons.

But foolish people provide an excellent opportunity to practice grace.  In fact, my Dad gave me a great reply once when I was fretting over having to give a presentation in a tutorial; I’d told him about the superior and challenging manner in which some of my classmates seemed to interrogate presenters.  He said, “You should tell them, ‘Well, I always say there’s no such thing as a stupid question – so let me try to address that for you…’”  I didn’t end up having to use it, but it gave me something to smile about as I faced my peers later that day.

So when people say these silly things, I tamp down my anger and frustration and force a smile as I reply (again, truthfully),

“You know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s busy, it’s noisy, and there are a lot of them.  But I am SO BLESSED.  These guys are great boys.”

Sometimes I add more, too, about what great friends they are and how well they care for the little guy; how they help me with things and how they’re learning how to behave like gentlemen.  I don’t say this defensively, but conversationally – because I really want these people to hear what I’m saying.  And I always hope that my boys hear what I’m saying, too.

But mostly I get positive comments and generous feedback – because people cut you a whole LOT of slack when you’ve got more kids than hands.

I especially love it how other parents will watch me racing around after a disobedient child (while also shouting behind me at another one to “Getbackintotimeout!” and reminding another not to step in the puddles with his regular shoes and breathlessly reassuring the littlest, “Berightback!”) and then just nod knowingly to each other – She’s got four boys.

I can be wading frantically through mud to talk a kid down from a too-high perch (while simultaneously berating him for not listening in the first place), abandoning my post with the (saner) mothers to leap across the playground and admonish the son brandishing a stick, scrambling to get to the baby when he has decided to practice his ladder-climbing with nobody around to spot him; it pretty much doesn’t matter how I humiliate myself – those parents just chuckle and agree, “She’s just doing what it takes.  *I* could never manage four boys.  I take my hat off to her.”

Somehow, it would appear, I am now seen as something of an expert; and as such, I am granted some respect.  I am forgiven for having a messy house, for not planning Pinterest-worthy craft sessions, for yelling too much, and for plenty of other failings – simply because I have a bunch of kids.  I need no further excuse for my shortcomings and I am generously deemed a ‘good’ mother in spite of great evidence to the contrary.

But what is an expert, really?

My hubby has always joked that the true definition of an expert is this:

x = the unknown quantity & spurt = ‘a drip under pressure’

And that’s all I am – a drip under pressure.

Yes, I have the benefit of time; it has been a few years since I was mothering two-under-three as a newbie parent – and so I have been able to improve in some areas with my second two.

Yes, I have the benefit of some experience; I’ve now been parenting for nine years. Whew!

Yes, I have the benefit of four kids to better understand sibling rivalry, the dynamics of differing personalities in a family, and how to enhance our bond with one another.

But I’m also still working things out.  I’m still adjusting, and growing, and failing.

It’s hard.  It’s busy.  Sometimes I can barely manage.

We all need a place to face our fears and our failings as mothers, and yet walk away encouraged in the knowledge that what we are doing is good and necessary.  Why can’t the playground be that place?  Why can’t church?  Why can’t the coffee shop?

Why don’t we just get real with each other.  I would hope that all those parents who give me admiring glances would extend the same grace to themselves; chances are, if they were to look honestly in the mirror, they’d see that they were doing a far better job than they think.  In fact, if we all just looked at the things we are doing right (without succumbing to complacency), we’d probably have a much more accurate perspective on how we’re doing as parents overall.

So let’s all just agree on this, shall we?  Nobody’s an expert at this parenting gig.  You may know better, but not do better.  I may have made a mistake in the past and then repeat it in the future.  You will do well at one thing and I’ll do well at another. But never, ever, undervalue what it is that you do in the face of what someone else appears to be doing.  If you feel that pang of wanting to parent better, to be more patient and more loving and more creative and more fun, then the chances are that you’re already doing pretty well.  And there’s always room for improvement – always.

I know that a lot of you who read my blog know me in real life – so you are under no delusions about me being a perfect parent.  You’ve seen me mortified when my kids have said something inappropriate.  You’ve seen me sweat it out trying to keep them under control in a pew – or even trying to get them into the pew on time (just once would be nice!)… You’ve heard me share my heart about all the mistakes I make on a daily basis, and how I fear that these failures of mine will haunt me when my boys grow up to be thugs.

I know that you know me to be a truly imperfect parent and – when all is said and done – just a novice, like everyone else.

So if you see someone shooting an admiring glance at me as I troop past with my brood, do me a favour, will you?  Just give them a gentle nudge and remind them:

She’s an expert, you think?  Well, you know what they say:

An expert is just a drip under pressure!