If you ask me about it, though, I’ll likely change the subject or wave my hands and say, “It’s no big deal.” (Ask my co-workers.)
But the truth of it is that I really am excited about it. I’ve always wanted to pen a book—I’ve finished a young adult novel in four months (though it was never published) and I’m always writing some kind of fiction on the side (when I’m not busy writing for my real job). This is definitely a milestone for me. Like finishing a marathon (something I still haven’t done and, at least to me, a whole lot harder).
Here’s how it all began: My friend Mariko Merritt (@heybeachcake on Instagram) is a children’s book illustrator, among other talents. I’ve known her since she left for the Rhode Island School of Design way more than a decade ago. I surfed with her dad and I’d see her every summer when she came home from college.
She had dreams of illustrating a book filled with fruits and veggies. I had dreams of writing a book, period. So we both got together and did it. That’s really how it all happened.
The inspiration for this book, “Kai Goes to the Farmers Market,” was my son, of course. Since he doesn’t have a common Hawaiian name, we went with Kai, which happens to be my husband’s name. So it all worked out.
My kid loves to eat—and I love going to the farmers market. We’ve walked around a few in town. He reaches for anything on tables; I’m constantly apologizing and paying for things he puts into his mouth. My husband, who has worked at farms and helps farmers in his role as an ag instructor, has stressed the importance of growing our own food and supporting local agriculture. We have just about every kind of fruit tree you can think of in our backyard—and a hydroponics table to grow lettuce and an aquaponics system to grow everything else. The message in this book—that Hawaiʻi grows amazing fruits, veggies and other ag products, and we should support our local food producers—is close to my heart.
You know what’s interesting? I read a lot of children’s books. Like, I’ve probably read close to a hundred by now. And most are just OK. Some are amazing—funny, captivating and just long enough to keep the short attention spans of toddlers. Others are flat.
I thought, “Writing a kid’s book shouldn’t be that hard! I can rhyme!”
Oh, it’s a lot harder than I had anticipated.
Rhyming isn’t always easy, especially when you’re including exotic fruits like rambutan, pohā berries and jaboticaba. (I managed to do it, though!) And the storyline has to be compelling. My editor sent back the original copy and said, “This needs conflict.” Who knew a children’s book about fruits and veggies had to have conflict!
I’m eternally grateful for the Jane Gillespie and the folks at Beachhouse Publishing for taking a chance on a newbie like me. It was great fun to work on this book—and it was doubly awesome to see my words alongside the supremely creative work by a dear friend.
If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book or stopping by to say hi to Mariko and me, we’ll be signing books at noon, Nov. 16 at Barnes& Noble at Ala Moana Center. And we’re planning a farmers market-style pop-up on Nov. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Da Shop in Kaimukī. You can also purchase a book here or message me for a copy.
So I will. Because I wish I knew this going into it.
I mean, sure, other parents did warn me. Subtly. Asking questions like, “So, did you start applying to preschools yet…?” when I was still pregnant.
I remember telling one friend that I hadn’t even considered it since I had several miscarriages and the last thing I was thinking about was preschool. I had a baby to carry to term! And I couldn’t drink Diet Coke anymore! I had a lot on my mind!
The question came up again just months after I had given birth. Preschools. Which ones I was thinking about. When was I going to start applying. My son had only been alive for eight weeks, and I was more concerned about getting him to sleep through the night and cursing the breast pump than which preschools offered the right setting for my son.
In hindsight, I should have heeded these subtle nudges.
Preschool is a thing. A huge, big thing. I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late.
I wound up applying to a nearby preschool when Landon was just 3 months old. To me, it was early and I felt ridiculous, but not a single person at the school was surprised. One administrator joked that I should have applied when I found out I was pregnant, since it’s first-come, first-serve.
Except it wasn’t really a joke.
I called another preschool around the same time and was immediately placed on a waiting list. The woman on the other end of the line confirmed what people had been saying to me, what I ignored or laughed off, and she was dead serious about it: “You know, you really should have called when you were pregnant.”
Crazy? Yes. But this whole preschool thing is. I got caught up in the frenzy, applying to more than a dozen preschools, some 10 inconvenient miles away. I created an Excel spreadsheet that I constantly updated, noting which preschools served lunch, offered early drop-offs or provided extracurricular activities. I compared tuitions and poured over online reviews. I harassed everyone I knew about preschools. I was wholly consumed by the entire thing.
Today, applying for preschool is like applying to college. (It seems, anyway.) The good ones—and “good” can mean a lot of different things, from being feeders to private schools to being convenient locations for parents who work in Downtown—are super competitive. And many of them require an assessment, where teachers observe the toddlers playing and interacting and, somehow, decide who fits and who doesn’t. At his assessments, Landon behaved like a typical 2-year-old, drawing, wandering around, deciding to lie down in the middle of the floor while everyone else was singing—and sometimes we got accepted and sometimes we didn’t and I have no idea why.
The rejections were tough. It felt like the school was rejecting my son, personally, that there was something wrong with him. As a mom, that was really hard to take. I know it’s not personal, I know my son is a great kid. Still, when a preschool sends the polite decline, it’s heartbreaking.
And then there are the acceptance letters, what you’re desperately hoping for. All of your fears that you’d have to quit your job and spend the next three years preparing your kid on your own for kindergarten with an iPad and visits to MyGym are gone!
Except you have another problem: Which preschool do I send him to?
Some send out early acceptance letters, giving you just a week to decide and send in your deposit. Should I wait for the school that I want? What if I get rejected and I’ve already turned down these other schools? Can I afford to eat the deposit? Just when you thought the stress was over, right?
And then there’s the issue of potty training. (See my earlier post on that.)
There are a handful of preschools that admit younger kids—under 3—and teach them how to use the potty. It costs more, but after what I went through with trying to potty-train my own kid, I’d pay double. If you can get into these programs, I would highly recommend it. But they’re super competitive and yes, you should have applied when you were pregnant. (Now you know.)
We got accepted to a bunch of great preschools, all of which would have provided loving, nurturing environments for Landon to learn, play and socialize—which is what I was looking for. I wasn’t so much concerned about which preschools produced Ivy League graduates or Nobel Prize winners. I just wanted to send him to a school where he would learn, have fun and be safe. And, thanks to a dear friend’s recommendation (a friend who likely did spreadsheets, too), we found one that fits.
We didn’t have any problems with the transition from at-home daycare to a preschool setting. In fact, Landon was more than ready to go to what he called “big-boy school.” He was so excited to play on the playground, to ride tricycles, to make new friends. When I dropped him off on the first day last week, he barely said goodbye. In fact, as I was trying to explain to him that I would be leaving and would come back later—which is what you’re supposed to say—he replied, “Mommy, you can go to work now.” Sheesh.
I can’t say it was a perfect transition. I could tell the first week was a bit hard for him at first. New teachers, new routine, new rules. He wound up throwing sand at another kid on the playground—playfully but still—and didn’t make it to the potty on time and wet his pants. He was more frustrated and tired than usual those first couple of days. But by Friday he was fine, napping instead of talking incessantly and keeping everyone else up, eating food for lunch he had never had before (like pastele stew) and riding around on a tricycle by himself.
So what did I learn? Parents are definitely more stressed than kids are about preschool—and rightfully so. We’re all trying to make the best decisions we can for our kids, and that may mean staying up late Googling, rearranging appointments and taking vacation days to visit schools and budgeting your money better so you can afford it. And preschool isn’t for every family. I know parents who have decided to skip preschool and prepare their kids themselves for kindergarten. (More power to them.)
So it comes down to this: Finding the right preschool will take time. It won’t be cheap. And the process may be stressful. (Or not. I know parents who applied the week before school started, got in and it all worked out.) Just know it’s a short time in their lives—and in yours. I almost lost my mind the three days we tried to potty-train Landon; I literally thought he was never going to figure this out and I was a total failure of a human. But he’s fine, potties like a champ.
When you’re in the middle of it, it’s all you see. It’s overwhelming. I’m here to say—you get through it. I did—and I didn’t even apply when I was pregnant.
All the books and blogs we read made it sound so easy. “Just follow these steps and you, too, will have a fully potty-trained toddler in just three days. It’s easy!”
Well, that didn’t happen for us. Not even close.
Why would I write about failing at this? Because I wish I had read a blog about failing instead of succeeding. I wish I read about someone’s mental exhaustion, about how she almost gave up, about how it took months to get her kid potty trained and what she did about it. Then maybe I wouldn’t have had such high expectations. I wouldn’t have been so frustrated by Day 2. And I probably would’ve opened that bottle of Prosecco earlier.
Here’s the thing: Potty training could be the hardest thing you’ve ever done with your child. (It was for us.) Or it could just happen. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that their kids just one day decided to turn in their diapers and use the potty. No training, no books, no gummy bear bribes necessary.
I’m not gonna lie: I had high expectations for Landon. He’s pretty agreeable and does what he’s told. He never throws tantrums. And he generally picks up new things quickly.
That is, until we started potty training.
First, we ordered “Potty Training in 3 Days: The Step-By-Step Plan for a Clean Break from Dirty Diapers” by Brandi Brucks. It came highly recommended from a few successful friends. Then we hatched a plan: We would, as the book instructed, set aside three consecutive days to work with him. We had already introduced the potty to him—he was sitting on standalone ones since he was eight months old—and had been talking about this for months now. He knew it was going to happen. Though I should have taken his comment, “I looooooove diapers,” as cause for concern.
The plan was simply this: We would go cold turkey with the diapers, getting rid of every single one in the house on the first day of potty training. Then we would put him in underwear, set the expectation and follow him around like a hawk—a mama hawk trying to potty train her son—until he figured it out. Sounded pretty simple.
Well, it was a disaster.
He hated every single moment of potty training. He refused to go. He threw the kind of tantrums we had only heard about and feared. And nothing would entice him, not gummies, not French fries, not excavators or garbage trucks, not the iPad, nothing.
And when we could get him on the potty—usually by force—he would sit there and nothing. Then, as soon as he was back in undies, he would pee. What was happening?
I couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. We bought the recommended potty, we stocked up on cute underwear, we ordered five pounds of mini gummy bears. I made reward charts, I bought new books for him, I got all of his favorite foods and treats. We didn’t yell, we stayed positive, we were encouraging.
By Day 2, I couldn’t take it anymore. I lost it. When he threw a tantrum, so did I. I couldn’t understand why my son, this smart, adorable, easy-going kid, was now a terror. What was I doing wrong?
Well, lots of things, apparently.
First off, he had just turned 2 1/2, which could be a little young to start potty training. But we had no choice: He was starting preschool in late August and he needed to be fully potty trained by then. The pressure was real.
Secondly, he just didn’t want to do it. And there was no convincing him. He was much more strong-willed than I had anticipated. (What? My son?) And bribes weren’t working.
And finally, we realized how much we had been catering to him. He never threw tantrums because he actually always got whatever he wanted. Not that we let him stay up all night and party with Blippi. But we rarely fought with him about anything. He’s the kind of kid who puts himself to sleep, who never complains about what you’re feeding him, who prefers water to all over beverages, who loves veggies, who loves to read, who brushes his own teeth. For all intents and purposes, there hasn’t really been a reason to scold him.
But that was the problem. We had allowed him to become the boss of the house. He ran this place and he probably viewed us as servants with driver’s licenses who were tall enough to reach the stuff he couldn’t.
It has been about a month since we started potty training and, finally, it has started to click for him. He knows “that funny feeling” and now asks to use the potty. By Week 2 he was able to hold his pee for long stretches. And by Week 3 he could pee in the potty, no problem. (Poop is a different story.) But we had to work with him on one very important concept: We were his parents, the adults, and he had to listen to us. He was no longer the boss. And that was a hard fact for him to accept.
The whole process has been exhausting—but at no point did we give up. (Oh, I wanted to. I actually saved his diapers, just in case.) I felt like a colossal failure most days, but then there were the small victories. Like the first time he peed in the potty or the first time he asked to go. It may have felt like an impossible task—and it may have taken a month instead of a weekend—but like anything that’s hard but necessary, it got easier the longer we did it.
Did we use pull-ups when we had to run errands to Coscto? Yes. Do we still use pull-ups at night? Of course. And does he still have accidents sometimes? Uh, yeah. But he’s getting better about it every day.
But it’s really more like we’re getting better about it every day.
One recent Sunday, after struggling to feed a toddler who wouldn’t stop moving and reading six books before putting him to bed, I wandered into the living room and snapped on the TV. The movie, “This is 40,” was on.
I remember watching this 2012 movie years ago, when it first came out—before I was 40 and a mom and I didn’t understand much of it. Why were they always yelling at each other? I didn’t get it.
But this time around, it all made sense. That scene where married couple Pete and Debbie confess to each other their fantasies about how they would want to kill the other—yeah, that hit home.
Being married is hard enough. My husband and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary—and we started that morning bickering about something so inconsequential I can’t even remember it. Then throw in a rambunctious toddler and three dogs who love attention—and all the stress and drama of working full-time jobs, maintaining a home, managing (or not) our finances and figuring out what’s for dinner every night—and it’s hard to believe we’ve even survived this long.
Marriage. Is. Tough.
And marriage with kids, a mortgage, demanding jobs—well, that can break you. (Good thing it isn’t tax season.)
My husband and I were just talking one morning about how much time we’d have if we didn’t have dogs or a kid. We could go surfing after work, take quick weekend jaunts to a Neighbor Island, sleep in, watch an entire movie—an adult one—in one sitting. We spend so much time preparing food (that the toddler won’t always eat, anyway), walking dogs, driving the kid to and from the sitter, going to swim lessons and soccer practices. I spent hundreds of dollars every month on diapers and board books and crayons and squeeze packs. There are doctor’s appointments, ER visits, birthday parties, preschool interviews, play dates. We’re lost in a schedule that isn’t our own, that has nothing to do with us. It’s a selfless existence.
While there are so many perks to raising a family in your 40s—you’re (more) financially settled, you’ve reached (hopefully) your professional goals, you’ve traveled and played and (maybe) got it out of your system—there are definite downsides. For one, you’re tired, like, all the time. You can’t rebound from the lack of sleep like you could when you were in your 20s. (Remember partying—or studying—all night, getting maybe two hours of sleep and still getting to work on time the next day—and functioning?) And for another, you don’t have the same patience you probably once had. You’re not going to put up with a toddler throwing a tantrum at Macy’s. You tell him, “I’m leaving you here,” and you kinda mean it.
But above all, you lived most of your adult life the way you wanted to. You had your own schedule, you did your own thing. And you did it for so long, it’s hard to change that. But that’s exactly what kids do. They’re disruptive. And it’s easy, at our age, to resist and even resent that.
So, of course, this all affects your marriage.
How can you expect to plan date night when you don’t even have time to take a shower? How can you “emotionally connect” with your partner when all you want to do is fall into a coma on the couch?
You’re tired and you’re impatient—and you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in three years. (Oh, and you’re still paying the membership fees.) So you snap at the person you’re always around—not the one who’s signing your paycheck or delivering your groceries from Safeway. (Those people are important.)
Marriage is hard enough. It really is. I have friends without kids (or dogs, or chickens) and they struggle with communication, money, social media use, remote control possession. But kids add another layer of stress, another set of challenges, and it takes a lot of conscious effort to stay above it all and make it work.
But there’s a flip side to all of this: Despite the zombie-like state we seem to be in at all times, we are probably closer than we’ve ever been. Sure, we rarely go out alone and forget taking trips without the kid. Still, we’re closer because we’re sharing this crazy experience of raising a son together. We’re figuring this out as a team—installing car seats, researching preschools, potty-training a 2-year-old who exuberantly says, “I loooooove diapers!”—and that has made our relationship a lot stronger.
I can’t do this alone. (Well, maybe I could, but I really don’t want to.) We need each other to navigate this new life. It’s us against him, the dogs, the world. That’s what our marriage has become.
Are there arguments? Of course. Do we neglect each other? All the time. Will there ever be a time when we can sleep in? We hope! But for now, this is where we are, this is life and marriage at 40. And I couldn’t ask for more.
Every time a friend of mine gives birth to her first child — and especially if it’s a boy — I hold my breath.
I remember those early weeks, the obsessing over every little thing, scouring Google like it was CliffNotes to parenthood. I remember the crazy every-three-hour feeding schedules, the pumping (oh, the pumping), the bottle warming, the endless laundry and dishwashing. I remember having to apply dabs of apply Vaseline to the area newly circumcised every time we changed his diaper, which was a lot. I remember the cute baby farts that became not-so-cute baby gas that became not-at-all-fun baby problems. I remember my nipples cracking, the pain from pumping every three hours, that initial latch that felt like knives stabbing my boobs. I remember thinking all of this would never end, ever.
Then he grew up.
He slept through the night. He started eating solid foods. He slowly crawled, then stood, then walked.
Looking back, it seems like it all happened so quickly. I mean, it’s only been about two years. And a lot has happened! But when we were immersed in it, it didn’t seem quick at all. In fact, there were times I never thought he would ever crawl or walk, ever stop wanting the bottle, ever climb into his own booster chair at the table and feed himself.
But now he’s running, jumping, dancing, playing in the ocean, hiking with us, even sweeping the leaves outside. (Yes, we’ve already put him to work.) It’s amazing!
But I’m going to be honest here: This has been really hard. Our lives are completely on hold. All of our choices — from the jobs we have to the place we live — revolve around this little guy. I used to travel at least six times a year, including international jaunts, and now I’m lucky I can sneak away to a Neighbor Island for work. I’d love to surf every morning, but that time slot is reserved for making breakfast, walking dogs and tidying up the house. And though it may seem like I have all this time at night — the kid goes down at 6 p.m. — I’m exhausted from a full day of working, cooking, cleaning, walking dogs and playing with a toddler who can’t stay in one place. I’m a zombie.
I’m in total survival mode right now. My life is a strange hodgepodge of my former existence. I sneak away to surf at least twice a week but with no time anymore for leisurely breakfasts before heading to work. I don’t have time (or energy) to workout, so I get my exercise in by walking three miles to the office most days. And my dogs are afterthoughts — just check my Instagram.
I recently checked my Google history and it was very revealing. No more looking for cheap flights to Iceland. My searches look more like this: How to potty train a toddler boy difficult; Monster truck books for kids; Is Albuterol safe for toddlers; Who is Blippi.
There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t feel like a failure in some way. The house is never clean, no matter how often I vacuum and mop. I feel like I can never catch up (forget getting ahead) of my work. I’m so uninspired in the kitchen, I only bake when I’m stressed and I rarely experiment with new recipes. (I can’t afford to waste ingredients!) I’m braindead by the time the evening rolls around and all I want to do is read a book, watch reality TV or sleep. Forget blogging, playing guitar, running or doing anything that requires any type of brain function.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this, like I’m going to wither away. I wonder if this is how my life will always be, stuck at home, too tired to do anything productive, barely getting by. I don’t know how other moms are running small businesses or writing books or traveling the world. A friend of mine is in Paris right now — with a toddler just a few months older than mine. And another has taken her kids to Japan and Disneyland more times than I’ve been myself — and her daughter is younger than Landon!
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. And I know other mothers who follow me on social media may think I — me, the one whining right now — have everything under control. Look, I take my son hiking, we go to the beach all the time, I just made five jars of pickled veggies the other day! What mother of a toddler boy has time for that?!
Yes, I do all of those things, but what you don’t see are the moments when I’m serving my son reheated chicken nuggets, a handful of dried cranberries, strawberry Go-Gurt and French fries from McDonald’s for dinner because I didn’t have time — or was just too lazy — to cook anything else. Or when I’m binging on Girl Scout cookies on the couch, thinking about going on a run but don’t. Or when I’m lying in bed, in the middle of the night, checking the baby monitor to see if my son is still alive and worrying if I applied to enough preschools. (At last count, it was 14.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is simply this: We’re all doing our best, and our best is never going to be what we want it to be. Even the most put-together moms have insecurities, feel like failures at times, wonder how they’re going to make it through the week.
And we do. I did. I survived those first two years, when so much change was happening. We went through toys and clothes and gadgets every few weeks. I can’t even remember how to use a bottle warmer or swaddle a baby. Oh, how badly I wanted Landon to walk — and now look at him.
Born and raised on O‘ahu, Catherine Toth Fox has been chronicling her adventures in her blog, The Cat Dish for nearly a decade. She worked as a newspaper reporter in Hawai‘i for 10 years and continues to freelance — in between teaching journalism, hitting the surf and eating everything in sight — for national and local print and online publications.