When I was on maternity leave with my second son, I somehow made it to one of those morning mothers’ groups in the dead of winter. Just like the mom’s groups I dragged myself to with my first son, I was the only mom there.

In this case, though, the group was hosted by an infant and toddler expert–one of those wise, patient types who dedicated her career to non-profit work and whose wisdom seemed to transcend a lifetime.

“How are you doing with your newborn?” Wendy asked.

“Oh him? He’s fine. It’s his toddler brother I can’t seem to handle,” I blurted.

As it turned out, Wendy loved toddlers (and authored numerous publications about them).

This was a concept I hadn’t ever considered–there are people who love toddlers? Those little dictators who have Category 5 hurricane breakdowns hourly? The ones who fall apart at every transition point throughout the day? The ones who see you on the daycare playground at the end of the day, scream “nooooo!” and run the other way? The ones who could qualify for the Baker Act as “a danger to themselves and others.”

Fortunately, Wendy seemed to have all the time in the world to help me see the magic in my own little guy. I left the mom’s group  that January morning with a shift in my thinking and a list of new tricks to engage my oldest son’s mind in a new way.

That was more than a year ago, and after volumes of research combined with getting to know my older son’s temperament better, I’m enjoying him more and more. Wendy’s suggestions on play that was not toy-based made me hungry to discover other ways to surprise and engage my children. (Which is one of the goals of this blog–to pass them on to you as I find things that work.)

And today, after surprising my 2.5-year-old with an under bed storage container filled with 25 pounds of uncooked rice, I actually thought, “I’m going to miss this stage.”

This stage when it’s relatively easy to “wow” him. This flash in time when he responds to my creative efforts with pure wonder and complete lack of sarcasm.

So thank you, Wendy, for helping me find ways to embrace this season in my children’s lives rather than trying to rush through it. Thank you for shifting my perception and for taking time to sit with a frazzled new mother of two that cold morning.

Today was one of those days when I started checking the clock at 11am to see if it was time for my husband to come home.

Both of our kids have been sick–the puking, fever, diarrhea sick–and stuck in the house for almost a week now. The 2.5-year-old was much better today and probably could have/should have gone to daycare.

How do I know he’s better? Because he spent the day hitting, kicking, throwing, refusing to nap and coming up with other fun ways to channel his “I’ve been in the house all damn winter” frustration. Meanwhile, the 1-year-old is still vomiting and having diarrhea explosions. And I’m running on fumes after several nights of changing vomit-filled sheets and playing with bath toys at 2am.

Which made my job as a mom incredibly trying today.

I hate how I feel during days like these. It reminds me how I felt all last winter, when I was (unknowingly) living through postpartum depression and anxiety–cagey, unable to leave the room for fear of someone (aka my baby) getting hurt, and like I don’t have the creative reserves as a mother to know how to turn the situation around.

The difference between today and how I felt last year, though, is my ability to recognize that I’m in the middle of a tough day. I’m now able to see above the chaos, even when I’m in the middle of it. To think to myself,  “What would turn this situation around? What does this moment need?”

Unfortunately all the (pretty cool) things I came up with today didn’t turn the situation around. What’s the message in this? What’s the lesson?

All I know so far, 15-minutes after handing off the screaming bundles to my husband and hightailing it upstairs to sit in the dark, is this:

Some days are tough.

Some days will feel like living inside of a tornado all day long.

Some days you’ll have a toddler throwing rocks at the glass door while the other one is puking and crapping all over himself in the playroom.

All you can do is try to stay calm, try not to yell, and do your best trying to figure out who to attend to first. And hope you have the blessing of getting another go at it next time.

Okay so it’s really just one idea. But it will buy you 15, 20, maybe 30 minutes if you’re really lucky and keep switching things up.

And before you think I’m some super crafty mom, you should know that it’s only after suffering through far too many hours of whining and referee-ing and tv-refusing and time-outing that I finally found something, ANYTHING, to make two toddlers happy at the very same time.

So here goes: Bring the snow in.

Here’s how to get the most out of this brief respite from trying to find indoor entertainment for the kind of toddlers who proclaim, ” I NEED to run!!”

  • Make a big deal out of you going out to get the snow. Act like it’s a tundra expedition.
  • Bring in a big ole heaping pile of snow in a bowl.
  • Set the kids up at the table with a few kitchen utensils.
  • BUT NOT EVERYTHING. You’ve got to save some tricks if you really want to get attention span mileage out of this.
  • A rectangular glass casserole dish comes in handy as long as you can trust your toddler not to smash it over his brother’s head.
  • Transferring is key–give them scoops to transfer the snow from one dish to the other. I have no idea why, but toddlers really get off on this.
  • Just when their attention starts to wane, either declare it time for mom to go get more snow…
  • …or step up your game with the accessories. I bought more time with trucks, then melon scoopers (because the 2.5 year old was fascinated in making miniature snow balls), then “snow ice cream cones,” you get the idea.
  • Once they’ve had enough, clean up the mess with an old towel, but keep out all the goods. If you’re lucky, they’ll be begging you for more snow after nap.

So that’s what I’ve got. What are your tricks?

Tomorrow marks three weeks since I gave birth to my second son, most commonly referred to as “Barnacle” since he wants nothing to do with his bouncy seat or his crib or his swing, or even the Hotsling for that matter. He only wants to be held, in an upright position, and for the most part by me only.

Meanwhile my 16-month-old demonstrates his dissatisfaction with this arrangement by playing with electrical outlets, slapping the Christmas tree on each lap around the house, and melting down to historic proportions on the playground knowing that I cannot pick him (c-section recovery) to haul his screeching, flailing self to the car.

And sadly, the precious days of staying in bed and having meals delivered to me on pretty, cloth-covered trays are over. My mom left for Florida today and probably won’t be back until March, when I will have no excuse for staying in bed all day and having meals delivered to me on pretty, cloth-covered trays.

So now it’s me on maternity leave with two babies (one of whom, by the grace of god, is in daycare). Two more months of trying to figure this mothering business out before I return to the job I’m really good at–

The one where I get paid good money to sit comfortably and quietly in front of a computer all day.

The one where people don’t kick and scream when it’s time to go home.

The one where results can be measured and packaged up with a bow.

But the one that, ultimately, doesn’t offer sweet smelling infants in blanket sleepers to snuggle with at night. Or toddlers who, after throwing fits at the park, click their tongues to the sound of the car blinker on the way home, perhaps as their little way of saying they are sorry.

That’s what family is for. And that’s what this is all about.