Picture This…

The more kid-trends I see on social media, the more I realize that I am no longer a young mom – although in my head I'm only 30-something, but I have to face reality at some point.

However, Facebook will never let me forget.

Now, my youngest is turning 12 in a little over a week, so my chance to post pictures every month with little number patches on tiny onesies, is out.

Half my children were born in the 20th century and the other half in the 21st, which makes my oldest kids millennials. (What are 21st century kids called? Do they even have a name yet?)

For a moment, let's go back in time (did you sing that in your head? – Gotta get back in time…) to the last century.

The 90's- back before we partied like it was 1999 and felt the Y2K panic. To a time when phones were just for talking and capturing the moment meant portraits taken of our offspring at…

Come on, say it with me…

Olan Mills.

Oh, my fellow parents of young adults, let us reminisce. Let's tell the parents of today how they have missed wriggling little bodies stuffed in tiny cradles and plopped in bathtubs positioned to make them look naked.

Oh how to make the perfectly-timed appointment, somewhere between feeding and nap time in order to get the "happy" window. Because you don't want to have to pack up and come again.

At least not before next month. You had to next month.

Because you bought the package. The "Watch-Me-Grow" package.

Tons of cash and lots of pre-planning, because you must buy just the right amount of pictures so that when you have to sit down, address, and mail them to friends and relatives, you must not miss anyone.

Because they would know. Somehow, even before Facebook, they would find out.

Thus, the overbuy.

Today, in the backs of the baby books sit sheets of unsent pictures that you can't throw away, because that's your kid.

And that would be wrong.

Oh, young ones, #thestrugglewasreal.

Social media has made it so easy for parents to share their babies. Not to mention, cheap.

The package prices – can we talk? But how can you put a price on memories? And every picture is adorable.

Every. Single. One.

Then, as more kids come, you get the cute Christmas pictures of littles looking at books in front of festive backdrop that is clearly not your house.

Now I know many have pictures taken by professional photographers. But even these are trends are different.

Maternity pictures. Which are stunning and I'm very jealous I didn't have those done.

Did Olan Mills even offer? I think not.

Now, mommies-to-be post pictures of every stage of the "bump" along with chalkboard signs and comparing baby size to fruit.

I just know when my girl was the size of a rice-Krispie. I'm not sure that would have qualified.

My bump was a boulder by the time we got pictures. Like right before labor.

Pregnant pics were mostly afterthoughts – like, "Oh, we should probably get a picture," usually for the baby book in the "While Mommy was Waiting for Me" section so that I wouldn't face the shame another blank space like the "Daddy before Marrying Mommy" slot.

I could have least worn a shirt without a stain.

Nowadays there is so much prep.

The gender reveal. Not sure when that actually started but we have been finding out the gender of our babies for at least the last 20 years.

But now there are parties? Are there presents? Why didn't I think of this?

Speaking of presents, I need enlightening on this one.

The Push Present.

Mom gets a present from Dad for pushing out the baby? Didn't he just give Mom a baby?

Seriously, it a sweet way to commemorate the occasion. Not that you will forget it. I never had a push present but my husband and I recall each and every birth by what food he ate while I was in labor.

Back to the present -can it be anything? I do see lots of jewelry.

Yet I keep thinking this could be problematic. Apparently new dads don't know what babies do to necklaces.

They eat them.

If this had been a thing in my day (I sound so old and grandmotherly – I actually kind of like it in a weird way), I would want him to give me the gift of a nap. Or maid service.

Alas, we generation X mommies and those from earlier generations only had baby showers. Sometimes only one and some only for the first or second baby.

Somehow, people figured that after a couple of kids, we really had everything we needed. Except sleep, but that still hasn't happened in my case.

But back to Olan Mills and that monthly appointment. We just keep signing up and packing them all up and praying that the squeaky duck would make baby laugh. Then came baby three, and then four.

And one day, your youngest may or may not have asked why his picture looks different and you don't actually tell him that you may have forgotten to set his three-month picture appointment and his was taken at home and developed by Walgreens.

All purely hypothetical, of course.

Judging Mom

Momma always said that I was afraid I'd miss something.

I see why little kids hate to go to bed. They think they might miss something. My husband says this to me to this day.

Our bodies were made to rest. God created them this way. I frequently lose the battle when I fight sleep, but I dream (sorry-bad pun) of all I could accomplish if not for those precious hours "wasted" sleeping.


Maybe this goes back to my child hood. Maybe because I was never sleep-trained.

I was never sent back to bed if I woke in the night but instead welcomed to wiggle in down between my parents' warm sleepy bodies.

I was never disciplined for getting out of bed, but allowed to fall asleep on the couch. My family joked that Daddy carried me to bed until I was 12.

It's really not a joke.

Maybe because I was a later-in-life baby and a little "spoiled".

Or maybe because my mother said she raised me according to how she felt she should, unlike my sister and brother, who she raised according to how everyone else thought she should.

I am my mother's daughter.

I am more relaxed about bedtime than most. Homeschooling allows for this freedom, but even in the early years, I didn't do what I was "supposed to".

I "rebelled" and felt guilty.

I complained to Momma once that my littles didn't want to go to bed at 7:30 like all my friend's kids did.

She asked if I needed them to get up early. I said no.

"Well then, what's the problem?. They don't have to get up and go to school. Let them stay up later and sleep in."

It didn't occur to me that I'm the parent and I make the rules, not others.

Momma had learned this by the time I came along.

How I miss her non-judging attitude toward my methods or lack thereof. She gave me the much needed permission to do what I needed to do.

This parenting journey is one we forge ahead in often blindly and with great trepiation. And often we fall into condemnation.

Though often inadvertently, I have been made to feel I did everything wrong with regards to my young children's sleep habits. Even by those who didn't even have children.

And likewise, when receiving well-meaning advice from those without special-needs children who suggest what I "should" do about my son- I just smile and nod.

Smiles and nod. And sometimes defend my parenting.

My personal experiences differed with all four of my babies. I've laughingly (well, maybe not) said I had the most no-sleeping babies on the earth. And then, I was given special needs child who still has significant sleep issues. I have no solid answers.

Or a solid eight-hours of sleep.

But, many seem to- have all the answers, that is.

I am not looking to debate Babywise vs. attachment parenting, demand feeding vs. scheduling or any of the countless methodologies and philosophies out there.

But there are always debates. Why? Why do we feel the need to judge others' choices?

I chose to breastfeed my babies – some for so long that I dare not tell anyone because, you know, that judgement – but I'm not going to tell a mom who can't or chooses not to that she's harming her baby or an inferior mother.

Likewise, I'm no less a brave mother because I had my babies at a hospital rather than at home.

I am a firm believer of doing what works for you and your family.

I've offered this little nugget to more than one struggling mom and sense a sigh of relief because someone has given her permission to just do what she must in order to get through another day.

I longed for that grace yet often felt the sting of judgement.

Not that advice is not appreciated or taken under consideration, but when it is served with an air of heir of superiority, it won't be well-received.

My daughter was the first grand baby to come along in 12 years. She was passed from one set of arms to never touching a solid surface for her first week of life it seemed. So when that time came to put her down…

I practically fell into the crib placing her every so gently. Then tiptoeing out.

Then…the scream.

I couldn't do it. I shuddered at her shrieks and became distraught at her distress. This helpless, little life that I had just brought forth beckoned me to scoop her up and hold her.

And I did. For a long time.

The time I resolved to let her cry it out, she had gotten her leg stuck between the crib bars.

I had failed. Failed at making her "self-sufficient" at the ripe old age of three months. Failed to sufficiently ignore her so that she could self-soothe.

Instead I soothed her. My husband worked many hours and was often away, so she slept with me.

And when I became pregnant with my son,

Wait!! Did I just say pregnant?? How did that happen?

Lets just say that she was not always in the bed. And since hubby worked so much, just the fact that I managed to birth four children in fairly rapid succession speaks a bit to our creativity.

But I digress.

Having baby girl snugged next to me in my big comfy bed made the exhaustion and relentless sickness of my pregnancy managable.

It was my "dirty little secret."

I never once thought she was manipulating me by not wanting to sleep in a room by herself across a big dark house. I never thought of sleep as an obedience issue.

I simply think she wanted her mommy.

And I was all to glad to indulge her.

And the next one.

And so forth and so on.

Some slept in the crib. But some didn't take to it as well, like my youngest.

He was the one I was going to finally "do it right" with. But one attempt to let him cry resulted in him shaking the crib so hard it that he literally broke it. More acurately, he broke the locking mechanism so the side would not stay up. So we had to put it out on the curb and never replaced it.

Yet had I been too strict with my youngest sleeping in his bed and his bed only, the stressful time when my Momma was dying could have been much more so. At barely four, he went from a Hospice couch to car seat, to bed and back and forth countless times without so much as a peep.

God's grace covered my "slack" parenting. He even blessed it.

Looking back, I wish I had done some things differently. I know young moms now who are able to do what I couldn't and I admire them greatly. At the time of my kids' babyhood, I didn't have the tools, the energy or the support. I simply survived.

Some days survival is enough.

Truth is, my kids are turning out to be pretty darn amazing.

And guess what I've found?

Teenagers sleep. A lot.

And they weren't even trained.

A few sleeping places of the "no-sleeping" Neely kids…


I lost it a little.

My oldest son turned 18 on Saturday. My second adult child. My girl is 19 for a couple more months and then she will no longer have teen attached to her age.

The older kids were going out for his birthday. First to yard sales, then breakfast, to do some shopping and just hang out as young people do.

And as my daughter came to kiss my good-bye…

It happened.

The tears started flowing and she had a sort of slightly panicked look.

"What's wrong??"

"I'm sorry – didn't mean for you to see this- I didn't know this was even going to happen," I said as I tried to hold back the tears that came without warning and explain what I wasn't really sure about until that very minute.

See, this was a Saturday and it was party day. This is the day I put on the birthday. I'd be up early cleaning the house and making food and today…

Josh and I were left at home alone.

I realized at that moment that I am not the center of their world anymore.

I'm still a part, but not like I used to be.

We could have have a party, but that's not what he wanted. We will have a family dinner, but it has to be tonight because the older kids both have conflicting job schedules and time together takes a lot more planning.

And it's hard.

I now wish I had spent more time at home at with my parents. My momma used to watch my friends and I get ready and she never asked us to just stay.

Maybe I wish she had because maybe I would have.

And I won't ask because I don't want my kids to do things out of guilt.

They are meant to fly.

This is how it's supposed to be.

But it's hard.

I love that they like to hang out together and have things to do and cars to drive and friends and jobs and lives.

They are amazing and I had a part in that because I am their mom.

A hard part of being mom to amazing kids is watching them be amazing without you.

How can something be both breathtaking and steal your breath all at the same time?

However, I want say to young moms who are posting pics of two-year olds lamenting the fact they are growing fast -which they are, because they do- please do not dread them getting older.

Because it's incredibly fun and if you waste all your time dreading it, you will miss it.

Seeing your little people become their own people is something indescribable.

Having real conversations and deep insights into who they have become is priceless and precious.

Instead of dreading, embrace.

Embrace the stage. Cherish the chaos, be glad for the tiredness, the mess, the tears, and the loud. Not all get the privilege.

Relish babies sleeping on your chest, the running and tugging of littles, the hugs of sweaty, stinky tween boys and the kisses on the head by ones way taller than you.

Sit on her bed and talk about dreams and memories and watch her put on makeup. Shut the door and eat Chipotle and watch re-runs of shows from her childhood.

Because it's far from over.

It's another beginning.