Sunday, July 13, 2014

Helping ring in a special moment

I woke up with steely determination.
As I was brushing my teeth, I gazed at the formal outfit hanging behind me, going over in my mind what we needed to do.
We had rehearsed the routine and six months of preparation had led to this one, special day. “We are ready,” I told myself.
Getting the outfit on was a bit of a chore, mostly because of all the little buttons involved. And I experimented with three different hairstyles before settling on just the right one for the occasion.
But all the preparation was worth it by the time we arrived at the venue.
A perfect day was upon us, with brilliant blue skies, puffy white clouds and warm temperatures. It was the best kind of day for a wedding.
We greeted family and friends as they arrived. A smile was on everyone’s face as we starting shuffling to our seats. I found my spot with just the right vantage point and went over the routine one more time in my head.
Had I thought of everything? Did I have an escape route if things went wrong? Did I have all the tools I needed?
“Yes,” I told myself. “It’s going to be great. This is going to be awesome. It’s go time.”
The flute music drifted beautifully across the lush grass as the bridesmaids and their groomsmen slowly made their way down the aisle. The groom — my cousin — looked so dapper and handsome as he awaited his lovely bride.
And then the moment finally came.
My 2-year-old son stepped into view, clutching a little pillow. His miniature teal bowtie and suspenders perfectly matched the bridesmaids’ dresses, and his newsboy cap made him look like the man I know he will one day become.
I held my breath for a few moments, praying that he would make it to his mark. As I heard the “awws” from the crowd, I knew he had done his job — to charm the pants off of everyone. He beamed from ear to ear as he slowly made his way to my open arms, and I smothered him with kisses in appreciation for his perfect performance.
His reward was a small handful of Skittles and his favorite blanket, and my tot sat peacefully on my lap for the rest of the ceremony. We watched as the couple promised to love and cherish one another forever, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Twenty minutes later, his outfit had grass stains. He was covered in sweat from finally being free to run, his disheveled appearance a true testament to the boy he is becoming.
Yes, it was perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better ring bearer on such a special day.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Monday, June 30, 2014

Out of the mouths of babes

“Oh s---.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

My 2-year-old stared at me for a solid 10 seconds before glancing around the room, his eyes finally resting on a far-away wall.

“Pictures!” he said, pointing at a collage of images documenting his first year of life.

I wasn’t buying it.

“Buddy, what did you say?” I asked.

He hesitated, then repeated what I had feared he said.

I sighed, knowing this day would come sooner than I wanted. I would love to claim that I have never uttered that phrase in front of my son, but sadly, I am no innocent. What’s worse is his father doesn’t seem to have the self awareness that he often swears like a sailor.

So now it was time to face the music.

“Buddy, that’s a bad word and you’re not supposed to say that word. It hurts people’s feelings,” I said.

He looked at me intently for several moments. Then … tears, lots of them. After all, I had shamed him for saying something, for the first time in his little life. I felt terrible, too, because we were directly responsible for him ever hearing that word in the first place.

“It’s OK,” I said softly, letting him climb into my lap and giving him hugs and kisses. “I’m sorry because Mama and Papa shouldn’t say that word either.”

Later that day, I recounted the story. What I found as a harrowing parental moment, my husband found hilarious.

“Come on,” he said, “you’ve got to admit it’s pretty funny.”

“No,” I said, seething. “I don’t want to have ‘that kid’ who says whatever he wants. We have to have limits and rules and I wish you would take this more seriously.”

He brushed it off, saying I was taking the situation too seriously.

Until a week later when our son came home from daycare with a note from the staff. It said our son had a “bad day” and was pushing the other children in his class. I suspected that all the roughhouse play my husband instigated with our toddler might have had far-reaching influence.

“You have to understand that what you say and do with a kid matters,” I said. “He takes what he learns from us and re-enacts things with the other children.”

My husband seemed a bit more contrite this time. He put his arm around our tot and gave him a big hug and said, “Buddy, we have to not roughhouse as much, OK?”

Our son gave his best wide-eyed look at his dad, thought considerably for a few moments, then jumped on him for a tickle fight.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sudden ailment helps bring things into focus

It’s a feeling every working mother knows all too well.

When the incoming phone number registers as your daycare facility, you know it’s not a good sign.

“We are calling to inform you that your son had a fall,” the woman said. “He is holding his arm close to his body and seems distraught.”

“Do you think he broke something?” I asked, terrified she would say yes.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “In my experience, when kids break a bone, they are screaming pretty consistently.”

I was not convinced. My cousin fell off a couch at the age of 2 — onto carpet — and never freaked out. But consistent low-grade whining days later led to an X-ray that revealed a broken elbow.

“Do you think I need to come get him?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. We will watch him closely, but I think he will be OK in a little bit,” she said.
That was an immense relief. My day was packed with work meetings and other tasks I just couldn’t put off.

But the peace didn’t last long. Not even 30 minutes later, another call came in.

This time, the woman said my son had not calmed down and would not move his arm at all. It was that moment where my primary consideration instantly clicked into place.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

When I walked into his daycare room, he was lying down, and tearfully said, “Momma get me. Doctor.”

It ripped my heart out to hear it. I gingerly put him in the car, as he whined any time his right arm moved. As we drove to the doctor, he kept rubbing his favorite blanket gently on his arm, saying it was “kissing ouchy.”

After about two hours of exams and an X-ray, we found out he had a partially dislocated elbow. Once the doctor manipulated it back into place, he was back to his old, precocious self.

And I was able to breathe again.

It’s these moments where your priorities crystallize. Suddenly the meetings that just couldn’t be postponed and the work tasks that just couldn’t be put off seemed so silly and trite.

My son needed me, and it was a good reminder that I’m a mom first and a journalist second — and that’s fine with me.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Yearning for a softer side of parenting

“You have a clone,” I said to my husband.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Behind you,” I answered.
My husband turned around to see our 2-year-old wearing his dad’s cowboy hat and sunglasses, beaming from ear to ear.
“I’m cowboy!” he yelled.
And that he is.
Whether it’s tractors, trucks or bugs, I have a dude’s dude on my hands.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing — he tends to be easily entertained — but it definitely has doubled the testosterone in the house, meaning lots of little boy shouting and rough play.
My poor shins look like they’ve been to war, the signs of little shoes trying to scramble up into my lap, and the other day he head butted my chin so hard (accidentally) I saw stars.
And then there’s the fascination that boys have with their, ahem, personal areas. In some sort of leftover ancestral instinct he points at it, identifies it and pulls at it every chance he gets.
It’s a little bewildering for a first-time mom (this isn’t exactly covered in the baby books I read). I’m told that it’s a natural extension of developing boys, but I can’t help but cringe when he starts thrusting his pelvis under the faucet during his bath.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys. We even have a male dog and two male cats. It’s just, well, I’m outnumbered.
I want to share some of the more feminine interests with my son, but so far, he’s not really interested unless dinosaurs or tools are involved. I want him to learn how to cook (a lost art for many men), to read (and not just car maintenance manuals) and to appreciate the arts (beyond “Sesame Street”).
Hopefully, our road to Baby No. 2 isn’t too much longer — a need a girl to balance this house out.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or at

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kitchen calling helps me cope

I’m a huge fan of cooking.
Food is so central to the American family — and there are so many delicious things to eat. It’s my mission in life to try every recipe I can get my hands on. I watch the Food Network religiously, scour websites for recipe ideas — I even downloaded a couple of phone apps to help me plan my grocery shopping.
Every weekend, I carefully select my culinary quests and make my list. I like to craft make-ahead meals for the entire week, so I need four to five dishes. Then I forge my plan of attack at the store to see how quickly I can get in and out (22 minutes is my current record).
I battle each weekend to carve out the time to prepare all these dishes and, with a 2-year-old, that isn’t very easy. At the end of these days, my feet ache from standing and my brow is sweaty from being over a stovetop for hours.
But the feeling it gives me is euphoric.
Nothing beats the complete satisfaction of making food for other people. The looks on their faces when they eat a perfect bite produce an amazing feeling for me as a cook. And I never feel more maternal than when I can make food for my son.
Cooking also gives me an escape from the stresses of life. When I’m focused on a recipe, I’m not worrying about work or the bills or the laundry. All I can see is the onion I’m chopping or the sauce I’m stirring.
It helps me cope with setbacks as well. After more than a year of trying to get pregnant, my optimism that it will ever happen is beginning to falter. The short story is that my ovaries are not releasing those precious eggs in order to get the process started. The long question is whether doctors will be able to overcome this challenge.
It’s frustrating and defeating, but I am a working professional, a wife and a mom so, like countless other women in my position, I simply don’t have time to have the emotional breakdown I’m entitled to.
So I find myself in my kitchen — just me and the pans mixing it up. We travel to places all over the world: China, Mexico, Italy, India, even Spain. When I’m on a culinary journey, the only eggs I think about are the ones in my frying pan and the only crying is when I labor over chopping onions a little too long.
Sometimes my preparations are brilliant, sometimes they’re barely tolerable, but the more important thing is that cooking helps me keep my sanity.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Listen, honey, it’s all part of the plan

There’s a video making the usual viral rounds of YouTube right now where a precocious toddler, named Matteo, makes his case for getting cupcakes.
But the reason why this video, in particular, has received nearly 12 million hits is not just another heart-melting moment of a child doing something innocently inept to charm us. No, Matteo knows exactly what he wants and he’s not afraid to say it.
In fact, the 3-year-old calls his mother by her given name (Linda) and gently patronizes her for not seeing the obvious myriad reasons he should have a tasty treat. Once I heard him say, “Linda, listen. Listen, honey,” I instantly connected on a deep level with this woman behind the camera.
I find that most of my time at home is spent either explaining something to my 2-year-old son or arguing with him. Toddlers seem to have endless energy and once they start stringing sentences together, coupled with the sharpened skill of manipulating your emotions, it’s not difficult at all for me to believe I will have a Matteo moment of my own pretty soon.
My son continues to become emboldened with his independence. He wants to help me do every task, from watering the plants to vacuuming to folding the laundry. Now, his “helpfulness” usually results in water going all over the floor, the vacuum turning on and off 17 times during a living room sweep and my laundry getting strewn about the floor, but I suppose it’s all par for the course.
One day I know that this independence will serve him well. He’ll need it to navigate that great, big world out there when he leaves home. At the moment, however, it is quite the challenge to manage it.
I always feel the frustration of wanting to say “because I said so!” simmering beneath the surface. Some days I win that battle, some days I don’t. But I think any parent knows that for the countless moments we have where we struggle with the rebellious nature of our kids, there are Matteo moments that make us laugh — and make us realize that it’s all worth it.
— Sarah Leach is the editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at 616-546-4278 or

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Toddler tantrums have me wanting to lose it

As a rule of thumb, I do not negotiate with terrorist.
It usually just leads to more trouble and they are not trustworthy enough to hold up their end of the bargain.
But then I had a kid and now that he’s been formally introduced to his independent streak, negotiations have become a major component to my day.
Back in 2008 B.C. (before children), I used to daydream about what parenthood would be. I would quit my job and home school them — because any children that I had were bound to be the next Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs — and their education could not be left to chance.
I would feed them only whole grains, organic greens and lean meats to ensure the best nutrition.
And I would never even think about spanking and would use my elevated reasoning and verbal skills to educate my young on the lessons of life.
Then I had a son and all that flew out the window.
Now I hear him say words that I really wish he didn’t know (thank, hubby), French fries are his favorite food and I do more convincing and enticing than a vice cop.
This is all because of the toddler tantrum, which can strike at any moment in any setting.
There are many shades of the tantrum: among them there’s the “I can’t get what I want” wail, there’s the “why did mom leave the room” rant and, my personal favorite, the “the sudden shriek for no reason.”
Usually I’m blessed with a decent “cool down” period, where the tantrums are spaced out a few hours, but then one recent morning, there were three in 45 minutes.
It started when I had the audacity to hand him his sippy cup rather than let him grab it (in my defense, he did not let me know his wishes pre-tantrum). And that was all it took for a five-minute screaming fit.
Ten minutes later, I was attempting to brush his teeth and he wouldn’t open his mouth. I tried motivating him with a treat, I tried asking very nicely, I tried the stern warning to comply — nothing worked. He hollered when I tried to overrule his stubbornness and kicked me as I tried to hold his chin still.
Then came time to get into the car, which I liken to trying to wrestle a piglet into a mud pen (complete with blood-curdling screams).
The only thing that prevents me from wanting to kill him is 10 minutes after the meltdown, he will do something that I’m convinced is the most adorable thing a child has ever done.
Yes, cuteness definitely is this child’s weapon of choice, and I think he’s winning the war.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or