To the first time moms

As I write, there is a child heavily breathing, lost in sleep next to me. Her brother is sprawled across the couch in the living room.

It is nearly midnight.

Tomorrow, we will host a joint birthday party for these two children who emerged on almost the same day, two years apart, in late June, six and eight years ago.

It seems like a lifetime ago. It seems like last week, this hurricane that upended my life.

Your story shifts the second you find out that you are going to be a parent. Then it shifts again the moment they emerge, yowling and slightly gross from your womb, separate from but now an even bigger part of you still.

Clara newborn

You were once joined nearly completely, only now you discover that it isn’t just flesh and blood that can join you with a person for a lifetime.

It’s a million yet unspoken words.

A promise, now realized. A thousand more, waiting to be fulfilled.

Your daily life together becomes a series of shifting plots. You think you have learned one thing about parenting, found solid footing, and then the next day, the game changes.

Sleep regression. Colic. Diaper rash. Reflux. Teething. Your internet not working. Misery!

I remember how unreasonable parenting seemed at first.

The thought that I had to carry a person, who practiced Cirque Du Soleil inside of me every time I tried to close my eyes, who burned my innards with the fire of indigestion (equal to the flames of a thousand suns), who I was then expected to spend hours birthing, urging them into the world with cracking pelvic bones and willpower, and then feed them from the battered front of my body, was without a doubt the most presumptuous thing I had ever heard.

Not only was I responsible for birthing this tiny person, for bathing them and noting the number of diapers they soiled each day, I was also charged with making sure they turned into a good person eventually.

And sometimes, I also needed to take them into the grocery store even as they squirmed and cried from their car seat while I lactated through my shirt with enough milk to supply ten dairy farms.

And for all of my work, where did it actually get me? The laundry was never clean. The house was always dirty and neglected. The smallest of tasks increased in difficulty ten fold. I felt like I spent my days flailing. I didn’t see where any of my efforts were gaining any ground.

It turns out, that when you become a parent, you give birth nearly every day. Right there, in the mundane.

The broken body, shriveled breasts, stretch marks, and post-partum raging hormones that whisper that you aren’t enough are some of the “easiest” parts.

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You’re then met with the crushing reality of mommy culture. You start to doubt every decision you make for them. You wonder if each one is actually best. You wonder if you need to be making your own laundry soap and baby food. You wonder how anybody ever thought you could do this in this GMO laced world. Heck, you wonder why you’re so selfish to just want four hours of sleep in a row so badly you can cut your teeth on it.

Once you were insecure about the clothes you wore, the acne on your skin, that you didn’t share the same lunch table with popular kids.

Now, you’re worried about when the new loose pouch of skin across the front of you will recede, giving you back an appearance of maidenhood.  You feel guilty because deep down, you already miss your old life and its simplicity. When your mind was quieter than it has been since the moment they arrived. You realize startlingly that the noise may never leave you.

Now, you’re worried about how to feed your baby. How to dress your baby. And bathe your baby. You wonder why your baby doesn’t sleep. You wonder why you never seem to be enjoying any of this like all of the other parents around you. Or why your heart hurts so much when they cry as you frantically pace back and forth to help them find their way to sleep.

Your heart hurts because it’s growing three times in size. Outward, forward. Like an expanding wave of an unfolding and mysterious universe.

You’re so distraught because now life comes with a new set of insecurities, the least of which is that your body will never look like it used to. Some of worst thoughts haunt your mind as you’re trying to sleep, like the fear that this new life will never seem to fit you just right.

life

The greatest of which is that you’ll somehow mess this all up, mess them up. That you will ruin everything good in them.

I thought I became a mother the day they draped that first baby across my chest. And I did. It was the big bang, a new solar system of life bursting forth. A galaxy now set to spinning outward. Unstoppable. A thousand stars dotting an endless ocean. Here there are no skies. There is only forward.

The life I thought I knew so well was gone. The way things were supposed to be irrevocably changed.

I have spent every day becoming since then. Becoming a mother, and finding with each new phase that I must go further still. 

It’s been eight years. Eight years of leaked diapers. Cancelled plans. Sick children on family vacations. Crying behind closed bathroom doors, or over a dirty kitchen sink. I waited, for someone to tell me that I can do this.

But it isn’t enough to believe that I am good at this. That I can do this.

Now I see. I see what I will be. And what I will be, I already am.

Now it is enough, the belief that I am becoming. 

And yet the sun still shines. The galaxy still spins and unfolds. We move in an ellipsis, dancing around one another, as we move forward. Together. We already are.

And yet we are still becoming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When you’re not the brand new mom anymore

Is there such a thing as the dog-days of raising children?

I feel like if such a thing exists, then I am surely living in them. 

I’m not always fond of the dog-days of summer. The thrill of warm days and nights, of beach trips and sandals usually wanes for me by August. By the middle of the month, I am ready for every wayward insect to die a frostbitten death. I am beyond tired of the boob sweat that plagues me every time I step outside. 

Dog-days with children are the same way.

It’s the space between them becoming mobile creatures, and them turning into potty-trained, slightly better mannered small children. Somewhere in there, it’s almost like they become feral.

I’m in this fold right now.

I have a toddler, and two elementary aged children. The older two could argue about practically anything – and seek to do so daily. While the toddler lives by a personal manifesto that is equal parts the word “no,” and the phrase “YOLO.”

It’s a rare thing when I prepare a meal that everyone eats happily, without even one crinkled nose. It’s even rarer to put all of my children in their beds and actually have them fall asleep without reappearing a handful of times. 

And so, with an undomesticated toddler underfoot (or standing in the yard wearing rain boots and no pants), two junior litigators, and my flailing attempts to draw boundaries and teach them goodness, the energy is drained from my lifeless body daily before ten in the morning.

Do you ever think that moms can lose their vision?

We all start out wanting to do the right thing.

We read the baby books. Heck, we practically started off thinking we could write the proverbial book on parenting. We cut their grapes into fours, made sure they only watched one cartoon a day, and we never left the house without a fully stocked diaper bag.

We answered every cry and question with such purpose, such assuredness. Every waking thought and conversation was dedicated to them. And their faces bring us such unabated joy.

Eventually, maybe a few more kids got added on to the pile, and the days become more about surviving then actually accomplishing anything. The minute hand on the clock slows down. Time becomes relative in relation to when your toddler skips their nap. On those days you watch the space between lunchtime and when your husband walks back in the door grow about five times in length.

You used to sit down while the baby slept. But now, there’s a child latched on to the front of you, and a maybe child pulling at your pant leg, and possibly one shouting at you from the other room….and maybe even one more making questionable smells in the bathroom.

The mom who promised herself that there would be no compromising, no gray areas, becomes the mom who will give in and just buy the damn Lunchables so she can make it through the store without children gnawing off her ears with requests for one thing or another. 

Everything becomes like an episode of American Gladiator.

There is no just making it up the foam mountain, you have to make it past the tennis balls whirring right towards you. No battle, no task is clear cut or simple. There are multiple variables to be considered at all times. Always.

There is no just making it through the grocery store when there exists such torturous things as cereal aisles and miniature carts the kids can push around because didn’t you plan on having your ankles maimed while you went to the store to buy milk?

But really? What happens when you aren’t that brand new mom any longer?

The scent of Dreft has long since faded from your washing machine. That life giving earnestness you had when everything was new has faded. Now your kids have grown old enough to argue with you about whose turn it is the sit in the middle swing at the park. You haven’t made it to the gym in you don’t know how long, and come to think of it, you actually can’t remember the last time you did anything for yourself intentionally that wasn’t akin to spreading peanut butter on a graham cracker, and shoving it in your face while, blessedly, no one was looking.

Nobody really asks how you’re handling everything anymore, except for maybe the handful of mom friends you have. Everybody just assumes that you have a firm grip on everything now. Or they relate enough to know that there is really no such thing as having it all together, and they bring you chocolate even when you didn’t ask for it. 

Now you’re the lady with a few runts hanging off the side of the grocery cart in the store. Nobody gives you the second glance to see how extraordinary you are as you diplomatically sort out whose turn it is to choose the cereal, this week. 

Those visions? The ones you had of how you thought it was gonna be? They’re toast.

As shriveled as the split ends hanging off your head. They are dried out, flapping in the breeze as much as those batwings on your arms do when you wave to a friend across the parking lot at Target. 

Nobody ever told you how hard this was gonna be. And really, would you have even sincerely believed them if they had? And how would you have even understood??

We are in the stage where we aren’t quite the blushing new mom at the grocery store who illicit gently turned heads and praise from other moms as their pink baby is nestled into their chest. Everyone loves that mom. Her kind is welcome here, full of its promise. 

But we aren’t old enough to be pushing a cart alone in a store with stain free pants on, a coffee in hand, admiring all of the young moms while reminiscing about the good ole days, overlooking their struggle or looking on their efforts with sentimentality. 

We are in the stage hardly anybody talks about. Where it is all so unwaveringly hard.

Forget about everything else that’s going on in the world, that’s going on with everyone else. There is enough going on right here, in this house. With these children.

When the nap times have stopped. When there is homework. Where there is no romance, because romance would require the children in your house to actually fall asleep at a decent time. You’re actually confused now as to how anyone ever made more than a handful of tiny humans because even a few of them become such enormous deterrents to marital romance, let alone sitting down.

You’re in the stage where you want to throw your phone across the room when you read someone complaining about how tired they are on Facebook, or about the pedicure they just treated themselves to after such a “hard week”, only you’re too tired to even do so. So you simmer in your disdain. 

This is it. The point of no return.

There are no bottles or nap time schedules. In fact, the only schedule is the one you make, which sounds empowering until you realize how much effort that takes to stay on top of everything American Gladiator-style.

You are moving into the era of shoes needing to be tied, and not Velcro’d. Of after school sports or clubs, and miles on your vehicle as you scurry between everything like a taxi. You are almost to this promised land of kids who can make their own eggs for breakfast, and who you can trust not to run into the street on a whim. 

But for now, you’re nose is to the grindstone, your hand is on the plow. And you are making this work. And it is taking every inch of you. It takes every ounce of moxie you have to not throw everyone’s toys in the trash can, because you how many times have you told them not to just leave them sitting out right after you stepped on a Lego??

Nobody ever tells you what it’s like when you become this giving tree of gargantuan proportions. 

And they assuredly never tell you how beautiful that is.

Nobody tells you how brave you are when you make those hard parenting decisions. Or even the mundane ones. Because someone else’s mundane is your miracle.

Nobody tells you how selfless you are, when you get up again in the middle of the night to quell bad dreams. Or when your children fall victim one by one to the flu, and you haven’t hardly showered or left your house for almost two weeks unless it’s to the doctors. 

Nobody has ever told you how blisteringly tired you are gonna be when those tinies turn into littles, and that it takes pure fight in you sometimes to make it through each day.

Nobody has ever told you how much this world is depending on you, to raise those babies into children into teenagers into adults who care about the rest of us. Nobody has ever told you how powerful you are even when you are catching someone’s puke in your hands or down the front of you. 

ALEX

Nobody has ever told you how powerful it is that you care and that you love, because raising up from that will be more people who care and who love. People we hope will reach the next level. We already have enough violence in this world, enough brokenness, so what we need are people who love unconditionally and that is borne from the love that sheds off of you every day in every humble effort. 

Maybe nobody ever told you. Until now.

I wouldn’t know what to tell the parent who is struggling. Who is exhausted beyond words. Who is afraid. Who feels like they are losing themselves to this parenting battle. Who just wants to sit down. 

There is nothing I can say to you that makes those problems, those worries, those obstacles go away. 

I can only say that you, friend, momma, are not alone in this. We are all out here. And we sometimes think that we are invisible to anyone else, to each other. But we aren’t. 

I need you here, in this, with me. Right now.

I hear that one day, our children will know how to cut the crusts off of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The ones that they will have made for them themselves. By themselves.

I hear it gets easier, and then right around the time it does, we start to fret.

Because we will already miss them so. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Waitress: this is why I was alone

My husband walked through the door. Dinner simmered on the stove. Children wailed and argued from the other room. 

I stirred the cooking rice and chicken on the stovetop once more. I folded the dishrag into a neat pile by the sink. And I calmly told my husband that I needed to leave. 

I laid out pajamas on the coffee table, a set for each child. I scooped dinner out into three different bowls, made three different cups of water. 

I grabbed my purse and my keys, blew kisses and closed the door. I contained myself from doing a mad sprint to the car.

I stopped at the supermarket on the way into town to choose a magazine to read while I ate my dinner.

I looked at all of the glossy, colorful magazine covers lining the shelves. Smiling, air-brushed, and seemingly well-rested faces looked back at me. Bidding me to try the sex moves that would change my life and discover the fall fashion or makeup palette to ring in the new season. To try the fat busting moves that would bring forth the abs of steel that my life has been missing – speaking of which, does anyone else notice how magazines that champion for you to get into the “greatest shape of your life!!!11!” never use entertainers who have had three or four kids as their cover models? Get three people cut out of your abdomen, and spend eleven months feeding them from your body while they grind your nipples up like beef in a meat mincer, sister, and then we’ll talk about how you “manage” to keep yourself in shape. 

I grabbed the one with the least annoying celebrity on the cover (Zooey Deschanel, you win this time), and paid for it.

I reached the sushi restaurant, hoping to the gods of dining-in that on a Thursday evening at seven p.m., they would have space for me. Not the sushi bar. Not a freestanding table. A BOOTH. Go big or go home.

The young lady behind the counter looked confused for a moment, her eyes quickly wandering to glance over my shoulder at the no-one coming in the door behind me. Yes, just me, I chirped. Party of one like whoa.

She asked if I wanted just a sushi menu, and guided me to my table, my nest of respite for the next forty minutes. She still seemed unsure as she slipped the menu across the table to me. She pointed out where the pens were to mark my choices on the menu, and informed me that there were more options on the back. 

I’ve been to this place more than a dozen times. 

I sat down in my seat, and looked up only for a brief moment at the no-one across from me. Then I affixed my attention to the menu until my waitress appeared. 

She offered me a drink, and as I ordered, I asked if the restaurant still gave out complimentary salad and soup. When she asked which one I wanted, I told her both, because that really is the only option. 

I handed her my menu, and she seemed surprised that I was ready so quickly. But such is the luxury of only ordering for one. I could tell you what I’d order at almost any place in town in a snap because I spend my days eating cereal for lunch while dreaming of food that I don’t have to make myself.

As she retreated to fetch my drink, I began to peel through the magazine pages. Such colors. So many young women with bright eyes, no bags or circles. And so much jumping in the air and wind tussled hair all for the sake of tampon advertisements.

I felt so silly. 

The waitress returned with my drink, and looked confused by my magazine. I told her thanks, and returned to reading. 

Such began this majestic dance for the remainder of the evening; the waitress remaining polite and efficient, but also seemed unsure of what to do with the lady with no makeup on, in a booth by herself, shoving food into her mouth like it was going out of style, reading from the pages of a Cosmo magazine that was clearly meant for people ten years younger than her. 

I silently remembered how I would have never, ever gone to dinner by myself in a sit down restaurant before I had children. And even after. 

Escaping for an evening from the house used to mean that I needed to have a friend waiting for me somewhere. I needed a plan.

Now, escape just means escape. And sometimes, you might have the chance to arrange for all of that socializing stuff, while other times you simply don’t.

You grab what you can and run from the house like it’s actually on fire, when really, it’s full of sick children, dogs who chew everyone’s shoes and a mound of laundry larger than the Eiffel Tower.

You leave everything behind, and get the hell out while you can and you don’t stop to ask such frivolous questions like, “who am I even going to hang out with??”.

You do what needs to be done to survive. 

I am to the point in my life where sitting alone in a booth, stuffing salad with ginger dressing in my mouth while my phone is set on silent, with magazine siting open in front of me sounds like just as much of an accomplishment as a night spent out in the town with five of my closest friends. 

Mothers become this paradox after they spend years raising their brood.

We feel alone even when surrounded by an army of tiny people who never give us a moment’s peace. And, sometimes, when we actually are alone, we feel complete. 

I had a date with myself the other night.

I got to know myself a bit more.

There isn’t always a chance for that when spouses and children and mutt dogs come into the picture. Not often since the walls of my home started to feel like they were going to burst apart at the seams, and since children started chasing me down to remind me every fifty-three seconds about the book fair at school this week.

It’s easy to see why the chance to continue your relationship with yourself is the first thing to go. It’s the most negotiable, the easiest to suppress. You learn to tell yourself no more than you tell your children no.

sushi-plate

Which is why, sometimes, you need to take yourself on a date.

And the good thing about yourself is that you’re comfortable with pauses and brief silences in the conversation. You’re okay to rest that internal monologue of all of the things you have to do in a bid for sweet silence. You just ply yourself with rolls of sushi and Pepsi until you’re ready to talk again. 

Myself and I laughed and laughed at the pages of that magazine. How nineteen year old me would have hung on every word about how to give him the night of his life. I would have perused every shelf in the cosmetics section at Wal-Mart, looking for the perfect fall blush to match my skin tone. 

I don’t even know where I put that magazine after I got home. But I did return to one child throwing up, and the dog working her way through the heel of my shoe.

It was brief, so very brief. But I had a great time. 

I’m thinking we might have to do this again.