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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To My Kids’ Bus Driver

I see you rollin’. 

While I am flipping the heck out.

I think it’s time for me to explain a few things to you.

Getting my children ready for school has turned out to be one of the most stressful events of my adult life. And it is something that I, and thousands of other parents, must do every.single.day.

It’s too much pressure. I can’t do this. I am only one woman.

My children hover between two extremes when getting ready for school in the morning: they’re either not in the mood to be particularly cooperative, and are eating their breakfast one leisurely bite of cereal at a time. Or they’re actually pretty cool about the whole being on time thing, and no one melts down because their socks feel funny in their shoes.

And even then it’s stressful. 

Because there is always this lingering fear that you are going to arrive early.

We moms know that even when we have everything seemingly under control, life likes to throw us curveballs. Like pink eye. Forgotten science projects. Caillou. Or the bus arriving four minutes earlier than planned. 

When you are ahead of schedule, you might be having an especially good day because for you, it’s a good thing to be early.

But for me? She who is always herding unenthusiastic children from one place to another?? It sends me into an emotional tailspin. It makes me question everything about myself. Like what I’m even doing with my life. 

I can see all of the parents telling their wee children now, “eat your vegetables, kids, or you’ll turn out like Ashley. Your future kids will miss the bus, and then you’ll be in the front yard, crying and ripping chunks of grass out of the ground with your bare hands.”

It’s actually the scariest story ever.

I have been the mom who had to run across her lawn, waving her arms psychotically at the bus, begging the driver to wait a minute, please, for the love of all that is holy, WAIT!!!

And I regretted every step I took.

While I know I should be embarrassed for myself, please know that deep down, my condition of having perpetual school bus related anxiety is hereditary.

Do you know who MY mother used to be?

When my sisters and I would miss the bus, my mother would have rather grown a third arm covered in boils than drive the two of us “all the way” into town for school.

Do you know what she did instead?

She drove like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights behind the bus while honking her horn and flashing her headlights. My mother. Wearing the “I’m not crabby” nightgown with a giant blue crab on the front. A head full of wild bedhead.

(I don’t blame her for this. She was pushed to the brink. Because this is what managing a bus schedule for multiple children does to people. I see that. Now.)

Then my mother would stop the car and make us get out and run up to the bus to get on at the next stop. 

Sometimes, our frowning bus driver saw us, took pity and politely waited. Other times, she didn’t see us, or at least she pretended that she didn’t, and she’d start to drive off even though my sister and I were almost to the door.

And so, we did this majestic dance up and down the quiet backroads of my small town. Each time I wished a little bit harder than the last that I would just melt into the tar-chipped pavement, leaving only my Jansport backpack and Lisa Frank folders behind.

I’m still traumatized. 

I’m worried that I am going to be that parent.

I’m already showing symptoms.

I’ve already had to stick my head out the door and wave a finger at you, pleading and mouthing for you to wait just one minute, please.

There was another time when my dog darted between my legs and out the front door and got on the bus while I ran screaming after her.

I’ve considered just firing flares into the air to signal May Day, my daughter had to change her pants because then button felt funny.

I used to not be this person, bus driver. When I worked full-time, I was dressed by 7:45 a.m. This means I had on a bra before 8 a.m. I was showered. I was so many things. 

Now?

On a good day, my morning routine literally amounts to me opening the front door, kissing little foreheads and then shoving my kids out while hoping for the best. I silently pray to the Gods of transportation that nothing happens, that no kid takes a tumble or spills their lunchbox. 

Because then I would have to emerge wide-eyed and wild-haired from my house, wearing ratty fleece pajama pants that someone gave me for Christmas seven years ago to scrape peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and my dignity off the front lawn. 

And it wouldn’t be just you who saw me. There is always a line of cars stopped in front of and behind the bus, full of unsuspecting people. People who are my neighbors. People who have eyeballs and camera phones.

This is the parenting walk of shame.

I am so much more than this. And I know you just work here. And you want to go home because you deal with other people’s small children all.day.long.

But if you could just keep these things in the back of your mind when you’re blaring your horn because we aren’t outside yet, that would be great. In fact, please be extra sweet to my children, because the odds are stacked against them.

I’m baring my soul to you, bus driver, every morning.

Don’t be weird about it. 

I review something: What ‘Bad Moms’ really gets right.

I managed to have a mom’s night out last weekend. 

And I did what any self respecting mom does when she has time away from the house. I met my amazing sister-in-law for an scrumptious tex-mex dinner, where we laughed obnoxiously loud, stared at some cute babies at the table across the way from ours and went to a movie together.

No, we weren’t seeing the latest romantic comedy clearly marketed for the minivan majority starring Julia Roberts in a bad wig (at least, I hope that was a wig…).

We saw Bad Moms. Moms everywhere, meet the raunchy comedy you have been waiting for. 

After all, our children cough right into our mouths, or put soggy Rice Krispys into our hair when we aren’t looking. We scrape poop off of the backsides of tiny, and oftentimes slightly deranged people. 

We moms are some of the grossest people around. Isn’t it time our cinematic options reflected that truth?

So, yea, a few times, Bad Moms made me outright blush because of its sexual content. This movie definitely might not be for everyone.

The plot:

Bad Moms centers around three moms, the unbridled Carla, the meek Kiki and the grounded Amy, but mostly the story focuses on Amy.

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Amy is clearly a giver, both in her marriage and in her parenting. She is overworked, and under appreciated. After a particularly bad day, during which she finds out her husband is having an online affair, and after being bullied at the school PTA meeting by the resident Queen Mean Mom, Amy up and quits the PTA. She also quits being a constant doormat for her husband and children. She then befriends Carla and Kiki, and the moms all let their hair down for the first time since…ever.

Some Spoilery bits ahead:

The “bad” (no pun intended):

The three males in this movie are basically cardboard character cutouts, and two of them are of the worst stereotypical dads/husbands you could think of.

There is the perpetual man-child who refuses to grow up, and then there is the authoritative father and husband figure who lords over his family. The minimal humanization makes them both easy to loathe, which was probably intentional.

The other guy is the school’s resident hot dad, and he hardly does any talking, but that’s okay. His body is harder than Mount Rushmore. He isn’t really supposed to talk. 

Also, not once did I forget that Mila Kunis LOOKS LIKE MILA KUNIS. Yea, okay, you can throw a denim jacket on her and fling some spaghetti noodles in her hair, and try to imply that she is somehow dowdy. I still never forgot that she looks like Mila Kunis. Am I, the mom who currently has dried ramen noodles stuck to her elbow, supposed to relate physically to Mila Kunis? Even in the unsexy bra bit?

But whatever, Kunis’ Amy is still wonderfully relatable and grounded. 

Lastly, a lot of things in this film are highly exaggerated. 

For instance, Amy’s house looks pretty much like an upscale interior design catalog, and she drives the most tricked out minivan on the road. There was not one smudged chocolate pudding hand print on the walls of her home. When various moms open their purses, thirteen crayons and a pretzel rod didn’t fall out. This is definitely Hollywood’s take on parenting, and Hollywood is a town where the Kardashians are mindbogglingly famous for absolutely nothing. So take it with a grain of salt.

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The (at times, oh so very) good:

From a non-parent’s perspective, I can see why someone might think that nothing very significant actually happens in this movie. 

We see a few days in the life of Amy. Rushing from office meetings to school appointments to soccer practice and back to work. We see Amy making lunches and dropping her kids off at school. We see Amy doing all of the heavy lifting in her household and at the office as the sole over thirty employee in a sea of self-obsessed millennials.

We even see her crying alone in the parking lot when she feels like she’s failed everyone. And boy, does that ring true.

Nothing that seems supremely monumental or universal ever really happens, even after she catches her husband having an affair, and she decides to pretty much stop being the overachiever that she is. 

Amy quits the PTA. She stops going the extra mile at work to pick up the slack for her lazy coworkers. She goes out for brunch and to a movie by herself. She gets drunk a few times and refuses to make her kids breakfast. Still, not a super big deal, right?

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While these occurrences may not seem epic, these instances are where I feel like the movie really shines, even despite its flaws.

Bad Moms was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore in honor of their wives, and this fact has drawn criticism from the mommy peanut gallery who couldn’t believe that two men (men responsible for giving us The Hangover trilogy no less) would dare to write about the trials motherhood.

And I can understand that. There are a lot of women out there who I think could write a very funny, and very poignant movie about motherhood that rings a little truer.

Still, I decided to be open minded when I watched this movie because sometimes, you have to remember that movies are about escapism, and not always about being politically correct. Amy, Kiki and Carla all have valid journeys that women around the world make every day. And I was happy to watch.

Despite what doesn’t always work, which is comparatively minor and no worse than the usual comedy fare we see on screen, what the film gets right it really nails. 

I read a review by a film critic, who is a mom herself, and who insists that while motherhood is tremendously hard, it is also the most basic job on the planet.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You do not need a college degree to take someone’s temperature, change diapers or drop small people off at school.

She was asking the question of what in this film actually makes these mothers bad mothers?

Once I stopped being slightly offended by her review, I thought about it. And on the surface, we mothers can sit in the audience and say that nothing the characters did was really ever bad.

Only, we moms also know that we don’t always view ourselves in that single, objective way. 

We are infinitely harder on ourselves. 

How often do we feel guilty when we are late to something pertaining to our children?

How often do we feel guilty when we have to prioritize work over our children?

How often do we feel guilty when we just have to say no to volunteering for the bake sale or extracurricular activities?

How often do we feel guilty when we know we aren’t showing up for our kids the way that we want to?

How often do we feel guilty when our marriages are struggling, our finances are struggling, our work life is struggling, and it bleeds over into the way we parent our children?

How guilty do we feel when we go out for a well deserved night night on the town, some tex-mex and a movie, when our kids are crying as we leave?

We have all been Amy and Carla and Kiki and Vicky and Gwendolyn and so on. We have all wanted to rip our children’s heads off while also wanting to smother them because they are so perfect, so cute and so wonderful.

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We have sat in the car in a parking lot, huddled in the shower and hidden behind the bathroom door because we just couldn’t anymore. And we know that there are parts of parenting that should be really easy, like the pb&j sandwiches, the dishes and the wiping of noses, but that doesn’t really matter because we are at the end of our rope.

We know that it isn’t exactly what the task entails. It’s knowing that we don’t always know what we are doing. It’s knowing that our kids need more of us than we have to give. 

So, no, a mother going out for brunch entirely by herself doesn’t sound particularly scandalous. Neither does a mom who takes leftover nachos and coffee to bed with her while her children make their own damn breakfasts. Or a mom hands the reigns over to her husband for a night while she blows off some steam with a friend. 

It might not seem like much at first, but a mom who values herself and who values the worthy effort she puts in for her family is an immeasurable thing. And it takes some of us a little while to get there.

These are such seemingly small things, but they are the things that help us moms feel whole again. That help us feel like a person again.  That help us feel alive again. 

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So when Amy let her son finish his own school project, or slips into a black spaghetti strap dress, no, it might not have seemed as epic as the end of Saving Private Ryan or as mind blowing as The Matrix. 

But the moments when each of these moms realized that they could be good moms, while also being a complete person and even despite their flaws and shortcomings was a revelation for me. 

So go see Bad Moms. Ignore the reviews and decide for yourself. Go for the raunch, stay for the heartstrings and leave with a smile on your face. 

Tits up!!