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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you’re just not sure

As a blogger, if I would even dare officially consider myself one, I guess my job is to share some of the stuff that’s going on in my own life. 

I’m supposed to mine my own experiences, and turn them into something transcendent or relatable for someone else, in the hopes that maybe it will resonate with them. 

In the hopes that they can say, “me too.”

Then I read this. And I am still trying to remove the barbs that it thrust into me. 

Is what I do pointless? Is it stupid, or meaningless? It is useless?

I try to remind myself all of the time that I write for myself. And that hopefully, in doing so, some of what I say might reach someone. Someone who wants to laugh. Someone who wants to feel like they aren’t the only one. Or maybe, someone who just can’t even anymore. 

For nearly twelve years, my father has been sick. He has hepatitis c. His liver began to experience cirrhosis years ago, but the condition came to a head in 2005. Funny thing is, that word has fluttered out of my mouth at times in a high frequency over the last twelves years, but I still had to double check the spelling on it. For a long time, it was the unseen enemy, threatening everything.

He had a liver transplant in 2008. It was the weekend of my birthday. I was a new teller at a local community bank, working the second lane in the drive thru when I got the phone call from my mother.

I remember the swish of my khaki pants and how I started to cry when my mother told me that the hospital had a liver for my father as I hurriedly went and hid in the supply closet in an effort to contain myself. My joy. And my tears.

He wasn’t going to die. So many times, we thought he was going to, but now he definitely wasn’t. At least, if he could make it through the next few weeks.  

“It’s over,” I thought. 

Things are going to go back to normal. We celebrated all weekend, both my birthday and, seemingly, his day for rebirth. His second chance. I stole him a spoon from IHOP so that he would always have a trinket to remember such an occasion. 

I have no idea where that spoon is now. And the ghosts of a family broken who thought that it was over linger. 

That was eight years ago. Since then, addiction, continued and prolonged sickness, and anger have shattered my family into something unrecognizable. Something that seems unredeemable.

It’s all too much to write about for now. Maybe one day.

It’s hard enough to be someone’s caregiver, or to see someone you love struggle with sickness and poor health. But then when someone asks you how things are going and the truth is that not only is someone severely ill, but they’re also a broken person, you stop knowing how to answer the question. Because you don’t know where to start, and because they are also surrounded by broken people who have no idea how to handle all of this. 

I always thought that when your life was going to be shattered, it didn’t take years. And every time I have thought that this was it, this is rock bottom and it can’t possibly get any scarier or any worse, I have been so, so wrong.

I’m probably wrong now even. There is always a way for the bottom to drop out further.

We take our own autonomy for granted so easily. It’s without question that air will flow into our lungs without much effort when we take a breath. That our bones and skin can handle an innocuous stumble, or brushing against the corner of the counter top without injury. 

There are so many things that I take for granted, and yet I have watched someone lose pieces of themselves, year after year. 

Every time I can’t get over what it must be like to lose every part of your physical self, I feel the truth rush to me: we are more than these bodies. 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

And every time you come to a portion of the bridge that has given way, and you think you cannot pass, is when you have to trust more than any other time. 

It becomes the oxygen you need, the strength to your bones, the binding on your wounds. 

It sounds like magic. It sounds so easy. It isn’t easy. 

Sometimes, when I think that things are the worst that they have ever been, and I start looking upward for some sort of sign that I am doing this whole “faith” thing right, I always am puzzled. Is this what it feels like to trust?

This emptiness? Because that is all that I feel. 

Or is it in the empty places that faith fills in? Are we supposed to trust the emptying and the wounds?  

Our bodies may be decaying or unsubstantial, but on the inside, when troubles assail the waters we are supposed to sail on, that we are supposed to walk on in faith, it is the condition of our hearts that the Lord is secretly working to His glory. 

In the emptying, when we realize that we cannot trust in the way that things are, we learn the way that they are supposed to be. When faith fills the darkest places of us that have been emptied of ourselves, we taste the way that it is supposed to be. 

We are more than these bodies. And so, our hope should be in something greater. 

It sounds so easy. So, so easy. But when you sit in the wooden pews at church, and you see the hands of the saints around you raised in worship, but you don’t really know what you’re doing there anywhere?

That’s right where God wants you. 

He wants you to know that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. 

And even as life ticks by, and we think that we are learning, that we are growing, that we are different than the person we were a year ago, we come to yet another bedrock of truth. Where we find out just how much we really never knew to begin with. 

I’m not sure about any of this, really.

But the God in heaven is the one who scatters, and the one who draws near. 

And He will surely not allow us to be sown without allowing for us to collected.

Just sometimes, that takes time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms, you are allowed to say that it’s hard

Somewhere, around 9 a.m. this morning, I decided that I wanted to give up. 

Or rather, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to give up so much as I didn’t know if it was even worth the effort to actually try today. 

I had forgotten about my son’s weekly club meeting that he went into school early for on Thursdays, and he sat crumpled on my lap with tears running down his face because he would be missing out.

Even though he was over it and laughing and shouting, “after a while, crocodile!” to my, “see you later, alligator!!” as he boarded the school bus a half an hour later, I couldn’t shake my guilt.  

Shortly after his departure both of his sisters were bustling about downstairs. The imminent approach of turning two has turned my toddler into a brash little person as of late. She screams if she isn’t allowed to sit on our dining room table and take bites out of every single shining red gala apple in the fruit bowl. Even if that supposed apple is actually an onion.

I never thought that produce would be the bane of my existence. 

Before long, my dear children had turned the dining room (that I had just cleaned for company the night before) into a kinetic sand desert. Meanwhile, I stood in the kitchen and struggled to keep my eyes open and my wits about me despite the unfolding chaos. 

Later, I loaded my children into the van under the pretense of going to the grocery store…which was conveniently located across the way from a Dunkin Donuts. The car smelled like old yogurt, and it wasn’t long before a saw a purple sippy cup poking out from beneath the seat with what I was sure was filled with verifiable toxic waste.

dishes in sink

Our trip to town probably looked like an incredibly normal sight to any passersby. A mom, out at the store with her children on a spring day. 

I reluctantly let my four year old push a child-sized shopping cart around the store. Don’t get me wrong, such an invention is adorable and gives my children something fun to do while shopping with me. It’s just that now, the shins of everyone else in the store are in imminent risk of a severe bruising. 

As we navigated around the turns around the end of each aisle, she almost unintentionally plowed into an elderly lady pushing a cart full of fig newtons. Because of course she did.

We excused ourselves, and thankfully, the lady was gracious and friendly about it. She even thought the scene was funny, and went on about her business. In the meantime, I thought I was going to have a stroke at the thought of my daughter with windswept hair potentially maiming the ankles of every adult in close proximity. 

We arrived at Dunkin Donuts, and I am not going to lie, my donut was gone in under a minute. I waited for my coffee to cool while my thoughts knocked back and forth loudly in my skull. 

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I feel so alone in all that I do sometimes.

My kids sure as heck don’t see me. I mean really see me.

They don’t see that it takes three or four trips to load everyone and everything into the car when they ask me to about face and go back inside to fetch the toy they have forgotten.

They don’t see that I’m carrying a toddler strapped into a carseat, a purse and a diaper bag strung across the front of me when they ask me if I can carry their bottle of gatorade. 

They don’t see my face as I wince when they tell me that they don’t like the dinner that I spent the last hour making. 

Nobody sees that sometimes, this just isn’t what I want to do. 

Nobody sees how thankless, frustrating and degrading being a stay at home parent is. I mean really is. 

The little old ladies at the store, bless their hearts, don’t see me either. This morning looked mundane to them as I plastered a patient smile across my face and sucked it up in a devout effort to keep my cool, all while keeping thoughts of coffee in the back of my mind the way that a rat keeps the wedge of cheese in the back of his mind as he navigates around the corners of a  maze. 

This all feels like a maze, with no wedge of cheese. It doesn’t end. 

And it’s ridiculous. 

Sometimes, I think I make myself lonelier because I’m reticent to talk about how difficult it is, or because I don’t think that someone else will understand. Because when I do, I’m sometimes invariably met with similar responses.

Of how I should just enjoy myself.

Of how I should breathe in every single moment as if it could be my last.

Of how I should hang in there, have faith and choose joy. 

Of how lucky I am to be doing what I am doing

Let me just tell you that sometimes? There is no “just” anything when you are a parent.

There is no choosing joy when the dog has done number two on the carpet in the dining room (again), and the baby has found it with the bottom of her feet and tracked it everywhere. 

Sometimes, there is no enjoying myself when I am scraping bits of old food out of the corners of tupperware containers that were left for too long in the back of the fridge. 

Sometimes, I don’t feel so lucky when I forget about my son’s Lego club meeting, and he’s crying in my lap as I try to tell him how sorry I am, but daddy and I were so tired that we both just…forgot.

A lot of the time, parenting is getting the rawest end of the deal imaginable. Because you can’t automatically fix it, or get over it or deal with it and move on. Those long days wear on you like a weight on your shoulders. 

Sometimes, the best we can do is make the choice to choose joy afterwards.

Like, when I’m sitting in my white rocking chair on the front porch, processing the day and trying to remember that there is still so much good in what I do, even if I didn’t notice it while it was happening.

Sometimes, I feel joy when they are finally tucked into bed and the dishwasher is humming out in the kitchen, and I remember that I am doing all of this for very noble reasons. 

Until then, we have to be honest with ourselves.

We cannot choose joy, I mean really choose joy, without acknowledging how flipping hard all of this is. The difficulty makes the joy taste that much sweeter. We have to remove the feelings of guilt when we finally admit to ourselves just how terrible the terrible two’s are, or how awful cold and flu season is, and believe that it actually is okay to label them as such.

Sometimes, we need to give ourselves, and other parents, the breathing room to have crappy days. We need to stop treating mothers like the anti-Christ when she’s miserable because her Thursday isn’t going so hot. 

There are days that this calling is difficult because my children are crazy, donut-obsessed tiny people who want what they want, when they want it and will scream or cry or whine or ask a thousand and one times until they get it.

You could also say that this task is so, so difficult because I’m not always worthy or conscious of this sacred calling, and I don’t see it for how beautiful and incredible it is.

Neither answer is wrong. 

And neither answer is entirely correct, either. 

And yet somehow, even though there are days when the sky is falling, everything turns out okay in the end. 

At least, that’s what I’m guessing. Kids don’t turn into adults who carry the remote control around in their underpants, right?

Gosh, I hope not.