Being Pregnant is Weird

I’m just going to come right out and say it, I don’t love being pregnant. I don’t even like it. In fact, I’m pretty much over it. Even though this baby is very much wanted and long hoped for, and even though I am so grateful and happy that the baby and I have been healthy thus far, I still kind of hate being pregnant.

And why wouldn’t I? It is not fun! It’s not fun to have your entire center of gravity thrown off as if you’re a wobbly Weeble toy. It’s not fun to have an aching back and round ligament pain and nausea and heartburn and trouble sleeping and raging hormones and a constant need to pee. It’s not fun to miss out on beer and sushi and to lack the ability to stay awake past 9pm. Not to mention all the super WEIRD things that happen to a pregnant body that I’m not even gonna go into.

Now don’t get me wrong, it is kind of cool to be pregnant. It’s interesting (even if it’s not the first time around) to witness what the human body is capable of. Pregnancy reminds me of the time I climbed a huge cliff in a California redwood forest. The actual physical act of doing it felt TERRIBLE. I hated it. But when I got to the top and saw the view, I felt a sense of accomplishment and experienced the pay-off of majestic, once-in-a lifetime-beauty. It’s the same with pregnancy and birth. To me, it’s miserable. But when I finally see my baby’s face, I know it will all feel worth it.

What will probably never feel worth it are the insane things people say to pregnant women. At 35ish weeks pregnant, I am basically on the verge of either breaking down in tears or throwing a complete rage-induced fit at all times (or both). I realize that people are probably not aware of this, and yet they say the rudest, most presumptuous things that make me think they WANT me to explode! I search my mind and I am fairly certain I have never said anything like this to a pregnant woman (so come on karma, what’s your problem?) Here are some of the comments I hear on a regular basis, both from people who know me and from people who are encountering me for the very first time:

They ask, “When are you due?” I answer them and they raise their eyebrows in shock at the size of my belly. “Are you sure that’s your due date?” they say. Or even worse, “Are you sure you’re only having one?” Guess what people, THAT’S NOT FUNNY!

Or the very worst, people who have gone a few weeks or months without seeing me will just give a simple, “Wow!” as a reaction to my growing midsection. Ok…thanks? Now I feel even more freakishly huge.

I realize that people are not calling me fat. I realize that I have a very good reason to get bigger every day. I know all of that. But the point is that it never feels normal or okay for someone to comment on your body like this. So can we just stop doing it? Please?!? It would make things significantly less weird. And I do sincerely appreciate that people (even strangers) take time to wish me well and take a genuinely well-intentioned interest in my pregnancy. All I’m saying is that we could lay off the physical comments and that would be just fine.

As I struggle with my aforementioned hormonal fluctuations, I also worry about the anxiety and depression I experienced after my son’s birth. My anxiety is ramping up as the time comes closer for the birth itself, probably in part due to the traumatic hemorrhage I had with my son, but also because of the many, many unknowns that come with any pregnancy and birth (not to mention the whole raising the baby afterward part…)

There are so many things I cannot control about this experience, and for me that loss of control can spell mental and emotional disaster. As a reaction, I often find myself obsessing about minute details that I can control. Arranging and rearranging the furniture in the baby’s nursery. Organizing the closet. Washing and folding the tiny clothes just so. I tell myself that all these tasks make me feel better, that accomplishing them somehow proves I can handle whatever lies before me. But that’s all a smoke screen. What I really know will help are the larger and much more important preparations, which are of course much more difficult than folding onesies. Accepting help and support from those who love me. Being honest with them about my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Seeking professional help when I need it.

As my imaginary control over this new baby slips away (or can it slip away if I never really had it to begin with?), I feel something else precious slipping through my fingers as well. My time with my son as my only child. I know our relationship as mother and son is destined to changes dozens of times over as we both progress through life. But the addition of a sibling to the mix feels huge for both of us. I find myself trying to memorize the curve of his soft little cheek. The feel of his small hand in mine. The sound of his laugh. As if all this will somehow be lost to me when my daughter is born.

I know it won’t be. I know that the bond I have with my son is strong. And yet, I feel sad that I won’t be just HIS mommy anymore, and I know he is feeling this somewhat as well. As much as a 4-year-old can. I’m trying to honor that sadness by keeping the lines of communication open with him so he will come to me with his worries about the new baby. I’m trying to show him I appreciate my time with him, and I’m giving him as much attention and energy as I can spare. I hope my words and actions are letting him know he is special to me, and that’s something that won’t change when we add to our family.

So come on little girl. We are almost ready for you. As ready as we can ever be. I don’t know what our family will look like a few months from now, but I do know a few things. Being pregnant is weird. It’s weird and hard. And as soon as you’re ready to be born, I’m ready to be your mom. I’ll do my best.

Thanks for reading. I love you all.

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The “Lite” Version

On a wintry Valentines’ weekend, our preschooler safely tucked away at his auntie’s house, my husband and I treated ourselves to the rare double date at a particularly good restaurant. One of those gems you find in New England, housed in a hundreds-year-old home with tiny, charmingly decorated rooms and winding corridors (and most importantly, strong drinks and fresh seafood drenched in butter). A real grown up evening out! Not a sippy cup or chicken nugget in sight.

We were seated next to a large table of several couples in our age bracket, who also seemed to be imbibing freely in the spirit of the evening. They were a bit noisy in the close quarters, but I had no doubt we would soon catch up to their merriment. However, no sooner had we unfolded our napkins then one couple made an announcement. They were expecting a baby! The room exploded with the cheers and embraces of their group. My husband and I locked eyes. Both our faces crestfallen. My heart sunk down to the floor. The very thing we had so wanted to forget about on this evening, the pregnancy test at home in the bathroom trash, its one sad line mocking us with a giant NO, was now at the forefront of our minds.

This was the twelfth such pregnancy test to find its way into our wastebasket. A year of hopes, plans, trials, and disappointments repeated a dozen times over. That night at the restaurant, my husband acted quickly and decisively. The saying is true that not all heroes wear capes. Within minutes, he had gotten us a new table in a far off, quieter part of the restaurant. He had made believable excuses to our friends about wanting to move so we could hear one another better. And we proceeded to enjoy a pleasant evening of excessive alcohol, butter, sugar, and fat, just as we had planned.

I should pause here to say that I am pregnant now. I am 6 months pregnant with a healthy baby girl. And even so, as I write this, I feel fearful. I fear that by writing about my pregnancy, by acknowledging and processing the difficult journey that my husband and I have traveled, I will somehow cause everything to go awry. Even as I feel my daughter’s strong kicks inside of me, I worry “Will I feel a next kick?” Because she was so hard to come by, I worry that this baby will be equally hard to hold on to. And that’s a big reason why I’ve been silent. I haven’t written for many months because it simply felt too dangerous to do so.

But we never feel just one thing at any time do we? Along with my fear, I am so incredibly happy. The day I got those double pink lines, it was like I tossed the heaviness of months of sadness, doubts, and insecurities off my shoulders. I locked it safely away in a box labeled “secondary infertility.” Only now do I dare crack open the lid. So here goes.

“Secondary infertility.” That was the diagnosis I saw on my lab slips and test forms as I was poked and prodded to try to figure out why, month after month, we could not produce a sibling for our son. The “secondary” part perhaps stung the worst because the first time we conceived was so unremarkable and easy. So why not this time? No answers arrived, which caused a strange mixture of relief (because there was no good reason I wasn’t getting pregnant) and rage (because there was no good reason I wasn’t getting pregnant dammit!) At first, I was terrified that I was among the small percentage of women rendered infertile by my postpartum hemorrhage. “Great,” I thought, “I start off motherhood with a near-death experience, and now I’m unable to have more children.” But tests proved otherwise. Everything looked “fine.” Which was maddening when month after month, no baby.

On that aforementioned cold night in February, my husband saved the dinner date and the day. But he couldn’t always save me. He couldn’t save me from the spiraling rage, despair, and jealousy triggered by every social media announcement of a new pregnancy or birth, every movie with a pregnancy plot line, every interaction where I had to swallow my misery and say “Congratulations” to someone else. I was becoming a vile, hateful person incapable of being happy for other people. I could barely recognize myself.

So I did what I could to save myself. I took breaks from social media. I reached out to my old therapist. I used my support network as much as I felt I could (I didn’t want to reveal to them ALL my hateful feelings for fear they would think I was a monster.) My husband and I had a lot of hard talks and made difficult decisions together. The day I took the test that announced our baby girl, we were two days out from our first appointment at a fertility clinic. 48 hours away from going down a path that may have included more invasive procedures, mounting expenses, impossible decisions, discouraging odds, and potential disappointments. And instead, we got to go the other way. We were so unbelievably lucky.

After all that, how was I able to, within moments of a positive pregnancy test, shove my “secondary infertility” experience into the background? Or rather WHY did I do that? Well, for one obvious reason, I was tired of being miserable! Over a year of sadness and grief was enough already! But on the other hand, I recognize now that I was motivated by guilt. I feel guilty that I am carrying a healthy baby and will soon have a sister for my son when I know other women who are continuing to go through the hell of infertility. Many of whom do so with far more resilience and grace than I found myself to be capable of. I feel guilty because I now think of what my husband and I went through as “infertility lite.” Yes, we went through turmoil and uncertainty and I want to honor that, but our journey changed at a point when it was about to become significantly more arduous. And our path became easier. As “easy” as any pregnancy can be. We traded unwanted problems for very, very wanted ones.

I started writing because after I became a parent, I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I had changed so much, both in positive ways and in ways I didn’t like. Many life experiences can cause this kind of shift, but for me pregnancy, birth, and motherhood were an earthquake, shaking and transforming me to my core. I needed space to process that. To get to know myself again and embrace the person and the mother that I am, instead of mourning for the parts of myself that seem forever lost.

It wasn’t easy, but I got to a place where I was prepared for another earthquake. I was excited about the prospect of a whole new little person to forever change the landscape of our family. And then infertility came along. And with it came pain and bitterness and ugliness. And I can’t say I liked much about myself during that time. But part of my writing is a challenge to myself to speak my truth. So here it is. Infertility sucks. It’s just NOT FAIR. But if there is anything good that came out of this experience for me, it’s more knowledge and more empathy. I have tasted infertility, at least in the “lite” version. And this time around, I can’t talk about my pregnancy or post about it on social media without a slightly bitter aftertaste. A little sting of pain underneath the joy. That’s my truth now, and I know it’s true for so many of you.

I love you all.

On the Outside Looking In

The holidays. I know there isn’t necessarily a way they “should” go, but it’s hard not to have expectations, right? We’ve all seen the movies, heard the nostalgic carols, and (if we’re lucky) we have fond memories of seasons past that we hope to re-create. But let’s all just acknowledge that the holidays can also be a really hard time of year. Because at this festive time, it’s not like life just stops. And sometimes, life is complicated by loss and heartbreak.

I’ve had losses this year. Most of all, my grandfather died this December. He was a gentle man with an extremely generous spirit, an infectious laugh, and an appreciation of way too much delicious Filipino food and good red wine. He was so many wonderful things that I struggle to provide even a snapshot of him here. But now he’s gone. And my heart is heavy.

And there have been other, less significant losses this year, both personally and professionally. As these have piled up, I’ve started to feel like I’m spending the holidays on the outside looking in. I picture myself standing outside in the freezing cold and dark, gazing longingly into a lighted window at the warmth and laughter inside. But try as I might, I just can’t get in.

Don’t get me wrong, the holidays haven’t been all bad. Not even close. I loved decking out my house for Christmas. I loved seeing the amazement on my son’s face on Christmas morning when he saw that Santa had visited. I shared belly laughs, and heartfelt embraces, and delicious meals with family and friends. But behind, and underneath, and around the edges of all that joy, grief crept in. For isn’t it true that profound happiness and deep sadness are two sides of the same coin? One cannot exist without the other.

Cut to Christmas morning. I was overwhelmed. I felt sad. I felt happy. My house was full of people and full of stuff.  Full of so much freaking STUFF.  Did I mention I was overwhelmed? And I’m not proud of how I reacted. I had an anxiety attack. A sweating, panting, shaking, full-on freak out. I wanted to throw open the windows of my tiny house and toss out every present, box, ribbon, and ball of crumpled wrapping paper. For a few minutes, I was sure I would suffocate under a pile of Christmas. But I didn’t. I got my breath back, and I survived and moved on with the day. It wasn’t about the stuff, not really. It was a build up of so much more.

I felt embarrassed on Christmas Day, and I feel the same now sharing this. But I do so with the knowledge that I am not the only one who has felt like this. I CANNOT be the only one. Because like so many other parents, thanks to postpartum depression and anxiety, I am now more vulnerable to these two enemies. I know what it feels like when depression and anxiety initiate a hostile take over. When negative thoughts start to obsessively run through my mind (“I’m a bad mom.” “I’m a bad wife.” “I’m fat and ugly.” “I’m a bad person.”) And because I know these enemies well, I have also learned some tactics to fight them. But that doesn’t mean I always use them.

Sometimes I use a lot of things that don’t work first. Like stuffing down feelings with too much food and alcohol (so easy during the holidays!) But thankfully, there are so many things that do work for me. I have an amazing support system (especially my husband- but also my family, friends, and an amazing moms group). There is always someone I can reach out to to talk, day or night. There is almost always a child, or a dog, or a husband who wouldn’t mind cuddling while we read a book or watch a silly movie. There is almost always an oppportunity to go to the gym or for a walk (thanks to a husband who understands the importance of this). There are soothing essential oils in a nice, warm bath. There is music that I can sing along with until I feel my lungs and heart might burst. There are so many ways I can take care of myself, take care of my heart, and fight the enemies into submission. And for that I am grateful.

But there are times when I try every tool in my toolbox, and I still feel miserable. Racked with depression or anxiety. I’m on the outside of that lighted window, and I just cannot get back in. But that’s when I remind myself of what I tell my therapy clients all the time, which is that sometimes we Just. Feel. Bad. And if we can accept that, then we can remind ourselves it won’t last forever. After all, at least I can see the lighted window. At least there’s some hope burning in the darkness.

But the darkness is there. And it sucks. On a recent podcast hosted by Katie Couric, I heard Sheryl Sandberg (of Lean In) talking about the sudden death of her husband, and she remarked on how a rabbi actually told her to “embrace the suck.” Sometimes we can’t fix, ignore, or sidestep the sucky emotions. We just have to feel them. And that’s what I’m trying to let myself do right now. Because whether or not I choose to accept them, the feelings WILL be there.

So to all of you who have felt on the outside looking in this holidays season, for whatever reasons, I want you to know that I see you. And please remember, this won’t last forever. We may be out in the cold now, but spring will come again. I’ve been watching a lot of the movie Frozen lately with my 3.5 year old (like A LOT) and (spoiler alert) Elsa learns that love melts the ice of fear, sadness, loneliness, anger, and despair. LOVE is the answer. And while that is a huge cliche, it’s also true. So as this year begins, I’m clinging to love. I’m clinging to the light, to the crack in the door that I can pry open to get inside. And I’m making a resolution to make certain that those I love feel that love and know how much I appreciate them. Because as Elsa and Anna have taught us, only true love can thaw a frozen heart.

I love you all. (Really and truly!) Happy New Year!

Feel Free to Walk on By

There are many surprising things about becoming a parent. But perhaps one of the most jarring is the sudden influx of unsolicited advice. Of course, there’s always Aunt Edna at the Thanksgiving table, insisting that her kids grew up eating margarine and artificial sweeteners and they turned out “just fine.” But that’s to be expected. Everyone just rolls their eyes and digs into the stuffing and cranberry sauce.

What catches a new parent off guard is the strangers that feel the need to share their hard-earned parenting “wisdom.” And what’s even harder to swallow than Aunt Edna’s famous yams is that many of these strangers (or friends of friends, or acquaintances) are other moms.

Mom-on-mom crime runs rampant in our society, and I’m here to say that it must be stopped. Because honestly, don’t we have bigger things to worry about? In a world where “me too” has become a collective voice to call out the patriarchy, can’t we all give each other a break on co-sleeping, or potty training methods, or whose kid has the best BPA-free sippy cup at the playground? United we stand, and divided we fall mamas.

The first step to ending mom-on-mom crime is recognizing it. I catch myself all the time! My kid comes home from preschool, voice full of hope and excitement, saying “So-and-so had chocolate pudding in his lunch!” My first thought: “Who the f-ck packs pudding for a 3 year old?” However, when I take a moment more to process, I think: “Maybe pudding is all that kid will eat! My kid is not picky (thank God) but if he were I might just give in and pack him pudding so I would know he had something to eat today.” It only takes a few seconds to put a little more thought into it and give another parent a (probably much-needed) break.

But some of us are guilty of speaking up to another mom before we put in that extra time. If we thought a little more about it, we would probably realize that it would be best not to say anything! That we could really just give a nod and a smile, or maybe just walk on by.

Here are a few of the most commonly perpetrated mom-mom crimes, based on my own experiences:

  1. “At that age, my kid was…” Every mom is guilty of this one, myself included. We have an instinct to compare and contrast milestones of our offspring. But why?! What does it matter if your kid walked at 11 months and mine at 15 months, as long as they both DO it at some point? Aren’t we both just lucky? And wouldn’t it be great if we could just not have this conversation that leaves one (or both) of us feeling a little bit shitty?
  2. “He looks big for his age!” My son is tall and sturdy. I’m proud of his healthy body, and I want him to be too. So for some reason, it rubs me a the wrong way when other people comment on it. I imagine it would be the same if they were commenting on the fact that he was petite for his age. Because i’s just a little bit weird that it’s so acceptable for adults to comment on kids’ bodies. I mean, imagine if you met someone at a party and he told you he was 42 and you responded “Oh, I never would have guessed that, you look much bigger than 42!” Ridiculous, right? Well, kids come in all shapes and sizes, just like adults. So can we lay off commenting on how “big” my son is? Once again, just because we think something in our heads does not mean it has to come out of our mouths. We can take that extra second and think about it, and maybe just choose to walk on by.
  3. “Enjoy every minute.” This mom-on-mom crime is typically perpetrated by a mom of older kids. Maybe she’s an empty-nester or about to be one, and she sees a mom out with littles and can’t help but impart this “wisdom” on her. But what she’s not considering is that maybe that mom has been up all night with a kid with night terrors, and her other kid just threw up in the car on the way here, and now she’s worried she smells like vomit because she cleaned everything up but she can still SMELL it SOMEWHERE! Lady, that mom really doesn’t feel like being told to “enjoy every minute.” So take that extra second, think about it, keep it to yourself, and walk on by.
  4. And drumroll please, my personal favorite: “When you have another one…” For the moms of one, this seems to come up constantly. Everyone, from family member to complete stranger, has advice about when would be a good time to provide a sibling for your kiddo. I have a 3-year-old, and when he was 2 I had an acquaintance (a mom of grown children) tell me that I had better have another child soon because I didn’t want to end up with “two separate families.” I’m sorry, if my children are five years apart, do I have to buy them separate houses? Does one grow up in a tower guarded by a witch? I was unaware of these rules. I’m being a jerk, but the point is that we cannot impose the structure of our own families on others! We cannot assume that what works for us will work for someone else. In fact, we really shouldn’t assume much of anything. And assuming that someone is going to have more children is perhaps one of the most loaded assumptions of all. We don’t know who’s struggling with fertility issues, or who has had a miscarriage. We don’t know who isn’t having more children because of financial reasons, or medical reasons, or reasons that are just none of anyone’s damn business. We don’t know who doesn’t want another child. And it’s rude and demeaning to talk to a mother of one as if she’ll one day understand what it’s like to be a mom only after she has more children. So no matter how well meaning, before we offer up comments or questions about adding kids to the family, we should feel free to just walk on by.

There’s a lot that we as moms need to say more of to each other. We need MORE unconditional acceptance, MORE support, MORE sharing of common experiences, MORE honoring differences, MORE encouragement, MORE acknowledgement that what we do every day is difficult and there is no one right way to do it.

We need LESS judgement, LESS imposing our values on one another, LESS competition, LESS invalidating of one another’s experiences.

We can do it mamas! All we have to do is take a few extra seconds. Think about something before we say it. And if we don’t have anything nice to say, we can just walk on by. Let’s be the generation that ends mom-on-mom crime.

Because in this moment in history, isn’t being a mom (and a woman, and a human for that matter) difficult enough? Let’s make it a little easier on each other.

To all the super moms, dads, and people out there: I love you all.

So Little Time

I’m back! Summer is over and after taking a break from writing I’m raring to go with thoughts, feelings, and ideas to process. So buckle up dear readers, and thanks so much for coming with me on this journey. I couldn’t do it alone.

I decided to take a break from writing over the summer because this blog was always meant to be something I WANT to do and it was starting to feel like something I HAD to do, so a break was just the thing to snap me out of that mindset. I spent the summer having some amazing (and some not so amazing) times with the people I love. And as far as my parenting journey goes, I came away with one persistent thought about my son “COULD YOU PLEASE STOP GROWING UP ALREADY!!!” But, it wouldn’t be the mindf*ck that is being a parent if I didn’t also have opposing thoughts like “It’s so cool to watch him grow and change!” And “Could he please just get out of this whiny stage already?”

But at this point, the first thought I mentioned is the strongest. It has me desperate to cling to every little thing about my 3 year-old. The way his voice sounds enthusiastically singing along to Taylor Swift on the radio. The way he tells me random and nonsensical gossip from preschool (yes, he’s already in preschool!) like “Today, Olivia was at the sculpture table and she said ‘This smells like meat’ but it wasn’t meat, it was play dough!” And then he doubles over with giggles and I can’t help but laugh along. The way he claps his hands in excitement when given good news. There are so many tiny parts of his lovely little self that I long to remember forever, yet I know that time will slowly fade them away and replace them with a new and different person. Hopefully one just as wonderful as he is now.

I bristle sometimes when I hear an older parent say that I should “cherish every moment” of my child’s early years. I know other parents feel this way too, as I’ve seen many other blog posts and memes mocking this sentiment. Of course we can’t cherish EVERY moment of parenting a young child. My husband and I found ourselves groggy and grumpy on a recent morning, when we had been up all night with a sick child, saying to one another with all honesty “This is the part that sucks.” This is the part that no one would do, if it weren’t for all the good parts.

But as with most cliches, there’s certainly some truth to the whole annoying “cherish every moment” thing. Because what those parents of older or adult children know, and what I’m only beginning to learn, is how quickly this time slips away. How short of a span (in the grand scheme of life) our children are really “ours. But rather than focus on the loss of my son’s babyhood, toddlerhood, and his rapidly advancing childhood, instead I want to do my best to train my mind and heart to hold on to these moments. To cherish not all of them, but as many as I can.

Right now, for instance, I’m lying uncomfortably in bed, typing this post with one hand as my child naps directly on top of my other arm, which is both numb and slick with sweat. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I’ve posted before about napping with my son, and I continue to feel absolutely no guilt for taking a nap with my kid any time I want. It’s practically the only time I get prolonged physical contact with him anymore. I struggle to pick him up and carry him (and he really doesn’t want me to). He’ll sometimes initiate a hug or snuggle, but it lasts only a second or so until he’s on to the next thing.

So for now, I revel in my love for his sweaty hair, his gentle snore, his breath that smells slightly of peanut butter (because he currently eats almost exclusively peanut butter sandwiches for lunch). I don’t know how long he’ll want to keep napping with me (or napping in general). He might want to give it up next week, next month, or next year. But for now, I’m all in.

I love you all.

In This House, We Make Mistakes

A few weeks ago, I was feeling fed up with my son’s whining (he just turned 3 but was 2 at the time). More than once, I calmly asked that he stop and offered constructive suggestions for using a different tone of voice. When he instead continued to whine, I rudely snapped at him. I’m not proud of what I said.

“Is there a baby in this house? Because you sound like a baby. And babies don’t get to have 3rd birthday parties. Should we take the presents back?”

I wasn’t surprised to see his lip quiver and his eyes fill with tears. You may be thinking he was upset about the birthday present threat, but you would be wrong. It was the “baby” comment that landed. I knew it would. My son had told me before, tiny voice breaking, that an older child had said to him “You’re too little to play with us.” I knew this type of insult hit home for my son. And in my moment of rage and frustration, I used it against him.

My son could barely get words out in response to my calling him a “baby.” “That hurt my feelings” he finally choked out, beginning to sob. My anger melted away, replaced by a flood of guilt and sadness. I did hurt his feelings. I had no doubt. While my intention was to stop the whining, I went too far. Way past the mark.

I scooped up my son in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry sweetheart,” I said. I looked into his tear-filled eyes. “Mommy made a mistake,” I explained. “I should not have said that. It was not a nice thing to say. I’m sorry honey. I won’t call you a baby again. Can you forgive me?” He offers his forgiveness readily, along with wet kisses.

Despite my embarrassment writing this now, I actually felt good about this exchange. Obviously not the first part where I meanly taunted my toddler, but the second part. The part where I owned up to my mistake. Where I made repairs and modeled for my son how to make a right turn where you’ve made a wrong one. Where I showed him that mommy is not perfect (and no one can be).

I’m not going to pretend this incident had magical effects. I still snap at my family members (especially the four-legged one who insists on eating out of the trash–but that’s a story for another day). And my lesson to my son has backfired in some ways. Consider for example:

Me: “Honey, no! You cannot climb on that broken, jagged fence post.”

My son: (hangs head and pouts bottom lip) “You hurt my feelings.”

As you can see, we are still experimenting with the correct use of that phrase. But that’s okay! Because in this house, we make mistakes. And in the end, we always make up. And that’s the important part. Remembering that at the root of all the daily chaos, our life is built on the decision to love each other and to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

I’m thankful every day for the chance to make more mistakes (and hopefully corrections!) with my family. When I started this blog a year ago, it was out of the desire to speak my truth about parenthood and all it’s ups and downs, as well as to suss out what this all MEANS. What am I taking away from this experience? And the answers are overwhelmingly different every day. Some days, I have no answers. But it’s been invaluable to me to have this space to sort it all out. And I thank those of you who have been reading (or even if this is the first post you’ve read!) for joining me and being a part of this journey. A quick note: I’m not planning to write as often this summer. I’m hoping to take more time to be present with my family, but when something is weighing heavily on my head or my heart, I know I’ll bring it here.

There’s so much more to come! My son just turned 3! And his pediatrician said it best at his check up this past week: “He’s now more concerned with pleasing himself than pleasing you.” She nailed that one. It seems that overnight, to go with his bigger shoes, clothes, and tricycle, our boy has these very BIG feelings, needs and desires that are difficult for him and for us all to understand.  But I promise you son, Mama will try. I will keep trying (and making mistakes) every day. And I hope many of you will come along with me!

Stay imperfect! I love you all.

Don’t Be Sorry

I’m swimming with my son at the YMCA, or rather trying to coax him to let go of when he would much rather use me as a human life preserver. There is another mother there with a similarly aged, similarly clingy child. The one difference is that her son is crying loudly, while mine is more of a whiner than a crier today. Our boys interact a bit, and mine is ever the class clown, trying to catch the other child’s attention and make him laugh. He eventually succeeds.

Later, as we towel dry our sons side-by-side in the locker room, the other mother turns to me. Vulnerability is sparkling in her eyes. She asks, “Do you think I’m wrong to make him swim if he’s crying? I don’t want him to hate the water. And I don’t want to bother anyone.” I keep it light, try to be reassuring, “Of course it’s fine! He’s got to get used to the water. And everyone here is used to kids crying.” We exchange smiles and part ways.

But I’m puzzled. Why is this woman asking for my opinion? Doesn’t she know I’m winging it every day, same as her? Why does she feel the need to apologize? Then it hits me. I realize that although I never explicitly said so, I was apologizing the whole time too. Apologizing to the front desk staff for not being known to them, since I’m a working mom and I’m hardly ever the one bringing my son to the pool. Apologizing to everyone in the pool area by trying to mask my “imperfect” body with towels and beach cover-ups.  My every action communicates “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry for taking up space.” “I’m sorry for my life and parenting decisions.” No wonder the other mother saw a kindred spirit in me.

But what is this about, really? Is it that we as women are socialized to apologize constantly for our every opinion, decision, and overall existence? Duh. Yes. Yes we are. Who hasn’t seen the hilarious “I’m Sorry” sketch from Inside Amy Schumer? Google it immediately. It’s an exaggeration of course, but as with all great comedy it’s based in truth. As women, we’re constantly apologizing for any reason or for no reason at all. And when we become mothers, that tendency becomes magnified a hundred-thousand-fold. Parenthood (because I think even some men experience this phenomenon), especially early parenthood, renders us utterly vulnerable to the judgment of others because WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING! But for some reason, we are pretty sure others are doing it way better than we are. And we’re just. so. sorry.

Now that I’ve noticed that “I’m sorry” is everywhere, I can’t un-notice it. Even at my job, the place I admittedly go to escape parenthood. To feel like a contributing member of adult society. To avoid (on a good day) being the lady with dried toddler snot on her shirt. Yet I can’t ignore the urgent, apologetic emails and phone calls from parents who stay up nights worrying about their kids not having a roof to sleep under, not getting adequate medical care, overdosing on drugs or alcohol, going to jail, or dying because of a treatable mental illness. Yet THEY often apologize for bothering ME! For these parents and for their children, my team and I try to do far too much with far too little. Too little time in the day, too little money, too few treatment resources. And for that I really am sorry. I’m so sorry.

But what can I DO about it? Because what good is being sorry? All I can do is put one foot in front of the other and walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. And speaking of walking, my family will be walking on May 13 (the day before Mother’s Day) in support of NAMI, a wonderful organization that, through education, research, and advocacy, is chipping away at the stigma associated with mental illness. Walking with NAMI is just one way I plan to show up, stop being sorry, and start DOING something about it. (Visit  https://www.nami.org/ to learn more or to find your local chapter).

Of course it’s much easier said than done to think about curbing my persistent case of the “I’m sorry’s.” I’ve realized that I need practice. Practice NOT apologizing. So I went to yoga today, something I would never have done a few months ago because of the scary, anxious places the New Age music might carry my thoughts. Those harps and sitars can really get me going. But I’ve started trying yoga again recently as a way to practice actively defying my brain and it’s automatic “I’m sorry” responses. I refuse to feel bad about my thoughts. I refuse to feel bad about my physical appearance or abilities. When I feel awkward and ungainly in a pose, I repeat to myself “Thank you body.” “Thank you for being strong and healthy.” I do not apologize for myself, even in my own mind. No “I’m sorry’s.” Only gratitude.

Maybe I’ll be able to bring this practice into my daily life, and maybe not. But at least I’m trying. It’s the same with my work: maybe I’ll be able to help a client, and maybe not.  And with parenting: maybe I made the “right” decision in that moment, and maybe not. But what the hell am I sorry for? We’re all out here doing our best and we all have no clue, so can’t we give each other (and mostly ourselves) a break?

I’m sure many of you have seen some version of this meme floating around the internet:

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I love the sentiment. And if we really do feel this solidarity with other parents (and this meme going viral would attest to that fact), can’t we all just relax and stop being so damn sorry all the time? Can’t we exchange a knowing smile with moms or dads whose kids are having total meltdowns in the store checkout or in the YMCA pool? And before they start to say “I’m sorry,” can’t we offer a kind word instead? “You’ve got this.” “I’ve been there.” “Don’t be sorry.”

I love you all.

Cookie Dough Heart

I was made fun of when I was a kid. I’m not going to say I was bullied because I feel like that’s more extreme than what I endured. But I was made fun of, and believe me I also gave as good as I got. I’m ashamed to think of how I teased other children or worse (when middle school reared it’s ugly head) how I participated in the exclusion of other girls, always with fear that I would be next.

As horrified as I am when I think of these childhood experiences, I am doubly terrified when I imagine my son going through anything similar. Yet I know he will. Kids are mean. It’s part of testing the boundaries to find out who we really are. And hopefully we don’t come out of the process a lifelong asshole (although I think that unfortunately there is a lot of that going around lately).

Some people say kids are meaner now, but I don’t know if I believe that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there are just more outlets for the meanness now. When I was a kid, I left school and didn’t see my friends again until the next day. Maybe someone would call me on the landline phone. Or later in my high school years, I chatted on AOL messenger with dial-up internet. But now, kids are in contact with their peers 24/7. And there are so many opportunities to be mean! Facebook, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Kick (I’m trying to sound like I know the hip technology is it working???)

When I was a teenager, I actually participated in a slam book. This was a handwritten notebook filled with insults about my classmates. And my friends and I thought we were sneaky with it, but you know we weren’t! 13-year-old girls are TERRIBLE at being sneaky! So how is this different than cyberbullying? I guess we didn’t intentionally post the comments for the world to see. But it still seems pretty similar to me.

Words hurt. I will never forget the day my 8th grade crush said to me (while trying to crush a bottle cap underfoot) “I bet Kayla could do it.” Wow.  I was a chubby, awkward, little girl. And I remember those words 20 years later. Parenting brings out insecurities long buried. We want to prevent our children from suffering these same wounds, but is that ever possible? We try to be aware so that we are not projecting too much of ourselves on our children, but that is so very difficult to do.

My son is a very sweet boy. Ok, I know everyone thinks this about their kid, but it’s really true. My husband says it’s because he has a soft heart made of cookie dough. But the truth is that our son prioritizes positive social interaction above all else. For instance, if he has a toy and another kid approaches him and yanks it away, my kid will proceed to say “Hi!” and try to make friends with the other child with no notice of the stolen toy.

My kid wants you to like him. And if you pay him no attention, he’ll keep trying. He won’t get the hint. And he won’t stand up for himself. We practice at home.  We practice that when another child hits him or takes a toy or says something rude to him, he can say “No, I don’t like that!”  We role play and I have him repeat it back to me, but I have no idea if he applies it when I’m not around. My best informed guess is that he doesn’t.

I worry about my kid. I worry that he’ll be a forlorn middle-schooler, obsessing over a hurtful comment from a crush. I worry he’ll write nasty comments in an online “slam book.” Or maybe both.  And there may be no way for me to control or influence any of it.  I guess what I’m wondering is, can empathy be taught? Can I help my son understand how his words and actions might negatively affect others? Or at the very least, can I take the natural kernels of sweetness in my boy and help them grow into something lasting? I really, really hope so. In fact, I’m banking on it.

Heart Strings

I never in my life thought I would say this. But here goes. I kind of understand people who have a whole bunch of kids. I mean, most of the time when I hear stories about families with 10, 12, 17, 20 or more children, I think something along the lines of “Ahhhhhhhhhh! No. F-ing. Way.” But recently I was thinking about it, and now I think those parents might be on to something.

First, let me say that I am in no way trying to be insensitive.  I understand that many people have large families for religious or cultural reasons. I also understand that in many parts of the world, it is preferable or even necessary to have as many children as possible to be workers and helpers.  I also mean no offense toward those who choose to adopt or foster many children, as I am in awe of parents who take that path.

However, what I have recently realized for myself, is that the love I feel for my son is somewhat addictive. When I’m away from him at work, I find myself daydreaming about inhaling his scent and kissing his soft cheeks. At night after our son is in bed, my husband and I often find ourselves obsessing over all the smart or funny things he says and does. There are many moments (certainly not all moments because TANTRUMS) when I feel so blissfully happy that it is completely intoxicating. And the thought of being without this exquisitely pure toddler love. This love who still lays his head on my chest for comfort. Who curls up next to me for naps. Who plants an impromptu sticky kiss on my lips. That thought makes my heart feel heavy. The thought that he will outgrow these practices (and rightly so because of boundaries and healthy relationships and blah, blah, blah). It’s just not appropriate for say, a 13-year-old to take a snuggle nap with his mommy. I know that. But it hurts.

So the thought of having another one, and then another, and another.  That kind of actually makes sense! A steady stream of toddler love to feed the addiction. And if you have 20 of them, by the time you really MUST stop with the kids already, your oldest will be having grandchildren. And you’ll never be without a toddler to cuddle! NEVER! (Insert maniacal laughter here).

You’ll notice I keep saying “toddler” instead of “baby” because now that I am a parent I think I have established that I am just not a “baby” person, or at least not a “newborn” or “infant” person. I understand that many of you out there are “baby” people. But if given a choice between a tiny 3 month-old or a deliciously chubby, roll-covered 15 month-old, I think my preference is clear.  Even better, give me an 18-24 month old, acquiring more and more language and motor skills each day.  Developing the ability to reason and become more independent. Yes!!! I’ll take it!

My son will be 3 years old in June. And I fear we are rapidly hitting the end of the toddler stage. Who knows what the preschool years will bring? Perhaps (and most likely) I will find new ways to stay addicted to my son. To love him more intensely than I ever knew was possible. But in many ways, I know we will and we must grow further apart. In one of my favorite books from graduate school Necessary Losses, the author and psychoanalyst Judith Viorst writes “Our daily existence requires both closeness and distance, the wholeness of self, the wholeness of intimacy.” Viorst argues that if healthy parental attachment is the foundation for healthy relationships, than perhaps even more so, gradual separation from our parents, allowing us to grow and form as individuals, builds upon that foundation to allow for healthy, loving attachments throughout our lives.  Viorst calls this process “the necessary losses which are the precondition of human love.”

Knowing and understanding that separation is healthy and nourishing for my son as he grows doesn’t necessarily make it suck any less for me. If I’m being honest, I do enjoy having a little more time to myself. I’m able to (sometimes) complete a task or have a phone conversation with my son in the house without being interrupted. I can (usually) leave to do an errand or take a break without him clinging to me and screaming. But while knowing that he’s okay when I’m not around is comforting, it’s also a punch to the gut. A pull on the heartstrings. I want him to mature, but I still want him to want and need me. I want him to grow, but I don’t want him to grow up!

Such is the ongoing struggle that will probably last the rest of my life (if I’m lucky). As a daughter, I know that I will ALWAYS want and need my own mother, and that helps. I think of my mother, supporting both my brother and I from a distance. Encouraging us to follow our dreams and build our own lives and be happy. And I know (now I really am only just beginning to know) how that must tug at her heartstrings. Every. Single. Day. What a remarkably strong woman! Motherhood makes us so tough and yet so vulnerable. As Viorst says, “For just as children, step by step, must separate from their parents, we will have to separate from them. And we will probably suffer.”

Yes, I will suffer the loss of my toddler as he grows into a preschooler. But there is some beauty in that suffering. So okay, maybe I won’t have 20 kids. Maybe that’s not the solution. Instead, maybe I’ll just keep working on these heart strings, making them strong enough to survive the pull.

Don’t Turn on Me

I’m standing in the lobby of a chic little hotel in Rome. My new husband and I have arrived for the first day of our honeymoon. It’s beautiful, exciting, and perfect…except for the exhaustion of just getting off a red eye and the obnoxious Italian woman chirping in our ears. We’ve arrived at our hotel at check-in time, but our room isn’t ready yet (at least that’s what we think she is saying through our drowsy fog). She wants to know if we want to wait here in the lobby, go explore the city and come back later, or go over to their “sister hotel” for a room.  Honestly, all we want is a hot shower and sleep. But she won’t leave us alone so we can make a decision. She just keeps talking at us!  I feel the rage-fueled irritation rising from my stomach, to my chest, all the way up to my hairline, and I imagine my face must be beet red. When she finally gets the hint and steps away, I immediately start arguing with my husband. My frustration about the situation boils over directly onto him. He looks me in the eye and with the world’s most serious face says in an emphatic whisper “Don’t turn on me!” With that, the tension deflates as I burst into a hysterical giggle fit. I breathe and calm down. We figure out what to do and inform the world’s worst concierge of our plans. We move on. Together.

Those words “Don’t turn on me” and that story have become a cornerstone of my marriage. My husband and I look back on it as a funny anecdote, but it’s also much more than that. Because it truly is so important as a couple, and perhaps even more crucial as parents, NOT to turn on one another. We are a team. No matter what. United we stand, and divided we most definitely fall. How do I make it through an epic tantrum or a sleepless night in one piece? The support and encouragement of my teammate, that’s how.

Our relationship has certainly changed through 4 1/2 years of marriage and 9 years together. We recently laughed as we spent Valentine’s night sharing a romantic meal of sloppy joes with our son, while reminiscing about past V-day dates at 5-star restaurants. But while some things have been lost (like frivolous, fancy dinners), others have been gained. Like the simple pleasure of eating popcorn and watching our favorite Disney movies with our son. Or even more so, the deep sense of contentment that comes from waking up each day surrounded by the family that we have chosen to build together.

This is not without it’s pratfalls. The stress that comes with the responsibility of maintaining our relationship, our child, our jobs, and our home sometimes seems like too much to bear. Sometimes, we retreat into our own fears, anxieties, and frustrations, turning away instead of toward one another. We may start to drift away, but when we choose to come back together and share the burden, it all becomes so much more manageable.

Because WE are the foundation of this family. Right now, let’s face it, our son is the star of the show. He’s the main focus so much of the time. Yet he is only here because WE existed first. Because we took each other’s hand and said yes. And not turning on one another means we keep saying yes.  Even when that’s difficult to do.

Sometimes, I am guilty of harboring a rage against my husband that can only be described as the fire of a thousand suns. This developed after our son was born, and at first I chalked it up to sleep deprivation. But I’ve discovered that it’s much more than that. I feel safe with him. I don’t have to be nice all the time, and I know he will still be there. But what I need to be careful about is not taking EVERYTHING out on my poor husband, because it is so so tempting to do that! After all, I can’t take it out on my little boy (he never asked to be here) or my coworkers (I would be fired) or even my friends (they won’t talk to me anymore). But my husband will be here. He won’t turn on me. He’ll stick it through and talk it out. Even if I’m really just upset because the coffee carafe broke and I really needed coffee (Side note: This happened once when my son was a newborn and I cried over the shards of a broken coffee carafe. Another staple anecdote in the history of our family.)

I’m still pretty new to this marriage stuff, and I certainly don’t claim to have all (or any) of the answers. But I look at my parents who just celebrated 33 years of marriage, and my husband’s parents who will soon be celebrating a golden anniversary, and what do they have in common? They’ve never turned on each other. They’ve made the choice to stick it out and keep saying yes. Whether through something as insignificant as an annoying travel snag, or through actual hard times.

Through good times and bad. Through these crazy early years of parenting. Don’t turn on me! Let’s do our best to keep saying yes.

I love you all.