That’s Motherhood

The baby woke me minutes before the alarm went off this morning. The noise that escaped my lips was half exhaustion, half anger. I hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep as the kids took turns keeping me up. I rarely get enough sleep. That’s motherhood, I guess.

I started to feed the baby and Z came in, announcing the dogs had pooped all over her playroom. I muttered a soft “dammit” and told the husband who’d let out his own string of expletives not to worry, I’d clean it up. He had to get ready for work and has a weak stomach when it comes to smells anyway.

The smell permeated the hall and I smothered a gag – it wasn’t the worst smell I’d ever smelled and there was a good chance it wouldn’t even be the worst of the day. Zoey walked past me, singing “dammit, dammit, dammit!” I closed my eyes briefly, admonishing myself for having said it aloud earlier and then asked her not to say that word as I scrubbed at the floor. That’s motherhood, I guess.

The next hour was spent making a grocery list, getting breakfast for everyone but myself, dressing two kids, chugging cold coffee, throwing on some concealer and lipstick so I didn’t look as dead as I felt, and struggling to shake the dark mood that was quickly settling heavily over me. When Z spilled apple juice all over the car and herself (including the brand new clothes she was wearing), I felt molten hot rage course through me, and I thought, “Sometimes, I hate motherhood.” She looked at me, sorry filling her sweet, blue eyes. “The lid wasn’t on very well, mom. I’m sorry.” Guilt and shame and love immediately washed away all of my ire.

Somehow I managed to get all of us in the car and on our way. The three of us sort of matched in our hob-knob assortment of stripes and strawberries, so I asked a woman working the desk at Z’s school to take a photo of us. She handed back my phone and I grimaced at the image of myself. I’m still twenty pounds heavier than I’d like to be and much of the time feel I look tired and old. Z asked to see it and squealed over how cute we looked. I promised myself that I’d show it off for her sake.

After I dropped her off, I stopped at the store, cursing myself for not thinking ahead, in a hurry before my doctor appointment. I hitched the diaper bag over my shoulder and the million pound car seat on my arm and rushed into the store, prepared for a quick trip in and out. A woman stopped me as I walked in.

“What a strong, beautiful mother!” She exclaimed.

I thanked her, but doubt must have been etched on my face because then she said, “Truly. Strong and beautiful.”

I wanted to stop and cry and hug her and tell her that she had no idea how much I needed to hear that, that it had been an awful, ordinary morning, that I spent most of my time tired and overwhelmed, that I doubted my abilities as a mother, that I worried my daughter would stop loving me because I couldn’t quit snapping at her, but I was in a rush. So instead, I smiled at her – a great, sincere smile, thanked her again, and walked into the store, feeling a little bit lighter than I had a few moments before.

And that’s motherhood, I guess.

Advertisements

Be Loud

I have a jumbled list of notes, of things I want to say, apologies I want to make for not speaking up and not speaking out. I’ve been watching and reading the news all weekend, horrified. I just watched Jimmy Fallon speak about the atrocities in Charlottesville and the shamefully inappropriate response (or lack thereof) from our president, and something in me finally broke.

I don’t usually speak out because I don’t like controversy or confrontation or discord. I don’t write about things that might offend or make people feel uncomfortable. I like a sad story with a good ending and I want there to be peace. This isn’t peace. And quiet doesn’t change anything. We need change. What happened this weekend was horrible. I’m devastated that people are so hateful. I worry about raising my daughter, my children, in such turbulent times. Times that should have ended 50+ years ago. I pray change happens quickly. I know a few words on a silly blog don’t really make much difference, but I’ve been quiet for too long and it’s time for me – and you, and all of us – to speak up and speak out, to show love, to stand up for what’s right, and to stand against hatred.

It’s easy for people to forget I’m not white, hell – it’s easy for ME to forget it – because I don’t “look” Hispanic and, culturally speaking, I grew up in a pretty “white” world. And when people forget, they say things that aren’t funny or make hateful remarks about other minorities. If I admonish them, they tell me to relax, they say it’s a joke. And I’m expected to laugh or bite my tongue and let it go. Too long I’ve let things go. Too long many of us have. And here we are. Here. We. Are.

But it’s not too late to change things.

I’m hopeful that if enough of us use our words, something big, something good will happen eventually. Hopefully soon. Because I truly believe more of us are kind and tolerant and virtuous than are evil or unkind or hateful. We just have to learn to be louder than the few. So, please. Let’s all be loud.

How to Get a Toddler Ready For School in 25 Easy Steps

Step 1: Open toddler’s door. Softly and sweetly say, “Good morning, [insert personal term of endearment here]!” Get yelled at. Hope that when they say “I’m still sleeping!” or “Close the door!” they really mean, “Good morning, mommy! I missed you all night!” Know they actually mean, “Close the door, peasant. I’m sleeping!”

Step 2: Walk away. Give them five more minutes to wake up on their own. Make coffee, let the dogs out, brush your teeth, and prepare.

Step 3: Open the door a second time. Sit on toddler’s bed and stroke their hair. Steel yourself against tears and pleas for more sleep. Consider the fact that they will always be tired on school nights and up by 6 on Saturdays. Say nothing. Just wait for the tears to stop.

Step 4: Pick an outfit.

Step 5: Put it back. They hate it.

Step 6: Pick another outfit.

Step 7: Put it back. It’s not the right color.

Step 8: Give up on clothes.

Step 9: Attempt to remove wet diaper while dodging kicks. Ignore the headache that’s begun from piercing screams. Make a mental note to wear ear plugs tomorrow.

Step 10: Ask toddler to get dressed. Plead, cajole, threaten, punish – do what you have to do to ensure clothes of any kind go on their bodies.

Step 11: Look at the clock – realize you’re now running 10 minutes late, even though you got up 10 minutes earlier than yesterday. Bribe toddler with juice and nursery rhymes (kids YouTube).

Step 12: Panic because there’s no juice and SHE WANTS JUUUUUIIIIICE!

Step 13: Panic when there’s no milk either. (When was the last time you went to the grocery store?)

Step 14: Attempt to put shoes on toddler. Watch helplessly as a melt-down ensues.

Step 15: Consider giving up and going back to bed. Realize you’re out of sick days, grit your teeth, and wrestle ease toddler into car seat.

Step 16: Turn on DVD player to Judy and the Beast.

Step 17: Press forward because it’s the wrong scene.

Step 18: Repeat process three more times. Threaten to turn movie off.

Step 19: Sing along with movie. Stop singing when toddler insists that “mommy, you don’t sing.”

Step 20: Drop off toddler at school. Struggle to release yourself from toddler’s death grip. Watch helplessly as melt-down ensues.

Step 21: Get back in car and breathe a sigh of relief.

Step 22: Seriously consider going back inside because you miss toddler.

Step 23: Scroll through photos of toddler on your phone and cry because you love them so much.

Step 24: Ask yourself if it might be time to have another baby.

Step 25: Contemplate your sanity.

the state of our nation

I mowed the lawn today. I played outside with my daughter and watched a movie with my husband. I saw some friends. I wrote. I laughed. I enjoyed a truly delicious cookie. I read a book in my feather-soft bed. And I thought about the state of our nation.

The problem is: I don’t know what to think about the state of our nation.

With an abundance of information and misinformation spreading faster than it can possibly be absorbed, I feel bogged down by opinions. So bogged down, in fact, that I don’t always know what my own opinion is. Someone is always telling me what to think and everyone disagrees. I’m overwhelmed by constant political posts on social media, each disagreeing with the last, many claiming to be inclusive and willing to engage in friendly political discourse, and then quickly falling into political battle. (And do we really expect someone will emerge the victor?)

Every time I get online or turn on the TV, I have to suit up, to put on my metaphorical armor and prepare myself for the onslaught. Which friend will say something inflammatory today? Which will be cruel? Which will mock another for their beliefs? Which will shame their peers?

It’s a world I don’t want to be part of.

I don’t have all of the facts. I have pieces of information: the reactionary information carefully (or not) doled out by the media, the (unclassified) bread crumbs allotted by the government, (seriously) biased articles placed on Facebook acting as canon, but in truth, I have almost nothing at all. I try to remember this when I read this post from the left or that article from the right. I don’t know it all. I probably don’t know anything at all. So I do what I shouldn’t and I try (unsuccessfully) not to think about it at all.

Because I’m afraid to.

Because what if I’m wrong? What if my real thoughts ruin our friendship? What if I don’t know what I’m talking about? What if you don’t know what you’re talking? And, worst of all, what if I just wind up contributing to the problem?

So I don’t talk about it. Not much. Not unless I’m in the mood to be crucified. Instead, I make dinner. I dance in the kitchen with my family. I cuddle with my daughter. I work on my novel. I talk to my husband. I laugh with my sister. I sing “Mermaid” as a little one’s eyes close. I fold my hands as I lay in my feather-soft bed and I pray about the state of our nation.

Better Together

I was sad when I voted the other day. I was disappointed in our options and disappointed in myself for not voting in the primaries. When I got to the polls, I was disappointed that my candidate wasn’t even listed on the ballot and in myself for not paying enough attention to local politics. I was sad then, but I’m brokenhearted today.

Not because Trump was elected president or Hillary wasn’t. Not because the media spewed more lies, more propaganda, and more nonsense than ever before. Not because you voted one way when I believed the other.

I’m brokenhearted because this election has shown me a side of my friends and family that I wish I hadn’t seen.

I’m frustrated because we’ve allowed this political circus to divide us. I’m heartsick because we’ve become hateful and accusatory. I’m concerned by our rhetoric, which has become bigly hyperbolic as everything is the end of times and complete American disaster and woe is us, the end is nigh! I’m annoyed because in the midst of chastising one another for our political views, for choosing a candidate who lies (when we all do), and looks out for themselves (when we all do), and says and does things they shouldn’t (when we all do), we spew hatred and call each other names and tell one another we should be ashamed of ourselves, which only serves to perpetuate the cycle of anger. Mostly though, I’m devastated that it seems we’ve forgotten to love one another.

Never have I seen the people I know so divided merely for having differences of opinion and beliefs.

Let me be clear here: I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I’m disappointed that we’ve allowed the government and (mostly) media to jerk us around like marionettes – tell us how and what and when to believe something. I’m disappointed that we can’t share our beliefs, our ideas, our opinions with each other without conversations erupting. I’m disappointed that some of us are too ashamed to speak only for fear of backlash from the people we love. What happened to respectful conversation? What’s happened to us, America? What’s happened to us, friends?

We’re better than this. I know we are. And it’s time to prove that we are. It’s time to stop blaming others, stop talking over each other, and stop naysaying. If we don’t give the media stories of hate and fear and anger, they can’t report them. So I say enough – enough violence and meanness and terror. Instead, let’s make waves because we’re kind and tolerant and accepting.

Let’s be so good that we’re boring – boring and happy and united.

And let’s remember that America has always been great – because we’re great – but we can make it even greater if we let go of our anger, accusations, and hatred. Let’s be better than the government we weren’t sure wanted (Or did! Whatever! No judgment!). Let’s be better for each other, for our country, and for our children.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can teach them – the next generation and a new group of voters –  to pick even better than we did, to be even better than we are.

It’s something worth working towards.

Bigly.

A Damn Good Mom

My daughter asked me to rock her tonight. I was tired – we’d been driving all day and I was up late last night. I had a thousand other things that needed to get done – chapters to write, bags to unpack, school work to prep. I was hungry and stressed because there was no food in the house (or none I wanted to eat). I wanted to lay her down and say goodnight and unwind, but I worried about the guilt, about the fear that I’m a bad mom because sometimes I want to shut down or hide.

I spend much of my time worried about the kind of mom I am. Am I a good mom? Am I bad mom? Do I care enough? Do I care too much? Am I involved enough? Am I over-involved? Am I even doing this right?

 It was easy when she was a newborn – eat, sleep, poop, repeat. We’d throw in tummy time and some songs and call it a day. Most of the time I felt like freaking Wonder Woman. It’s not easy anymore. She needs so. many. things. Or so she tells me five hundred times a day.

I need milk, Mommy.

I need to watch a movie, Mommy.

I need peanut butter, Mommy.

I need baby, Mommy.

I need to play play-dough, Mommy.

I need to color, Mommy.

I need juice, Mommy. No, milk. JUICE, MOMMY! JUICE!

PLEASE!!!

She’s a very articulate two-year old. It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted. By the end of the day my patience is worn thin, my nerves are frayed, and every part of my body is sore. I can tell by the way she treats her baby dolls what kind of day it’s been. On good days, she’s sweet and loving and the baby gets hugs and kisses and songs. On bad days, the baby is in “big trouble” and goes to time-out because she’s “not nice!”

I watch her emulate my behavior and it simultaneously warms my heart and makes me cringe because she’s playing mommy. She’s playing me. Most days I don’t want that kind of knowledge.

I want to be the best mom, the greatest mom ever, the kind of mom who doesn’t snap or yell or wrestle her kid into car seats and out of bathtubs and away from playgrounds, but I’m not that mom. I can think of at least five mistakes I made today and I dwell on each and every one of them. I’ll spend the rest of the day and half of the night wishing I could take back that hissed, “Zoey!” when she wouldn’t stop whining, wondering if she’ll remember how she cried when sat in time-out after I told her not to eat the play-dough for the twelfth time, hoping that she’ll forgive the pop on her hand when she reached for the hot stove after I told her not to.

I make a lot of poor choices in the heat of the moment. But every once in a while, through the grace of God, I manage to make the right choice.

Like tonight. Tonight I sat down with my very big two-year old. She curled up in my lap and laid her head on my shoulder while I sang her a song. And when the song was over, she pulled back and smiled at me. Then she gave me a kiss and said, “thank you, Mommy,” before she nestled back in. And I held her close and smelled her hair and breathed. And for the first time all day I didn’t question the kind of mom I am because I know: I’m her mom and I love her enough to care about the kind of mom I am.

And I think that makes me a pretty damn good mom.

Fear

I’m afraid of the dark – I always have been. I never knew why or what triggered the fear, possibly an overactive imagination and too many novels, possibly just the fact that I was a kid, but I rarely went to sleep fear-free. For years, I leapt on and off my bed to avoid the Purple People Eater any creeps that might be lurking beneath it, ready to kill me.

In order to stave off some of the fear, I convinced myself that if I did things just so, no harm would come to me. And so, every night I checked the closet and closed the door. I refused to look into mirrors when the lights were out. I pulled my blanket up to my chin, believing that anyone who wanted to hurt me (presumably by cutting off my head) wouldn’t do so if my neck were covered. No one wants a partial head, amirite? I didn’t get out of bed unless I had to use the bathroom and I refused to turn lights on if I did for fear of seeing something I shouldn’t. And when all else failed, when fear still plagued me, I closed my eyes and prayed.

It didn’t matter what I said, but I would usually wind up repeating the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary over and over, the familiar words and repetition calming me enough that my stomach muscles unclenched, I was able to breathe normally, and I’d eventually drift off to sleep. Nothing could harm me so long as I was praying.

The next night, the cycle would start all over again. I was afraid of lots of things as a kid – Bloody Mary (not the Queen of England, the mirror one), ghosts (though I wasn’t sure I believed in them), evil things that lived under my bed (thanks, Poltergeist), clowns (thanks again, Poltergeist). Those were the times I couldn’t wait to grow up because grown-ups don’t have irrational fears. Grown-ups aren’t afraid of the dark. Grown-ups are strong.

Unfortunately, my fears didn’t magically disappear when I grew up. They merely changed.

As a young adult, I was afraid I wouldn’t find the Right Guy, that I wouldn’t find a job, that I couldn’t do the job I found, that I’d never be a successful writer.

As a newlywed, I was afraid to be apart from my Right Guy, afraid that we would never stop fighting, afraid that I’d drive him away with my never-ending tears.

As a pregnant woman, I was afraid of birth defects, being a bad mom, being a mom at all, labor, missing life before baby everything.

As a mom, I’m afraid that she’ll grow up too fast, afraid of the moment she gets hurt, really hurt, afraid of mean girls and meaner boys, of the moments she’s sad or hurt or broken and I can no longer fix it with a hug and the Minion movie.

I thought I knew fear then. Until cancer. I’ve never been afraid of anything more than cancer. Because no matter how many times I check the closet or under the bed, or how high up I pull my blankets, or which lights I leave off or turn on, I can’t make his cancer go away.

But on those nights when I feel my stomach clench and my breathing hitch, when I feel the fear start to drown me, I close my eyes and start to pray, the same prayers over and over, the familiar words quieting my mind, giving me peace.

Our Father, who art in heaven…

And I know if I keep on praying, my fears won’t conquer me. Because it turns out that it’s not the words or the familiarity or the repetition that soothes me. It’s the knowledge that I’m not alone, that Someone is always with me. And for a little while, nothing – not the dark or mirrors or cancer – scares me.

Because nothing can harm me as long as I keep praying.