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.


To My Sister on Her Wedding Day

This Friday is your wedding day. I wanted to write something meaningful, something beautiful, something worthy of the day and, more importantly, of you. I wanted to say something clever and funny and sweet, something that you’ll remember forever, something you’ll open when you need a smile or comfort. I wanted to share some brilliant advice for surviving marriage, but I’m still figuring it out myself so I don’t really have any.

So, I’ll say this instead: It has been such a pleasure being your big sister.

Growing up, you may not have known that. Most of the time I didn’t act like the sweet, caring, big sister, the big sister who only gives her little sister a hard time to teach her life lessons but always ends the day with a hug. I was, instead, the stern, superior, asshole big sister who was either teasing or ignoring her emotional little sister. And there weren’t many hugs. Differences in age, temperament, and interests kept us from being friends for far too long. It wasn’t until we grew up and I was a slightly lesser asshole and you were slightly less emotional that we started to like each other. Over time, we’ve even become friends.

And I’m so glad that we have because you’re incredible, little seester. Over the past few years, you have grown and changed so much. You’ve figured out who you are and what you want. You’ve embarked on a successful career. You’ve met a great guy (yay, new brother!). You’ve figured out how to make dirty hair look great for days on end (#lifegoals). You’re independent, strong, charismatic, compassionate, vivacious, and unique, and I am so proud to call you my sister.

Even when you laugh – that loud, obnoxious laugh – and everyone in the room turns to look and I want to duck my head in embarrassment. Even when you cry and no one is quite sure what you’re crying about because weren’t you just laughing 30 seconds ago? Even when you’ve had too much to drink and it takes you 45 minutes to tell a story about drying pants that were too big.

Especially then.

Because, sister, you’re so intensely joyous that people can’t help but want to stand in your light.

I know this day, your wedding day, will be one of the happiest days of your life. I know you’ll dance until your feet hurt and kiss your new husband a thousand times. I know that you’ll hug a hundred people and you won’t care (much) when you spill a drink on your dress. I know you’ll be overwhelmed by love. I know it will end too soon and not soon enough. I know you’ll be totally overwhelmed by love and happiness. I know you’ll laugh and cry and drink too much. I know this day will be one of the greatest of your entire life.

And I know I’ll be a mess as I stand by alternately laughing and crying (and maybe also drinking a bit too much). Please don’t mind me – I just heard the funniest story about oversized pants from my radiant little sister who’s marrying a Jedi, and I’ve never been more pleased to be a big sister in all my life.


Thank you

The past year has been hell at its worst and slightly cooler than hell at its best. And while that may be hyperbole, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ve had a rough year and two months (thanks a lot, cancer).

To be fair, it hasn’t all been bad. Sure the endless hours at MD Anderson, the treatments, the sickness, the fear, the anxiety, and the stress all sucked, but there were some good things too – like Casey’s home all of the time and I started writing again.

Mostly though, those good things were all of you.

I’ve thought about sitting down to write each of you notes, letters, novels in which I would attempt to express what is, very simply, thank you. A few times I even sat down to do it, but the truth is that I don’t have enough time or energy to write to every person who has, at some point, done us a solid because so many of you have been so generous. So, this is our thank you – our very genuine, heartfelt, sincere thank you.

Thank you to the family who have given their time to be here with us for days, weeks, months at a time. Thank you for driving in on a moment’s notice when we were sick or overwhelmed or sad, for flying in when we needed help, for giving up your weekends so we could rest. Thank you for being our rocks, for keeping us going because we couldn’t do it on our own. Thank you for answering late night phone calls and researching options. Thank you for taking care of Zoey when, for whatever reason, we couldn’t. Thank you for your unending love, your constant support, and your steadfast positivity. Thank you for shouldering some of our burden so we didn’t crumble.

Thank you to our friends for all of the meals cooked, the car rides downtown (at all hours and during hellish traffic), and the thoughtful (and sometimes even grandiose) gestures. Thank you for visiting. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for being our shoulders to lean on. Thank you for understanding when we couldn’t meet you for dinner, when we didn’t make it to your wedding, when we forgot to return your phone calls. Thank you for being there, wherever there was, whenever we needed you.

Thank you to all of those who prayed for us and thought about us and wished upon stars for us. Please keep doing so. We need you.

I can not say it enough – thank you, thank you, thank you. We love you all so much and, cliche as it is, we know that we are blessed beyond measure to have you in our lives.

And so you all know, should you ever need us, we owe you like a thousand favors. So, feel free to cash those in at your earliest convenience. We’ll be right here, thanking God for all of you.


It’s Not Soap Night

Stop standing in your highchair. Sit down! Are you done eating? Say “all done!” SAY “ALL DONE!” Why are you smearing avocado in your hair?! Stop! Stop it, Zoey! It’s not soap night! 

I always said I wouldn’t be that parent. I wouldn’t be the parent who has to leave places early because it’s bedtime, the parent who misses things because they couldn’t bear to leave the baby with find a sitter, the parent who wouldn’t have to bribe their child not to throw a tantrum. I was never going to be the parent that doesn’t go to dinner with her friends because mom guilt keeps her home with her daughter, the parent that misses out on impromptu dates late night golf cart rides around the neighborhood because the baby is asleep and she should be there if the babe wakes up…even when her aunt is there to watch her.

But I am that parent. I think. Sometimes, not other times. But I don’t actually have any idea what kind of parent I am because it varies so greatly from day to day. One day I’m gentle and endlessly patient and the next day – well, the next day is last night.

Last night I lost my temper. Lost it because I was tired and knew I had to be up far too early for another biopsy that might not yield answers. Lost it with a toddler who doesn’t mean to test my patience because she’s not even two and she (usually) doesn’t know any better. Lost it because I wasn’t focused on my daughter, I was focused on the routine of bedtime tasks.

I laid her down to change her diaper and she moved because she hates it when I change her diaper (and yet stays perfectly still when they change her at school because her school is full of wizards who use their powers to make children behave). She yelled and writhed and threw her body around angrily. Her leg went straight into the poopy diaper that I’d just opened and that poop went everywhere – on her, the mat, and me. Frustration welled up in me. I didn’t yell but I held her down firmly and said her name furiously.


And she stopped for a minute. She stopped when she normally wouldn’t because she heard something in my voice, saw something in my face that said I was going to lose my mind. Over nothing. Over poop. And for a minute, I won. But her eyes widened and her lips quivered and she lay still – scared, sad, hurt. And I did that to her. I scared her. I saddened her. I hurt her.

It wasn’t supposed to be soap night.

But she didn’t care about that. All she knew was she didn’t want her diaper changed and her mom hurt her feelings. I hurt her feelings. And my husband, seeing the meltdown that was imminent (on my end, not hers), swept in and started helping, the cool dad diffusing the tension brought by the mean mom. (And I can already see how this will play out in the future.)

I saw her start to calm down because he was calm. I saw her start to smile. I saw her forget what I’d done. And I may not know what kind of parent I am, but I know what kind of parent I don’t want to be. So I choked down my anger, put aside my misplaced frustration, and started singing “The Wheels on Bus.” And when those little hands started rolling as the wheels went ‘round and ‘round, and that smile shook the sad out of her eyes, I knew it didn’t matter what kind of parent I was as long as I let love fuel my actions rather than anger.

Even when I’m tired and covered in poop and it’s not soap night.


This Moment

You know that feeling when something bad happens just before you go to sleep – you fight with your spouse or a beloved character on your favorite TV show dies – and there’s a moment, just before you open your eyes the next morning, when you’re between asleep and awake, that you’ve forgotten it happened and all is well? That’s my favorite moment of the day – that moment of peace before I remember, before the shadow creeps back in, before the heaviness of our burden settles on me.

I lay quietly for a minute, willing myself out of bed, talking myself into going to work, not calling in sick. I’m going to need those sick days for doctor’s visits that aren’t mine, caring for sick people that aren’t me.

I listen to you snoring (loudly) next to me like you have been since you came to bed long after I fell asleep. I was angry with you when you woke me up as you climbed into bed, your restless movements jarring me awake. I was angry with you when you woke me up snoring and kept snoring even when I shoved you and told you to roll over. I was angry with you when the baby woke me up at four in the morning and you kept sleeping so I had to get up, even though I had to be up in less than two hours and you would keep sleeping. I was so angry I growled at you, this primitive noise starting in my chest before I even knew it was happening.

But then you start coughing and my heart pounds, beating erratically, fearfully in time to each bark. I worry about you. Why are you still coughing? Shouldn’t this be better? Shouldn’t you be better?

I try to remember what it was like when a cough was just a cough as I wait for your fit to stop. When it does, I ask if you’re okay, if you need anything. You mutter something unintelligible and settle back into sleep and I shrug, swing my legs out of bed, and head to the bathroom to get ready for the day.

I feel awake – tired, but awake. I make the mistake of looking in the mirror and see someone that looks a little like me, but she’s older – drawn, wan, haggard. I pull out my concealer, the only expensive bit of makeup I buy because I need something good to paint over those dark circles under my eyes. I’m tired but I keep painting – eyeliner, mascara, blush, bronzer. I was going for the human look today but might have actually just barely managed zombie princess.

I curl my hair and then pull it up because it looks silly – too flat on the right, too frizzy on the left. But at least I look normal, maybe even better than I did yesterday.

Maybe today no one will tell me I look tired or sick. Maybe today I won’t have to say “I’m okay” when someone asks me how I am. Maybe today I’ll actually be okay.

I’m running late. I’m always running late. And I still have to get the baby ready for school. I walk out of the bathroom. Should I kiss you goodbye? What if I wake you? What if I don’t? I tiptoe up next to you and breathe a short prayer over your head and  move before the dogs make any more noise – they’re anxiously waiting to be let out. I don’t want to risk waking you after so little sleep. You need more sleep.

I can hear the baby before I open the door. She’s calling for you. Dada. Dada! DADA! She always calls for you in the morning. I might be jealous if she didn’t reach up for me excitedly and bury her head in my neck happily when I pick her up. She pulls back and touches my face and whispers, “hi.”

And I realize I was wrong because this – this is my favorite moment of the day. So, I stand there just a minute longer, knowing I’ll be a minute later because in this moment, the shadows have retreated, the heaviness has lifted, and I’m at peace.


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