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.

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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.

Perfect

I watched you today in Target as we both browsed in the same general area. Your shiny, long hair hung perfectly down your back and your swing dress fell perfectly just above the knee. Your boots were swoon-worthy. Your bag was to die for. And your children – oh! Your children! They were angels! The older one sat quietly in the cart playing with his dinosaurs and the little one gnawed thoughtfully on her pacifier. They were content to wait while you looked at shoes, and then ambled over to the clothes.

I watched as you picked up a beautiful sweater – one I’d been eyeing only minutes before (but put down because come on, Target! $37.99?! It isn’t Anthropologie!). You held it against yourself, examining it in the mirror. Your lips curled up slightly and I saw you think it:

Perfect. 

I spend a lot of time watching others, wondering how they do it. How do they stay calm when their children run away, when they choose not to listen, when they scream? How do they keep their houses clean after working all day? How do they maintain their sanity day in and day out when I feel like I’m going to lose my freaking mind if I don’t get to work out or read a book or take a shower without someone calling my name or asking me for nursery rhymes.

I spend a lot of time feeling like a failure.

I’m not a patient enough mom.

I’m not an understanding enough wife.

I’m not a sensitive enough daughter.

I’m not a present enough sister.

I’m not a thoughtful enough friend.

I’m not perfect enough.

I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.

And then I cry in Target because somehow your togetherness high-lights my mess. Somehow your quiet children and beautiful clothes and smooth hair mean I’ve failed.

I feel like I fail constantly, like I’m a giant screw-up, because I do a lot of stuff wrong. I hyper-focus on my mistakes, thinking and re-thinking about things I said and did, but wish I hadn’t, allowing them to consume me. I let them gnaw at me, until I’m convinced everything I do is wrong. Until I believe that my mistakes mean I’m a failure and I forget everything else. Until I forget everything I did that was good, everything that was right, everything that meant I was trying.

And so this season (because when’s a better time than Advent?), I’m going to practice giving myself grace. I’m going to practice joy and peace and love – for myself as well as others. It’s here, written in stone, in black and white, so everyone can hold me accountable, and remind me to be joyful and forgiving and kind.

And the next time I start to doubt or worry or stress that I’m failing, remind me of the moment when my adorable, manipulative, wonderful little toddler takes my face in her hands and says, “You make me so happy, mommy!” when I let her out of time-out.

Remind me of the moment when the house was a disaster and we were fighting, but Casey mixed up the serious phrase he wanted to say and we laughed so hard we cried and the fight was over.

Remind me of the moment when it seemed like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, when Casey was too sick, and I was too tired, and the doctor said the tumors were shrinking.

Because those moments? They were perfect.

But I don’t have to be.

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.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom (and all the baby mommas and baby’s momma’s mommas),

Now that I’m on the other side, the Mom side, I see things differently. I see what you sacrificed and why you struggled. I see why you did the things you did. I get it now. And I owe you a thousand apologies, but for now I think I’ll start with these.

I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry for –

Not wanting to eat the food you made. Because now I know how much time and energy went into deciding what to cook and then cooking it. Yes, even into baking that Tombstone pizza and dealing with the mom guilt of making frozen pizza instead of a gourmet meal after a day of chasing after a million kids and maintaining a household.

Whining about having to clean my room. Or any room, really. Because you had already cleaned the kitchen, living room, laundry room, and attic. The least I could have done was pick up my 1,000 Barbies and Jenny Gymnast.

The tantrum I threw when I couldn’t decide what I wanted. Because you told me I could have something, and that gave me conflicting emotions. Cue tantrum.

The tantrum I threw when I was hangry. Because if I’d just eaten the food you made, I wouldn’t be hangry.

The tantrum I threw when…you know what? I’m sorry for all of the tantrums I threw. Because tantrums are like road kill; they’re gross and embarrassing and everyone has to stare at them no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

The sleepless nights. Because I wasn’t tired, or I was overtired, or I missed you, or I wanted to eat, or I was afraid. Because while I was sleeping for the rest of whenever I was tired, you were doing all of the things.

The early mornings. Who needs alarm clocks? Hello, it’s me! Your 4a.m. wake up call.

Inflicting physical pain on you. Biting, hitting, kicking…Because pregnancy and labor weren’t enough. Obvi.

Arguing about everything. I already see this happening and my baby isn’t even talking yet. How does a 13-month old even know how to argue? No, you can’t eat the Styrofoam off of the garage floor because you might choke and die. Sorry for keeping you alive and ruining your life.

Thinking I was right. I wasn’t.

Forgetting to say thanks.
For everything. Seriously. All. The. Things.

Blaming you. After all, you didn’t neglect to do my science project until the night before it was due. You didn’t decide to date the boy who broke my heart. You didn’t skip my curfew. You didn’t make my friend betray me.

Making you worry. Especially when I could have prevented it.

Growing up. Because babies are cute and cuddly, and teenagers can be assholes.

Not appreciating you.
Thank you for loving me, teaching me, caring for me. But mostly, thank you for teaching me how to be a mom.

Not getting “it.” I get it now. Promise.

And when the apology itself isn’t enough, just remember that payback’s a bitch and I have at least 35 or so more years of it.

Love always,
Your Daughter

NOTE: Amanda Fullilove and I wrote this piece together last year. It originally ran on Curisome (when that was still a thing). I decided to re-post in honor of Mother’s Day and because I miss Amanda (and her writing – COME BACK ONE DAY!).

#blessed

These past few weeks have been a struggle. I’ve had to force myself to write. I sit at my computer and stare at words that don’t make sense, storylines that sound contrived, and I cringe. I don’t want to write. I’ve read – losing myself in stories not my own for hours at a time – but I can’t write. I have nothing to say.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the bone-weary task that is adulting, easy to forget the good things in the midst of the truly terrible, easy to dwell on the fuck you moments, easy to forget that I’m blessed by so many and so much.  I know; I do it all of the time.

But today I’m not going to. Today I’m going to take my daughter to the park because it’s a beautiful day and she loves the slide. I’m going to sit on the couch with my husband and watch TV. I’m going to kiss them both as much as possible. I’m going to laugh at my hilarious kid. I’m going to sing songs and play peek-a-boo and watch “Punzel” for the twelfth time this week. I’m going to make jokes with my sister.

And I’m going to ask you a favor. Share some good things with me. Text me. Comment. Call me. Whatever. Just lend me a little of your happy.

In return, I’ll lend you a little of mine.

image

This. This is my happy. Her name is Z and she’s my favorite person in the entire world. And she’s one of the many reasons that I am #blessed.

 

It’s Not Always About Me

Though I wish with all my being that Casey were well, I’m so grateful that Zoey isn’t the one who’s ill. I don’t know how I would deal with that. I don’t know if I could. It’s hard enough watching her struggle through normal childhood illnesses like Bronchitis and Hand Foot Mouth Disease. So I’m amazed when I see other mothers caring for their sick children with grace and dignity, when I see them acting normally, when I see them smiling and working and living. How do they manage not to fall apart? How do they find the strength to watch their children pocked and prodded? How do they wait for them as they’re wheeled away for procedures they’re too young to understand?

Melissa Hammerle is one of these mothers. Her son Parker isn’t even two and has spent more time in hospitals than most adults that I know. He has Gastroesophageal Reflux and Vesicoureteral Reflux which affects the bladder and kidney function. He is also hearing impaired in both ears (loss in one, partial in the other). And he suffers a condition called breath holding spells where, unable to express himself adequately, he holds his breath until he turns blue and passes out.

As if all of this weren’t bad enough, he has broken attachment to Melissa, which means he won’t let her hold, bathe, feed, or change him. This is because he associates the pain and anger and fear of hospital visits and needles and procedures and probing doctors with her. Because she was there for him. Because she was trying to make him better. Because she loves him.

Everyone has told her repeatedly that he won’t remember any of this, but it’s clear he does. He may not remember the procedures or the doctors, but he remembers the fear and pain and anger. And he associates those feelings with her.

He doesn’t understand why he’s angry.

He doesn’t understand why he’s in pain.

When I sat lamenting her pain, telling her how sorry I was, that I couldn’t imagine what she’s been through, her response floored me. She said that it was okay, that she takes it all in stride because his pain is so much worse than hers. She said they refuse to sink.

There are days I don’t want to function because I feel so overwhelmed by our circumstances. There are days where I moan constantly about working full-time with a sick husband and a toddler, about being tired, about not having enough time to write or read or breathe. There are days when I let life crush me.

You know what Melissa does? She teaches high school kids all day (child development) and sometimes takes care of Parker and her little girl Paisley-Kate on her own (because her husband is in the military). She’s planning on teaching swim school this summer for extra money. She over-extends herself and does it happily because that’s who she is. I know she, like any of us, has dark days, but she doesn’t let herself drown. Because she can’t. Because Parker and PK and her husband Matt need her. Because her students need her. Because her clients need her. Because she refuses to sink.

And now she needs us.

In May, Parker will be put under anesthesia for another procedure. They’re nervous and afraid, but they push through. Parker is a fighter. They are all. They need our thoughts and prayers, our love and support, our good vibes and happy thoughts. Send them in abundance for this sweet family, for this adorable little boy.

Maybe for a little while, we can be the life raft that keeps them all from sinking.

ParkerHMichbelle

Click here to visit the Hammerle’s GoFundMe page.