Stranded on Mom Island

Sometime around the 1.5-year postpartum mark I lose myself. It has happened with each of my three children. It is as if overnight I became some unrecognizable mom-droid and I can no longer relate to the non-mom world around me.

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Mom-of-3 me

Washable oversized tops, nursing camis, and stretchy leggings are my uniform. High heels collect dust, as my sneakers gather playground mulch.

I pick up formerly enjoyable fashion magazines and lifestyle publications only to flip past ads and articles, photos of sultry women and pristine homes with which I can in no way identify. I surf through TV shows and YouTube videos, none to which I can relate. I am on “Mom Island.”

Old photos show a version of me that I can hardly remember. That young woman who wore heels every day, flat-ironed her hair, and slept until 11am on weekends? She’s less of a memory and more of an illustration.

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Pre-mom me

I don’t resent being on my island. Actually, I have some phenomenal mom friends who are similarly stranded. All of us have grown and shifted, grayed and stretched far from who and where we used to be. Despite being happy with who we have become, we’re no less lost.

What should interest me? What fashion choices actually suit me? Can I converse without mentioning my children… or poop? What’s my non-maternal purpose? Who am I when I step out into the world without my bumbling brood loudly announcing to the world that “I AM MOM”? Am I a mom if the world cannot immediately see I am one? Of course!! But it’s no less unsettling.

I feel naked, incomplete without a snot-nosed tot on my hip and a youngster or two incessantly yammering around my legs. It is as if I have been a life-long, proud natural redhead and awoke one morning with an embony mane. I am still me… but yet not.

And so I will go about my kid-centric days occasionally grasping a few moments of solitude during which I might try to find myself, try to determine how to relate to the surrounding non-mom world. Or maybe I’ll just enjoy a hot beverage and some silence before someone calls me to wipe his or her butt.

 

 

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Seeing my Former Self

I was standing in at the grocery store register, trying to entertain my 1.5-year-old to just get through the last 5 minutes of the errand without a meltdown. We’d made it this far — thanks to our Ergo 360 and nursing on the go — we just needed to last a few more minutes.

Then I saw her. The mom with what appeared to be a 4-year-old, 2.5-year-old, and infant. It was me last year. Outwardly, she appeared calm wrangling her brood as she awaited staff assistance, but I could sense her camouflaged stress and feel the familiar cloud of perpetual chaos.

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The sight took me back to that not-so-distant time. I remembered the constant demands, as no one was independent yet everyone had an attitude. I recalled that unshakable exhaustion, as I got little quality sleep but lived a life that required high energy and even loftier levels of patience. I remembered being in survival mode 24/7. I remembered the haze, the self-imposed guilt, the frustration of doing and giving it all yet feeling as if I accomplished nothing. I remembered the tenderness, the cuddles, the duckling fluff infant hair, the afternoon playdates, the chubby toddler cheeks, the preschooler lisps, the calmer schedule. I remembered my entire trio being younger, smaller, pudgier, needier.

After swiping and signing to pay for my groceries, I looked down at my toddler, squirming in the carrier, and realized how far my life had progressed. How quickly things had changed. And then it hit me: in no time, none of them will need me for the little things. They may reluctantly call upon me for a listening ear, life insight, or homework help, but I won’t be so central to their lives. If anything, I’ll be an irksome source of embarrassment and nagging. At least until much later years, if I am so fortunate.

My harried days are numbered. My children are growing faster than I’d choose and, with that swift development, adjusting my life, my identity, my purpose.

I have no control over the tide. I am merely swept along, clutching to memories and moments as they rush past. I see my previous life stages drift away into hazy memory as I careen towards an unknown destination. If I focus too heavily on the past, I miss the present. If I dwell on the ambiguous future, I miss it all. If I try to fight the tide, I’ll drown.

Bundling up my toddler, I looked back at the mom of 3 under 4 and remembered being her. Part of me was glad to have moved beyond the madness, but another part of me envied her. She doesn’t realize how beautiful her present exhausted state is, how much she’ll treasure those memories, and long to be so intrinsically needed. I certainly didn’t when I was her.

I gave my toddler a squeeze and batted away tears as I passed my former self. Leaving the exhaustion and beauty behind, I faced the day with a greater appreciation. I will survive the frenzied day-to-day but I will also savor, for it will be a memory in too short time.

Needing to Break the Routine

It’s 5:30am. My littlest, who cosleeps from his nighttime wake-up until morning, is half-asleep nursing. I feel my 5:45am alarm approaching: stress!

Knowing I would remain fully awake now and not wanting to disturb my husband or nursling, I turn off my alarm carefully trying not to disturb my littlest. I feel stress bubble up inside me. “I NEED to be up in 13 minutes.” I think to myself. I begin contemplating whether I can sneak out of the bed without waking my bed partners. But my toddler is a boob barnacle, so sneaking out is a non-option. “Do I just wake him up and take him downstairs before he’s ready?” I ponder. I dash that thought knowing full well how rocky a morning that will be.

“But I NEED to get up!” I mentally moan. I carefully lift my head to look at the clock without disturbing my littlest’s latch: 5:35.

“Wait,” I think to myself, “my preschooler is on Christmas break. My husband is dropping off our kindergartener for her last day of school before break. All I’m doing is going to the grocery store, doing chores, and driving school pick-up this afternoon. I don’t ‘NEED’ to wake up right now.” That’s when I realized what I really needed to do: slow down.

I needed to pull up the covers and cuddle my little one. I needed to feel his soft skin and pudgy hands. I needed to etch in my mind the feeling of his warm little footsie pajama’ed body against mine. I needed to savor.

Sometimes I get so lost in the to-do list, the routine, and the stressors that I can forget what I actually NEED to do. Slow down and savor for this all goes by too fast.

 

Holiday Survival: Don’t Stress Over “Perfect”

The qwest for holiday perfection is a losing battle that robs the season of its joy. The perfect family picture for the holiday card, the perfect holiday decorations, the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect holiday meal, the perfect family ensembles that “go” but don’t “match”, the perfect presents… it’s not going to happen. It’s just not. So be like Elsa and “Let it Go!” Enjoy your perfectly imperfect holiday just as it is.

The struggle to snap that idillic family photo is a goal bound for failure. The more people — especially young ones — in a picture, the more likely it is to flounder. One kid will have an awkward smile, another will be crying, you’ll have a double chin and dark circles, hubby will have an unexpected lazy-eye, only one person will be looking at the camera… something will go awry with each snapshot. Accept the photo as an illustration of reality, laugh, and move on.

Aiming for that cozy Hallmark card holiday home look is adorable. But do you know what Hallmark card homes don’t have to withstand? Kids, pets, life. Those heirloom ornaments, the overpriced luxurious fresh garlands placed just so, the flickering glow of candle flames beside glittering crystal… invitations for disaster. Dial it down to less breakable decor and you’ll save your own sanity and holiday happiness. Aim for “merry” instead of “mishaps.”

The holiday tree is natural which means: flaws. You can spend hours agonizing over a hole-free, perfectly lush pine or you can nab the best one you can, turn the hole towards the wall, and decorate with abandon. Enough ornaments and lights can hide just about anything. And if not, it’ll be a funny tale for later years.

Holiday meals can be planned, cooked, and prepared with the goal of perfection or with an eye for enjoyment. Don’t overtax yourself or you’ll be too stressed to truly experience the meal you toiled to create. Don’t create unattainably high expectations of picturesque family gatherings or wrack your mind with drama dread. Instead, aim for an enjoyable gathering and accept that reality — both memorably good and woefully bad — will ensue. Then, choose to laugh.

You can put hours of online shopping and weeks of Pinterest perusing to develop your perfect family ensemble collection. You know the one that is precisely coordinated without matching. You could also then promptly lose your holiday-dazed mind when one kid smears jelly across that pressed shirt, another refuses the itchy taffeta dress, and the littlest has a devilishly timed diaper malfunction. Lesson: lower your bar and have backup options. When you look back at this holiday will you be thinking, “Ahh, that was the year of the perfectly coordinated outfits! That pattern precision really made the day.” Or, instead, would memories of  the day’s quirks and smiles stick in your mind? “Remember when Timmy got his arm stuck in the new toy? Oh, Timmy! Good times.”

Fretting over getting everyone’s present just right, agonizing over eliciting that glow of enjoyment from each wrapped purchase, is a lovely but maddening goal. Thoughtfulness is always admirable. Other-centeredness is praiseworthy. Spending your holiday season stressing and spending yourself into ruin all for a gift is not going to be your healthiest holiday venture. Be thoughtful and generous, but be reasonable… your happiness matters too.

The holiday season is equal parts fun and frenzied, sentimental and stressful, maddening and memorable. Lower your bar to a comfortably livable level and enjoy the people, memories, and life around you. Appreciate the reality you have instead of pruning it to appear otherwise. Your real-life imperfection is perfect just the way it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Mom Confession: I Lost My Sh*t

Remember when I said, here, that I was not at all looking forward to homework? Well, homework happened about 2 minutes before bedtime on a Sunday evening after a long day. And I lost my sh*t… all of it.

6:55pm, my kindergartener realizes she hasn’t sharpened her pencils and crayons for school the next day. Her teacher is all about the kids taking responsibility for this task, and I am adamantly behind that perspective. The problem: my kindergartener hasn’t mastered the firm-yet-gentle pressure required to sharpen a pencil without snapping it, which means I have to help.

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So, instead of herding my trio upstairs for baths and bed, my daughter and I sit twirling writing utensils in a plastic sharpener. Then she realizes something: the class bear — which comes with a blank “all about me” poster and a weekend write-up to be completed with appended printed photos — was due back tomorrow, not the following week as she’d originally told us. Out come the project materials!

It is 6:58pm. My 1.5-year-old is melting down because it’s 2 minutes until his bedtime. My preschooler is repeatedly calling my name. I am at the kitchen table helping my kindergartener draw stick figures. This is not how I planned to spend my Sunday evening!

“Mommy! Mommy! Mooooommy!” My preschooler calls. I’m trying to hurriedly complete the ginormous blank poster that requires a sketch for each question. “What is your favorite song?” I read from the posterboard. How in the hell do you draw a song?  My kindergartener can’t remember her favorite tune. What conveniently timed senility!

My preschooler is STILL calling my name. “WHAT?” I growl. “I cleaned up.” My preschooler falsely claims, pointing at two books he returned to the shelf as he’s surrounded by toy calamity. I roar some unintelligible Mommy-has-lost-every-last-shred-of-patience retort. He shriek-cries. “Sia!” My kindergartener shouts. My husband stands in the middle of the kitchen bearing witness but not wanting to breathe for fear of drawing my wrath.

I take a deep breath and try to help my kindergartener draw her favorite song — we have a low bar… she writes the name “Sia” and draws a couple of  music notes — as my preschooler sobs. Now my 1.5-year-old is full-on crying too because it’s past his bedtime and our house is bedlam. I ask, with the gentility of a constipated bull moose, for my husband to comfort the preschooler as I coach our kindergartener through drawing a family portait. “Maybe you shouldn’t have yelled at him.” He says calmly. I shoot him a death glare. It is as if he wants to save money on the eventual vasectomy by having me castrate him right then and there.

Still, he’s right. I know he’s right. It doesn’t mean that I like it though.

I leave my kindergartener to draw a stick figure version of herself on a sliding board. I go to my preschooler, crouch down to his level, look him in his doe-like blue eyes, and apologize. We hug it out, him still crying in a mixture of exhaustion and release. I tell him to clean up the rest of the playroom, head back to the kindergartener, and shoot my husband one more glare to clearly communicate: “no more words.”

I sit down with a great exhale. “C’mon, let’s get this thing finished,” I tell her. “We’re aiming for ‘completed’, not ‘good.'” Parent of the year, right here!

By 7:20 my kindergartener has finished her portion of the project. Now I get to write a report about our weekend comings-and-goings while my toddler and preschooler serenade me in simultaneous fatigue freak-outs from the playroom. My husband takes the kindergartener and preschooler up for baths.

It’s 7:30… report complete. It’s a half-hour past my littlest’s bedtime. I decide to leave the photo collage until the morning and get my snot and tear smeared toddler to bed.

I apologize to my husband later that evening and thank him for being more patient than I. A hug seals the resolution. “I’m not that patient.” He says. “You’re a good mom,” He reassures me.

I lost my sh*t… all of it. I’m a mom. Moreover, I’m a human. It happens. Apologize, hug, and move along. This is life. It’s imperfect and so are we.

Choosing to Savor

It’s 40 minutes into naptime and here I am pinned beneath my slumbering 1.5-year-old in a dark room. I could be resistant, I could be irritated, or I could choose to savor.

After checking all of the boxes for a solid toddler nap — an active morning playdate, a hearty lunch, a fresh diaper, and a belly full of breastmilk — I figured this would be a simple part of the daily routine. Mommy hubris strikes again!

After my toddler drifted into a milky slumber, I tried transferring him to his crib. No dice. As soon as he left my arms, his eyes sprung open and he wailed that heartbreaking cry of abandonment. Two more attempts. Two more failures. Finally, I caved.

Defeated by my own offspring, I picked up my tot, grabbed his fuzzy blanket, and sat down in his glider. I allowed him to nuzzle and curl into me, so that he may drift back to sleep.

And so, as I sit here rocking my sleeping son, feeling his blanket-bundled weight in my arms and his soft sleepy breath against my cheek, I have three choices: 1) I can continue to fight a losing battle to transfer him into his crib, 2) I can resentfully rock with my little one and lament the break I’m missing, or 3) I can enjoy the moment. This time, I’m choosing option #3.

At 17-months-old, this may be his last time wanting to nap in my arms. He’s more of a climber than a cuddler, so these tender moments are likely to be distant memories once he’s weaned. What seems bothersome now will be deeply craved in not-so-distant time.

And so I sit here in a dark room holding my toddler, savoring the moment. Enjoying my growing boy.

Survival Tips for First-Time-Dads

First-time-dads, I have some survival tips for you. You may be aware that a new baby means changes in your life but, as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

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Help. Your partner just birthed a human. If she’s nursing, she is simultaneously trying to physically, emotionally, and mentally heal all while sustaining another human life with that same fatigued body. You need to step up your game and pitch in. Take on at least two daily chores and don’t expect praise for doing so. Wash breast pump parts or bottle parts, cover bathtime duty, do laundry all the way from washer to folding, do the dishes, cook meals… just do it.

Competence. Do not play the incompetent man card. Just don’t. It demeans everyone. You helped create the child, you help parent the child. You’re scared and self-doubting? Practice makes perfect. If you need a break, make sure your partner gets one too. This is a team effort.

Encouragement. Your partner needs you to be her biggest cheerleader. Your baby needs you to lift up that mama in spirit. Remind her that she’s doing great, that she’s loved and smart and beautiful. She needs to hear that you’re right there with her loving her through all of the painful, embarrassing, and unglamorous postpartum woes. Tell her that she’s strong and competent. She may not accept your compliments but keep at it. She needs to hear it. Be that non-judgmental, safe place for her. Be her partner.

Support. If your baby is experiencing feeding issues this will affect your partner more deeply than you may comprehend. She just grew and nourished that child for the better part of a year, not being able to easily feed that same baby now that he/she is in her arms is dumbfounding. The guilt, anger, shame, and sadness that come with feeding issues (not to mention physical pain) are burdensome. If nursing issues are at play, encourage the expert support of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant  (these medical professionals are trained beyond your standard Lactation Consultant. You can find one local to you here.) If your partner is exclusively pumping, wash the breast pump parts, buy extra sets of pump parts to lessen the need for quick wash-and-dry turnaround, make her a snack when she’s pumping, make sure her water bottle is never empty, encourage her, praise her. If she is formula feeding, you feed as often as she does and take over washing duty. She needs you. The baby needs you.

Jealousy. In all likelihood at some point within the first month postpartum you will become jealous of the baby. I know that sounds ridiculous now — almost as utterly ludicrous as those sentiments will sound to your partner when you experience them — but it’s bound to happen. Right now you are the center of your partner’s affections. You are her best friend, confidant, and Netflix buddy. When baby comes, you will be bumped back a post. That nudge to end of the line may feel harsh and unfair, but it is necessary. The baby is helpless and requires parental attention and affection to survive. This is precisely why nature has employed hefty doses of mind- and body-altering hormones to change your once sultry and affable partner into a leaky, exhausted, overtly maternal she-beast… baby needs her in order to survive. As abandoned as you may feel, you are an adult and will survive. Keep being there for her and she’ll return to you again once the baby haze dissipates.

Exhaustion. When I say “exhaustion” you’re likely thinking “really tired.” Like that night-turned-day back in your youth when you were out until 6am then chugged a Red Bull, hit up McDonald’s breakfast, and powered through your daily grind. But you know what was different back then? 1) Youth… being younger makes you more resilient, 2) choice… you personally chose to stay up all night, 3) infrequency… you stayed up like that on occasion, not 3 weeks in a row, 4) rest… pre-baby, you could take it easy and rest after a long night but not now. The tired you are about to feel will undermine every good quality, every value, every shred of intellect and self-control you possess. When you hit a certain level of stress and sleep deprivation you land at a rock bottom zombie mode of existence. But you, my friend, are not healing from birthing a human you grew in your body, bleeding profusely from your nether regions, leaking from your nipples, or presently existing with breast milk and hormones being your predominant body composition. Think twice before taking that nap ahead of your healing partner. You may be tired but she is positioned at a whole new level of fatigue. (Plus, she’s hormonal… don’t mess with that.)

Hormones. The word likely makes you think of body builders and PMS. Your partner’s body is in a state of flux. The amount of hormones coursing through her system paired with the stress and sleeplessness of new-motherhood has her living life as an alien being. She will get angry quickly and cry suddenly. She will feel anxious and agitated then flip back to calm and loving. It is best to keep a closed mouth and an open heart. Remember, this is not her acting like a maniac over improperly scrubbed breast pump parts, it’s the hormones. Leave your ego at the door and pull on some extra layers of patience. Empathy would do you well now.

PPD/PPA. “Baby blues” are to be expected. Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety are another level of sadness and agitation. They are more common than we often think. Many women go undiagnosed and only realized years later that their suffering could have been helped. Know the signs of PPD and PPA.

Doubt. Every single parent has a moment or week when he or she thinks, “Did we make a huge mistake?” Don’t feel guilty or lesser for that. It is an entirely normal and natural thought. The feeling will pass. You will adjust. Life will even out. Remember, your entire life just changed over night. You, your partner, your perspectives, your goals, your aspirations, and your worldviews will be affected by this shift. It is the most beautiful and wonderful adjustment that will ever touch your life. Know it will get easier… this is good change.

Patience. Parenthood requires a level of patience you never thought you had. Patience through the good stages and bad stages, the disgusting phases and tiring phases. Patience with yourself and your partner  Patience with physical recovery and return to flexibility. Patience with a return to intimacy and mastering the learning curve. You’ll get there. It’ll get easier. You can truly enjoy it, if you actively choose to do so. Just be patient.

Bond. Skin-to-skin isn’t just for mom and baby. It has remarkable calming and bonding effects on fathers and offspring too. After baby is fed and changed, shoo mom off to take a nice, warm shower while you and baby rest shirtless, tummy-to-tummy on the sofa. You’ll soon find out why moms love sleeping baby cuddles… the hormones’ blood pressure lowering, calming effect is euphoric. Enjoy!

Savor. Some stages seem to last eons. Some phases seem like they’ll never end, but they do. They all do. Take the good with the not-so-good, and cherish it. This is a fleeting time. Take pictures, take time, take a break from the grind and experience this new life of yours. Children are only small but for a moment. Don’t let their babyhood flit by without notice.

Laugh. If you want to retain some semblance of sanity and composure, learn to laugh at yourself. There’s no need to take it all so seriously. Your kid will neither be the first nor last (that day) to meltdown in Target. Your inside-out shirt with a spit-up streak down the back, which you wore half of the day without noticing, deserves nothing short of a belly laugh. You can choose how you respond to life’s blips — yell, scream, stomp, cry, blame, or laugh — laughing is the funnest. Don’t be that guy who flips out because there’s a shin-level snot streak on his jeans. Just laugh.

Love. You are going to experience a level of love you never knew possible. A deep, unconditional, fear-inducing, beautiful adoration that will carve its way through you and your life and reshape everything perfectly. The adjustment may be scary and challenging at first but it will be more worthwhile than anything else in your life.

Parenthood is brutal and exhausting, enlightening and unpredictable, stressful and blissful. It is a partnership between parent and child as well as between significant others. It requires internal and external support, great personal fortitude, vast patience, and an open mind.

You are about to see the world in a whole new light. Fresh breath will be infused into the everyday. The mundane will become miraculous and the unusual simply extraordinary. Survive it and savor it for it goes all too quickly.

You can do this. Congratulations!

The World through a Toddler’s Eyes

To see life through the eyes of a 1.5-year-old must be a wondrous thing. A simple stroll is akin to an amusement park when all the world is new

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Yesterday afternoon my youngest and I went for a neighborhood walk. Down the sidewalk we strolled, his chubby toddler hand in mine. “Wow!” He exclaimed, pointing at a service van parked in a neighbor’s driveway. We stopped and admired the van, then returned to our ambling.

“Up!” He pointed with a pudgy finger. A hawk flew above us in the autumn sun. Then, my toddler took a few steps and found a stick. He drew in a deep, dramatic breath and held his prized find.

Every few feet he’d plop down on the pavement without warning and poke at the grass with his stick. I’d pause for a bit then gently return him to his feet, and on we walked.

A delivery truck pulled into the neighborhood. “Choo-choo!” He gasped, since trains and trucks are interchangeable in his 1.5-year-old mind.  Then we turned the corner: the mail truck! He froze, jaw open, staring in awe. The mail truck drove on and so we resumed our journey.

A buzzing whir pulsed through the air. A neighbor was using an air compressor in his garage. How fascinating! We paused briefly so he could catch a glimpse.

On we strolled. A broad rottweiler with a vigilant owner ambled towards us. The dog’s owner commanded his well-fed pet to sit as we walked by. “Dog!” my companion called. “Dog! Dog!” He wrenched his head around and plopped himself square in the center of the sidewalk, wanting to do nothing else but play with the sizeable canine who was at least a head taller than him. The dog had plodded his way down the sidewalk, entirely disinterested in my toddler. He was on his own expedition; we needed to return to our own.

I scooped up my partner and pointed at the colorful leaves. “Yellow,” I said, “yellow leaves.” A gust of wind rattled the branch, sending shivers through the dry golden leaves. He was delighted.

I set him down on the sidewalk, held his hand, and on we went. He stopped. “Uhh! Uhh!” He grunted and pointed. Yellow spinning pinwheels in the neighbor’s garden. He pulled away from me and marched head first up the driveway. I collected him and tried to walk him back to the sidewalk. Not happening. He shook away from my hand and charged through the grass. “Nope! Not your yard.” I said. He fussed and twisted in my arms. Mean mommy. Time to head home.

The woosh of an airplane refocused his attention. “Up! Up there!” He pointed at the plane. He looked on happily from his perch in my arms. I carried him for a bit, he cuddled in close, and I doused him with kisses. Knowing, in time, such affection would be entirely dismissed.

I saw some fallen leaves beside the sidewalk and set him down. He stomped and crunched, savoring the texture and sound. On we went. Another airplane flew over head, then another. He was equally enthralled by both.

By the time we arrived home, I had soaked in every bit of my growing boy that I could. And he had glimpsed a neighborhood full of fascinating finds. To see the world through his eyes must be marvellous. I am fortunate to see him see it all.