Surviving the “F’ing 4s”

“I love my middle son but he’s driving me NUTS!” I recently vented to a dear mom friend. “F’ing 4s,” my friend said, “that’s what we call them.” So aptly named!

Between dropping his nap — I know, we had a great run so I can’t complain –, finally ditching sleep time pacifiers, and turning 4-years old all in the same day, the last couple months have been rough with my middle son. I love him, he’s a sweet kid, but O…M…G! There are some moments in the day when I understand why animals eat their young. (I kid… sort of.)

Not listening, pushing boundaries, acting out, (poorly) lying, acting hyper then crashing into tiredness… each afternoon is a whirlwind of frustration. Fortunately, I survived my daughter’s 4s, so I can handle this.

“Their body is ready to stop napping but their brain isn’t there yet,” a friend once advised me when I asked how to safely pull my daughter and myself through the nasty nap-dropping phase and my friend responded, “Once their brain catches up, things get easier.” I asked how long that’d take, expecting the standard two-week phase timeline.”One month,” my friend replied as I choked on my own mortality, “but more like six months until you’re really out of the woods.” I think I blacked out for a bit there. Six freaking months??? Of demonic tantrums and mood swings, swirling energy plummeting into raging exhaustion. The stuff they don’t — but really should — detail in sex-ed. Forget VD and UTIs, talk real deal potty-training and the “F’ing 4s”, that’ll tame the teen libido.

My middle son doesn’t have the stamina or ferocity to maintain a meltdown anywhere close to my first child’s, but he is still checking that “F’ing 4s” box with a heavy-handed tick mark in his own slightly less mind-melting way.

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How can you tell how bad the day has been? Simply look up on top of the armoire in our entryway. If there’s a rainbow wig up there: it’s been dicey. If there’s a rainbow wig and a dress-up crown: there was major suckage. If there’s a rainbow wig, a dress-up crown, and a mermaid doll up there: buy me wine and run.

And so we survive this unglamorous, wholly exhausting phase trying to savor the scattered good bits amidst the mayhem. We’ll come out stronger for the struggle, but right now we’re just trudging through.

We’re imperfectly parenting our imperfect children because we’re human, and that’s what we do. Surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

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Memorial Day Appreciation

Today, Memorial Day, we honor the fallen, their memory, their death. We pay our respects. We bow to those who gave their lives so that we can, now, enjoy freedom and relative safety. We can celebrate life because others gave theirs.

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The children scampering in red, white, and blue; the grills blazing amidst laughter and filling bellies; the families and friends joining together in joyous camaraderie; the stores teaming with customers seeking one-day deals; the parades featuring music and celebration. It is all possible, in great part, because of others’ sacrifice. Their blood, their survivors’ tears afforded us our present freedom.

You are not forgotten. You did not die in vain.

 

Saying “F Off” to the Mommy Groups

Social media mom groups. Useful, right? Of course. Until they’re not.

Open groups, closed groups, secret groups… there is an assortment of mom groups available on Facebook. Everyone from crunchy homesteaders to tattooed moms have their dedicated social cluster on Facebook. These groups are support systems and connection points for moms who are often isolated by motherhood. They enable mothers to come together across state and country lines. They provide a place where moms can ask about baby-lead weaning, funky rashes, weird poop colors, postpartum healing, breastmilk storage, formula recommendations, in-law dilemmas, annoying phases, nursing-friendly swimsuits, and pregnancy test results. Perfect, right? Such a sanctuary. Or maybe not.

I originally joined these groups as a source of fellowship and information, as well as to help other moms, especially first-time-moms. As my littlest grew beyond babyhood, I found myself simply there to answer questions. I felt compelled to help these worried moms.

Friends kindly suggested groups so that I could help spread milk-sharing awareness and aid others with pumping and/or breastfeeding queries. I loved it. I got involved and felt rewarded when I helped a formerly unknown mom navigate a troublesome parenting patch. Then things turned.

There were already heated topics that you knew to either avoid entirely or sit back and watch the explosion. Circumcision, infant ear piercing, vaccinations, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, nursing in public, sleep training, introduction of solid foods, etc. They were time bombs.

Then there was the hoot-and-holler component. “I can’t believe my MIL…”, “I couldn’t believe this parent at the playground…”, “Ugh, my daycare provider…”, “How could anyone…”, “I can’t stand moms who…” If you ever saw a post begin with, “Am I right to be upset about this?” You knew the comments would be rife with hyperbolic reaction. “That’d set me off!” “How dare she!” “I’d throw down if that happened to me!” “You should’ve made a scene!” Based on the comments, you’d think every playdate was like an episode of the Maury Povich Show.

Who were these people? These were  my fellow moms???

The venting. The misinformation. The more often than not overly emotional reactions to trivial matters that became commonplace. All of this garbage was clogging my Facebook feed with melodrama instead of my friends’ vacation photos and kid stories.

Eventually, almost every time I opened social media — my window to the outside world during the emotionally isolated stay-at-home-mom days and my source of entertainment while nursing or pumping — I would get a rush of frustration. The same dilemmas, the same complaints, the same drama. Every time. I began to feel isolated and taxed by the very outlet that was supposed to free me from those sensations.

Social media is supposed to be fun… frivolous. I should enjoy logging on and scrolling past posts and photos, memes and videos. Instead, I got agitated. I’d log off more unhappy than I’d felt prior to logging on.

So, I decided to say “F off” to all of the mom groups. I left every mom group in my feed. I immediately felt better, lighter, relieved.

I could’ve simply “unfollowed” them, but why? I didn’t want to be associated with the negativity anymore. I wanted a positive, fun space to dip my mind into occasionally throughout the day. I wanted connection, not agitation.

I took the transition a step further and created the group “Positive Charge.” A tranquil, uplifting group where we share positivity, happiness, and inspiration. From beautiful photos to funny memes, happy experiences to inspirational quotes, we provide positive energy for one another. Or, at least that’s the goal.

It may grow, it may not. It may succeed, it may not. Who knows? All that matters to me is that I took a step to solve the problem, to plug and replenish the social media energy drain.

I’m happy.

 

Scared for My Supergirl Boy

I’m scared. I meditate and it hums in my mind. I sleep and it arises in my dreams. I do yoga and feel the tension festering in my hamstrings, the anxiety sizzling in my chest. I am terrified for my son.

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Supergirl and Batgirl

Recently, I read about a local transgender high school girl being stalked and attacked because her trans identity had been discovered. My brain has rattled and my heart has shuttered since then.

Two days later, still shaken from the story, I read a response in a mommy group claiming that “gender bending” was categorically wrong, that everything from toys to hygiene products should be entirely gender-specific. The mom said anything less than complete adherence to strict gender norms was wrong and that she taught her children to never accept anything different, because skewing gender stereotypes was immoral. I read that and imagined how her children would respond to my gender-bending middle child. I feared for my son’s safety and well-being.

Then, on Mother’s Day, we had yet another playground incident. My middle son was dressed in a red cape and a blue shirt with the iconic read “S” on the front. “I’m Supergirl!” He proclaimed. (Superman and Supergirl wear the same emblem, so this and my son’s outward appearance leads to some understandable confusion.) Most incidents fizzle quickly and everyone goes about scaling playground equipment. No harm, no foul.

This run-in was different though. Two pre-K boys arrived to the relatively uninhabited playground. “Why don’t you play with these new friends here?” I prompted my 4-year-old son. “I’m Supergirl!” He said, striking his proudest superhero pose. The smaller of the two boys pointed to the red “S” on my son’s shirt, “You’re SuperMAN.” “No, I’m SuperGIRL.” My son retorted. “Go play!” I tell my son, trying to end the dispute.

No one moved. The taller boy chimed in, “No. You’re a boy. You’re Superman.” My daughter stepped between the boys and her brother, hands on her hips, and a couple of inches taller than her male counterparts, she looked in their eyes and matter-of-factly said, “He says he’s Supergirl. He’s Supergirl.” “Go play!” I tell them, shoo’ing them with my hands.

“No he’s not! He’s a boy. He’s Superman. He’s not a girl.” The boy argued. My son leaned in, defiant: “I. Am. SuperGIRL.” “Are you here to play?” The boys’ caretaker asked her charges, “If you’re here to play, go play. Otherwise, we’re leaving.” No one moves.

Desperate to end the exchange, I turn to my son, “Do you think you can climb up that twisty slide?” He looked at the slide and bolted towards it. “I can!” Exclaimed the two boys. Not the outcome I was intending, but at least they weren’t debating gender-appropriate superhero play.

A few minutes later, I was helping my daughter on the monkey bars as my son waited his turn. One of the boys sidled up to him and said, “You’re Superman.” Then ran off. Later, my son climbed the curved ladder and, as if they were crows attacking a flying hawk over scraps, the boys pecked at him: “You’re a boy.” “You’re SuperMAN.” My son would simply reply, “I’m Supergirl.” And continue on.

Not one scream. No red face. Not a single tear. My son handled the interaction better than I could. I stayed back letting him fend for himself under my watch in the controlled environment. I looked on as he held his own. He did not kowtow, never once physically fought back, and never cried for my involvement. He simply clarified his purpose and kept on.

I am proud of my son. He is who he is without question, without shame, without fear. I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid of a world that refuses to let him be himself, refuses to accept him for him, refuses to keep him safe. All I can do is love him, support him, and hope against hope that he will remain unscathed… whoever it is he becomes.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! That’s a loaded sentiment, no? The statment implies a hope of celebration for females who parent one or more living children. I’d like to nix that notion.

Instead, I’d like to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms, step-moms, moms-to-be, adoptive moms, foster moms, surrogate moms, biological moms, hopeful moms, loss moms, aunts, godmothers, grandmothers, step-grandmothers, cousins, great-aunts, childcare providers and teachers (“weekday moms”), milk moms, female mentors, and any woman who has cherished a child. You needn’t have physically birthed a child to be celebrated today. You simply need to have made a positive impact on a child’s life.

I know this day can be challenging for those who have lost — a mother, a child, a dream — or are trying to conceive (if you’re a returning reader, you know I’ve walked that path), but I hope you find a way to smile, to focus on all you have, the beauty of life, the fond memories, and positive possibilities. All who are hurting today, I wish you more smiles than tears, more warm recollections than pained mantras. I hope you can find the stamina to will yourself to feel comfort, if not happiness, today.

I wish for you to choose joy. I wish for you pleasant moments of a quiet mind and a full heart. I wish you a beautiful day. You deserve it.

“Before and After” Bull: Set Off by Weightloss Schemes

“Drink this to lose weight!” “Eat this to get lean!” “Take this to be bikini ready!” Those taglines are irksome enough for someone who believes in body acceptance, especially postpartum. Then the kicker: “before and after” photos featuring a very recently postpartum mom (or worse yet, pregnant woman) in contrast with a months later svelte version of that same participant. Good for her for finding self-confidence but, I’m sorry, holy unethical advertising!

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I wasn’t a “before”… I was PREGNANT!

I’m all for moms finding career success. I love when moms help one another. I adore that getting fit and strong is a war-cry for some: “I am more than just a uterus!” I appreciate that some of those same fitness-loving moms want to help others find that same empowerment. Yes, do that! Let’s be cautious not to cannibalize one another for the sake of a buck, though.

OF COURSE the weightloss results are going to be most drastic at the markedly transitional postpartum point. That “before” model just created, grew, and expelled a human from her body. She may even be trying to nourish that same human by way of her body. So why imply her — or any other woman’s — primary agenda should be muscle gain and fat loss? Can’t she just be without being a “before”?

How can you truthfully even slightly imply in good conscience that the results experienced by a woman who is days pre- or post-delivery will be accessible to others? She will lose at least 10lb of fluid and blood right off the bat postpartum. That’s a ludicrous comparison to those not at the same life stage. And if a product does do that, steer clear!

Get fit if you’d like, or don’t if it’s not the right time for you. But certainly don’t categorize a pregnant or immediately postpartum woman as a “before”. Doing so reinforces the ridiculous pressure on moms to bounce back immediately postpartum. It feigns that pregnancy and childbirth are easy and glamorous. It indicates we moms are not enough — that we are “befores” to be improved upon — if we are not lean and trim. Don’t get sucked in.

Get healthy. Eat a cupcake. Drink the shake. Do that cleanse. Or don’t. Workout. Take naps. Do yoga. Do CrossFit. Do brunch. Do what works for you.

Don’t let scheming advertisers make you think less of yourself because you didn’t or don’t want to down their secret potion, wrap yourself in their human shrink wrap, or take their mystical pill to make you a leaner version of the already amazing you. Remember: they don’t care about YOU… they care about profits.

You’re worth more than that. You’re gorgeous. Do you.

A World without Joy: Reflecting on Murder

11 years ago today my cousin, Joy, was murdered by her on-again-off-again fiancée (story detailed here.) Today, 11 years older and 1 husband and 3 kids richer, I am the same age she was when she was killed.

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Joy Buttrey, killed May 7, 2006

Fresh out of college, just beginning my career, not yet engaged to my now-husband, I was a very different person then. I was naive, shy, selfish, guarded, self-conscious, anxious, hopeful, lost. I looked at my three close-in-age older cousins as being notably more adult than I was. They were always bigger, more mature, more worldly than I. 34 seemed so far away.

Because of the decade+ age gap — and my own immaturity — between us, it was hard for me to comprehend just how much life my 34-year-old cousin had before her, just how much she would miss, just how young she really was. When I initially mourned her death, I felt the pain of her loss. I knew the act that took her was nonsensical, brutal, and callous. I knew she had been robbed from us — from the hoards of friends, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and family who loved her — but my 23-year-old self didn’t yet compute all that had been robbed from her.

Joy Buttrey

At 34, I have three young children — aged 5, 4, and nearly 2 — who need me deeply every day. I have a loving husband and dear friends. I have close family and cherished dreams. I have hopes for the future decades ahead. I have much left to live.

Knowing how much my cousin loved life, treasured friends, adored family, and aspired to accomplish, I know that she had an array of hopes for her future. She had expended great effort and love to help her fiancée’s young daughter settle into a stable life with the possibility of a positive future. To see her flourish and rise was Joy’s ultimate goal; she wished great things for the young girl. She wished great things for herself, as well. Decades of dreams were shattered by a single bullet.

Today, I feel a coldness within me, the shadowy chill of overdue realization. I am able to empathize with my murdered cousin better than I ever could before. My eyes have finally opened to her loss, not my own.

If I were to have all of my future dashed today, all of my loved ones ripped from my grasp, all of my hopes obliterated, the personal loss would be tragic. I would miss so much!

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Today I mourn not my loss or the world’s, but Joy’s. I mourn her dreamed daughter, Maeve, who will never be. I mourn the experiences, the achievements, the trips, the love, the laughs, the tears, the sunny days and stormy nights, the future friends, and all that could’ve been but will never be.

The world is not the same without her. Her loss is still acutely felt 11 years later. The nature of her death haunts the recesses of my mind. But her laugh still rings true in my heart. Tales of her foibles still echo amidst guffaws at family gatherings, her name is spoken often with a broad smile and glittering eyes, her memory is still strong… alive. Her earthly presence may be 11 years gone but her spirit lives on, in this world without Joy.