Infertility Made Me a Better Mom

Infertility broke me. It pummeled me, my relationships, my perspective, my worldview, my sense of purpose and self-worth. But I am a better mother because of it.

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For a horrendous year we struggled to conceive our first child (full story here). Invasive and torturous tests, ineffective and horrible medications, and multiple doctors yet no one caught it. No one realized that I had endometriosis. That’s right, two fertility specialists and one seasoned OB/Gyn, yet not one even whispered the possibility of endometriosis. It wasn’t until 2018 — nearly a decade after my fertility battle — that I was finally diagnosed. But, let me tell you, the sad truth: my story is all but uncommon.

Women’s health is a brutal stomping ground of dismissed pain and excused symptoms, with “hormones” being the new “hysteria.” And so it is made possible for most endometriosis sufferers to go decades un- or misdiagnosed then prescribed horrendously invasive and entirely ineffective medical treatments. (Yes, treatments, as there is no cure. Nope, not even menopause.) But, that rant is for another time. Back to my tale.

By saying that I am a better mom because I experienced infertility am I implying that moms who never personally experience infertility aren’t good moms? Hell no! It just means that I am a better version of my former self because of what I endured and, thus, I am a better mom than I would’ve been without the life experience.

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Infertility — its unspeakable, wide-reaching pains and demands of secrecy — broke me. It shattered who I was. In order to go on, I was forced to glue myself back together. And I did. I pieced myself whole — shard by battered shard — in a better, stronger, more empathetic, more unwaveringly resilient form than I ever fathomed. It was because I had been broken that I could be so tolerant of pain, so appreciative of the children I was eventually granted (even on their worst days), so positively resilient, so set on cherishing every moment and gathering every possible memory with my children. Infertility was the shittiest of blessings that I would never wish on anyone, but for which I am now grateful.

The humiliating tests that were emotionally if not physically painful, the burden of hiding my fertility struggles and surging hormones from others (especially at work… because if a pregnant woman is viewed as a liability, a woman trying to conceive is just an empty cubicle waiting to happen), the effort to genuinely celebrate others’ pregnancies and births, the strength required to face others’ fertility-related commentary and questions in a non-murderous fashion, the strain on relationships, the distain for my own body betraying me, the sense of utter failure at what should be a natural and easy endeavor, the challenge of not allowing the descent into becoming that bitter infertile woman, the disconnect of being complimented or viewed sexually when my sexual organs were broken, the impossible battle of holding my shit together when my shit was so  shredded by hormones and emotions and physical pain and mental anguish and self-pittying and somehow — freakin’ somehow — lingering hope that it would all end well. It was brutal.

Infertility made me stronger, more appreciative. In its wake, I became a human clown-faced punching bag. In comparison to what I’d experienced during my bout with infertility, I could bounce back smiling after any blow. Life could not topple me. Trauma, physical pain, emotional damage, financial hardships, lost loved ones… I would rise. I would find happiness.

Infertility helped me discover what — and who — my priorities were and in what order they stood. Infertility lessened my limiting modesty (a must as a mom, especially a breastfeeding mom), increased my ability to self-advocate, and amplified my pain tolerance immeasurably. It made me acutely aware where I did and did not want to go in my life. It made my values clear and illuminated the rubbish. Even more, just as having a challenging child or difficult baby grants you greater humility, awareness, and accurate empathy, so does a bout with infertility.

Sure, prior to having faced infertility I was aware that such struggles were a hurdle, but I had no grasp on the life-altering, all-encompassing, ego-shattering, dream-endangering affects. As with parenthood, you just don’t know what you don’t know and you cannot possibly truly understand unless you, yourself, have lived it. And once you do live it, you look back at your former self and think, “I knew nothing.”

I certainly do not know it all. I have much left to learn and live, but I will do so as a better person because of where I’ve been. I will continue to survive and savor, laugh freely and find beauty in the mundane, hoard memories and cherish moments. I will continue to be better because I was broken. I will thrive.

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No, Tomboys Are NOT Like My Gender-bending Son

My middle child loves rainbows and unicorns, princesses and fairies, purple and pink. And, no, he is NOT just like your tomboy.

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I recently went to a coffee shop and saw a birthday tea party underway. Grade school girls in pastel hued tulle giggled and sipped. Then I spotted her: the tomboy. She sported a button-up dress shirt with a suit vest and matching slacks, her hair pulled back into a ponytail beneath a fedora. She looked fierce! I wanted to find her parents and hug them. Then it happened. I realized my son would never be granted such leniency in social norms. A second grade girl in a suit is far different than her male classmate in a dress. And the jealousy overcame me in a full-on internal tantrum of, “It’s not fair!” “And why can she but not he?”

It wasn’t my prettiest moment. But, at least I kept it all inside.

I love that there’s a surge in pro-woman, strong-is-sexy, intelligence-glam, STEM-focused female empowerment. It’s long overdue! Women deserved flexibility to be, pursue, live, and dress as they are so inclined. But men deserve that as well.

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Girls t-shirts with “Smart and Powerful” as opposed to “Pretty Cute” slogans, Ninja Turtle tutu outfits and superhero gear in the girls section, dresses covered in dinosaurs and robots, primary colors instead of pink hues, boxy cut shirts and longer shorts (an aim for mobility over femininity)… fantastic! I love it. Blurring lines between the socially constructed gender lines should have been done decades ago.

However, the boys have not been granted the same flexibility. No Disney princess T’s or pink sparkle tennies. No “mermaids are for everyone” slogans or ballet themed pajamas. Girls are allowed — if not encouraged — to venture into the land of socially deemed “masculine interests” (hello, the entire plot of “Mulan”), but boys are not escorted into “female” territory.

A girl can play sports, refuse skirts, rock a pixie cut and be labeled as a “rebel”, a “badass”, a “tomboy.” A boy does ballet, wears a dress, and grows his hair long and he’s called into the counselor’s office. He’s labeled as “confused”, “wussy”, “different”, and many words I refuse to grant space on my blog. Yes, the girl may suffer bullying and social pressures to conform but, in all likelihood, it won’t touch what a gender-bending boy will experience. Not by a long shot.

The line of acceptability is moved much farther back for girls than it is for boys. The repercussions are swifter, bigger, more socially accepted, and far more dangerous for boys. And it’s not fair.

As a wise friend once said, and I paraphrase (because I cannot remember the names of people I see every day at carpool, no less a paragraph once spoken): It’s rooted in a sexist society, this notion that being female or feminine is lesser. It is through this lens that girls aiming to be more masculine is acceptable, whereas the inverse is unacceptable.

What a thought, right?! Do we devalue women and femininity so much so that we consider the desire to aspire to “femininity” immoral, wrong, treacherous? We consider the souls so inclined to be broken, wrong, or misguided because “Why would you ever want to be remotely feminine?” I hope not.

Women are strong. We have to be! We put up with endless limits, demands, expectations, and dangers that men never even consider. Why would a boy wanting to emulate what society deems feminine be anything but a compliment… a tribute to the ferocity of the feminine?

Often former tomboys or parents of tomboys attempt to parallel their lives with ours in order to empathize with our experience with my gender-bending son. Though I genuinely appreciate the emotional efforts, our experiences are not the same. I truly, genuinely wish they were. I ache for it to be so in my scared, proud, joyful, protective, worried mama heart, I do. But it’s not. Maybe one day it will be the same for all children.

Until then, I will continue loving, supporting, disciplining, preparing, enjoying, and fighting for my child. I will continue to survive and savor parenthood one day at a time.

Mommy, Why Can’t We Be Who We Want To Be?

“You can be anything you want to be!” We tell our children. We’re liars. And I just got called out on that lie… by my 5-year-old.

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Driving back from figure skating lessons, minivan smelling of stale snack crumbs and indescribable child funk, my 5-year old middle child sat in his car seat stroking the fluffy aqua mane on his rainbow unicorn bike helmet cradled in his spindly lap. He wished for this helmet, a replacement for his old toddler-size fireman-printed helmet, and happily sported it immediately after opening it on his birthday morning just the week before. Rainbows, unicorns, mermaids, princesses, fairies… those are his jam. Firemen, though cool, carry no spark for him.

“Do you want to keep doing figure skating?” I ask him, knowing the new class session sign-up starts soon. “Uh-huh.” He replied with that distant hint of unsaid words. “What’s up? Do you still like it?” I asked him. “No, I do,” he answered, “but I want to do ballet too.” “OK,” I respond, wondering how I’d fit yet another extracurricular into our packed schedule and tight budget, “that could actually help your ice skating, just like your sister’s yoga practice helps her Tae Kwon Do.” He smiled.

“I want to be in the ‘Nutcracker’!” He exclaimed. I tell him that one of the benefits of being a boy ballet dancer is that there are fewer boys than girls who do ballet, so there’s less competition for male parts. “When you try out,” I said, “you’re way more likely to get the part of the Nutcracker than a girl dancer would be to get the part of Clara.” He sighed like a deflating hot air balloon. I glanced in the rearview mirror. He. Was. Gutted.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. He looked up teary-eyed, “I don’t WANT to be the Nutcracker.” That’s when I realized the problem. He didn’t just want to do ballet, he wanted to wear the tutus and the pointe shoes and the pink. He wanted to be Clara, the Sugarplum Fairy, anyone but a dull, masculine Nutcracker. Crap.

“Well, when you try out for parts you dance in front of judges and they tell you what part you’ll play, if any. You don’t really have a say,” I told him, his wide blue eyes looking at my reflection in the rearview mirror. “They usually have the boys play boy parts and girls play girl parts,” I explained. He sighed.

Then, in exasperated disappointment, he unknowingly shot a verbal bullet: “But, Mommy, why can’t we be who we want to be?” Gut punch. Knife stab-and-turn right there. Ugh! I’m done. Can I tap out? Please? Can someone else handle this conversation, ’cause the only thing getting me through it is that we’re doing this in the car and not face-to-face.

Mama tears welled hot in my eyes and stung as I sniffed and shook them into submission. “I’m sorry,” I said, “it’s not fair. It’s just kind of how the world is right now. Maybe it’ll get better in time.” And that’s all I could promise him. A “maybe”, “in time.” How f’ing lame is that?!

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Can a mother’s love fix a broken heart? Can a father’s support mend a wounded spirit? Can a big sister’s protection shield from bullies? Can a little brother’s admiration eradicate the closet? Can family acceptance ward against self-loathing, self-harm… or worse? Can a few supportive friends enable you to except you as you?

I don’t know. But it’s all we’ve got in this world that won’t let us be who we want to be. Yet.

I See You, Mama

I see you, mama. The young woman struggling with unexplained infertility. The woman who’s suffered years of unwanted childlessness. The woman who for years prevented pregnancy but, now, cannot conceive. The woman who always dreamed of being a mother but whose dreams may never be. The woman whose friends and relatives are popping out babies, both planned and not. The woman who must hide her struggle from the world, undergo invasive and humiliating tests. The woman who is told, “Just stop caring about it and you’ll get pregnant.” The woman others ask, “When will you have a baby?” Or say, “You could just adopt.” The woman who feels broken and betrayed by her own body. The woman who must smile through it all and pretend everything is ok… even though it’s not. I see you.

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I see you, mama. The expectant first-time mom both giddy and terrified, overwhelmed with tsunamis of unsolicited advice and the crushing weight of all you don’t and can’t yet know. The pregnant woman whose body and life and needs and hormones are changing moment by moment and nothing feels like her own. The rounding mama would is exhausted and puffy, sick and unable to even look at toast, contracting and sleepless, leaking and flatulant. The woman who is told she cannot complain or grimace despite her daily discomforts, because she is fortunate to be pregnant. The woman who others openly judge for everything from drinking coffee to wearing high heels, dying her hair to sporting a bikini. The mother-to-be who looks ahead at the impending birth with determined eyes and a game plan, tearful worry and pure hope, rattling prayer beads and terror. I see you.

I see you, mama. The new mom who is more exhausted than she ever knew possible, leaking from places she didn’t know she could, losing herself to the 24-hour beautiful struggle of new motherhood. The woman who looks in the mirror — thinning hair tied up in a nest, dark wrinkling bags beneath vacant bloodshot eyes, breastmilk stains over each swollen breast, belly puffed in a postpartum paunch, baby spit-up speckling her shirt — and wonders where she went. The mother who cries as her baby wails, not knowing how to console her child, doubting her own abilities, wondering if she made a huge mistake. The woman who looks at her partner and feels distain, for hormones and exhaustion, and stress, and self-crticism, and loss of self have clouded her love. The mother who coos over her beautiful child, takes all the photos, fills the baby book, hoards memories and mental images in her mind’s eye. The woman who struggles to nurse, cannot nurse, will not nurse, who drowns in the pain of overproduction. The mother who is addicted to the hormone high of her baby asleep on her chest. The mother who wishes she could love but cannot. The mother who is counting the days until she can return to work. The woman who sobs with each passing week, clawing to slow down time. I see you.

I see you, mama. The woman who knows her child is facing a struggle perhaps unseen. Who feels in her bones that something is not right. The mother who spends more time in hospitals than her home, more time pumping than holding her child, more time worrying than living, more time battling with insurance than talking with her partner. The woman who sees others’ children happy and healthy, growing and developing, connecting and learning. The mother who looks ahead and cries. The mother who worries. The mother who savors the small accomplishments with the delight of world-changing victories. The mother who feels alone in her struggle and wonders, “Why me?” The woman who finds a strength and ferocity within herself that she never knew possible. The mother who discovers a love stronger and more overwhelming than she ever knew possible. The mother who must plan and apologize, fight and cheer, hide tears and fake smiles, overcome and crumble under more than anyone she knows. The woman who never saw this coming. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mother of multiple children struggling with it all. Balancing and savoring, struggling and laughing. The woman who must do and be it all, all day everyday for everyone. The woman who is expected to give everything but give herself a break. The woman who is expected to know what she’s doing but still feels like she knows nothing. The mother who looks back at old pre-children photos and cannot recognize the person in the picture. The woman who wouldn’t trade her life for anything in the world, but would give anything for a vacation… and a solo trip to the bathroom. The mother who can (and does) discuss poop over lunch, who can dislodge a nasal-dwelling Cheerio in a single nostril squeeze, who plans everyone else’s birthday but forgets her own, who counts down the minutes to an evening out then misses her children as soon as she sees empty car seats in her rearview mirror. The woman who struggles to feel sexy, who identifies more as “mom” than her own name, who wonders if she’s doing any of this right. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who lost a child in-utero, infancy, childhood, adulthood. The woman who doesn’t know how to answer, “How many children do you have?” The mother who aches with a hollowness in her heart, who struggles to find happiness, who strives to be whole… herself again. The mother who wonders what might have been. The woman who wonders, “Why me?” The mother who counts her blessings and her losses, who pushes forward while glancing back, whose heart will forever be partially broken no matter how full life makes it. I see you.

I see you mama. The mother who is unwell. Suffering emotional or physical pain, trying to be the mother she so deeply wants to be. The woman with unending guilt for her inabilities, her shortcomings. The mother who pushes herself too hard and puts herself last. The woman who pretends it’s all ok. The mother who feels alone in her struggles, who feels frustrated by her children, who is burdened with guilt for not being the mother she thinks her children deserve. The woman who wants the world for her children but can barely pour them a bowl of cereal. The mother who struggles, who tries, who sometimes loses. The mother who loves but feels love is not enough. The mother who cannot see or feel her own worth. I see you.

I see you, mama. The shy mother who craves a village. The woman who feels isolated. Who wonders how others learned to make friends but she has no idea how. The mother who sees mom cliques on the playground and wishes she could join one. The woman whose belly jitters with anxiety and mind rattles with insecurity when approached by a fellow mom. The mother who has to gather her wits to arrange a playdate for her child, who wishes birthday parties were not a thing. The mother who wants just one good friend with whom she could truly be herself. Who hopes her child does not struggle as she has. The mother standing alone. I see you.

I see you, mama. The fit mom, the styled mom, the mom who everyone thinks is perfect. The one with the handsome husband, lovely home, beautiful children, and hoards of friends and followers. The mother whose family is always pristinely dressed. The one who pushes herself to do it all… lead the P.T.A., be classroom mom, make all of the Pinterest crafts, be Instagram perfection, look the part always, be her best. The woman who cringes at the thought of posting a non-smiling photo or sharing anything but the glory reel of life. The overachieving woman who never feels adequate. Who constantly feels exhausted but cannot let on, who hides life’s realities for fear of judgment (her own and others’), who creates a facade to tell herself she’s happy. The “perfect” woman who tries and gives and does but does not feel it is ever enough. I see you.

I see you, mama. The mom who pushes through every day giving and doing, comforting and disciplining, planning and playing. The woman who smiles wide, laughs hard, loves deep, and hugs warm. The mother who tucks her children into bed at night and lies awake exhausted, mentally replaying her day, battering herself with mom guilt. “Why did I yell so much?” “Why didn’t I do that with the kids?” “They had too much screen time.” “Am I consistent enough?” “Are they eating enough vegetables?” “Why didn’t I do better?” “Am I doing anything right?”  The mother who loves so much it hurts. The woman who gives until she breaks. The mother who will do it all again tomorrow. I see you.

I see you, mama. The career-driven mom, the reluctant working-mom, the stay-at-home mom, the mom who wants to work, the single mom, I see you. The breastfeeding mom, the formula-feeding mom, the donor milk recipient mom, the struggling mom, I see you. The lonely mom, the grateful mom, the aspiring mom, the passionate mom, the fun mom, the peaceful mom, the mom who’s trying, I see you. The tired mom, the energetic mom, the young mom, the “old” mom, the experienced mom, the first-time mom, the mom who knows all, the mom who wishes she knew, I see you.

I see you, mama. You’re not alone. My love to you.

Happy Second Birthday, Blog!

Two years I’ve been blogging, now. So much has changed in that time. My life, my children, my eating, my friends, my path. Let’s delve into some of the transition and transformation, shall we?

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When I first started the blog, I had two preschoolers and a baby at home. Now, I have two preschoolers and a first grader. For the first time in seven years I am neither pregnant nor raising a baby!

Two years ago, I was a dairy-allergic omnivore who proudly pumped three times daily in order to donate breastmilk. Now — still dairy allergic — I eat a plant-based, gluten-free diet, and my former true omnivore husband has since become a pescatarian like our daughter. I am no longer pumping or a 24-hour boob buffet, but I am nursing my littlest 2-3 times daily, mainly for comfort in the morning, rest time, and before bed.

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Back when the blog was new, we used to have preschool in the morning, rest time, a playdate, dinner, then bath and bedtime. I had little flexibility to volunteer at my childrens’ school or do more than a brief outing away from my littlest, as I was on 24/7 boob duty. Plus, I was exhausted. The way I knew I’d somehow managed some REM sleep the night before was if I actually managed to properly brew my morning tea. Now, all three kids generally sleep through the night in their own rooms.

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Though our weekday schedule is a bit more chaotic these days, I am freer than I once was. I have taken on and given myself more duties over the past two years. I volunteer at my daughter’s school every-other week or so and plan most of my middle son’s class parties, which is funny because though I am a planner I do not consider myself much of a party planner. I lead one of the two bi-weekly mom meet-ups for my sons’ school, which is a gathering I only developed this year. Though small, it has created a lovely community and outlet for shared knowledge. I often have coffee once a week with a cherished friend, volunteer weekly as an ambassador at a yoga studio, and somehow grocery shop, cook, clean, and meal plan between school drop-offs and pick-ups.

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No longer the baby he was when this blog began, my youngest attends preschool two mornings each week. My middle son goes four mornings, whereas two years ago he only attended two days per week, They both have individual time with my mom on Wednesdays, which is a beautiful thing. Meanwhile, my eldest is in full-day school five days a week as opposed to her old schedule of four mornings at preschool. After we pick up my eldest from school, we make a quick jaunt to the playground and back home for homework time. Next comes dinner and extracurrilculars in some frenzied order.

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Two years ago, my middle son enjoyed gymnastics and swim classes at the community center. Now he is finishing up his current Tae Kwon Do session in favor of his much preferred figure skating lessons. He loves skating, or as he calls it: “dancing on the ice!”

Two years ago my daughter was doing ballet and swim classes at the community center. She now enjoys her Tae Kwon Do classes, with a long-range goal of earning her black belt, and cherishes her weekly yoga classes at a local coffee shop. She wants to take up piano but I have yet to wiggle that into the schedule and budget.

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Back when I started this blog, my life revolved around food: meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, pumping for donation, breastfeeding, helping others navigate nursing hurdles. I desperately wanted to continue my coursework to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC.) I have since realized that the IBCLC goal is a distant if not wishful aspiration. The 1,000 patient hours alone that I would need to complete — in addition to further course requirements — before I even sit for the certification exam are not attainable for me in the foreseeable future, at least not considering my personal family priorities and preferences. Instead, life has shifted me towards yoga.

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Two years ago my exercise mindset was all about shedding weight and gaining muscle. A very: “Push! Push! Push! No pain no gain!” mentality. I was unforgiving of myself and expected nothing but forward momentum. Jillian Michael’s “30-Day Shred” and PiYo were my jam, as I could do them at home during naptimes. Then, I started yoga via Boho Beautiful on YouTube in late 2016. It sparked a change in me that has extended into all parts of my life.

I have moved from doing daily at-home YouTube-lead yoga to doing self-lead in-home daily yoga and in-studio yoga 2-3 times per week. A favorite yoga teacher-turned-friend spurred me to become a yoga ambassador (story here) with the goal of entering yoga teacher training in the fall. I, then, plan to earn my kids yoga instruction certification. I never would’ve suspected this shift two years ago but I look in all directions now and love it wholeheartedly.

The person I’ve become and who I am becoming, my winding life path, the people I’ve encountered and welcomed into my life, the relationships that have deepened and those that have passed, my children’s development and growth as unique individuals, my ever-strengthening partnership with my husband… all of it is different. All of it is good.

Considering how much in my life has changed over the last two years, I cannot imagine what I’ll be writing two years from now. Thank you for following me on my journey! Tag along for the ride, surviving and savoring parenthood one day at a time.

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Three Things I Learned from My Kids

Being a parent, it isn’t always about what we teach our kids. It’s often about what they teach us. About the world, life, ourselves, happiness. They may be small, our needy germ-covered offspring, but they are wise in that, “I may eat Playdough and lick trashcans, but I know how to be truly happy” kind of way that only dogs and children master.

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1) Wonder. As my 2.5-year-old youngest child and I attempted to complete an errand at a local craft store — frequent tantrums firing and fizzling like bottle rockets on the 4th of July — I experienced the store through his eyes. THE WONDER!

“Look, Mommy!” A wall of model vehicles towered above him. “So many colors!” He exclaimed, walking among the silk flowers. “One more second, Mommy!” He pleaded as he gazed in awe at the miniature fairy house decor. “Mommy, I hold your hand. Come over here!” Basket upon basket of vibrantly hued faux fruit. This wasn’t just an errand for him; this place was a marvel.

He ooo’ed as we walked past the bike store, ahh’ed as we strolled past flower displays in the pharmacy, stopped short in amazement as a suped-up pick-up truck idled outside of Whole Foods. An errand was more than an errand because his world was full of wonder. In turn, the world became more beautiful and vibrant for me too.

Since parenting three children, I find myself seeking out the beauty, the wonder, the “wow” in the ordinary. The heart-shaped leaf on the driveway. The massive construction vehicles as I sit in traffic. The budding trees as I walk down the sidewalk. The colors in the produce section. The world is amazing if we choose to see it. My children have reminded me how.

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2) Play. As a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, I play every day. What a gift! Walking down the sidewalk, I crouch down with my littles and hop over cracks. On the playground, I bounce with them on the seesaw. At home, I do silly voices while reading and chase them in the cul-de-sac. We bring snack time outside. We play “Go Fish”, “Connect Four”, and “Guess Who?” I become a human rocket launching my littlest into the air by way of my lifting legs.

Life is more fun when we play. My kids help remind me to not take myself and my life so seriously. They reintroduced me to the beauty and necessity of play. With play we are more active, vibrant, joyful, and full of life. There’s no better way to be. If you’re not full of life, what are you full of?

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3) Shift. Priorities, attention, schedule, route, perspective, goals, plans, outfit choices… my kids have required and taught me to shift often and in countless ways.

What childless me thought I would do or say as a parent has shifted. My priorities have greatly shifted. What used to be my plan a year ago has shifted. Who I used to be has shifted. How I eat has shifted. My hobbies have shifted. How I see and engage with the world has shifted. My body has shifted. My tolerance for others’ crap has shifted. And that’s OK, no matter what “Jenny from the Block” may proclaim. Shifting is good.

I’m stuck in a long check-out line, I shift my attention and find ways to distract the kids: “Where’s the color blue? Do you see a balloon? How many lights can you find?”

I’m in traffic and I decide to downshift my emotions, releasing my plans and accept that, “what will be will be.” I shift my focus away from the brake lights and my filling bladder to any surrounding fun I can find. “Look at that loader, kids! What do you think is in that box truck? Look how pretty the sky is! Who wants a car dance party?”

I shift to survive. I shift to keep the peace. I shift to feel peace. To be happy.

A Family First

This year is the first year we could all go sledding. All five of us. What a feat!

For the first time in nearly eight years, I finally wasn’t pregnant or nursing a newborn. No one was too little to enjoy careening down a snow-covered incline. We could all do it together. This was new territory.

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All three kids — 2.5, nearly-5, and 6.5 years old — successfully bundled and buttoned in layers to ward against the March snow. The Hubs and I suited up — ready to herd — and off we all went. Trekking through winter’s last hoorah on our way to the neighborhood sledding spot.

Two sleds, three kids, a few tantrums, and a good 20 minutes later, we made it. Up and down, giggles and snowballs. It was a time you store away with easy accessibility in your mind. The kind of recollection you revisit like an old slideshow, smiling at the mental memory reel. A treasure.

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This excursion was the doorway into our new chapter. One of slightly more freedom. More opportunity for new experiences and adventure. More cohesiveness as opposed to divide-and-conquer.

This year we break away from 10 years of trying to conceive, pregnancy, and babies. No more naps or diaper bag, onesies or highchair, bibs or booties. The baby gates are still in use, but the Pack-and-Play is long stowed away. We are in a different place this year.

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And I’m not as sad as I thought I’d be. I feel ready. Open. Welcoming to the new life season unfolding before us.

It will be a good one. I know it.

The Life of an Allergy Mom: Food Allergies Suck

Food allergies suck. My family of five has a slew of dietary restrictions ranging from veganism to severe food allergy. Do we enjoy ourselves and our meals daily despite our many food limitations? Of course. Food allergies still suck though.

My eldest child is a dairy intolerant pescatarian. My husband is simply a pescatarian, who probably shouldn’t eat dairy but he does anyway because: cheese! My middle child is dairy allergic and has a severe Epi-pen requiring peanut allergy. I am a dairy allergic and gluten intolerant vegan (who is also allergic to pesticides, weed killers, latex, and raw potato… yep, that’s a thing.) Fortunately, our youngest has outgrown his infant egg allergy and now only has skin sensitivity to many soaps and lotions. We are dietary divas. I never envisioned this as my life. But here we are.

Every nutrition label thoroughly scanned, an Epi-pen in every bag, safe stand-in treats available at school in case of class parties or birthday goodies, sorting through holiday candy before the kids mistakenly ingest foe, navigating social gatherings and invitations with an eye for safety and inclusion without burdening, reviewing menus before entering a restaurant, always bringing snacks and meals when we travel. Life with food allergies requires research, forethought, and planning. It’s not an impulse game.

Due to my middle son’s severe peanut allergy, I perceive peanuts and peanut products as rattlesnakes… they may be benign or they may kill us, but there’s no telling which it’ll be. The general public, though, does not share my perspective.

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I can’t read recipes or posts regarding food that mention peanut butter without having a visceral reaction. It is no longer food… it is a lethal substance. To others,, though, peanuts are as wholesomely American as apple pie under 4th of July fireworks. I am, in turn, a bothersome inconvenience. A menace to quick brown bag lunches and trail mix everywhere.

This weekend at the zoo, we were standing watching the sea lions when mama protection mode took over me. A young girl walked up from behind us nibbling a sadwich and siddled herself directly beside my middle son. There they stood watching the graceful animals twirl and glide through the blue water. Her sticky hands beside his on the tank glass, entranced. Cute scene, right?

Then, before I registered what I was smelling, I — on forceful instinct — hurriedly shuffled my children out of the exhibit. My heart raced, my mind and body laser focused on remaining outwardly calm but achieving a quick escape.

Only as we reached the safety of the sidewalk did my mind settle enough so that I could recognize the offending scent: peanut butter.

I just bolted out of a zoo exhibit because I smelled a condiment? In no other life journey is this normal, unless you’re an allergy mom like me.

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I don’t ask “why me?” because why NOT me? Why should it be someone else? But I do really dislike food allergies. I loathe having to special order, to carefully research products before buying, fearing a common food item I once enjoyed, and others thinking segregating my child is the ethical move. It’s safer and more convenient, but is it kind?

I also loathe not having a solution that doesn’t irritate/burden others. I loathe having to make requests to keep my child safe or being seen as “that allergy mom.” I feel sad hearing that my child had to sit away from others due to food allergies. I am happy that my children are resilient.

Despite it all, I love my life. I am grateful. I love my children, idiosyncrasies, gifts, allergies, and all. Allergies are just a part of things for us.

This is life as an allergy mom.

When Tantrums Attack: Go High or Go Low?

“NO!! NO!! I don’t WANT to do that!” My 2-year-old yelled, his high-pitched shriek reverberating off of the metal grocery shelves and speckled tile floor. He awoke 1 hour ahead of schedule and we were in meltdown mode with 3/4 of the grocery run to go. So, I had two choices: go high or go low.

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“Do you see the color purple?” I asked trying to distract my little grumpus. “NO!!” He seethed. I waited before offering: “Where is a circle? I see a circle.” “No! I don’t LIKE that game!” He retorted. Now for the big guns: “Do you think we’ll see the train?” I asked, knowing the ceiling-mounted toy train is often the highlight of the grocery trip. “NOOOO!! I don’t WANT to see the train!” My 2-year-old stomped, clanging the metal frame of the car-shaped shopping cart, signaling my failure.

What a traitorous beast, this mammoth 18-wheeler of a cart! It’s cartoon car shape promises smooth, tot-friendly shopping but, instead, it has betrayed me as I navigate the well-stocked aisles with the grace of a blind water buffalo all while employing every last one of my mommy tricks to keep my raging offspring confined to the cart. Jackassery! Yet, I know full well that I will grab its unwieldy handle upon my next shopping trip because woe unto the parent who shops sans car-cart!

Car-cart in use, snack given and ignored, distractions employed and refuted, I was left with two choices: go high or go low. Essentially the fast-food fries vs. the kale salad of reaction options.

Little self-control required, going high would be the fast-food fries of options: temporarily satiating, effortless, and quick but a poor choice in the long run that might be regrettable sooner rather than later. Going high, I would release myself from the obligation of centered self-control. I’d allow my blood pressure to rise, give into the easy flight towards flustered anxiety, heightened embarrassment, and increasing aggitation. I’d risk reacting instead of calculating, moving in emotion-based speed with the ultimate goal of ending the undesirable scenario quickly but not necessarily well.

To go low I’d need to channel willpower and a centered focus. I’d need to breathe in that yogic part of myself into which I must consciously dive to make wise — yet not always easy or immediately desirable — decisions. Like the kale salad, it wouldn’t be as easy to choose or as appealing as the fries, but it’d invariably be the wise, healthy, unregrettable, adult choice. Instead of releasing control and allowing my body to naturally jitter into high-speed, I’d downshift. To go low I would ease into a calm state of even blood pressure and steady breathing, my mind centered simply on my task and my child, with only minimal awareness of those around me.

The choice was mine because I consciously retained the power to choose instead of allowing my emotions to run the show. I chose to go low.

I asked if my toddler needed a hug. He declined, only a half aisle later to yell that he needed one. I breathed and embraced him smiling. Moments later, more skrieking: “I don’t WANT to get Daddy’s cereal!” Yeah, well, too bad kid.

A fellow mom passed by giggling in that, been-there-and-thank-heavens-I’m-not-the-only-one way. I didn’t even notice her until she was beside me. Our eyes met, hers still warmly squinted in friendly laughter. “This looks just a little familar?” I said. “Very!” She replied, nodded towards her cart-riding youngster.

This was a completely developmentally normal experience. Kids obliterate your ego… that’s just parenthood. There was no need to feel the hot flush of embarrassment or let emotions boil over. But it wasn’t always this easy to choose low.

I had consciously endeavored to choose to go low daily. I wasn’t perfect but I tried. And that trying — over and over, day after day, meltdown after meltdown — is what got me to this point. In a year I imagine it’ll be an even more natural progression into steadied calm in the face of toddler terrorism.

The more often we make a certain choice — whether it be dietary choices, thought patterns, physical habits, or verbal response — the more we train ourselves to revert to that path. For example, the more I eat fries, the more I crave them. Whereas, if I habitually make healthy food choices, over time I less frequently and less fervently crave fries. Eventually I will naturally choose the kale salad and not even consider the fries. But to change that habit takes time, effort, patience, diligence, self-awareness, self-forgiveneness, and — most importantly — self-empowerment. We can’t simply play victim to our emotions; we must own them. We may not be able to control how we feel but we CAN control how we behave. That’s what we teach our children afterall, isn’t it?

Will I always choose the kale salad over fries? NO, definitely not. Some days and some situations just call for fries but, more often than not, kale salad is the better choice. I am human afterall.

In the end, the errand culminated in check-out line hugs and a little voice saying, “I’m sorry, Mommy” into the side of my neck. And I felt completely at ease. What a gift to give yourself — and others — to choose to go low!

I can’t say I’ll always be so wise, but as long as I continue choosing to go low MOST of the, I’ll be pleased.

What will you choose?

 

 

The Other Side of Shyness: How I Stopped Being Shy

As far back as I can remember I was shy. I was scared to speak with strangers, even for something as trivial as ordering food at a restaurant. My heart would race, my throat would clench, my mind would spin on how I’d be perceived… how I’d be judged. Now, I don’t care.

I remember one afternoon circa 1993, when my mom stopped the hunter green minivan with the faux-wood paneling, handed me money, and told me to run into the convenience store to get milk. I curled into myself and shook my head. I was NOT going. Give me a tetanus shot, make me do dishes, heck have me scoop dog poo… anything but have to talk to the cashier. No. Way. My sister — two years my junior with not one ounce of social anxiety and lax impulse restraint — leapt from her seat reaching for the $5 bill. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” She clamored. “No,” my mom said, yanking the money away from my sister’s reach, “your sister needs the practice.” My sister balked. I crumbled. I survived the 2-minute errand, but it was far from a cure. Bless my mother

Decades went by and I was still shy. Cashiers and waitstaff no longer made me shrivel, but I would never dream of entering an unfamiliar room and striking up a conversation. Making friends was hard. Really hard.

More often than I’d like to admit, there were incidents in my early life when a close friend sought to expand the social circle, not wanting to end our friendship, but simply wanting to add to the group. Anxiety and ego inevitably overwhelmed me, and I would foolishly take the request as a traitorous dagger (which it was not — at all — but just try telling me that back then!) Because I couldn’t fathom reaching out to gather more friendships, I was jealous of others’ ability to do so. I felt vulnerable and defensive. Lesser. So I would get angry and end the friendship. Stupid, right? Yep.

Come young adulthood, the first years of corporate life were challenging. Most of my coworkers were at least a decade my senior and in different life stages than recent-college-grad me. I made myself even more guarded with a “work” me and a “home” me, hoping to off-set my obvious youth with professionalism. Needless to say, that level of detachment paired with shyness was not conducive to numerous work friendships.

Then I got engaged. People I barely knew would approach me with wedding-related questions throughout a workday. My shyness was waning with the increased socializing. One wedding and a few years later, I was pregnant. My world changed.

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Being pregnant granted me access to a secret club that was constantly seeking members: parents! That baby belly was like a beacon to any parent — young, old, first-time, or seasoned — and even grandparents to immediately strike up conversation. And once I was really showing, the world had a talking point in full view. As long as I kept a sense of humor and viewed awkward questions and others’ verbal diarrhea as fodder for my mental “shit people say” list, it was all good.

Then, I had my first child. I was set on giving her a variety of experiences, getting her socialized, getting her out. I took her to mom meet-ups and baby-and-me tumbling classes, story times and swim classes. We did something every day.

One day, as I entered a mom meet-up, I felt the anxiety and internal concerns over others’ perceptions bubble up within me. Then, I looked down at my chubtastic baby and thought: “but I have a built-in buddy!” And I was at ease. Being alone in a busy room without someone to talk to wasn’t so scary anymore because I had my daughter beside me. I was OK.

Not too long after, I had my middle son. I was so busy nursing my newborn while chasing my toddler, I didn’t have the time to worry what others thought. Instead, I sought out friends who resonated with me, who shared perspectives and viewpoints with me, who could relate to my present life stage. I still hesitated before reaching out, but I was getting better.

Two years later, I had my third child and by then I was comfortable with myself. I was so focused on my own standard daily chaos that I could hardly care less if you gave me the side-eye for having a tantruming toddler (that says more about you than me, afterall) or balked at my snot-smeared yoga pants and breastmilk-spotted nursing cami. I had way too much stuff to wrangle to worry about that. Even more, I realized most other people were like me and had too much going on in their own heads and lives to give me much thought! So why assume they’re judging me harshly when I may not even be on their radar or, if I am, maybe it’s positively so. If they are actually being mentally critical of me, why should I care anyway?

Less shy, I began conversing freely with fellow moms at playgrounds, classes, story times, and in the grocery store. After two incidents when I let my fear stand in the way of asking, “Want to do a playdate sometime?” (The mom version of “Wanna grab a drink?”) and subsequently suffered missed-friendship regret, I decided to do better.

I began listening to my gut, honoring my intuition. If I was drawn to connect, smile at, or chat up someone — even if I didn’t immediately understand why — I did it. And that is how I began making some of my dearest, strongest friendships: listening to my inner self, not my fears.

I was now on the other side of shyness. I could easily enter a room with confidence, seek out a person with whom I could relate, and start a conversation. I became the human shepherd, constantly aware of those on the periphery, gauging shyness verses disinterest. If I sensed shyness, I tried to bring them into the fold. If I felt a group with whom I was talking appeared unwelcoming or closed-off to others, I changed my positioning and body language to open the circle. I never wanted to make others feel the way I had so long felt: judged, alone.

I had not realized how far I’d come until recently at the playground. A mom I’d only met last year was floored to hear I was ever shy. I was floored she was floored! Little did she know, I spent more of my existence shy than not. I surely have changed. And for that I am grateful.

The world is a brighter, friendlier place when you’re on the other side of shyness. I like it here.