Smiling through Tears

#1 has completed her final day of preschool. She’s excited for what’s ahead. I’m a wreck.

I know she’ll do great in kindergarten. She’s outgoing, positive, friendly, bright, adaptable, independent, and takes direction well. I have not a single doubt in my mind that she will rock kindergarten. What’s even better: she knows it too. Great, fantastic, perfect, right? Yes! But I’m still a wreck.

My baby — the baby girl I dreamt of, the daughter my husband and I had hoped for, the baby we tried so hard to have, the newborn who fought to make it into and stay in this world, the baby we were told may have cognitive and/or developmental delays, the child who walked late but spoke early and well, the girl who has a tutu in every color and whose favorite colors are “pink, purple, and rainbow”– is growing up way too fast. I feel as if I must be losing vast portions of my memory because there’s no way I could see her every day, spend most of my waking hours in her presence, and yet the time passes so quickly.

My internal mourning is entirely selfish. It’s pointless. It’s silly. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

I smile because I want her to be happy. I want her to crave the growth and change that is life. I want her to feel supported and celebrated in her development and advancement, never held back by my emotions. Never coddled or ensnared.

For me, I want to pause life. To savor it and revel in it. To embed it in my memory. To not feel so lost in the whirlwind. But that isn’t life. Life is fast and ever-changing. I cannot expect it to be any other way, and lamenting that is fruitless.

So, I keep smiling because she needs me to smile. She deserves me to be happy, to cheer her on. Because she is going to do great things and she needs to see that I believe that. And I do. I am proud of her and who she is becoming.

“They’re happy tears,” I’ll tell her. They’re not, but my smile is true.

Bad Mom “Friends”

Too many moms feel pushed to feign perfection due to judgment. Not just judgment from faceless screen names and social media associations, not just from the child-free 20-something at Starbucks, family that simply doesn’t “get it”, or the snippy blue-hair at Target, but from fellow mom friends as well.

I understand the drive to tidy up your home a bit before company comes, for respectability’s sake. I get the desire to swipe on some mascara and brows to feel presentable. I honor the pull to change out of the three-day-old yoga pants splotched with mystery stains and into some jeans (or clean yoga pants.) I get it!

However, to feel the need to conceal the potty-training pandemonium, the tantrum disasters, the back-talk dilemmas, the laundry mayhem, the parenting conundrums, the nitty-gritty real life details because your friends will judge you? To feel the push to hire a house cleaner to visit prior to hosting a friend for a playdate because you fear gossip over your housekeeping? To feel compelled to wear specific brands and certain fashions to obtain praise and approval, and avoid catty side-eyes, from your friends? To feel pressured to present your life, child(ren), and home as flawless for risk of judgment from your friends? Those, dear one, are not your friends.

If you call judgmental fellow moms your “village,” honey, you need to move to a new “village.” If your mom friends are catty and thrive on tearing one another down instead of building and supporting each other, sweetheart, those are not mom friends… they’re immature, venomous toxins.

Many of us moms fear judgment from our peers so greatly we conceal ourselves from those we gift the title “friend.” I’m sorry but, why? Why do we allow ourselves to be belittled, to feel self-conscious, to feel lesser because of our friends? Why would we call these women “friends?”

If your child came to you telling you that his/her friends judged him/her in these ways, would you approve of these so-called “friends?” Would you encourage your child to continue socializing and bending him/herself to meet the approval of these “friends?” I hope not! So why do we moms provide such an example of friendship for our own children?

Moms, you’re worth more than that. You deserve more than that.

If your friends make you feel small and insecure, find new friends who lift you up and support you. Be the kind of friend you want to have and you’ll attract the type of friend you want and deserve.

Friends support each other, laugh with each other, live honestly with each other. Friends do not judge and gossip about one another. Friends do not make friends feel lesser or insecure. True friends make you feel safe, happy, and loved in their presence.

Stop feigning perfection. Stop driving yourself mad trying to please catty, ridiculous standards. Be genuine. Be happy. Be you.

The Perfect Parent

There is a misconception among parents that someone, some unicorn-like humanoid, actually has this whole parenting thing figured out. That perfection in parenting exists. Yeah… no.

We’re all hanging on by a well-worn thread. Not one of us has it all figured out. It’s simply a balance, with some disguising their flawed normalcy better than others.

If we are head of the PTA, the class party parent, and the go-to for artfully designed cupcakes, our minivans are coated in a 2-inch thick layer of Goldfish crumbs and mystery goo. If our kids are wearing spotless smocked monogrammed garments, our pantry looks like an extreme couponer’s shopping cart. If we send our kids to school with perfectly arranged organic, cruelty-free, well-balanced bento box lunches, then our laundry piles have their own zip codes. If our lawns are perfectly manicured and hedges neatly preened, our idea of a homemade meal is serving Chick-fil-A on actual plates instead of fishing through the bag in a family free-for-all.

One kid or five, single parent or espoused, working outside of the home or stay-at-home, no one has it unwaveringly figured out. None of us gets it right all the time. Not a single one of us has every aspect of home, school, and work life precisely pieced together in a pristine algorithim.

We’re all flawed. We all screw up. We all have moments of parenting triumphs and instances of miserable failings. We’re human!

The perfect parent doesn’t exist. Except for the child-free individuals… they are, of course, the perfect parents.

Parenting in the Trenches

Some days you glide through smiling and snapping photo after photo on your smartphone, posting and tweeting the glory of your day. Other days you lurch and drag yourself through the hours — all 24 of them — reaching the finish line covered in food, feces, and spit-up… but you survived, they survived, and only your ego was maimed in the process (and maybe the curtains.)

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Then there are the bumpy days that are a mixture of positivity and pain-in-the-ass, leaving you winded but oddly in tact at the end of the day. Those days are commonplace, benign, and totally survivable.

Some days start out well then careen downward in an unexpected tailspin. You reel in confusion over how quickly everything crumbled. You try to determine the exact moment of hubris or foible that incinerated your glorious day. Sometimes you recover and end your day on a mediocre note. Other days… well, those are the days you thank the heavens for wine.

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No matter what your “friends'” lives look like on social media, no matter the seeming perfection of fellow preschool moms or playground parents, we all stumble through our days. You’re not alone. Parenting is hard, dirty, taxing, and wholly unglamorous.

Dust yourself off, take a deep breath (and perhaps a gulp of wine), and trudge to bed knowing you’re not the only soldier in the trenches. You’ve got this!

Too Much Growing

That’s it! I’m losing it. My eldest just graduated kindergarten the day before yesterday, my middle son is moving from a toddler bed to a full size bed today, and my baby has to have his crib mattress moved down because he pulls to standing. Too much growing!!!

Change is wonderful; it’s a necessary  (though often scary) part of life. However, the rate at which my children are developing, maturing, and stretching before me is unnerving.

I am their mother. I want them to grow and learn and flourish. I want them to create their own lives and flower into their own identities. I treasure their achievements, take heart that their failings will aid them later on, and look forward to seeing who they each become. Still, every step they take toward their eventual selves is a step into the big world — a world from which I cannot protect them, a world I cannot control — and a step away from me.

I dreamt of being a mom, pined when I thought it would not happen, and celebrated when each new life folded into my own. I treasure my children. I cherish these early years of long days, broken nights, and bountiful memories. These are my years with my children. These are the prime mothering years.

I can heal the boo-boos. I can right the wrongs. I can make the world a safer, smaller place. I can see what they see. They tell me what’s in their hearts. They share their worries and have no secrets. These times are fleeting. I see it slipping through my fingers… and I cry.

I cry because the selfish part of me wants them to stay little forever. Because I want them to be with me, near me, needing me. But they cannot. They should not. I am raising them and loving them so that they grow strong and beautifully. That is why I do what I do. In my heart, I know that.

But I don’t want to let go.

Wrangling 5 Under 5

Yesterday I took on two additional kids — yes, that means I was watching five children under 5 — for 4 hours. My dear friend had an unexpected move thrust upon her. So I offered to watch her daughters so she could pack uninterrupted.

My friend’s 2-year-old daughter — we’ll call her A — has autism as well as some additional special needs. As a sibling of a special needs individual, I feel at home with the scenario. Well, apparently A was comfy too.

The kids had a blast playing outside, crafting, having a dinner-and-a-movie picnic in the playroom, and A was my cuddly sidekick through it all. She curled up beside me as I nursed #3, she rode on my hip as I loaded the dishwasher, she called me “Mommy” (purely a vocational title, of course) and reached up to me with her perfectly pudgy hands,  then she’d wrigged down to go join the others.

At one point, as I nursed #3, A pulled her pint-sized self up onto the playroom sofa, wiggled herself next to me, spotted #3’s legs sticking out from underneath my flowy top, smiled at me through her pacifier, and laid her blond head in my lap using #3’s belly as a pillow.  It was precious.

#1 adopted A as her own little sister, giving A overzealous hugs and drive-by kisses. A reveled in the attention and pretended to braid #1’s long, blond, curls.

#2 bopped about playing with #1 and A’s older sister, M. #2 and M discussed unicorns and caterpillars, sweeping techniques, and lemonade stand protocol.

M advocated beautifully for verbally-challenged A, yet played perfectly imperfectly and indepently with #1 and #2. She was so tender with #3, even when his slobbery baby kiss turned into a nibble. She was herself — smiles, grumpiness, goofiness, and all — and that was wonderful. She didn’t get lost in her older sibling duties. She felt comfortable enough to be herself.

One of my favorite aspects of the playdate, though, was how it brought out the best in all of us. It enabled our strengths to shine. When Hubs beamed, seeing A happily adjusted to her surroundings, I remembered exactly why I love that man so much. When #1 sat on the deck floor so that A could style her hair, my heart thumped. When M and #2 became enveloped in their imagination game, I grinned. When #3 gave kisses and hugs to A and M, who warmly accepted his juicy affection, I glowed. When A adapted so quickly and became so affectionate, my heart swelled. When M proclaimed she wanted to stay, I was honored.

It was a nutty afternoon but it was beautiful. What a gift these children are!

 

 

The Fear of “What If?”

I was the kid who pretended to be “mommy.” I wrote lists of possible names for my distant-future children. I aspired to be a mother while others dreamt of space exploration or royal appointments. I am now immensely fortunate to be living that dream.

I adore my present life season full of sleeplessness and snuggles, tantrums and tea parties, playdates and potty-training. I treasure the countless memories so much that I frequently attempt to recount past events so as not to allow them to fade from my mind.

Because of my love for this harried but beautiful stage, I fear what lies ahead. I worry about the days when my children don’t want me around as they do now, the days when errands can be quick and bathroom trips can be solitary. The days when people don’t look at me and immediately know I am a mom.

Part of me wants to pull back from my present stage, to stop myself from so wholeheartedly adopting the “mom” identity. The drive is fear for the future — an assumed future — and self-preservation. If I allow myself to dive deep into motherhood, how hurt and confused will I be when the tides change? Who will I be when I am not so completely needed or wanted, when my days and nights no longer center on giving of myself in every way?

There is another part of me — the hippy side, the tender side — that tells myself to revel in the fruition of my life dreams. This is but a fleeting moment in life, but it is a fulfilling one. It is what I’ve always wanted. Why not allow myself to experience it fully? Would I not chastise myself in later years for hindering my own experience due to the fear of “what if?”

Lawyers identify as lawyers, musicians identify as musicians. Why, then, should I not identify as a mother? When an individual’s career path shifts, the challenge to find one’s new identity is considered normal. Why would mothers entering new seasons of their career not be expected and afforded the right to experience the same upheaval?

Life is change. We change continuously throughout our existence, sometimes on imperceptible smaller scales and other times in abrupt, quaking shifts.

I must learn to accept the eventual change without allowing fear to rob me of my present. I am a mom. I will always be a mom. Each stage will simply be different. And that’s ok.

Sun, Music & Memories

After weeks of rain, the sun peeked through today and allowed us a preview of summer bliss. We attended our much-loved local summer concert series. We danced outside in the evening sun to live music, soaking in the light and memories.

#1 Twirling to the Music

#1 Twirling to the Music

Watching #1 and #2 twirl and run among the other children, I reflected on how last year #1 and #2 were smaller and less coordinated, apple-cheeked 2- and nearly-4-year-olds. How #3 was but a growing expectation in my rounded belly. How at the end of the concert series, #3 was a brand new addition with little infant chicken legs peaking out from the baby carrier.

I recalled how much more challenging things were with a newborn and two preschoolers as I recovered from a c-section, but how much fun we had. I realized how fast the time had spun by, and knew this year would only go faster.

So, I silenced my mind and allowed myself to simply be, to appreciate, to live our present joyful nuttiness. What a beautiful life!

Feeding by Example

Feeding others is a focal point of my present life. From nursing #3 to pumping for my “milk baby” (the baby who receives my donated breast milk), from planning weekly dinner menus that are healthy, non-allergenic, and minimally offensive to preparing and cleaning up after those meals, from helping breastfeeding moms navigate nursing troubles to aiding aspiring milk donors find breast milk recipients, my days are food-centric.

My mom was — and still is — one of the first people to set up a dinner train for neighbors in need. I never understood the value of such a practice until my mom became ill when I was a senior in high school. Neighbors, family friends, and acquaintances provided us with hot dinners for weeks. It was a welcome comfort during a trying time.

Now, a mother myself, I hope to model the beauty of the dinner train for my own children. Thinking of and serving others with no expectation of or desire for repayment is a value I hope to instill. So, I lead by example.

Upon hearing a friend is facing challenges, I first ask how I can help. Often, this open-ended question is simply too overwhelming. So, one of the first things I offer is a homemade delivered meal. My goal is not only to remove one thing from the individual’s to-do list when he/she is faced with life obstacles, but to provide a sense of comfort during a time of upheaval. Additionally, having my children witness me planning, shopping for, preparing, and delivering meals to others will — hopefully — make the ritual a norm for them.

Feeding others doesn’t simply fill bellies, it soothes hurting hearts and warms weary souls. From my heart to others’ mouths.

A Mother’s Love

I remember the moment I realized how much my mother loved me.

My mom and me

My mom and me

I was a new mom, weeks from being physically healed from delivery. Holding my tiny firstborn in her nursery, I felt that terrifying, beautiful, crippling love swell within me. The maternal adoration that paralyzes you with fear of countless “what ifs”, and makes you want to kiss your baby’s hands and feet millions of times in the futile hope that maybe your touch will convey just how much she is cherished.

Me and #1

#1 and Me

As my heart swelled and my eyes welled amidst the powerful wave of love, everything became clear: “This is how much my mother loves me.” I stopped, slack-jawed. I recounted the fearful times, the happy times, the frustrating times, the mundane. I reflected upon my life through a mother’s eyes, not a child’s. It was as if my eyes were finally open.

#2 and Me

#2 and Me

And so I now tell my own children, “You will never understand how much I love you until you become a parent, yourself.” They look at me and smile, thinking they know how deeply they are loved, but they don’t. They can’t. A mother’s love is beyond logic, beyond reason, beyond measure. The strength, breadth, and purity of a mother’s love is simply unfathomable until you become a mother.

Hubs, #3 and Me

Hubs, #3 and Me

Thank you for loving me, Mom, even when I was unlovable. Thank you for the sleepless nights, tremendous worry, necessary guidance, endless self-imposed guilt, and ecstatic rejoicing. You are a great mom, a strong woman, a doting grandmother, and giving friend. You taught me how to be a mom and that is something I cannot repay.

Mom and Me

Mom and Me

I love you but I know you love me more, because you’re my mother. Happy Mother’s Day!