On transient motherhood…

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“Little town, it’s a quiet village!”

I’m what some people would call a “millenial mom”. Not because of my age (god, no. I’m much too old to be a true Millenial), but because of the age of my children. Many of my daughters’ friends have parents that are ten or more years younger than me, which means many of my own friends are that much younger than me. It’s sometimes a very strange place to be. I’m nearing forty years old and most of my friends have barely scratched the surface of their thirties. I often forget how much older I am than them. I guess that’s probably a good thing. My kids keep me young, but my friends make me actually feel young sometimes. It’s nice.

Something that “millenial motherhood” has taught me is the idea of The Village or The Tribe. In many ways, this is the first modern generation of mothers that have truly embraced the idea that we cannot do this mothering thing alone and, more importantly, we WILL not do it alone. We seek out our people and when we find them, it’s a huge weight off our ever-sagging shoulders (and breasts). It’s incredibly hard to find your people when you’re a mother. It’s not just finding people you click with. It’s finding people who support you and listen to you, people who understand and respect your parenting style, people who challenge your notions and appreciate all your differences, people who get along with you and with your children. It’s a process, one that takes a long time and requires a lot of effort. But man, when you find those people, the payoff is incredible!

But there’s a brand of mother that doesn’t often have the luxury of time: The Military Mother.

Of which I am one.

I got pregnant with my first baby a mere eight months after I married my military husband. By that time, I’d already moved twice and was still very new to the military life and all it required of me.

I got very lucky in the friendship department, I think. My first real friend was also a military wife and we were due with our first babies at the same time. She overheard me make a comment during a church event, messaged me on Facebook, and the next thing we knew, we were having conversations in the car about any number of topics reserved for only the closest of friends.

See, military spouses, we don’t waste time. We can’t. We dig in deep and we dig in fast. We ask questions and make statements and have (or attempt to have) conversations that most people don’t have without significant time under their friendship belts. And more often than not, the people we’re attempting to connect with are not military spouses.

They are locals. They grew up in or have significant roots in the towns we move to. It’s something a lot of us are envious of. Whatever roots we may have had in our own hometowns, we ripped those out when we married our service member. It’s not that we ache for our own roots. It’s that, when we become mothers, we ache for the roots our children won’t have…not for a long time, in most cases.

And that’s why we make our first priorty that of building our Village. We need to find our people, and fast! We need play dates for our children and coffee outings with grown ups. It can be incredibly challenging, for us – the military spouse – and you – the local.

The life we married into requires both of us to be very vulnerable. We may have chosen to marry into this, but we don’t come and go from city to city or country to country on purpose. We don’t leave without leaving pieces of our hearts in every place we live. We get married in your churches. We have our first baby in your hospitals. We buy our first houses in your neighborhoods. We sometimes have to bury our pets in unmarked graves in your open spaces. Where you have roots, we leave pieces of our souls.

The Military Mom you know…she fell in love with your towns and your parks and your churches. I did and do all those things. One of my dearest friends is a local from my husband’s last duty station. Knowing her the way I do now, she took a huge risk on me when she opened herself to our friendship. But then she opened herself to my Village. That, for her, is a whole different level of trust and depth. I know what it took for her to do that. Children have a way of making us very selective about our friends. She’s now over 7,000 miles away from me. That’s put an epic strain on our friendship. We’re in exact opposite time zones so the things we could share before (specifically, award shows season [I apologize for nothing]) are a near impossiblity. She’s dealing with bedtime shenanigans while I’m trying to clean up lunch hurricanes. But we make it work. Because SHE IS MY PEOPLE. When I think about my mothering journey, there isn’t a chance in hell I can imagine doing it without her.

In fact, my entire Village from that duty station is that way. Those women were my first foray into motherhood. A few are locals, a few are transplants, and a few – like me – are transients. It’s a beautiful mess of women with whom I have loved, laughed, and cried.

And it’s a beautiful mess of women that I’ve had to leave behind.

I fell in love…with some of my dearest friends, with their towns, their parks, their churches, their food, their lives. And then I left.

It was as hard for me to leave as it was for them to let me go. It was inevitable. It was never a secret that I was going to leave. When you befriend a military spouse, you have to be okay with knowing we’re going to leave. But we won’t forget you…and we desperately hope you won’t forget us. You are the link we have – the only real link – back to the places we left pieces of our hearts. We need you.

On getting ahead of myself…

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It’s bedtime on the evening of November 1st. Officially the first day of the Thanksgiving season.

Normally, I’m the person that gets wildly bent out of shape when stores start selling their Christmas wares before Halloween. Every holiday deserves it’s own moment. ALL HOLIDAYS MATTER, DAMMIT! The fall and winter holidays are set up especially well. Each of the majors has roughly a month to itself. That’s plenty of time to set up, enjoy, and tear down each holiday without feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated in doing so.

Well, not this year!

Last night, I took my babies out to scam candy from all our neighbors and after they went to bed, I pilfered my “mom tax” from them (all the MilkDuds are mine. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THE TASTE OF A MILKDUD, SUCKERS!). It was a lovely night, made all the more delightful because it was Mothra’s first true trick-or-treating experience and once she got the hang of it, there was no stopping her! As an added bonus, because we live on a base overseas, a lot of locals were “sponsored” by Americans to come join the shenanigans. And in keeping with Japanese mores, many of them came with candies of their own to trade for our peanut butter cups and Snickers.

But this morning, after I dropped Godzilla at the bus stop (and sucked back the remainder of my cold coffee), I dismantled and dismembered Halloween from my house in a manner suitable for any horror movie. I was ruthless. I have never been more excited to trash the dollar store spider webs and box up all the chotchkes I’ve collected over the years.

And with all the gusto I could, I hauled out all our Christmas decor from the storage closet out back. See, here’s the thing. I’m normally a stickler for keeping Christmas at bay until after Thanksgiving. My family has always adhered to this rule and I love it. But last year, my husband was deployed until just a few weeks before Christmas and by the time he got home, we were in the throes of packing up our lives (for the THIRD TIME IN A YEAR) to move to the south of Japan. We arrived on our new base about two weeks ahead of Christmas and our household goods shipment arrived on Christmas Day. Many many things went awry last Christmas season, but not being able to give Mothra a truly magical first Christmas is among one of the hardest to come to grips with. So I said, “To hell with holiday rules!” this year and decided to set up Christmas early. We got totally screwed out of Christmas last year so I’m taking it out on Thanksgiving this year and I’m doing it giddily and unapologetically. Because watching Mothra’s eyes light up when she saw our Christmas tree lit up for the first time was everything. EVERYTHING.

Wait until she sees it with ornaments and a star!

 

On living my truth….

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Ever since we moved to southern Japan earlier this year, I’ve taken my yoga practice much more seriously.

I started practicing in earnest back in 2013. I was going through some really intense personal things, both good and bad, and yoga was a way for me to invest in me and wrestle through those things in a productive way. And I’ve chosen to keep wrestling through life via yoga.

A few months ago was Chinese New Year, which is when new prayer flags are traditionally hung. My first yoga instructor gifted a small set to me the summer of 2013 and it took me until this year to finally find a space worthy of them. When you hang new flags, you’re supposed to hang them where they’ll flutter in the breeze. This is because you’re also supposed to offer a prayer, a hope, a wish for the world when you hang them. And the breeze carries the prayers on its invisible tides. This year, my daughter and I hung the flags with the prayer of “strength of heart and flexibility of mind”.

And, boy, has my mind been flexing. Since moving, I’ve discovered passions in my soul that I never thought would arise. I’ve followed those passions with a fair amount of intensity and I feel good, really good, about that. Yoga is something I’ve developed, um, feelings for. I thought I was “in” to yoga before, but then I moved to Japan, to a new base, into a new house with space for me to s-t-r-e-t-c-h and everything started to feel really really  peaceful and natural.

I used to be really selfish with my yoga practice. I was very intentional about not letting anything onto my mat – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – that a) didn’t serve me and b) wasn’t 100% about me. Yoga is an intensely personal thing, I’ve always believed that. But this year, I learned that just because it’s personal doesn’t mean it has to feel selfish. I started to recognize my whole person.

For the first time, I think, I’m really embracing the “mother” part of me. I’ve spent the last nearly four years trying so hard not to get lost in motherhood that I’ve pretty masterfully failed at allowing myself to really feel what motherhood can be. So I’m flexing my spirit by being more open with my daughters about my yoga practice. I leave my mat laying out more often than I put it away. I let them run and play on it. It gets dirty (and I clean it with a homemade mat cleaner that smells like summer and happiness). But I allow them on my mat because they are me. They are part of me. They are often the best part of me. I don’t let just anyone run amok on my mat. In fact, I don’t let a single other person set their feet on my mat. Just me and my girls. I can be kind of bitchy about my mat when it comes to anyone else. I’ve spent over three years cultivating the smells and feelings and thoughts and hopes that are rolled up in that mat. I don’t want anyone stomping all over any of that.

So now my heart feels more open and my mind feels more flexible. By stretching new muscles in my body, I’m finding ways to stretch myself wholly and completely.

Namaste, y’all. Namaste.

On wanting what I have….

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I wanted to write yesterday, but never got around to it. My family took me for a long brunch after church (where the mimosa tureen never got refilled and, for that, I will never forgive the staff) then we came home and I nursed my youngest down for a nap before running to the grocery store in the rain and then returning in time to make my family dinner. Yep. I made my own dinner on Mother’s Day. It was a surprisingly perfect day, despite the 0600 wake up call (thanks, daughters), the lack of nap, and my least favorite weather of all time.

I didn’t get a massage. I didn’t get a nap. I didn’t get to go “fun” shopping. I didn’t get breakfast in bed (though, to be fair, my family did that for me on Saturday to celebrate my birthday so…I can’t complain). My girls woke up way too early and made copious messes (per the uszh). I drank cold coffee…twice. I was as exhausted as usual by the time bedtime rolled around.

And the whole day was perfect.

Sometimes, what I think I want and what I actually want are so diametrically opposed that when I finally realize what it is I actually want, I’m already in the thick of it, loving every second of it.

As a mom who was “born” in the 2010s, I’m sort of conditioned to bitch about life as a mother, about motherhood, about my children. And, if I’m honest, I do that. A lot. I think it’s healthy. I don’t like to sugarcoat my life. I don’t have a Pinterest-worthy life. I regularly take trips on the Hot Mess Express. I’m incredibly open about my struggles with Post Partum Depression and how hard being a mother has been for me. If I’m also honest, I can be pretty funny (albeit caustic) about my life and all its charms and tortures.

But more often than not, I love being climbed on and wrestled with and demanded “UP!” from. My youngest is nearly 15 months old and I still love nursing her to sleep for every nap and every bedtime. I love being asked to read, but “not that way! Do it the right way!” (What does that even mean?)

Being a mother is hard. Probably the hardest thing I’ll ever do. But I waited and hoped for these days for a really long time. So even when I complain about how hard it is, I wouldn’t trade it for a second. Not one single second.

On being miraculously average…

 

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Photo Credit: Katie Supko

I’m old. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. I’m old…on paper, at least. I turned 37 this year and shortly before my birthday, I gave birth to my second (and last) baby.

When I think about the fact that I’m never going to be pregnant again, I get a bit wistful. It makes me hold my infant daughter more tightly and for longer. I don’t (always) dread her seemingly endless nursing sessions. She recently turned six months old, which means she’s old enough for “people food.” I won’t lie…I’m not all that upset that she hasn’t taken to my homemade baby food as quickly as her big sister did. It means she still needs me.

I loved being pregnant. And I was damn good at being pregnant. Both my pregnancies were fairly easy and I was able to stay incredibly active and healthy during both of them. I felt alive and wholly myself when I was pregnant…like it was what I was meant to do. So yeah, I get a little sad when I think about never being pregnant again.

Because of my PPD medications, I don’t get all that emotional about much (I like to say that I’m dead inside, but it makes me a better mother). But sometimes I hear or see or read something that strikes me.

And that happened the other evening.

“Birth is the most commonplace of all the miracles.” 

I can’t remember the last time a statement resonated so deeply with me. So much truth in so few words.

Childbirth is something I always knew I’d experience. I’ve wanted to be a mother for as far back as I can think. But until I actually got pregnant, I didn’t think of pregnancy and childbirth as anything more than a thing I was physically capable of doing.

Then I got pregnant. And something changed inside me. My whole person shifted. I started to really love myself and not just love my body, but appreciate it. I was thankful for it. I valued it.

Pregnancy and childbirth is so common, so regular, so…meh.

And that’s precisely wherein the miracle lies.

Babies are born every minute of every day. Women were made with the ability to create life. Think about that for a minute. We.Create.Life. Entirely new persons (not to mention entirely new organs – the placenta) are created within the tiniest of confines.

There’s nothing remarkable about my babies (or my pregnancies) to you or yours to me. Not necessarily. But to each of us, the time we have with our bellies and our babies is breathtaking. I can look at another baby and think, “That’s a cute kid!” but when I see my babies? Oh, my god…I see perfection and possibility and beauty and strength and everything that can be good and right about life. And I know you see the same in your babies.

That’s the miracle. It’s that we can all see the same thing in our own babies. The miracle is knowing that it’s true. It’s feeling your heart on the outside of your chest every day for the rest of your life. It’s the strength in your soul and the ache in your body when your baby decides to make its entrance into your world.

The miracle is the strangeness of feeling completely alone in your experience, but knowing you are deeply connected to a sisterhood that runs deep…like, dawn-of-time deep. It’s knowing that your experience is somehow simultaneously brand new and nothing new at all. Someone, somewhere, at some point has felt everything you’re feeling.

The miracle is that the female body can be wrecked and torn and split in half and comes back together, not as it once was, but as a shrine, a testament to what now is. It’s in the weakness of body and strength of soul the moment your baby is placed in your arms. It’s feeling your heart grow and grow until it nearly explodes, but never actually does. It’s walking around with that deep, deep ache for the rest of your life.

The miracle is that mothers the world over feel the same way you do, but are completely incapable of describing to you how it feels.

The miracle is that you are magically common.

On proving myself…

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Photo Credit: Laura Kasper Photography

As a mother, I do a LOT in one day. Sadly, there’s often little to show for it. Every time I get one mess under control, another has appeared. As soon as the dishwasher is unloaded, it needs to get loaded again. One load of laundry goes in the dryer and two more suddenly need washing. And the diapers. Oh my god, the diapers. It’s endless. By the time my husband gets home or the girls are down for the night, I look around our house and wonder, “What in the world did I do all day?!” It’s a good thing my husband thinks I look good in sweats, without makeup. Because as I sit here typing this, I can’t remember the last time I showered. He took me out for dinner for our anniversary last week and I didn’t even get a chance to shower for that. Being a mom is gross.

But what you can’t see, what my husband can’t see, what even I can’t see are the moments that kept me from the housework. The memories I made with my daughters that created the chaos.

The half hour long dance parties with my toddler.
The tickle fights with my baby.
The snuggles during a movie when I’m just too tired to think up another activity.
The long walks to the gym, listening to Disney songs.
The trips to the park.
The splash wars in the pool.
The USO concerts in the park.
The lunches at Taco Bell because I forgot to pick up more Kraft dinner.

I do SO MUCH in one day and there’s very little hard evidence of that. All that’s left at the end is laundry, dishes, and an exhausted mommy.

We moms talk a lot about how there are billions of photos of our partners with our children, but very few of us with our children. It’s true. And we lament that we often have to ask our partners to take the photos where we’re so quick to pull out our cameras or phones to snap photos of them with the kids.

But what about us? Not as mothers, but as friends. Friends who know and experience the longing for photos. See, my husband deploys a LOT so he’s hardly ever home. And when he is home, he’s still working 8-12 hours a day. So when he finally gets time away from work, the girls are either asleep or we’re trying to create family memories. Yes, I wish he’d take more photos of us without being prompted, but he misses so much of our lives as it is, that he’s more concerned with taking it all in while he can.

What I’m really getting at here is this: maybe it’s not entirely up to our partners to catch those moments. Maybe we should depend more on each other – our tribes, our friends – to capture those moments. As a stay-at-home-mom, I tend to have almost entirely stay-at-home-mom friends (especially while I’m living overseas with the military). I’m with them a LOT.

A few weeks ago, there was a luau party on our base. I took both the girls and while Godzilla was splashing in the toddlers pool, Mothra had fallen asleep on my chest. I just sat at the edge of the pool, blissfully watching one baby while cuddling the other. A friend quietly walked up to me and asked to take a photo of Mothra and me. It was the sweetest thing. I wanted a photo, but I also didn’t want to disturb Mothra to get my phone out and hope for a decent angle without waking her. Ah, the trials of a sleeping baby selfie.

And now I have this photo. All because another mother saw something that maybe I’d want a memory of. I didn’t have to ask her. I didn’t have to pay her (although I’m not above paying for a photoshoot. I also did that recently because  I do what I want!).

So what I’m suggesting is that maybe we stop putting all the onus on our partners to help us capture the in-between moments. After all, they’re very rarely with us during those moments. But our friends and their babies are with us. And we are with them. Stop to snap a photo or two of your friends with their babies. No one is asking for professional portraiture every time they turn around. They’re asking for photographic evidence that they did more than laundry.

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Photo Credit: Allie Houston

On knowing who I am.

 

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It’s funny because it’s true…sort of. 

 

It’s been a hell of a few months for me. Since March of this year, I have experienced the most stress of my entire life. I gave birth to our second baby, moved to Colorado, rehomed my dogs, then moved to Japan, lived in a hotel for a few weeks, moved into a new apartment, said goodbye to my husband/baby daddy, and began to prepare for another move in a few months.

I have laughed a LOT,  yelled more than I intend, cried uncontrollably once, and have had one major panic attack. But mostly, I laugh.

I have a good life. It’s usually pretty easy. I have very little to complain about.

And that’s why, when my husband is deployed for who-knows-how-many-months, I don’t call myself a “single mom”.

Before I had to  do things without my partner, I used the term “single mom” to describe this scenario. Then I had a baby. And another baby. And then I had to actually do this circus by myself.

But not really.

I still have my husband, despite the fact that he’s a million miles away. His income remains steady. We have a beautiful home (that we don’t currently have to pay for). I don’t worry about paying our bills or finding childcare for the girls or if I’m going to have the time (or money) to buy groceries this week. I can email or call or Facetime my partner frequently and tell him what’s driving me crazy or what antics our toddler has come up with this week. I have undeniable support, even if he can’t be physically present.

What I do is a far cry from single parenting.

I don’t have to make “less bad” decisions. I get to be with my girls whenever I want (and I can pass them off pretty much whenever I want a break). I don’t have to choose between working overtime or going to an event with my children.

I honestly don’t think I appreciated how difficult single parenting must truly be until I had kids and then had to care for them without the physical presence of my partner. No, what I do is not single parenting. I won’t diminish what that is by saying that’s what I do.

I’m a solo parent. For a season.

To all those other solo parents out there: you are stronger than you feel, smarter than you think, and happier than you seem.

To all you single parents: we see you. We see your struggles and your frustrations and your triumphs. You inspire the solo parents of the world. We watch you and we see heroes.