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.

On lessons in retrograde…

 

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Little sisters: Annoying the crap out of big sisters since…forever (but they’re still kind of the best). 

The birth of our second daughter is looming large (as am I…holy crap, I feel GIGANTIC). Our first was born at 38 weeks and 3 days…that would be tomorrow if this one decides to make the same appearance. I spent a lot of time during my first pregnancy thinking and writing about all the things I wanted to teach Godzilla, both as a woman and as a human. Those 42 items still ring very true and I fully intend to teach them all to Mothra as well.

But this time, I’ve spent a lot less time thinking about the terrifying task of raising a girl in this universe and more about the task of both raising and keeping alive two friggin’ humans at once!  That, and about sisterhood.

I have an incredible relationship with my sister. Now. Growing up? Oh good lord, were we at each other’s throats a lot. We are very different people. Making us coexist in the same bedroom bordered on cruelty…to the two of us and to pretty much anyone else who lived in our house. I was such a jerk to her…especially when it came to doing my hair, which I was start at, like, 5:30am…in our room…with the lights on…giving zero f**ks that she was trying to sleep on the other side of the room. I once threw a hot curling iron at her (and missed…thank God, in that instance, for my lack of athletic prowess). I’ve thrown more than one high heel her way. And she just took it.

Until the day she didn’t.

I remember coming home from school one day, probably when I was in grade 11, and she had moved all of my belongings, bed and dresser included, into the old play room (which we called “the brown room” because it had brown walls and brown shag carpet). I was horrified. How DARE she move ME out of OUR room! It rightfully belonged to me, being that I was the oldest.

But she’d had enough of my shit. And if you know my sister, you know how far you have to push her to reach that limit. I’d earned her rage. I’m lucky she didn’t break everything I owned in the process.

But now? I can’t imagine having to do life without her. She is often my rock. She has gotten me through so much garbage in my adult life (it sometimes pays to have a professional counselor as a sister). She sees the good in just about everyone and everything. She’s funny. She’s endearing. She’s generous. She’s kind. She’s smart. Often, she is everything I wish I could be.

So I think about having a little sister and being a big sister, something that is about to happen to Godzilla. And I think there are things she needs to know that I wish I’d have known.

  1. Mothra is going to want to do everything you do, at the exact same time as you. Be kind to her. All this copy-catting means she loves and respects you.
  2. Mothra is going to drive you bat.shit.crazy. It’s her job as little sister. Again, just be kind to her. You are allowed to want to be alone. Just don’t make her feel inferior in the process.
  3. Mothra is going to blame you for things you didn’t do. It SUCKS when that happens. It will make you angry and make you want to kick her. I promise I will do my best to hear you out and make sure I have the full story. But all I can promise is that I’ll try. I’ll probably fail a lot.
  4. When she asks questions, take her seriously. She really does want to know what you think and where you stand.
  5. Encourage her to branch out and try new things. It’s how I got your Aunt JoJo to try sports and audition for show choir. Who knew she could play basketball and sing?!
  6. Say hello to her in the hallways at school. Acknowledge her. Hug her. Be that big sister. I didn’t always play nice with JoJo and I regret it. Especially because she was always nice to me at school.
  7. Go to as many of her events as you possibly can. Again, be that big sister. The one that’s borderline obnoxious with how much you support your little sister.
  8. Tell her you love her. A lot.
  9. Thank her when she helps you.
  10. Be her best friend.

Being a big sister is hard. There are a lot of responsibilities leveled against the eldest sibling. They take the hits more than they should. I think parents recognize they do this, but it’s hard to stop ourselves sometimes. The oldest kid should know better, right? Probably. But we eldest siblings take a lot. So, Mothra, here’s what I ask of you, as the little sister:

  1. Be kind to your big sister. Don’t purposefully be a jerk and don’t try to get her in trouble. Not cool.
  2. If Godzilla wants to be left alone, please just leave her alone. It will be hard, especially if she turns out to be in introvert (like me) and you’re an extrovert (like JoJo). You will want to be with her ALL. THE. TIME. But she might need time to recharge. Just let her.
  3. Don’t push her buttons. You’ll figure out what they are and they will become an indispenseable tool in your Little Sister Arsenal. Be cautious of when you use them.
  4. Be Godzilla’s biggest cheerleader. Be the one she knows she can count on no matter what. Be that sister.
  5. If she asks you to try something – food, music, sports, whatever – just try it. Trust her. She won’t make you do anything that will hurt you.
  6. Brag about her quietly. Somedays, she’s going to want to feel too cool for school and she might ignore the hell out of you. She’s not doing it to be mean to you; she’s doing it because she might feel like she needs to. We can talk about it together after school.
  7. Ask for her opinion. She really does want to think that you think she’s the coolest person alive. Even at nearly 40 years old, I still get excited when JoJo asks my fashion advice and political stances!
  8. Tell her you love her. A lot.
  9. Thank her when she helps you.
  10. Be her best friend.

Being a sister, big or little, is hard. There  are things both are asked to do that neither signed up for. But given a fair shake, sisters end up being the best friends a girl could ever ask for.

On eating it all up…

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Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and now that Mothra has finally eased up on me, my pregnancy appetite is finally starting to kick into high gear. With my first pregnancy, I craved a lot of really healthy foods…I drank fruit and spinach smoothies like it was my job (technically, I guess it was) and stayed far far away from fried food and general junk. It was great!

This time around, I have to manage a toddler’s manic gastric desires and that rarely includes produce these days. On top of that, Mothra seems to have taken a real liking to Taco Bell and Totino’s party pizzas. I’ve probably eaten a thousand pizza rolls in the last week. I’m sure that can’t be good more me or for her, but after five months of not really wanting to eat anything, I’ll take what I can get.

So it makes me quite happy that my appetite is coming back just in time for Thanksgiving. Even better is that we’re spending the weekend with my grandmother and that woman can put out a spread. It’s insane. To the point my husband gets borderline angry about the amount of food he has to prepare to eat. (As if he minds. My eyes are rolling so hard, I can see yesterday.)

Every day at Grandma’s house is basically the same: breakfast (usually toast, eggs, bacon, breakfast rolls, juice, and coffee) then some kind of mid-morning snack then lunch (something like tomato soup, grilled cheese, and a veggie platter) then a mid-afternoon snack then cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (I’m very upset about missing out on cocktails this year because Grandma has primo liquor) then dinner (Thanksgiving involves turkey, stuffing, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, salad, some kind of warm casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, and wine) then dessert and coffee (pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies for Thanksgiving) and finally post-dinner/pre-coma cocktails.

I’m not even kidding…every single day is like that when Grandma has a brood at her house! It’s remarkable. I think she starts planning for the next holiday the day after we all leave from the current holiday. I don’t know how she does it! All I know is that it’s fun and it’s delicious and I will never care so little about my caloric consumption as when I’m at her house.

It’s not really about the food, though. Not entirely. It’s that I love being with my family. There are aunts and uncles and cousins around the table. We laugh a lot, we watch football and silly YouTube videos, we discuss whether or not to succumb to Black Friday shopping at 9pm or Thanksgiving night or if it’s all just too much (I have forever fallen in the latter camp; everyone else in the former. That may very well change this year because kids are expensive and Godzilla’s birthday is less than two weeks before Christmas so doubling up is no small price tag).

This is the last holiday I’ll have with any of my family for at least the next three years. Moving overseas doesn’t lend itself well to traveling home for the holidays inexpensively. I’m okay with it. It just means that this year, my heart is going to be more invested in the holidays than ever before. I’m bringing my camera and using it ad nauseum and without apology. Maybe I should be doing that every year.

I don’t know what your family dynamics look like, but whomever you choose to spend your holidays with this year, take a moment to step back and just look at what’s happening. Enjoy the company of those you choose to share your table with. Take mental and physical photos. Eat too much. Play games. Remember what the holidays are supposed to be about and do your part to make it so.