On being (and having) a safe space…

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Photo by Laura Kasper

As mothers, we’re often told that our children give us their worst behavior because they feel safest with us. Largely, that is true. Our kids should feel the most safe when they are with their parents. It’s one of the greatest responsibilities we have to them. The world, while fun and exciting, can be a scary and dangerous place. Protecting my daughters, as much as I can, is probably the biggest responsibility I have to them. Their safety is my primary concern, especially while they’re so young.

So yes, I am and want to be their safe space. I want them to feel okay about falling apart in front of me. I want them to know it’s okay to have crappy days and to deal with hard emotions. I want to be a sounding board for them. I want to hear about their struggles and frustrations. My daughters are full-blown humans with full-blown human emotions. Despite the fact they don’t really know how to appropriately regulate those emotions most of the time, their emotions are real…very real. Especially to them.

But here’s the thing: I am a full-blown human with full-blown human emotions, too. And sometimes, my kids’ shitty behavior and crummy attitudes really hurt my feelings. I get tired of creating delicious dinners for tiny tyrants to claim not to like something they’ve never tried. It hurts when my daughter gets off the bus and without even a smile or a hello, immediately bitches at me for not bringing her bike . It makes me want to cry when they constantly scream at me for not buying the right snack (despite the fact I bought snacks at all). I get angry when I take them out for dinner or adventures and they tantrum about having to drive somewhere.

So I’ve started telling my kids when they hurt my feelings. I tell them when I’m sad. I let them know when I’m overwhelmed because their dad is gone again and I have no help cleaning the house and I have work I need to do and showers I wish I could take and I’d so much rather be playing with them or riding bikes or reading to them, but someone has to do the dishes and they’re not really that helpful around the house yet.

Because as important as it is for them to see me happy and know when something makes me smile or laugh, it’s equally important for them to know when I’m sad. And it’s important for them to know when they do something that makes me happy or sad.  I think it’s a critical piece in the puzzle of raising empathetic humans. I love that I’m a safe space for my children. I love that they feel safe enough to come completely unhinged in front of me (I love it; I do not always like it). But I want them to be my safe space, too. I want them to know that their actions can affect people, including me.

They need to know they have the capacity to hurt people…and they have the ability to heal them, too.

 

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 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 remembering the “me” I forgot….

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Around this time of year, I always spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about how I’d like the new year to go for me. I’m a fan of resolutions. It helps me think about ways my life could be better or how I could better myself. This year is no exception.

I’m taking a lot more time for myself this year. I’m choosing to worry less about the state of my kitchen and more about the state of my mind. Admittedly, I’m attempting all this while my husband is home. He’ll deploy again this year and when he leaves, this all may very well fall apart. But for now, I’m focusing on the present…a skill that’s long eluded me.

I’m the person that’s always planning for the future. So much so that I have a budget planned out for our family for the next 3-5 years at any given time. I look around our house and while we’re unpacking for the next two years, I’m already trying to downsize and organize to make our next pack-and-move that much more smooth.

But all this thinking about and planning for the future has done me a great disservice. I haven’t ever been fully present in the…present.

My present isn’t anything I ever imagine it to be. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mother. I never dreamed I’d live in another country. I only fleetingly thought I’d be married to the military. And yet, here I am…hair constantly unwashed and in a ponytail, wardrobe consisting of cozy leggings and unworn stilettos, chasing after a toddler and an infant while we run all to hell and gone to activities and lessons.

I get to spend my days with my friends and do yoga and read and meditate and make delicious meals for my family and volunteer with the military. To be honest, I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I just never expected it would be my “job”. Ever since I got pregnant with our first baby, I always said, “I will not be ‘just a mom.’ I am not only a mother. It is just one facet of the whole person I am!” And it seems I’ve spent so much time trying not to be “just a mom” that I’ve forgotten to actually be a mom. I mean, yeah, I’m active and engaged with my children. I love them dearly and am constantly in awe of them. I just think I’ve failed to give myself the chance to really dive headlong into motherhood for fear of losing myself in it.

But what if that’s where my passions really lie? What if I’m spending so much time trying not to get lost in motherhood that I’m not ever really experiencing it?

So that’s what part of my new year’s resolution involves. Allowing myself the freedom to become immersed in the newest (and most challenging) facet of my whole person. Allowing myself to not feel regret or shame for being passionate about breastfeeding and babywearing and cloth diapering and holistic healing practices. Allowing myself to learn more about the things that really light fires deep inside my soul and my body.

I’m choosing, with the help and prodding of my husband, to see if those passions can develop into a professional realm. If they do, YAY! If not, at least I’ll know I tried…and learned new, cool stuff along the way

This year, I resolve to embrace the mother in me.

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.