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 developing an addiction…

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I haven’t written for months, I think.

I keep wanting to write. I keep having ideas of things to write about. And then when it comes down to actually doing the writing? I just…can’t.

I wonder if writing is like a habit. Like, if you just do it x-number of times, it starts to come more naturally and just happens? Maybe so. Maybe that just means I need to write more often.

I call myself a writer, but if I don’t write, can I really even say that anymore?

When I think about things that excite me, reading and writing almost always come up. In fact, they always come up. So why can’t I ever muster the time of energy to do either of them? I don’t get excited to binge watch Netflix, but I do it pretty regularly. I don’t really get excited about sleeping or napping, but I do it anyway (to be clear, I enjoy sleeping when I actually get to do it, but I’d rather be awake and accomplishing things). I love cleaning and I do that pretty much nonstop. So yeah…I wonder if I’d just take the time to read or write more often, I’d be as addicted to it as I am to Netflix or yoga (yoga is actually something that excites me though I don’t always do it because I lived in a constant state of exhausted… #deploymentsucks).

So really this is just me venting to myself about myself.

I think I’m going to go read now.

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 knowing I have plenty…

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Photo Credit

It’s the new year and I’ve decided to try two new personal projects for 2017:
1. Don’t buy anything that isn’t necessary.
2. Do ten minutes of yoga every day.

Surprisingly (to me), it’s the second one that’s been the most challenging so far. I’ve done yoga once since January 1st. ONCE. I have carved out ten minutes for myself one time in five days. And even then, Godzilla was screaming for me the entire time (Sailor was home and handling it, but it was far from the zen ten I was hoping for).

But the “no spending” thing? That’s been oddly easy. I didn’t buy any car candy or frozen pizza at the grocery on Monday. My Target spree yesterday was actually entirely necessary items (milk, diapers, a birthday card for my dad, etc.).

I think it’s because I’m trying this thing where I really evaluate what I think I need. And what that comes down to is the word ENOUGH.

I have enough. I have plenty. In many ways, I have more than enough (I went through my lingerie drawer last night and found more than a dozen pairs of unworn underwear and at least as many that could be gotten rid of. My bras are another beast entirely…I have probably thirty of varying sizes, but two rounds of pregnancy have taught me that boobs change size on a whim, so I’m keeping all the bras…for now). Clutter generally stresses me out. I like seeing wide, clean spaces (like my countertops). It’s hard to manage this with a toddler. She has SO MUCH STUFF! I don’t want to get rid of her toys just because it stresses me out. But I do wish we had a room that could be devoted just to her things because seeing it all the time makes me crazy. I spend more time picking up after her than anything else. It’s not going to be any easier with an added tiny human. So I do what I can with my own things. I’m trying to be fairly brutal with my closet, but that’s also challenging because I’m pregnant so who knows what I’m going to fit into in a few months? The one thing I know is that I’ll be able to off-load much of the maternity clothing I’ve amassed. That’ll feel good.

But the thing about “enough” that’s proving more difficult is the part where I AM enough. I think a lot of us struggle with that. There’s always some area of life where we feel somehow unfulfilled or underfulfilled.

Recently, that’s been motherhood for me. Two year olds are hard work. That wasn’t a surprise to me. But my ability to manage her has been less-then-stellar. I get angry with her a lot. I yell more than I want to. I ignore her when I just can’t take it anymore. I’m supposed to be one of the only people she knows will love her unconditionally…her attitude and behavior shouldn’t affect the way I treat her. I always want her to know kindness from me.

But ohmigod, she is a real pill sometimes. She gets so worked up that there’s just no reasoning with her. I just have to let her cry her tears and throw her tantrums and generally be insane…and sometimes that lasts for way too long. It’s frankly no different than when she was an infant and would cry up to twenty hours a day. It’s just louder now. Much, much louder.

It causes me to wonder: am I doing enough? Am I challenging her enough? Do we do enough activites? Do I read to her enough? Do I discipline her enough? Do I hold my ground enough?

The one thing I know I do enough of is love her. God, I love that little girl. She’s crazy and difficult, but my heart seems to grow bigger every single morning when I get her from her crib and she reaches up with her big, sleepy eyes and says, “Hi mommy!”

Up until very recently, I had legitimate fears that I wouldn’t be able to love both my girls enough once Mothra arrived. Would I love Mothra more? Would I love Godzilla less? How can one person possibly be expected to love more than one person with every fiber of her being?

It turns out, the closer Mothra gets to making her arrival, the more my heart seems to acquire the space.

I don’t know that I’ll ever feel adequately “enough” to manage two little girls. We will fight. We will yell. We will say mean things. I know…I have experience being the daughter of a headstrong mother. I will probably always feel like I haven’t done or given or taught or prepared them enough.

But I know that I will always love them enough. I will love them Beverly Goldberg style. I will love them until it annoys the hell out of them and they push me away and it will hurt me in ways I’ve never been hurt before. But I will love them enough.

And in the meantime, I’ll be making space in my house and getting rid of excess things I have enough of…and try to do some damn yoga.

On the depths of my soul…

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It’s exactly one week until my favorite day of the year. It’s better than my birthday. Better than Valentines Day.

Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year.

When I was younger, Christmas Day ruled all. I think that’s true for a lot of us. As children, we look forward to presents and Santa and seeing the tree in the morning. It was my favorite day until I was in my early 20s, I think. My parents did the most wonderful job of making Christmas magical for my siblings and me. The decorations always sparkled. We left out cookies and carrots for Santa and Rudolph (he was always welcome in our house). There were hoofprints on the roof in the morning. The tree was beautiful. The fire was always warm and crackling. In fact, none of that has changed. I’m nearly 37 years old and my parents still do everything the can to make Christmas morning magical. We still get gifts from Santa, wrapped in the same paper for the last 30-plus years.

As I’ve gotten older, my sense of wonder has shifted a little. Don’t get me wrong: I still love everything about Christmas morning, especially at my parent’s house. But the magic isn’t there anymore. It didn’t disappear. It shifted. It changed. It evolved.

The culmination of the entire year happens on Christmas Eve. My faith relies heavily on what happened that evening (which, yes, probably actually occurred sometime in the fall). Without Christmas Eve, my faith doesn’t even exist.

Every Christmas Eve, I look forward to midnight mass (or “the eleven o’clock service”, as it’s more commonly known in the evangelical world). It’s quiet and reflective. It’s peaceful. It’s serene. It’s basically everything that birth is not and everything that my life to that point hasn’t been. A year of chaos and noise comes to a grinding halt on Christmas Eve. Life’s busyness subsides and I am able to rest in the quiet and the candlelight, even if for just a moment.

It feels like Christ himself is breathing new life into my soul. Like I can hear Him say, “That feeling you have right now? That’s me. That can be all the time if you’ll just slow down and let me.”

That’s where the magic is for me now. When in the bustle and madness and fear and unknown of everyday life, I can sit quietly and honestly think, “Yes. All is well.”

So the magic of Christmas is still there for me. But it’s not in the lights or decorations or cookies.

It’s heavy. I can feel it’s weight.

It is the deep magic.

On wanting what I have…

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With only two-ish weeks left in the year (and thank God for that), I’ve started thinking about New Years resolutions. I do this every year. But the last ten or so years, my resolutions are more about deleting something from my life than about adding.

One year, I vowed to go to chain restaurants as little as possible. That one really stuck. Well, until I moved to southern Maryland where chain restaurants are really the only available options most of the time. I love seeking out new places to eat and discovering little hole-in-the-wall family-owned dives that just know what they’re doing with whatever food they’re serving. I’m looking forward to getting back to that when we move next year. That was easily one of my best resolutions to date.

This coming year I’ll be thinking more about subtractions. I want to simplify and minimalize. I want to spend less and do more.

For the last few years, ever since having our first baby, I’ve felt a constant need to get rid of things. I feel like there’s a lot of clutter and chaos in my life and a baby (or two babies, as the case will soon be) doesn’t lend itself to a lack of stuff. And the things we do actually need for the tiny humans are quite large. I’m beig overrun by toys, diapers, and shoes right now. It’s overwhelming a lot of the time. So I end up violently purging my own things a lot of the time. I’m vicious when I purge. I give zero regard. If I don’t currently use or need it, I want it out of my house. To the point I don’t even care if I can sell it. I’ll give it away if I can just get rid of it!

So my personal goal for 2017 is to buy fewer things. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually need, much less want. A friend recently told me about a friend of hers that went an entire year without buying anything new. I would love to try that sometime. I don’t think it’s at all realistic for someone with a husband and children. But it’s certainly something to keep in the back of my mind every time I go to Target or the grocery store or log on to Amazon.

One great thing about having two girls is that I don’t really need to buy anything new for the littlest one. She’ll get a few of her own things, but by and large, she can just wear her big sister’s clothes. And let’s be honest: babies and kids grow out of clothing so quickly that most of her things are still in fabulous condition! And there are some things that my first just didn’t get to wear for long enough, so it’ll be fun to put her sister in those tiny, cute clothes!

There’s also a really good chance that I’m going to need some smaller clothing once I’m done being pregnant and have hit my goal weight again. That’s a ways off, but it’s a reality. Granted, I have a TON of pre-pregnancy clothing that I can’t wait to get back into, but I know I’m going to want to treat myself to a couple new things. I think that’s fair. Plus, I’m going to need a new dress for when the sailor comes home from his next deployment (whenever that is).

But beyond that, there’s just not a lot of need or want in our family. We have everything we need and more. And what we want? Those aren’t really tangible things. I suspect that’s partially a product of getting older. I’d rather just spend time with my family than buy a new gadget.

Except for a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad. I really want one of those.