Hello, there!

I am here, people! It’s been a while, and I’m not really sure what to say about my sudden and prolonged hiatus (the longest I’ve gone without blogging for almost five years!). I’ve basically been in a period of deep reflection and change, and have found my energy being needed elsewhere.

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I felt like I needed some space—something that is a rarity in my life as a mother (and tell-all blogger). I needed to take a break to really meditate on the direction of my life, and what I want to be doing with myself—something I need to do on a very thorough level at least once a year. I needed to think for a while without sharing those thoughts. And, really, I also wanted to know what it felt like to just be a mother and nothing else.

Then there’s this new phase of mothering that has left me with almost nothing to give outside of my home: mid-toddlerhood. They say toddlerhood exists between the ages of one and three. That’s a pretty long phase, as far as I’m concerned. Given it is two years instead of a few months like many other phases, there are so many phases within phases within phases when it comes to “toddlerhood.” You wake up one day and your baby is suddenly gone and you are staring a toddler in the face. A whole new creature. From then on you walk further and deeper into a crazy, challenging, hilarious, exhausting existence (wondering how you are going to make it to the other side, at times).

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Because of this, I feel like toddlerhood should be broken up into levels or stages so we can have some sort of reference point. Like, “it’s total level three toddlerhood up in here. It’s all I do it MYSELF/I will climb up on your counters and swipe anything you suckers leave lying around/everything you own is now MINE/I’m a big girl/I’m a baby/I will only stop screaming if you let me wear your hot pink underwear over my pants, a bathing suit on my head, and one mitten to music class/surprise, surprise, sometimes I will take a nap, sometimes I won’t/I need you/I don’t need you/leave me alone/GIVE ME ALL YOUR ATTENTION NOW/stop hugging me/yes, I wrote all over my body and your white couch with the highlighters I found in your desk/I’m never going to sleep/I see nothing wrong with the volume of my voice, I’m sorry about your headache.”

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Anyway. I’m exhausted. In a new way. That’s one of many secrets about being a parent. Okay, maybe it’s not a secret, but it certainly feels that way when it happens to you, because somewhere inside you you are hoping that your kid is the one exception to every typical newborn/infancy/toddlerhood/childhood phase, affliction or annoyance. You want to believe that you will be the lucky ones and it will somehow get easier and less tiring at some point. But, really, as most parents say, it doesn’t get “easier” per se, it just gets “different.” One thing that was hard or exhausting will resolve and an entirely new one will pop up.

And that is what is happening to me now. I feel such freedom from a laundry list of baby and early toddlerhood challenges and totally exhausted in a new way that is forcing me to live my life differently (hence, the no blogging).

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I have this little being who talks. Like, really talks, freakishly well for her age. I’m not sure how it’s even biologically or physically possible. She is speaking in sentences, she uses pronouns and past tense and adjectives and articles and possessives. And, it never stops. She wants to talk to me all day and everything she says requires a response, and if no response is given she will just repeat what she has said over, and over, in an increasingly urgent, increasingly high pitched voice. And, don’t get me wrong, I am so in love with this amazing being with the most awesome personality I’ve ever known, but it takes a lot out of me.

You see, a toddler is so different to me than a baby, in that their needs are more difficult to meet. I totally rock the baby phase. I am at my best when I am soothing and nurturing and cuddling. I didn’t get any sleep those first months after Em was born, but I was oddly not tired. Really. Feedings every two hours, twenty-four hours a day? Seriously, probably the most awake I’ve felt as a mother. Now, the needs are more complicated. I am living with a person, not a baby, who is rich with emotion and preference and intelligence. There is a lot to take care of there that isn’t always a tangible “thing” like patting her back to make her burp so she stops fussing.

Of course, there is also all the running. And chasing. And various types of physically-challenging “rides” she would like me to give her. And playing. And saving her from killing herself. And constant….constant cleaning up of messes. And shorter naps…oh, the shorter naps. And fighting bedtime.

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On top of toddlerhood, there is also me. I find myself weaving in and out of these states of being just a mother, and trying to find the piece of me that isn’t a mother. Instead of the challenge of my youth—not seeing a path to take—I find myself with so many clear paths laid out in front of me, each of which would lead me to a totally different life from the others, but with a complete inability to decide which one is right.

Which career? When?  Go back to the old career I hated or show my child what is possible by following your passion? Take classes? Get another degree? Before, during, or after more kids? Do I even want any more kids? Can Emerson be my only child? How many more kids do I want? When?

Just to name a fraction of the life decisions I’m facing…

So, that is where I’ve been. I hope some of you are still out there. I’m back and I’ve got a lot of new ideas!

P.S. For those of you who were concerned about Emerson’s health (which, I’m sorry was the last thing I posted…kind of an ominous way to go out), everything is fine. We saw a specialist, and aside from being on a yearly watch, our fears of anything serious happening to our sweet angel have been alleviated. Thank you to all of you who showed us great support and sent kind prayers! It meant a lot! Hugs!

The fear of losing everything

I took Emerson to the doctor’s office this morning. She has a hemangioma on her tongue. Or, so they think. It showed up when she was about seven-months-old—a tiny black line that grew into a small, swollen black mass over the course of a few months. At the time, I wanted to know what it was, but felt comforted by the explanation: it’s a benign venous malformation, much like a birth mark, that will most likely shrink and go away. We had three doctors look at it. And that was that.

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But, one night a few weeks ago, I asked Emerson to stick out her tongue while brushing her teeth and the small mass looked slightly bigger. I had already been feeling increasingly nervous as the months passed and it hadn’t gone away. But now, it definitely looked a little bigger to me…the one thing the doctors told me to watch for. When I saw it, tears instantly began to fall from my eyes. I hugged my child, who looked at me bewildered, as I repeated the words “please let my child be okay! Please! PLEASE!”

That night I began to do some research, though I knew it wouldn’t alleviate my anxiety. That empty box at google.com waiting for you to fill it with all your worries and fears and question marks can be the worst place for a mama (or anyone, really) to find herself. But, there I was. I began to worry. I began to imagine the next step…an oral surgeon…a sedated biopsy….an operating room…and and and. AND…the worst feeling a parent can ever have: the fear of something being wrong with their precious child.

I decided to be proactive and made an appointment with a pediatric Ear, Nose, and throat surgeon. That’s what my google search told me to do. I felt slightly relieved. But, not really.

Today, we went to the pediatrician so he could assess the situation before I take Emerson to the specialist. Emerson was terrified, as she usually is in the doctor’s office. She clawed her way up my body, pleading with me “mama, no! mama, NO!” She sobbed in a way I have only heard exactly four times in her life. And this was just to LOOK at her tongue. Imagining any next steps felt incredibly daunting in that moment. In so many ways.

The pediatrician didn’t have anything new to offer, except some words that were very unlikely, but he had to say because it is his job to give me all the possibilities. Those words were “tumor” and “malignant.”

Of course, the mother in me could barely hear the words “very small likelihood,” as I held back a wave of tears. I smiled and tried to act as if I understood when the doctor said “don’t lose any sleep.”

On the way home, I did everything in my power to stay positive…and practical….and calm. But, there were too many visuals in my head. There was the memory of watching my husband’s cousin lose his first born child just two months ago. There was the knowledge that in creating this beautiful, amazing, gift-from-above being sitting in the back of my car, I am now vulnerable beyond measure. Because, from the day my child entered this world, I have experienced the greatest, most overwhelming kind of love I’ve ever known, but with that comes the fear of losing it all.

To write or not to write: how to decide between work and family

I should start this post by saying that I don’t have the answer to this question. And I’m not sure any mother out there can make a decision about her work versus family life and not feel the slightest bit unsure or like she is sacrificing something. At least I have yet to meet or read about a mother who is able to do so.

I have written about not having it all several times. But, it’s one of those issues that us mothers seem to constantly confront as our perspective, experience and children grow. For me, the past month has been a period of deep searching and transformation. In this time, I have scaled back on my blogging, sometimes intentionally and sometimes, not so intentionally. I’ve been experimenting and here’s what I found: I am a better mother when I don’t write. To be more specific— I am more available mentally and spiritually.

***

I write because I was born with burning embers circulating throughout my body, calling me to string words together and share them with the world. It is there, in the depths of all that is unshakable in my being. And I thought it would fit seamlessly into my life as a mother (who wants to stay home while her child(ren) are young). But, it doesn’t. Not really.

I really pushed to develop this blog. To dedicate myself to it. To make it real. And it all seemed relatively manageable until my child reached the age of one. Now, as she continues to grow, it has become increasingly difficult for me to write. The time, the energy, and the mental space aren’t always there. And when I am able to write, it takes me away from my daughter in some way, just like anything else that I give myself to in this life of mothering. And that is where the tough questions and decisions arise.

What do I want to give myself to?

I have spent the past several weeks giving more of myself to my child instead of my writing. And a huge space has opened up for me. I’ve been more present in my life. I’ve felt a bit freer and more energized. But, also sad because what does this mean? Is it a sign that I should stop writing this blog? But, what about my dreams? My goals? What about advancing my career? That art degree I was thinking about? My business?

The reality of the decisions I’ve already made suddenly hit me. I’m a mom. A mom who decided she absolutely had to stay home with her child. And there will probably be more children which means….more time at home. If I don’t have the time now, how can I expect to have the time when my house is even fuller?

The take away from my month of experimenting seemed to be this: be patient, and adjust your short-term expectations.

But, of course, just as I began to accept these realizations, I had a dream. An actual dream, while I was sleeping the other night. I was speaking to a faceless being (God, if you will) about my life. This faceless being told me that I was going to die some day and asked me what I needed to do before that happened. And I said “write!” I screamed and cried “write!” with my fists pounding up to the sky. The faceless being agreed so I told him I would publish my work before I died.

And there you have it. Accepting that I can’t have it all will likely always be a battle. Neither part of me wants to die.

 

 

Mother Woman

Yesterday morning I frantically threw together a bag of snacks, diapers, and diversion tactics while simultaneously feeding Emerson lunch and layering her in mittens and warm clothes. I was late, as per usual, to the support group I attend every Monday.

I eventually made it to the meeting, and also as per usual, was not judged for being late. In fact, we were all told to congratulate ourselves for making it there. And with that, I was in a safe place.

When it came time for me to speak, I decided to bring to light something I have been silently struggling with for the past eighteen months that I’ve been a mother. This post, though, is not about that struggle in particular, but a small prayer of gratitude for the sacred space called “Mother Woman” that allows me to share what feels insurmountable and leave feeling lighter each week.

***

When I learned I was pregnant, I knew I’d need support when the baby arrived. And somehow physical help with my new baby seemed to pale in comparison to the emotional support I knew I would need to weather the enormous and overwhelming transition into motherhood.

So, I had a group for new mothers picked out halfway through my pregnancy. When my baby finally arrived, that group was the one place I could go during those first few weeks and months when the life I had previously known felt like it had been paused, and the majority of my time was spent at home nursing and sleeping. It was a place where my baby could cry….a place where I could cry. There was no judgement and a whole lot of voices speaking the truth about this beautiful but confusing experience I was going through.

But then I was no longer a new mother and my baby was no longer a newborn so we outgrew the group. Yet, I felt like I needed support more than ever as I started to have feelings and experiences that I felt very alone in (mostly while browsing my Facebook newsfeed full of “motherhood is so great and special!” posts). I spent many months suffering without an outlet and feared I would soon slip into postpartum depression. Until one day when a new group (part of a larger organization) formed right across the street from my house—a group that has become critical to my sanity and serenity as a mother.

In our lives as mothers we spend so much of our time and energy nurturing others, but we, ourselves, need to be nurtured in order to continue this tough job. We need to know we are not alone in our struggles, to feel heard (and perhaps validated), to be totally real without fear of judgement. We need other mothers.

I am incredibly grateful for the group of mothers I have found who always manage to leave me feeling nurtured and empowered. And I urge other mothers to find the same!

Light and love, sisters!

Support

This past week I found myself unexpectedly evacuated from my house. We have been on a waiting list to have the exterior of our house de-leaded and painted for a few months and finally got the call on Sunday that it was time. I immediately entered panic mode as we were traveling this past weekend, which meant driving home, unpacking, washing everything, cleaning and repacking in less than twenty-four hours. Alex and I were also stressed at the thought of our family being split up, something we try to avoid whenever possible. But, it was for the sake of Emerson’s health, so we did it.

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My mother-in-law came up to help us get this whole evacuation situation worked out, thus beginning a week that got me thinking about so many things. Namely, support.

Alex and I moved to the top of this isolated mountain when we were in a very different phase of life. We were a newlywed, urban-dwelling couple who fantasized about living a simple life in a pastoral setting. The idea of six months of snow, farm shares, being a long trek from civilization, and not knowing a single person who lived in this new place all sounded so pleasant. Romantic even. Totally what we wanted after living in cities for most of our 20’s.

And then we learned we were pregnant with our first child a week before we closed on our new house (and new life). Little did we know all of our needs and wants would drastically change when two lines showed up on that plastic stick.

Life instantly became a bit more challenging as my pregnancy kept me close to my bed (and a toilet) at all times. Suddenly, being so isolated didn’t feel all that romantic. And once the baby came, it felt downright impractical at times.

Now, all the things we didn’t want have become the things that we need. In fact, it is so extreme a shift that our hometown, the very place that Alex and I couldn’t wait to run as far away from as possible throughout our youth, has become an ideal example of where we’d like to raise our kids. And living down the street from our parents doesn’t sound all that bad.

You see, as I spent this week with my mother-in-law, I felt how truly wonderful it is to have frequent help and an abundance of resources at my disposal. Quite honestly, it made parenting so much easier and more enjoyable. It is everything I have dreamed of having the past (almost) eighteen months as a parent.

One thing is for sure: It takes a village. But, what happens when you don’t have a village nearby?

The parenting roller coaster

Anything that progresses or can be accomplished in a linear fashion is comforting. It’s predictable, logical, and the end point tangible and rewarding. Unfortunately, none of these things describe parenthood, and that is why I often feel like I might lose my mind.

If you frequent my blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed my lack of posting these past two weeks. And the reason for this unintentional hiatus is my unpredictable daughter. Nap time (aka the time I use to write this blog) has been totally shaken up. I had (so illogically) come to rely on this time. I’ve always had a chunk of hours, every day, without question. But, as of late, I have  found myself fighting with my toddler to go to sleep, spending nap time with her lying directly on top of me (and if not, she refuses to sleep), and this week I’ve had the pleasure of also experiencing motherhood without any naps during the day.

Let me just say, mothering a toddler who doesn’t take a nap is just not fair.

Let’s also throw in the mix the fact that I’ve been dealing with a child screaming in pain in the middle of the night (thank you to those three teeth that are currently ruining our lives!). So, when I have managed to get my toddler to nap, I have subsequently passed out on the floor, unable to accomplish anything on account of terrible nights of sleeplessness.

It’s not linear. We had figured out how to take one three-hour long nap every day. We were getting so good at sleeping in a toddler bed without mama. We were nursing less. We were sleeping more. And then boom! Parenthood. I was fooled by what looked like a straight line, and got way too comfortable, before promptly being reminded that parenting isn’t that simple.

So, we ride on. Up. Down. Over. And over. (And probably over, again). And we remind ourselves that it won’t always look like this. It can’t possibly. The roller coaster will continue, of course, but the details of today that seem immovable will one day vanish. (I’m hoping that day is tomorrow).

 

Sensory play for toddlers

Most ideas for sensory play involve a toddler’s hands, but they can learn about the world (and have just as much fun) with their feet, too. It’s a fun way to change things up.

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Here’s one idea for sensory (foot) play: Line the floor with different textures, put on some music and encourage your child to dance on this fun new dance floor. Here I used bubble wrap with various size bubbles and crinkly packing paper.

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Have fun (tutu optional)!

Coming home to me

After I published my post last Friday about the difficult phase of mothering I am in, I tossed a book (not about parenting) in my purse (not a diaper bag) and headed to the café down the street (by myself!). To my former, pre-child self this was an ordinary act, but to my current, round-the-clock mama self it was nothing short of monumental. Much to my surprise, in my first outing sans little one, both selves came along.

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I was only down the street, but the space and distance I felt from my life was powerfully relieving. I drank tea before it got cold, I sat in a public place feeling relaxed instead of constantly rummaging through a bag of tricks to keep my child quiet, I read a book without pictures or torn pages. I sat there—slightly altered, but almost the same—feeling ready for more ME. Forty minutes and a quarter mile from home wasn’t enough.

And so, I woke up the next morning, strapped on the yoga clothes that were practically my uniform in my past life, and set out to reclaim more of myself. I was excited and comfortable with the idea of leaving Emerson at home for the first time (more than a half hour) until she started to cry and begged to nurse. My husband and I had been bickering as I was trying to leave (horribly poor timing) and in that moment I felt like I was kidding myself for thinking I could take time out to be “me” again.

I stood paralyzed in the doorway, trying to decide between two things that I love so fiercely: my child, and myself.

I finally made it to the car, but sat in my seat with the door ajar for seven minutes, tears welling, before I finally realized that tears or not (on Emerson’s part, or mine) my need for space was still there. Leaving now was exactly what this was all about—no longer ignoring my own needs. Put my oxygen mask on first, I reminded myself.

So I went. I felt nervous until I turned off of our street. And then suddenly, as I made my way down the mountain, autumn leaves flashing past me, adult music reminding me of freedom, I became myself again. Just like that. After forty-three weeks of carrying Emerson inside me, and sixteen months (two weeks and two days) of carrying Emerson on my hip, I felt that old self that I feared was lost forever.

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When I finally made it to the yoga studio and spread open my mat I was afraid that this “new old” feeling wouldn’t last. Tears once again welled in my eyes as I poured my story out to the instructor….leaving my child for the first time….having left my yoga practice for so long….not knowing what my body was capable of after giving birth. She understood. She was a mother.

And then, music began to fill the room with the soft wooden floor. It was the very album I had listened to on repeat many years ago. And my body responded. It opened. It called me home. I moved through the poses gracefully, as if dancing—inhale, arms up, I’m okay…exhale, forward fold, I am still me…inhale, lunge, I can do this…exhale, chaturanga, I am strong. It was as if no time had passed.

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On that morning, in that studio, by myself, everything was the same, but different. It all made sense to me…finally…as I bowed my head and held my hands in front of my heart.

I know I’ll get lost again, for I am still a mother, but at least now I know my way back home.

Pushed to the brink…of motherhood

I remember reading in the Dr. Sears Baby Book that the period from twelve to eighteen months was the most exhausting for mothers. I didn’t quite believe him. But I’d now like to curl up at Dr Sears’ feet, sob, and ask him to move in with me.

The past two weeks have pushed me to what I now know is my threshold as a mother. I thought I had bumped up against it before, but no. Not really. Now, I have had two experiences that have very clearly reached beyond my limits.

The first experience was a day last week, after much whining and too much nursing and not enough sleeping, when I continually thought to myself throughout the day: I just don’t feel like being a mother today. I have no idea if that fact is alarming or totally expected, but I’ve never felt the desire to check out for a day so it felt new….and not so great.

The second experience was last night, after a long string of difficult bedtimes, difficult nights, and difficult mornings (that have had me up for the day between four and five a.m.). As Emerson began to make it clear that it was going to be hours before she closed her eyes for the night (yet again), I was filled with an intense level of frustration. I was fuming. I wanted to be so very far away as I felt the cumulative effect of 16-months of nursing, patting a tiny back until my hand goes numb, bouncing, rocking, singing…in my bedroom, in her bedroom, in the baby carrier. I felt exhausted and emotionally depleted and desperately wanted….no, needed…to be alone without anyone touching me or asking me for anything…or even talking to me, for that matter.

I felt angry and afraid that I was angry.

But, I am a mother. And mothers get angry. And feel pushed. And overwhelmed. And say things they wish they didn’t to their beautiful, amazing children that they really do love. Sometimes we have nothing left to give.

***

During the three hours that I was pushing during labor with Emerson, I found myself reaching a raw point when I could no longer access any sort of zen. All the positive, empowering words I had been reciting out loud, and in my head, for forty-eight hours disappeared. The meditative visualizations of lakes at sunset and mountains covered in trees vanished. All I could do was repeat these words to myself, over and over: get the fuck out of me. It was a beautiful birth, but I will never forget that little bit of ugliness that took place in the midst of it. Just as I will always look back on the first years of my first born’s life as the golden years…a time of great magic….the best ever….while knowing that on many a night all I could hear in my head, on repeat, was: go the fuck to sleep.

I know I can’t un-marry parenthood from its challenges. I know that I cannot be the only mother to not ever feel angry with her child. But man, I wish I could.

Instead, here I am, pushed to the brink. I have been giving, and giving, and giving for sixteen months, two weeks, and one day. And it’s wonderful, satisfying, gives my life meaning, and makes me feel totally grateful. But, it’s also frustrating, limiting, emotionally exhausting, and sometimes leaves me feeling resentful. It’s not pretty, but that’s the whole truth.

So, here’s to you (glass raised), all you beautiful mother warriors out there taking deep breaths, yelling into pillows if need be, and trucking on! You’re doing a great job!

 

Go your own way

Emerson loves putting together unique outfits. Underwear as a hat, a tie as a scarf, a tank top as a necklace, sparkly sandals with sweatpants. It’s incredible to watch her creativity and sense of individuality emerge. But, it’s not just entertaining, it’s inspiring.

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The other day, Emerson asked to wear a tutu over her jeans. I happily obliged, and then we went outside for a walk. It was a cold day so I had to bundle her up, but delicate pink tutu still peeked out the bottom of her outerwear. As she strolled around the neighborhood and played at the library, I couldn’t help but notice how comfortable Emerson was with fashion her choice.

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As adults, we are more reserved, more fearful, more aware of ourselves when we are doing something that feels “out of the ordinary.” But children have the freedom (if we let them) to be themselves, tutu and all. They do what makes them happy instead of trying to please others and they embrace their ideas instead of doubting them. In watching Emerson demonstrate all those things, I felt envious. I wished I had a tutu over my jeans…for all to see….without feeling the need to explain it to anyone…with a smile on my face. What a different world this would be if we could carry that state of mine into adulthood.