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.

gma and em 17 mo

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?

When marriage becomes real life

My relationship with my husband started out like any good romantic comedy. We wrote love letters daily, had epic conversations under bed sheets, laughed about things only we could understand, serenaded one another with our guitars and handwritten song lyrics, ate meals by the glow of candle light and got it on to perfectly curated playlists. We were instantly best friends, co-adventurers, and crazy in love. And we woke up every morning unbelievably grateful for what we had.

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Eventually, there was an intricate proposal and a beautiful wedding. We rode the high of our tropical honeymoon for a few months….and then the marriage began.

I somehow believed we would be exempt from any one of the typical marital stereotypes. Those things couldn’t possibly happen to us. We were different. We were so in love, so obsessed with romance, so happy.

But, on a day I can’t quite remember, I began to sometimes hate this man that I love so much. And I’m pretty sure he has hated me too, at times. Because, it’s hard living with someone who knows you so well….someone you know you have to stay and fight with (or have annoyingly long conversations with in the parking lot of the supermarket), because, really, you aren’t going to leave. Not ever.

Yes, instead of romance there is work. Things I need to work on, things he needs to work on, things we needed to work on. There is silence that goes on for too long, and times when it feels like we are murdering our relationship with horrible words we don’t mean.

I used to get legit tears in my eyes when I told this man how much I loved him, but when we became parents, there were instead times when I cried in my bedroom, with the door shut, wondering how we were going to keep this thing going.

At some point, I began to long for those carefree premarital days with my husband. The time before the six stressful months of trying to conceive a child, before the summer living with my mother-in-law, before two moves and home ownership, before pregnancy and adjusting to parenthood (**interesting statistic- did you know that 87% of couples go into crisis after the birth of their first child?). I missed those days when I was constantly overcome by I-need-you-I-want-you-NOW fits of passion just at the sight of this man. He could be wearing sweatpants or picking his nose. I just didn’t care. He was perfect and I did everything in my power to show him just how perfect he was back then. Now I’m the person who asks him demands he get a hair cut and shave before I have sex with him again.

We have changed, and I spent many months out of this last year of marriage wishing we could be the “old us.” That is, until one day when I said all of this out loud to my husband, and we realized together that the complicated (what feels like a) mess we are living right now is so much better. It is real…strong…reliable. The love we have now is on a whole new level that could not be understood by those crazy romantics from five years ago who had not yet experienced financial hardship, temporary homelessness or childbirth together. What those two (kids) had was fun, sure, but it was volatile and immature and could never compare to the stability of a real marriage.

Every fight, triumph, loss, struggle, joyful occasion…every peak and valley…is like another pass of a needle through cloth, threading us together and creating the unique, beautiful fabric that is our life. For this, we are happy and grateful.

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On not having it all

Over the weekend I put together a photography booth for our town’s annual fall festival. Though I have mostly put my career on hold, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to take advantage of the 10,000 people that would be streaming past my front lawn. It seemed like a waste not to. So, I dug out my inventory of prints and got to work. As I signed, packaged and labeled the photos that had once filled me with so much passion and drive, the reality of motherhood began to crash down on me.

festival

I love being a mother, and do not regret my decision to stay home during my child(ren)’s early years, but I also love working hard and using my talents. I need to love fully, and I need to be fully successful.

Once you become a mother, though, you enter a world of tough decisions. It can feel as though you are perpetually giving up something that is incredibly important (to you) in order to do something else that is also incredibly important. Consequently, you are doomed to always feel the pull of that thing that you said no to.

Right now I am struggling to accept that my very confident decision to stay home with my child means I cannot also be the woman who enjoys sitting at a desk (or metaphorical desk if I am out shooting photos) for eight hours, completely oblivious to anything other than my work. I am struggling to accept that I had to put down my laptop halfway through that last sentence to tend to my napping toddler who wanted to nurse.

Because, I have enormous expectations of myself as a career woman and a mother. So, how do I reconcile those two facts?

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I suppose all I can do is what every other mother must do: feel comfortable in the decision I made and try to surrender to reality. Because, as I tried to fit a month’s worth of preparation into three hours this past weekend, I proved to myself that I simply do not have enough hours, energy, and love to split between two things that I do not know how to do halfway. So, for now, I have to be okay with where I am and put a tack in that other important thing. And I have to do so with the knowledge that I will never fully extinguish the (deceptive) voice that calls to me: you can have it all. Because, I can’t help but dream of feeling whole.

 

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)!

Kid-approved Smoothie

Just as soon as I became a master of food deception, my suddenly and extremely picky toddler decided that she would once again eat all the superfoods I could throw at her. But, that little window in which I feared my child’s health would suffer taught me so much about adding nutrition to food without sacrificing taste. One such addition to Emerson’s diet that has become a big part of our afternoon snack routine is a healthy smoothie.

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This smoothie is sweet like juice but is chock-full of calcium, antioxidants, fiber, omegas, potassium, probiotics, protein and much more!

P.S. It’s great for kids of any age and adults, too!

smoothie

Secretly Nutritious Smoothie

Ingredients:
1 banana, cut into several slices
1/2 cup strawberry yogurt (I use a combo of strawberry coconut milk yogurt and sunflower milk to make it allergen-free, a little less sweet and to add some extra nutrients)
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 cups, loosely packed, baby spinach leaves
1 tbsp flax meal

Directions: Blend and serve. Fun straw recommended!

Additions: You can easily change up the fruit, sub kale for spinach and/or add extra nutrients with things like a handful of chopped almonds or chia seeds.

 

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.

tree

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.

Warrior

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!