Tag Archives: truth

Manufactured Memories (or Poop Jokes and Yoga Pants)

22 Jul

“The funny thing about taking family photographs,” my husband quipped in-between poses, “is that you’re basically documenting manufactured memories.”

I have to be honest.  Our family doesn’t often look like this:

Family Portrait

All of us smiling, standing in a field brushed with sunlight, and dressed to the nines in a color-coordinating palette of blues and oranges. There is a dramatic lack of yoga pants and mis-matched toddler socks here, along with way too much grooming.

And, can I tell you a secret?  The only reason my girls are smiling is that our wonderful photographer was cracking poop jokes from behind her lens, on my suggestion (I’ll take my Mom of the Year Award now, thanks).

But despite the surreal nature of the shots Shannon caught last weekend, I disagree that they fail to capture our family.  While we may not always look just like this, it’s a perfect depiction of how I feel inside.  My girls?  They fill my life with light. And though the mundane tasks of the day and sibling squabbles dominate my schedule, there is a contentment in my family that I rarely get the chance to capture.

The closer I look at our portrait, the more I see that Shannon photographed each of our personalities perfectly.  My shy, snuggly Bean and her comedian older sister.  My husband, with his arms wrapped around every one of us, the backbone of our family.  And me, with a genuinely happy and relaxed smile.

Manufactured?  Staged?  Maybe.  But not one less bit real.

Girls in Field Photo Shoot

 


If you are in the Boston area, Shannon (who is uber-talented) is running an unbelievably amazing summer special for $149! If that wasn’t enough, she loves Warrior Moms.  Creative Images Boston will donate $15 for each session that mentions Postpartum Progress!

Summer Special

Disclaimer: I received nothing in return for my post or sharing of Shannon’s summer special.  My post was completely unsolicited.  I just adore her and her work and love to help out a fellow mama.  Shannon, you’re amazing and I’m so grateful to you for capturing my family so perfectly.

Warrior Mom, Climber of Mountains

22 Jun

I slept for almost 13 hours last night after climbing 4.2 miles and 4,300 feet up to the summit of Mt Washington for Climb Out of the Darkness yesterday. 13 glorious hours. And as I massage my sore muscles, I am struck by the fact that I just accomplished an amazing feat.

In the last five years, I have struggled with three lumbar disc ruptures, a neck strain that sent me to physical therapy, and have been diagnosed with kidney disease. I have birthed two babies, leaving my core in ruins and with little time or energy to care for myself. And I have found myself fighting to love my body where it is while also wanting it to be better – stronger and more healthy.

Conditioned by society and pop culture, despite the wisdom of my rational mind, I have pulled and tugged at my stomach, cursed my thighs, and wondered how I would ever teach my girls to love their own bodies, when I could find only criticism for mine.

But today, in the shadow of yesterday’s glory, I am inspired by what my body was able to do and the courage it took to continue up the mountain. One rock at a time, I ascended 4,300 feet into the clouds. Though my back ached and my legs wobbled beneath me, I pressed on, honoring my body’s strength for the first time in a very long time. I am filled with gratitude for each and every pound that carried me up the hills and traversed the ravine.

As I crawled up the final push yesterday, I said out loud, “this is for every morning I thought I couldn’t get out of bed. For that moment when motherhood so overwhelmed me that I wanted to run away and leave it all behind.”

I have always been a Warrior Mom. Now, I’m also a mountain climber. Watch out world, there’s nothing I can’t do.

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Melissa and Juli, Andrew and Saige, and my husband Adam. I could not have done it without your support. Thank you.

You can learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness HERE.

In Mourning

19 Jun

Bean Nursing 2 years old“You have any milk you, mama?” she asked me as I rocked forward in the glider to scoop her up in my lap.  Not a request.  Not a whine.  Merely a curiosity.

That had become our routine each bedtime, and I expected her question.  What surprised me was my answer.

“Yes, sweetie.  Mommy has milk for you.  But this is the last time the milk will be there.  When babies get old enough, the mommies stop making milk.  You don’t nurse very much these days, so mommy’s body is almost done making milk.  You can have milk and we can talk about how special it is and we will snuggle, but then we will be all done, okay?”

She nodded in response and leaned in for her pre-nap nurse.  As we rocked, I pressed my nose into her curly hair, breathing in what I imagined to be the last molecules of baby smell.  I traced my fingers down her chubby calves and around her still-tiny feet and she giggled as she mumbled “mommy no tickle me,” without jeopardizing her latch.  I meditated on the weight of her head in the crook of my arm, how the curls tickled my skin and how, even at 30 months, she always found a way to curl her body around mine.

“Mommy’s really sad that the milk is going away,” I told her, “It’s been so special and I love you so much.”

She nursed for maybe 3 minutes, unlatched, and that was it.  The end of an era.

And I am not okay.

I chose my title not as click-bait, to sensationalize, or to diminish anyone’s loss, but to illustrate the depth of mine, because as I fumble in the dark for words to describe the these past 4 days, I keep finding myself awash in grief.

As we go about our day, the tears return at their pleasure.  I move damp laundry from one appliance to another and am transported back to her newborn days when only nursing in the bathroom with the dryer running would soothe her colic.  In the shower, I ponder how long my body will continue to live in denial, still leaking as the hot water hits my breast.  And as I throw her on my hip to carry her through the yard and her hand grazes my collarbone, I find myself aching so much it hurts to breathe.

I feel like I’m losing her.

As I dig vulnerably to search for the source of this pain, I realize this marks the end of her babyhood for me.  And though I expect she and I will fill the void weaning leaves in our relationship in other ways, I wonder if anything will ever really be as intimate as nursing.  For 30 months, our bodies were connected even after she left my womb.  And what began as a time to fulfill her hunger and need for warmth slowly matured into what I can only describe as a wordless conversation – a ritual that sealed our bond.

I didn’t plan on closing this chapter that afternoon.  As I have with my all my daughters’ transitions, I followed my gut, and true to form, Bean is fine.  She continues to ask if I have any milk, and tells me she is sad it is gone - but her inquisition lasts only briefly before she is bouncing in my lap and asking for me to “tell a story about princess Rapunzel and princess Cinderella having tea.”  We weaned ever-so-slowly, and I couldn’t have wished for her to have a better experience letting go.

Behind my sadness lies a feeling of wonderment and awe at what she and I accomplished.  The end was due to come in its time, and when the immediacy of this pain fades into merely bittersweet memories, I expect I will be filled with gratitude, both for our time together and the gentle way in which she grew out of it.

For now, I let the tears fall and try not to wish them away.  For they tell the story of a beautiful journey.

 

 

Phone It In Phriday

30 May

See what I did there?

I am buried in Climb Out of the Darkness (HAVE YOU DONATED YET?), Warrior Mom Conference, and preparing all the new hat designs for their July debut.  My music studio’s recital is this weekend, I’m exercising 6 days a week, and with the added responsibilities of household chores, I’m barely keeping up.

But as I lifted my bicycle onto the car rack yesterday, I had a thought.

Six months ago, I would NEVER have been able to do this.

Lift the bike.

Take both kids out for a ride on my own.

Juggle motherhood, two home businesses, non-profit work, and preparing a child for kindergarten.

Make phone calls to hospital executives and sound official.

Write sponsorship emails to major companies.

I may be phoning it in here, but I’m definitely in the arena in all the other areas of my life.  It’s a good kind of busy.  Amiyrah would call it “full.”  I like that.  Full.

My blog may be neglected.  My toilets may be dirty.  But my life is full.

gratuitous adorable toddler photo

gratuitous adorable toddler photo

 

Accomplishment, Worthiness, and Compulsion

11 Apr

I let someone down recently.  They saw a side of me I genuinely hate but can’t seem to change.

I have “compulsive completion disease”.  If there’s a job that needs doing, I throw myself into it and knock tasks off the to-do list with wild abandon.  I honestly can’t help myself and usually don’t realize I’ve overstepped my bounds until it’s too late.  I was the kind of kid in school who completed class projects weeks before their due date, who looked forward to homework, who hated group projects, and who reminded the teacher that he had forgotten that extra credit assignment for us to turn in on Monday.  If you *were* in a class project with me?  You probably got an A but didn’t get to do much.

My mom has it, too.  When she comes to watch the kids, she often puts in a load of laundry and unloads the dishwasher.  She brings rolls of paper towels and reorganizes my pantry.  It drives me nuts.

I used to feel like she helped out because she thought I couldn’t handle the housework … as if her assistance was a quiet judgement of my diminishing value as a housekeeper.

But really, that was just how I felt about myself.  I was the only person who thought her help was about me.

I’ve learned to let her help.  I ignore the thoughts that feel annoyed and focus on accepting her assistance, because the truth is that I really do need it with the housework and the girls.  And I’ve learned when to ask her not to help… because the truth is that there are times I want to do things for myself, and I want her to respect those boundaries.  She does.

A friend asked me to step back recently.  To help less and to listen more.  And that my personality hurt her somehow is eating at me.  I know I always seem so wise and so in control of the shame that plagues us all, but this one, I just can’t shake.

I’ve apologized.  She and I are okay.  I know that my imperfection does not make me unworthy of her friendship.  But I know I’ve let her down.  I loathe letting people down as much as I adore helping people –  which just goes to show that I’m equating my self-worth with my accomplishments instead of believing that I am worthy of love and belonging despite what I do or what mistakes I make.

Letting accomplishments feed my joy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when I find myself clutching success with an iron grip in fear of losing people I love, I need to reexamine my motivations.

I’m a do-er.  It’s a part of who I am.

But I want to do better at doing less.

Emulating Perfection

19 Feb

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who snuck into her mother’s bathroom to poke through a drawer of wonder. Lotions and make ups. Powders and perfumes. Treasures worth the risk taken tiptoeing down the long, barren hallway to a room her parents considered a protected sanctuary. She applied the powder to her arms, to her face, to her hands, unsure of where it was supposed to go but confident that it made her just as beautiful as her mother, for it was her mother she was trying to embody.

For she grew up knowing that her father believed her mother to the the most beautiful creature in the planet. The most exquisite human being in existence, in fact, and she wanted just a taste of that kind of magic. To stretch out into, and fill up, her mother’s shadow.

Once, only once, her father uttered the words, “I wish your mother would…”  Her ears perked up and she raced into the room to find out what she trumped her mother in, begging her father to say it again.  She hoped for something deep and personal, for some great character trait her father would praise her for.  “He wishes Mom painted her toenails,” her younger brother whispered, and her face dropped into disappointment.  Surely there was something remarkable about her besides the polish she applied to her feet.

————

It makes me sad to look back and realize how much of my self worth as a child and teen was based on measuring up to someone else.  Honestly, I held onto my pedicure triumph for years.  YEARS, people, thinking “at least there is something I do that is good enough.”

My parents were (are) loving, attentive parents.  But I always felt, and work today to keep myself from feeling, that there was an element to their love that I had to earn.  And though I don’t blame them one bit, I wonder whether there’s something they did to cause me feel this way.  Maybe it is just a part of my personality, or unavoidable human nature.  Perhaps it’s partly to blame on my birth order.  It won’t surprise anyone who knows me to learn I am the eldest of three.

Now that I’m a mother of two children myself, I see how I treat my girls differently, and not just because they are different people and different ages, and therefore need different things from me (That was a lot of “differents” all in once sentence.  My English teacher would cringe).  My oldest seems so much older since her little sister joined us, and I constantly catch myself pushing her to put her childish ways behind her, as if they are reserved solely for the baby.  Some days I hypothetically ask her, “what are you? Five?” and it stops me in my tracks as I remember how small, fragile, and adorable 5-year-olds seemed to me before I had children of my own.  It’s the curse of being the oldest – the added responsibility of paving the way, your parents using their experiences with you to better themselves for your successor.

As I write all this, I realize that my mindfulness gives me an advantage and that I don’t doubt my worth as a mother to BOTH of my girls because I know I truly am doing the best I can with the knowledge that I have at the time.  I don’t expect to parent perfectly, nor do my children need me to.  And though I look back at the moment when I learned my father’s worship of my mother knew no bounds – that he loved her in a way he would never love me – with continued envy, I know it has shaped me for the better.

Mom and DadMy parents have been married for 36 years, and I see in my dad’s eyes that he feels the same way he did all those years ago.  Nothing compares to my mother for him.  And because he modeled that kind of marriage – one of unconditional love – I looked for the same in a spouse.  I can’t compare my love for my husband to the love I have for my children.  They are different kinds of love and can’t be measured with the same yardstick.  But there IS something about my husband that grants him trump.  After all, I chose him.  We vowed to spend our lives together, and when our girls have grown and left us to begin lives of their own, we will still be stuck with each other’s company, hopefully for many years.

As far as comparing myself to my mother?  I think I will always do that.  She’s an amazing woman to emulate.  But what I have discovered over the years is that she catches herself trying to emulate me as well.  She sees in me the best of her, and even better.  And that, besides being the greatest gift a parent can give a child, is what I couldn’t see all those years ago, when childhood placed a halo above my parents’ heads, blinding me to their humanity.

They were imperfect, too.

This Moment

17 Jan

As I stepped gently up the stairs to tell my rambunctious, challenging five year old she could come down while her baby sister continued to nap, I wondered to myself why she was so quiet.  I prepared myself for battle: the daily argument over picking up her room, and the barrage of requests that would accompany her back down to the living room.  And then I was greeted by this.  I sat down on the edge of her empty mattress and stared at her.

Impromptu Nap

She had fallen asleep on her floor, decorating a tinsel Christmas tree with hair barrettes during her “rest time.”  Her ever-faithful “Light-Up Turtle” companion by her head and her soulmate “Cuddle Monkey” tucked under an arm, she snored beneath a pile of blankets.  And in an instant, the stern-mommy-of-a-preschooler in me melted into the mom I remember being to her.

You see, though I love her fiercely, she and I are like oil and water – if oil and water were practically identical, that is.  Everything is an exercise in diplomacy with her, and most days I can no longer see the baby she used to be – I see the child she is and the young lady she is becoming: headstrong, opinionated, analytical, difficult.  And though I know the armor I unwittingly don puts space between us, I struggle with letting my guard down, burned by so many other bad moments, bad days, bad weeks.  The softness that I gave to her as a baby and toddler, the same softness that comes so easily with her younger sister, is buried under my frustrations and my anxieties and my fears.

I miss the toddler she used to be.  At times it’s as if this new, older daughter has replaced her, calling muffins by their correct name instead of “mondays,” and asking for privacy with a roll of her eyes instead of revolving her entire world around me.  Even her body has lost its toddlerness, the chub and rolls stretching out into a lean childhood figure.  She seems so big now, especially since her sister joined us two years ago, and I know I look at her and forget how big the world must seem to her, how many things she still has yet to understand, and how much wonder surrounds her.  I forget she is that same little baby that made me a mother.  How can you miss someone who is standing right in front of you?

It’s bittersweet, this process of letting go that we call motherhood… falling in love with a tiny being only to have them leave you day after day, metamorphosing into a new version of themselves.  I know the practical answer is to enjoy her for who she is at each stage of her childhood – to soak in this five-year-old Emily so that I may miss her when she too has gone, but I struggle with my sadness at what has been lost and with finding a balance between being better for her and allowing myself grace.

The words of Kahlil Gibran* have never rung so true:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

And so, I let her sleep, conscious of the fact that I will have to eventually wake her and break the spell, holding this moment in my heart, determined not to forget its warmth and softness once it has passed.

*Poem excerpt from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, 1923

Timeout

28 Oct

I don’t write often enough here about my failings as a parent.  And there are many of them.  You see?  I have what I’m learning to reframe as a “spirited” child.  She’s full throttle all. the. time.  And though I love her more deeply than I ever understood one person could love another, most days the degree to which I am grateful for her bedtime feels wrong.

This morning we argued over whether there were socks in her hamper.  Over what kind of toy she wanted to bring for “M” week at school.  She chased her sister around the house instead of putting on her shoes despite my pleadings, only to finally stop in her tracks to debate with yell at me about the practicality of sandals in the wintertime.  By the time I dropped her at the brick pathway, we were both relieved to be rid of the other’s company.

It’s like that all day long.  Nothing is simple.  Nothing is done just for the love of pleasing her mother or father.  Everything must be on her terms and those?  Come with litigation-worthy dispute.

The hardest thing about having a five year old is that they are too big to just pick up and put in timeout.  They are too focused to distract with shiny keys and too stubborn to respond to force.  You must learn to convince them and to bewitch them with the illusion of control.

Hence our timeout chart:

Timeout ChartTimeouts are a great tool for parenting, but I have to remind myself constantly that discipline is about educating behavior, not about punishment (though punishment sure does feel good to an angry mom, I must admit).  And though I usually end up sending Bug up to her room to stop the conflict and give everyone a chance to cool down, I needed more.  I want her to be able to make the kinds of choices I only just learned how to make – how to recognize what she needs and react accordingly.

So now, when things get out of control, she may be asked to go choose a time out.  Sometimes she gets full control of the choice, while other times she needs to be guided to an appropriate timeout for the situation (and other times, I forget about the chart and holler at her to go sit on the carpet).  It’s a reminder to me not just to punish, but to teach.  To think, “what was happening and how can I best teach her to change her behavior?”

It’s far from perfect, but so far it seems to be helping both of us.  And as a bonus?  It comes with drawings like these.  My husband and I were both surprised and enlightened by the discrepancy between what really happened and how Bug viewed it.  It’s quite revealing – and hilarious.  The laughter helped disperse any tension over the actual conflict.

Bugs Timeout Pic 1

 

Bugs Timeout Pic 2

And if you’re not laughing, you’re crying, right?

Talk to me.  What works for you with your most challenging kiddo?  How do you parent your child once they’re not a toddler anymore?

 

Saying Goodbye

11 Jun

It used to happen every year.  We would gather on the sidewalk and wave as the children began their last bus ride home for the year.  Then we would meander to our classrooms, all looking a little bit lost, gathering up loose papers and little bits of broken pencils left under the coat hooks.  Thank goodness for our school counselor’s yearly ritual of singing “schooooool’s out for summer” over the loud speaker.  It was just the bit of levity I think we all needed to help us navigate that awkward place between joy and sorrow, relief and nostalgia.

As an elementary teacher, you spend 9 months entrenched in the academic and social lives of your students.  You struggle together.  You succeed together.  You form a bond that will never again exist.  When you really think about it, the exact combination of students and teachers will never share the same room again.  And no matter how welcome that fact might make the impending break, there’s a sadness about it, too.

I’ve been out of the public school classroom for 5 school years, now.  From my living room window, I’ve watched the first bus of the year pick up excited students carrying brand new backpacks and I’ve watched the last bus of the year bring home jubilant children.  And because I get to use my teaching chops workshopping piano solos and providing academic tutoring to private students, I haven’t found myself missing the classroom.  It’s the best of both worlds, staying at home and teaching.

And then this year, as my tutoring student handed me a thank you card, I fought back tears as I tried to find the words to tell him how proud I was of all his work; of how much I enjoyed working with him.  I was instantly transported back to those afternoons, standing in the center of an empty classroom, hoping the students I just sent into their summer knew how loved they were.

I realize now that I want more of that.  I don’t think I’ll find myself back in the public school classroom again.  But I’d like to take my academic tutoring from an occasional favor for friends of friends into something more.  Now I just have to figure out what.

So You Think I Shouldn’t Have Had Children

18 Mar

I’m an optimist.  Optimistic about situations but mostly about people.  I believe people are good.  I believe we are are more alike than different.  And I believe in the power of communication and connection.

So when I saw this tweet from Anderson Cooper’s @andersonlive two weeks ago, I hoped for the best.

ALParenting Tweet

The tweet was intended to foster controversy, but surely the general public doesn’t believe that moms are taking medications because it is “trendy.”  My twitter tribe took to their computers and responded in force.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.26.47 PM Andrea Tweet

And then just when I was beginning to think that people would understand that mothers are treating their illnesses, I made the mistake of visiting the comments on the Anderson Live FaceBook page.

FaceBook Screenshots Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.38 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 5.34.14 PM

The PPD Blogger community responded in force there, too, with thousands of words about stigma, motherhood, and mental health.  And there *were* comments that reasonably placed the responsibility to determine who genuinely needs medication on the shoulders of the medical community.  But I was shocked at the large percentage of folks who believe that people suffering from mental illness just shouldn’t have children.

These folks believe that mental illness is a character flaw and possibly a death sentence – they believe that because I take medication for anxiety, I shouldn’t have had children.  Because I am an optimist, I choose to think they are just uneducated, products of a culture awash in stigma and misinformation.  I hope that with exposure to education and to individuals who thrive (yes, even as parents) despite their diagnosis of “mentally ill,” they might change their minds.

But if not – if they still believe that the mentally ill shouldn’t procreate because of a perceived burden on unborn children and society in general, let me ask this:

If an ideal life is the criteria on which a person’s right to reproduce is to be based, who among us would ever have children?

Would these same dissenters tell a paraplegic to refrain from starting a family because of the difficulties the children may encounter being raised by a parent with some special needs?  Should my diabetic friend and advocate Melissa have not had children because her disease puts her at risk of disorienting low blood sugars?  What about a parent suffering from a genetic disorder that may be passed onto their child?  

I am just like any other person treating a medical condition. Make no mistake.  Though they are invisible, my anxiety, PPD, and PPOCD are (or were) medical conditions.   20% of the US population suffers from mental illness, with the average age for onset of symptoms being 30.  That’s one in five.  Your neighbors.  Your sisters and brothers.  Your friends.  And quite possibly your parents.

If you are a mother with a mood or anxiety disorder, I want you to hear that those trolls above?  They are wrong.  I know you.  I know how hard you work to keep yourself healthy and happy.  I know that despite your mood swings, you are a loving parent who lights up your child’s life.  And though you may need the assistance of medication and therapy to combat your anxiety, you bring to their world your talents, your strengths, and there is no better parent for them.

Don’t let the ignorance of a few Facebook comments cloak you in shame.  We are all flawed.  It’s what makes us beautiful and real.  As people and as parents.

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