Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: authentic

Is Anyone Having Fun on Valentine’s Day? (and What I’ve Been Doing Lately)

On February 15th, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment on “Singles Awareness Day,” focusing on how single people shouldn’t feel so alone because everyone else, apparently, had such an amazing Valentine’s Day.

Psshhh…

Here’s how Valentine’s Day went down in this house, where two kids and a marriage of 13 years reside.

Valentine’s Day Prelude

Wednesday, February 13th: Spent the day at home with the toddler because of a diarrhea bug, which was mercifully mostly over by Wednesday. Lost time for grading and planning.

The Big V-Day

  • 4:15 a.m. – 5:10 a.m.: Glorious morning run under the stars

(Calm down: This is the extent of the day’s romance.)

  • 5:12 a.m: Voicemail from public schools. Daughter’s kindergarten class is cancelled because of a water boil advisory due to a major pipe breakage. No problem. She’ll just spend the day at daycare, right?
  • 5:30 a.m.: Bathe the toddler whose poop has turned into sludge and has mercifully remained contained in his footed pajamas.
  • 7:00 a.m.: Daycare decides to also close because of the water advisory. Reverses course 15 minutes later. Children finally dropped off and settled by 7:40 a.m. Daughter forgets all classmates’ valentines in the car.
  • 8:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Teaching all morning, lunch for five minutes, grading/planning, public student poster presentations
  • 3:30-4:30: Drive home, make dinner for the kids
  • 4:30-4:45: Eat a leisurely 15-minute dinner alone before getting the kids (salad, hard-boiled egg, peanut butter pretzels)
  • 4:45-5:30: Retrieve children from daycare
  • 5:30-6:30: Feed children/ wash dishes/ sort through bags of valentines, crafts, and candy/ do laundry/ give baths/ dress kids for bed
  • 6:30: Husband arrives home
  • 6:32: Husband says, “Go, you’ve done enough. I’ve got the kids.”
  • 6:35: Daughter says to me, “My panties have poop in them. Can you help me?”
  • 7:00: Go to bed alone.

The Day’s Redemption: I achieved not one, not two, but THREE full sleep cycles.

High. Five.

So, let’s dispel all those myths that married people / people in relationships are having amazing Valentine’s Days.

Because at the end of the day, what married couples of so many years with young kids really want is SLEEP.

#truth

***

Oh friends…

This is going to be quite the year.

That has been the feeling for at least the past 12 months, since the youngest child started becoming mobile. In the back of my mind (as I’m transferring clothes from the washer to the dryer or moving dry dishes to the cabinets or dirty dishes to the dishwasher), I’ve had this nagging feeling that…

Perhaps, it’s all over.

“It” being my ability to reclaim any empty moment for myself.

If, by some miracle, an empty moment finds me during the day, and I choose to use it for myself, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling of Oh my God, you should be doing something else right now! You are so far behind!

But then, the thought: Behind who? Behind what?

Who am I comparing myself to?

My pre-child self? Because she’s been dead for quite a while. And the hope of her resurrection is pretty much gone.

But then there’s the realization that, There is no end to this.

At least not for the foreseeable future.

This is my life now.

Moving from task to task to task to task until the day is done.

My life has become an endless treadmill of tasks that begin at 4:00 a.m. and pull me along, chug, chug, chug, until I throw in the towel at 6:45 p.m.

***

I don’t mind being busy. Sometimes, I even revel in being busy. Instead, what pulls me down is when I feel like I’m not growing or changing for the better. If I’m not pushing myself to learn more or grow, boredom soon sinks in. And that makes it harder to find joy and purpose in what I do.

So with that in mind, here are a few things that I’m trying out this year, as a way to grow and change.

Relearning algebra, geometry, and trigonometry via Khan Academy

The rationale here is…

I’m afraid of math. And I’m tired of being afraid of math.

So I wondered, What it would be like to learn math without being afraid of failing? What if I could go at my own pace and see how far my limits take me?

It’s also great preparation for taking the GRE (I may or may not be thinking about a Ph.D. program in the future).

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Learning how to write computer code

Again, this is something that I’ve been afraid of. Maybe because it’s mostly a male-dominated field? But it seems like learning how to code is becoming not only useful, but necessary as computing power doubles, triples, quintuples.

Reading the Wheel of Time series

This is unabashed escapism. I’m okay with that.

Some mothers have daytime TV.

Some have romance novels (I never could get into those. Too formulaic. Too many one-dimensional characters.)

I’ve got fantasy fiction.

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So, Fellow Parents, gather your provisions and your fortitude, and breathe deeply.

It’s going to be a Long. Long. Journey.

On Shaming Other Mothers: A Book Review of “I’m Just Happy to Be Here”

Last January, a video was circling around Facebook of a mother who was putting her children in a grocery cart, in the middle of a winter, in below-zero degree weather…

..and they weren’t wearing shoes.

Oh, the howling that ensued.

Child abuse! That’s the worst! Some people shouldn’t have kids! I would have called CPS on her ass!

That was the general tone of the comments.

Maybe you agree. Maybe you think this woman deserves to be shamed on social media.

I’ve got a book for you.

Happy to Be Here

Janelle Hanchett, “I’m Just Happy to Be Here,” 2018.

Janelle Hanchett is the blogger of the wildly popular blog, Renegade Mothering. (Check out this recent post, “You are Not Going Crazy: America is Gaslighting You.”)

She’s a married mother of four children. She has a Master’s in English. She’s whip-smart. Hilarious. Cutting. Raw. Emotional. Authentic.

And she’s an alcoholic.

With borderline personality disorder.

Say what?

Yeah. Guess what? All of those things can happen together.

And, luckily for us, Janelle was ballsy enough to put it out there for the whole world to see.

This book will make you re-examine your stereotypes of motherhood. It will make you stretch your definition of who can possibly ever be redeemed for the consequences of their bad decisions and years of absence or neglect. It will repeatedly evoke emotional reactions that will force you to consider the limits of your No Judgment Here mentality.

It definitely did so for me.

She shows us how the mind of an addicted person unravels in stages, how an addicted mind can rationalize one step, then the next one, then the next, until you’ve lost everyone you love and you’re living in a trailer, pooping into bags (that’s the extent of my spoilers).

Then she recounts the concerted energy that she put into self-reflection in order to pinpoint the actual thoughts, insights, and specific decisions that she made in order to take back her life.

What Janelle shows us over and over in her book is that shame doesn’t motivate people to change. 

Only love can do that.

And love starts with empathy.

***

Let me repeat that.

Shaming another mother for her bad mothering doesn’t make her stop being a bad mother. Especially when addiction or mental health is involved. (And let’s be honest, either one or both of those factors are usually involved when mothers go completely off the rails.)

Yes, you’re right: the mother who brought her kids to the grocery store in winter without shoes exercised terrible judgment.

You’re right.

But how does “being right” help those kids?

It doesn’t.

It just makes you feel better about yourself.

Posting videos like this is an exercise in vanity. And as Janelle’s mentor reminded us poignantly in her book,

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?

In a twist of true irony, the pursuit of “being right” is often responsible for Janelle’s downfall into addiction. It’s her Achilles heel. She must be right. She cannot be wrongUntil, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore about who is right and who is wrong.

Rarely, if ever, is “being right” the destination on the path to happiness.

***

Whether or not we want to admit, the United States needs this book right now. The opioid epidemic and all the subsequent outbreaks of substance abuse that have stemmed from it are turning a lot of women into lifelong addicts.

If you’re not one of them, be grateful. Period. Don’t follow that gratitude with a list of reasons that other women did become addicted. (a.k.a. Well, if they hadn’t done this, then that wouldn’t have happened!)

But more importantly, you need to develop some empathy for the mothers who do struggle with addiction.

These women don’t need your shame. Neither do they need your pity.

They need help. They need love. They need friends. Sometimes those all come together.

***

There is so much truth in this book. And it’s for everyone. Not just women who have experienced addiction. I found myself nodding along in many places throughout this book. Janelle unearths beautiful kernels of truth in surprising moments throughout her difficult journey.

The most powerful moment for me came in the following paragraph, which I read in a children’s museum as my daughter played. There I was, reading this book on my Kindle, in a crowded room, children running and playing, parents scrolling on their phones.

And me, crying.

Of course, I was crying. (Hope it wasn’t too obvious.)

She writes,

I didn’t want the pain to be gone. I wanted it to mean something.

When I found my voice, I didn’t find answers–I found purpose for every moment I had lived. I found power in every blackened room in my mind, every fear, every sad parent, every futile word and nightmare memory.

Because it led me to you, to the place where we are the same, to the place where words draw a line from my bones to yours, and you look at me and say, “I know,” and I look back at you, thinking, Well, I’ll be damned. I guess we’ve been here all along.

I know, Janelle.

Thank you for your gift of this book.

One Thing That Google Memo Got Right: Ladies, This One May Hurt

I’ll skip all the stuff that you can guess I’m going to say about James Damore’s memo on “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

Like, no, women aren’t naturally prone to gregarious extraversion, which leads to them to avoid negotiating their salaries.

They don’t usually try to negotiate salary because they fear how asking for more money will be perceived by their future employer. And, it turns out, they should be worried about that. Because future employers very often rate women who ask for more money as “unlikeable” and “pushy.” For more on this read Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask or Iris Bohnet’s, What Works: Gender Equality by Design.

Better yet, here’s a decent video summary of What Works:

And don’t get me started about the point about women being naturally neurotic.

***

But like I said, I’m skipping Damore’s points that I disagree with.

One thing Damore gets right is the assertion that he makes that is actually informed by his own personal experience (not what he imagines is the reality of women). He says,

The male gender role is currently inflexible…Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. (emphasis added)

First, my criticism: I have a hard time believing that just rethinking gender roles will lead to more men pursuing “feminine” roles. Money talks. And as long as the jobs that are traditionally done by women (TEACHERS) continue to offer piddly salaries and boatloads of responsibility, ain’t no guys gonna stand for that shit.

But as to Damore’s first point, YES. YES. YES.

The male gender role is inflexible.

What makes it so inflexible?

Shame.

Shame from all sides.

Sociologist Brene Brown writes about this very issue in her book, Daring Greatly. Women and men experience different shame triggers. For women, body image and motherhood are key triggers for shame.

But for men, the key shame trigger is weakness.

She tells this vivid story of a man who came up to talk to her after one of her lectures. He had been brought to the lecture by his wife and daughters and had just listened through a lengthy talk that Brene had given about women’s shame triggers. After watching all the head-nodding between his daughters and wife, he took time to talk to Brene about the lecture, out of earshot of his wife and daughters. And this is what he said:

We (men) have deep shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. Before you say anything about those mean coaches, bosses, brothers, and fathers being the only ones (who experience that shame)… My wife and daughters–the ones you signed all of those books for–they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come on. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. (p. 84-85).

She then connects this story with another story of a twenty-year-old man who participated in a focus group on the topic of men and shame. Here’s how that young man described the confines of the male gender role.

‘Let me show you the box.’ I knew he was a tall guy, but when he stood up, it was clear that he was at least six foot four. He said, ‘Imagine living like this,” as he crouched down and pretended that he was stuffed inside a small box. Still hunched over, he said, ‘You really only have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break. You always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” At that point, he slumped over on the ground. You could have heard a pin drop in the room… ‘Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is. That’s the easiest way.’

Before reading Daring Greatly, it was very easy for me to laugh at any comments from men that fell into the sentiment of “men have it tough.” I have been steeped in not only feminist literature and the psychology of prejudice, but I have also spent years and years addressing misconceptions and bias towards immigrants and international students. (Why are they here? Are they planning on staying?)

I’ve had a world-class education in identifying systems of oppression that work against the marginalized.

So I guess that led to my implicit conclusion that simply being male was probably a much more pleasant experience than being female.

Naive? Definitely.

But then again, I was drawing conclusions based on my outside observations about men. Even though I had been married more than ten years at the time that I read Daring Greatly, I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my husband about men and shame. And even if I knew what to ask (or even that we should talk about this), was I really ready to hear what my husband had to say?

Just as the man pointed out to Brene, was I really ready to see the man I loved completely fail? Completely fall apart? Be completely wrong? Be the loser?

Tough questions.

Striving for gender equality isn’t just a matter of lifting up women or leveling the playing field or sensitizing men to the struggles of women (although, yes, all of those things are important.)

If women are really ready for gender equality, we need to embrace the breaking of the male gender role.

We need to be comfortable with letting the men that we love cry and doubt and fail and lose. Instead of recoiling in their moments of pain, that is when we need to reach out and embrace them and say, “This messed up version of you? I love this. I love you.”

This also means that we have to re-imagine new love stories, ones that don’t hinge on a strong, capable man swooping in to save us from whatever problems we face (bonus points if the problem you need to be saved from is yourself!).

And perhaps more important, we have to reassure men that we don’t want that fantasy anyway.

We have to be open to relationships that don’t fit all the movies or all the songs. And hey, the best guy for us probably isn’t the one who only shows his soft side in the privacy of the bedroom.

The best ones are the ones who do the tough, emotional work that doesn’t come easy for guys. And doing that emotional work in full view of others. Like asking for forgiveness. And moving through rejection. And learning to love again. And expressing grief.

We’ve got to stop loving the image of the silent, stoic, lonely cowboy. Or the unbreakable superhero. Or the cold-as-ice mafia man.

We’ve got to teach our young girls to look for arousal beyond stories of men who dominate and control women (Fifty Shades of Grey), even if the premise is that they’re “protecting” them from danger and doing so for our own good (Twilight).

And, ladies, we have to stop putting all of our hopes and dreams into their hands. And then blaming them when they’re not able to live up to our lofty standards.

I mean, really, who can?

***

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about any of this had James Damore not written his memo. I’d just be sitting on these little nuggets of information that I had previously gleaned from my own personal reading… And not sharing them at all. Because I didn’t have any current context to draw my readers into this piece.

So there’s another thing that he got right: We should talk about these issues.

It’s hard, yes. For women, we often immediately go on the defensive, anticipating yet another frustrating conversation in which we’re called upon–once again–to solve men’s problems of blindness toward gender inequality. I get it. Really. I want to write off Damore as another guy who just doesn’t get it. That’s so much easier than trying to contribute to any discourse on this topic.

But that doesn’t get us anywhere.

And we’ve got a long way to go.

The inflexibility of gender roles drives a lot of the thinking that leads to guys like Damore concluding that, It’s probably women’s biology that’s holding them back, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from, This is just the natural order of things.

We know this inflexibility hurts women.

But, let’s be honest: it’s just as damaging to men.

***

Since Damore’s memo went viral, he has doubled down on his stance that Google is promoting an ideological echo chamber. It’s not surprising. He’s being attacked from all sides.

What does our society say men should do when they’re attacked? It tells them to fight back. To dig in their heels. To be a man and stand up to confrontation. And he’s doing just that.

So the question remains…

Women of the world, are we ready to embrace those moments when men experience vulnerable moments of weakness?

Or will we shut them down?

Week 20: What If I Told You…

That I am selfish?

That holding my sick baby for the entire night doesn’t feel that rewarding?

That for several months when my teaching load was light, I didn’t pick my daughter up from daycare until 5:30, even though I had finished everything for teaching and grading by 3:30

That I love my kids, but I’m at my best when I have a break from them

That some days are nothing but chores and work from sunup to sundown

That there are periods of several days in a row when the only thing that I get to “do for myself” is drink a cup of coffee in the quiet stillness in my cubicle before it’s time to teach

That I don’t like that

That I miss The Weekend

That I miss binge-watching TV for hours on end

That I wanted a child, but I didn’t want to be a “mom.”

(Does that make sense?)

That each day is a decision to live a spirit of humility and generosity (even though I sometimes want to be childish and self-centered)

That I constantly fail at this

That I lose my patience and yell

What if I told you that I’m not inherently great at mothering simply because I’m female?

That it’s a struggle to put the needs of others before me

That each day is a decision to let go of my desire to preserve my sleep, my time, my energy, my sanity

What if I told you that motherhood has made me more vulnerable than I have ever been my whole life?

That each day is a decision to draw my children close, rather than keeping them at arm’s length

because of my fear that they will sink their hooks so deeply into my being that they can unhinge me

What if I told you that I’ve grown two more chambers of my heart

And birth separated them from me

That they are now out there in the world, naive and not yet broken

And oh so exposed

That when they are crushed by the world, I will be too

What if I told you that before I became a mother, I thought that “moms” were minivans and bad pants and nonexistent sex lives?

That I thought that once I entered motherhood, it was all over

That once I became a mother, I might as well abandon anything that I wanted to do for myself for the rest of my life

And by that logic, I had to finish writing anything meaningful before I had any kids.

(Because they would just make it impossible to ever write again, right?)

What if I told you that before I gave birth, I had months of writer’s block

But once my daughter was born, I couldn’t stop writing.

That between naps and feedings and diaper changes, I wrote pages and pages and pages.

That sometimes I wrote at 3:00 a.m. after a feeding because I had another good idea

What if I told you that after I placed my time and energy and plans on the altar of motherhood

It gave me back far, far more precious gifts.

Strength.

Resiliency.

Wholehearted Love.

Joy.

Motherhood has knocked me down into the messy quagmire of life time and time again.

It has made me sob and ache and grovel and resent and rage.

But it has also made me a Badass.

It has made me skilled in the art of Forgiving

and Getting Back Up

and Moving On

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Artistry credit: Courtney Blair, http://www.patterndaily.bigcartel.com

 

 

The First Week: In Pictures (Pt. 2, How We Eat and Sleep)

Day 5

My postpartum belly continues to slowly shrink. And if you’re wondering what it looks like to wear cabbage leaves inside of your bra, look no further. A little lumpy, but not too bad. I wore the leaves for two days to relieve the pressure and pain.

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Everyone has different sleeping arrangements that work for them. I’m in favor of whatever works for the parents.

Because if the parents have lost their minds, it doesn’t matter whatever positive benefits studies show.

We are following pretty closely to what we did last time. One parent sleeps apart from the baby and gets a full night’s sleep and the other parent sleeps next to the baby in the baby’s room. During the week, Doug gets to sleep in our bedroom without the baby (since he is working full-time.) Then, I take the night watch. During the weekend, I get to sleep in our bedroom and Doug takes the night watch.

I haven’t dreaded being the night watch parent so far. In fact, I think my hormones are demanding it. On Day 4, I thought I could just knock myself out with some Zzquil and sleep for eight hours and be totally caught up on sleep.

Ha. Ha.

My mind had other ideas. It kept playing and replaying images from the birth. Over and over again. And when I wasn’t remembering the visuals, my mind would nurse on the songs on the playlist that accompanied all of the visuals from the birth that will remain with me forever.

Honestly, how could my mind do anything else after experiencing birth?

Birth is such a tremendously life-changing event. In my experience, it far surpasses other milestones like graduations or even my wedding. The only times in my life that approach this level of preoccupation were the times I fell in love. That’s it.

So what does all of this mean?

I basically didn’t fully descend into a deep sleep from birth to Day 5 (February 1st, the last day that I got a full night’s sleep, until February 6th). I “rested.” But during that rest, my senses were amplified. Everything was on high alert. I noticed everything, as if my mind were logging all of the possible noises that could come from my baby and what they meant.

Oh, that snort is okay. He’s fine. 

Now, he’s smacking his lips and eating his fingers. He’s hungry.

He’s whimpering. He needs to be held close.

Oh, he startled himself awake when his arms flinched. He needs to be swaddled more tightly.

It’s a little easier this time to understand what the sounds mean because I know a range of possibilities of why babies wake up. But obviously, this is a new baby and this is an entirely new inventory of sounds. It’s taking my mind time to acquire this new language.

From Day 5-7, I was able to establish a passable sleeping pattern for myself. At least, one that steers me off the road to psychosis. I was able to sleep in one-hour increments and still reach a deep enough level of sleep for my body to partially restore itself. During the night, I was even able to dream in one-hour increments between feedings.

Nevertheless, I’m still not close to being able to drive safely. Would you want someone like this on the road?

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So, you’re welcome.

This is markedly different from my first child, when I went on a 12-day bender with nearly no sleep at all. Not only did my hormones keep me awake, but so did all of the breastfeeding challenges that grew worse over time and never improved.

So this is what is working for us right now. Me, sleeping on the inflatable mattress in the baby’s room, close enough to calm my mind, but far enough away to still sleep somewhat soundly. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually sleep with earplugs in my ears. That’s how heightened my senses are. I can still hear him through the earplugs when something’s wrong.

Nature. Just wow.

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Best friend, “Bear,” holds the first boy among our Monday Night Dinner friends. After six girls. (Just means we’re raising a legion of strong women.)

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We bought these tiny 2-ounce bottles, thinking we would use them for a few weeks. Of course, he outgrows them in two days. Now, we’re on to 4-ounce bottles. I guess it *does* make a difference that he stayed in the womb for an extra week.

Day 6
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Nasty? Yep. After this birth, I’ve forever crossed into the realm of “badass-dom.”

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Collecting things for the baby book

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You know you have amazing friends when this is the card they get you.

I saw this card one night as I was preparing for the night watch and I had to smile. My friend, Suzy, gave me this card for my birthday last Thanksgiving (yep, same day), and it was such an encouragement. I was 32 weeks pregnant and already feeling massive. Wondering how much larger I was going to be at the end. (Thank God, I don’t have the gift of foresight.)

I think she knew I needed to hear that.

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The night watch supplies. Not pictured: Stephen Colbert videos via smartphone.

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When I see his legs crossed like this, I think, “Oh. That makes sense. Now I understand what I was feeling for the last month.”

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3:30 a.m.

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Wide awake, studying my face.

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The “old man” face

Day 7

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Just before I lie down for another 1-hour nap, I see that it’s Henry’s 1-week birthday, right down to the minute.

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For how much walking I did to get labor going, you would think that I would not miss it. Especially some of these mornings have been so cold. But, of course, I do. I haven’t really been outside since the birth (except to take H to the pediatrician).

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Can I just say, this page of the baby book is uniquely challenging. Although, when I posed this challenge to the Facebook hive mind, I got some great ideas for how to inject humor into the bleak and unforgiving reality of the time in which we are living.

My favorite? Use “Donald Trump language” to fill out the whole page.

So that is where we are so far.

And now I’m going to do something daring.

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Here I am, in full postpartum glory.

Exhausted. Imperfect, but authentic. Continuously putting faith in the idea that I have all I need, even though I feel short on everything.

There’s a cliche saying that I grew up hearing in the Southern Baptist church. God, I really hated it when people said it. But I cannot deny the truth of it in this moment.

They would say, His grace is sufficient for me.

In other words, Trust that God will give you what you need to pull through.

I’m doing just that.

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