You know the saying, “It’s always the things that aren’t toys that they play with the most?”
In that spirit, I give you, “Sock Plinko.”
- Shoe rack
A woman’s best friend in pregnancy isn’t ice cream. Or pickles. Or brownies. Or whatever other non-sense popular media tells you.
No. Her best friend is stretchy pants.
And I was lucky enough to have two best friends.
They weren’t yoga pants.
They weren’t maternity pants.
They were actually Victoria’s Secret Pillowtalk Pajamas.
These pants were truly made of magic and grace. Magic, because they transformed from Smalls to Ex-Larges, right along with me. Grace, because they didn’t make me feel like any of these changes were inconvenient for them. They moved out of the way. They said, Oh, excuse me for not accommodating you more quickly. Here you go.
I wore them so much they frayed at the bottom hems.
I wore them mostly around the house.
I admit, I may have worn them to the gas station.
Maybe also Target.
I’m now about 8 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight (which means I’m 37 pounds lighter than my last days of pregnancy. Woot.) One more inch off my hips and I’ll be back in my pre-pregnancy pants and a whole new section of my wardrobe opens back up.
When it’s all stacked and folded like this, it feels like a geological record of the last 21 months of my life.
So I say good-bye.
Good-bye to all the postpartum clothes that have served me in all the hard In-Between Phases of transformation.
All those months of looking in the mirror
and not seeing myself at all
and then not really seeing myself
and then not quite seeing myself
and then kind of seeing myself
seeing that first glimpse of the the version of me that I used to be
A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.
Today’s installment of Pieces of Parenthood comes to you as a video mash-up.
Movement is physical. It’s maneuvering and taking first steps. It’s also traveling with objects and experimenting with how those objects may travel on their own.
Movement can also be abstract. Photos take us back to moments in history, which proves to be a challenging concept for the growing preschooler. Was that when you and daddy were born, she asked just before the video started.
Movement is also seen in language, in the give-and-take of those first interactions. It’s verbal and non-verbal, words, gestures, smiles, and laughter.
And, of course, peanut butter, which has now been categorized as safe to expose to infants (granted they haven’t had reactions to other foods).
By the way, that’s not just pure peanut butter. It’s mixed with cereal and milk.
I’ve recently been called “selfish” by one of my readers for having taken my child to daycare while he had diarrhea.
It’s a heavy, knife-twisting word for women.
There’s nothing worse than a selfish woman.
Except a selfish mother.
How dare I take my child to daycare while he had diarrhea?
I dared because there were three viruses going around in his classroom and every child had at least one of them. (And as you’ll find out later in this post–we got all of them). That’s what daycare centers are. They are veritable petri dishes of illness. Everyone who uses a daycare knows it. And none of us point fingers at each other saying, Ohhh… I’m so mad at you because your kid got my kid sick! That never happens. Ever.
I dared because I had already called the doctor and she told me that we were doing everything we could. The virus would just have to run its course. And this bug lasts about 5-7 days…
I dared because he didn’t have measles or rubella. He had diarrhea.
I dared because he was only having diarrhea when he ate, not continuously throughout the day.
I dared because his teachers said they would call me if he got worse. And because they’re an Amazing Sort of Awesome, they said, “Don’t worry. We can handle poop.”
I dared because every morning, I was up at 5:30, giving him baths and scrubbing poop off laundry before it could actually be washed another two or three times (And then I had to get another child ready.)
I dared because I had been up several times each night that week, changing vile, vile diapers, rocking him when he couldn’t go back to sleep, and then listening to his screams when I couldn’t calm him down.
I dared because I had to work. I didn’t have sick leave and I had to administer and grade final exams before the university’s deadline. (Not a task you can really hand over to a substitute.)
I dared because I was headed for a breakdown in my mental sanity.
That’s how I dared.
Thanks for asking.
What is it about motherhood that makes mothers so quick to point out what they perceive are another mother’s failings?
Honestly, how can you know the whole context of a situation when you’re outside of it?
And why is the word “selfish” just about the worst thing that you can call a mother?
As I sit here now thinking about that word, a knot is forming in my stomach and my heart is thumping.
Are you serious!?!?
Isn’t this reader right?
Aren’t I selfish for wanting someone else to take over some of the burden that both my husband and I had been dealing with all night long for days on end?
Yes. In fact, I was selfish.
Selfish in my need for self-preservation.
But should I be ashamed that I couldn’t handle all of this at the same time?
Should I be ashamed that I desperately wanted out of my life, if only for just those worst, most miserable days in the last few weeks?
After Henry’s diarrhea tapered off, a bad cold hit him–and, subsequently, all of us–hard. We were all plagued with it to varying degrees. Mine lived mostly in my throat and chest. For everyone else, it set up house in their noses.
And then came the Infamous Daycare Puking Bug.
Over last weekend, Henry went through it.
Doug got it.
When it hit me at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night, I was in denial at the first twinges of nausea.
Nope… Nope… That’s not what this is.
All night, I twisted and turned as the first ripples of nausea swelled into cresting ocean waves. At 1:00 a.m., I allowed myself to believe that, yes indeed…
It was happening to me.
I dreamed that instead of puking into the toilet, I puked in the shower.
When 6:00 a.m. came and Henry started crying, I pulled myself out of bed and held the walls as I walked down the hallway. From my toes to my shoulders, everything ached. All the way down into my bones, I ached. When I opened the door and smelled the poop, I turned around and told Doug that I couldn’t do it.
Unsure about what had happened the night before, I checked the bathroom. No puke.
Just unbelievable nausea.
I lay back down until Doug needed me. As I sank into the bed, I was certain that nothing had ever felt so good as to be lying there in the cool sheets, my head against the pillow. When he called for my help, I only did what was absolutely necessary.
I couldn’t hold the baby.
I couldn’t even hold the bags.
I put food in containers for the kids. I sent along extra clothes and bibs.
When they were mercifully gone, I ate six saltines and went back to bed.
I woke up at 12:45 and ate six more saltines.
Then I slept until 2.
Then I ate a banana.
And slept until I heard Henry crying.
I rolled over, blinking. The clock read 5:55. Morning or night? I wasn’t too sure.
It turned out to be night, so I helped put one child to bed.
Then I ate a bowl of cereal.
And went back to bed.
Was it selfish of me to send the kids to daycare while I stayed home sicker than I’ve been in two years?
Is it selfish of me to send my kids to daycare in this last week before Christmas even though I don’t have to teach, simply because we’re paying for it? Is it selfish that I crave this time to work on creative projects that have nothing to do with my kids or my work?
Yep. It sure is. I’m selfish.
You caught me.
But here’s the harder question: Should I be ashamed of being selfish?
I think this is where I disagree with my reader.
I don’t think I should be ashamed of taking time to care for myself–and it shouldn’t matter whether my needs are physical, emotional, or mental. It’s all important. This whole culture of “real parents are the ones who always put their kids first” is setting us up for rampant depression and divorce.
I love my kids, but, nope. They don’t always come first. Especially when I’m on the brink.
I care about having enough wherewithal to get through not only the days, but the weeks, the months, and the years.
So yeah, I’m selfish.
But I’m not going to feel badly about it this time.
Day after Thanksgiving.
Sitting on the floor with one of my legs pinned over my baby’s chest, the other leg over his legs, making a human cage. Because this is the only way I can change the diaper of a child that can flip and crawl away from me.
And he’s screaming.
That eardrum-piercing shriek that cries out to the world, Help!!! I’m being murdered!!!
But which I interpret as, I won’t let you do it! I WON’T!!!
Today is my birthday.
“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I sing.
He stops screaming and pays attention to my voice, the tears still coming down.
But when I reach the end of the song, he starts winding up for a second round of protest. I switch the melody.
“Oh wow, look at ‘im now, Zuckerman’s famous pig. Sue-y, whaddya see? The greatest hog in history. Fine swine, wish he was mine. What if he’s not so big? He’s some terrific, radiant, humble, thing-a-ma-jig-of-a-pig.”
And just like that, I’ve hypnotized him with Charlotte’s Web (the 1973 version, of course).
I keep singing it until he’s dressed.
Moms put up with a lot.
I think our society kind of knows that.
And then there are moments like these that deserve to be plastered on a Someecards meme that chirps about how rewarding motherhood truly is (Someone pass the wine, it would probably read).
It makes me wonder what it was like to be my mom, mother of five.
For most of my life, I’ve only seen motherhood from the lens of a daughter.
And that lens can be pretty amusing.
This summer while I was cataloging some old photos and taking stock of some mementos, I found my first diary, which my mother purchased for me when I was eight years old.
Within its pastel, scented pages, my writing career began.
I loved this diary.
I wrote in it every single day. And when I was too tired to write, I asked my mother to write about my day. (And she actually did. For that alone, she won Mother of the Year for 1990.)
I wrote about such riveting topics like my breakfast, what my siblings did (or didn’t do), and what I learned in school.
Here’s a sample page:
Food. Siblings. Video games. It was a great life.
Here are some gem excerpts and the life lessons we can glean from them.
Sunday, November 11, 1990
Today I got up and went to church. I learned about loving one another. Phillip got two bars of soap in his mouth. DeAnna got one bar of soap in her mouth. Holly made another mark on my Magna Doodle. I had a sluply joe. (sloppy joe) I have to go. Good-by.
Saturday, November 17, 1990
Today, I got up and watched Look Who’s Talking. They showed us what it looks like when you get pregnite. Phillip only needs the red ring in the Legend of Zelda. Mommy came home and she made me stay out of the house for one hour. I had potatoes, stuffing, and turkey. I have to go. Good-by.
Wednesday, November 21, 1990
Today I got up and I had pancakes for breakfast. Annie and I played barbies. I finally got to see Zelda. Gannon was big, ugly, rude, and huge. The only way to see Zelda is to hit the fire. Then, they held two Triforces above their heads. I have to go. Good-by.
Saturday, March 9, 1991
Today, I got up and had to stay in bed. I took the TV in my bedroom and watched cartoons. (not sure how I did that?) Mommy went to work for 10 hours. My temperature was 101.8 today. Mommy might take me to the doctor tomorrow to get a shot. DeAnna felt a lot better today. Mommy paid me $2.00 for babysitting. I’ve got to go now. Good-by.
Thursday, March 28, 1991 (spring break)
Today I got up and get DeAnna dressed. Then I gave her some breakfast. Nate helped me do the dishes. I put on cartoons for Holly and DeAnna. Later, I watched The Price is Right. I had a cherry pie. Mommy came home and said she would have to go to bed. I watched the Simpsons. I have to go. Goodby.
Saturday, July 19, 1991
Today I got up and went to Howard’s (Pharmacy). I bought some candy cigarettes. Dad almost won all the time when he played Duck Hunt. Mom comes home and blames me, Holly, and DeAnna for the mess. It’s not our fault. Daddy didn’t bother to watch them. First thing, I didn’t even touch the room. Now she blaming it one me. I have to go. By!!
Tuesday, July 29, 1991
Today I got up and had to get up. We all walked to the bus stop. We took a bus to Dayton. Then took a bus to Englewood. We got off at Rolling Pin Bakery. On our way back, we stopped at McDonald’s. Then we went to Jo-Ann Fabrics. Then we got on another bus to our house. We had rice for supper. I’ll see you later. I’ve gotta go. Good-by.
Friday, February 20, 1992
Today I was waiting for the Science Fair to start. It was from 1:30-3:15. Unforently, I didn’t win. They were all fifth graders. And a kid won 2 times in a row! Katie Owens did a stupid poster and got 3rd place. It’s just not fair!! I wish they had a rule you can’t win twice! Well I better go. Good-by.
So bravo to you, Mom, for hanging in there. Through five kids, unreliable transportation, and the ingratitude of whining children, you persevered.
And thanks for the diary.
I’m pretty sure it was the best gift you ever gave me.
I miss the Weekend.
I think you can imagine the rest of the post from here.
After I gave birth this past February, I thought,
Well. How am I going to write about that?
Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.
But this time… I had seen things.
I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.
I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.
So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.
From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.
As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.
Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.
Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.
As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.
I greatly appreciate your support!
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.
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
My absolute worst fear is suffering the death of one of my children.
I can imagine coming to grips with the death of anyone in my life.
Except my children.
Last Friday, I was reading my Facebook feed and read a horrific post from a member of my church.
Her daughter-in-law, Britney, was driving on a two-lane road with her five-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, and two-month-old son, Jonah, in the backseat.
You already know how this story ends.
An oncoming car illegally crossed the center to pass a car.
It killed the little girl.
The mother and baby boy survived.
In the picture, Jocelyn was balancing on one foot, as if in the midst of dancing. She was posed proudly with her baby brother. Smiling. Blond and smiling. Happy. Just like my daughter.
There at my desk, I cried.
Britney was me. Her kids were my kids.
And my heart was broken for her.
All of this happened just days before Mother’s Day.
It was too cruel and unfair for one person to bear.
How could Britney face life and the world, now knowing, now feeling every day, that horrific things like that can happen?
Just like that.
How could she keep going?
But of course I know how.
We all know how.
She’s a mother.
This is stuff that mothers are made of.
Loving through pain.
Living while part of you is dying.
Believing through despair and doubt.
Resiliency beyond measure.
Pure grit and strength.
Britney has already undergone several surgeries to repair her broken bones, including her pelvis. She has been moved out of the ICU and into the trauma unit. (And let’s not forget the fact that she’s just three months postpartum.)
Her newborn son also suffered extensive injuries. Two broken femurs and a broken arm.
He is currently being cared for around the clock by his grandmother, Lanae, who works as a surgical nurse. He couldn’t be in better hands while his mother is recovering.
I made myself imagine what I would do if I were living Britney’s reality.
What would I do?
I would sob and ache and grovel and resent and rage.
For a Long Time.
I would lash out and blame and despair.
I would be out for blood. I would crave Revenge. I would want to hurt and crush and obliterate. I would want to empty the life of the person who didn’t think first, who would rather take a risk, who thought the laws didn’t apply to him.
(Because I think first. Because I don’t want to take the risk. Because I don’t think the laws don’t apply to me.)
And while I would be going through this, I would still have to Get Back Up.
Although I would want to take time off from Life to mourn and process and make meaning, I would have to immediately Get Back Up.
For my son.
Because he would still need to eat and sleep and grow.
He would still need my arms to tell him that he is safe, even though I had just seen how unsafe the world can be.
I would need to decide every hour to keep on practicing the appearance of Love even though I’d be simultaneously steeling my heart from the possibility of Future Pain.
Because Love would have just killed off a part of me.
Love had created a trove of beautiful moments of my little girl — but now there would be no more. And the more time that would pass, the more those memories would lose their clarity. And if I forgot any part of those memories, it would be like losing her all over again.
All I really would want to do is climb into the ground with her so she wouldn’t be alone in the dark.
I would be like this for a Long Time.
But I also know that One Day, through the crisis and search to find meaning, I would finally choose Love again.
Because Love is the only path to Peace.
I would keep walking.
I used to pray that Life Would Be Okay and Get Better. But I’ve stopped doing that.
Because that’s not what Life is for. The life worth living isn’t a life without pain because the pain is what shows us life’s worth.
When I say prayers now, it is in moments for others who are in pain.
And the prayer is that they keep moving
And keep walking through the pain
And that if they fall, that God will reach a Hand down to help them get back up.
Our hearts ache with yours in your time of hurting and grieving. My prayer for you is that you keep walking through the pain. Keep moving. And keep believing that there is good in the world even though it is also so very bad at times. In fact, perhaps the world is good because it is bad.
Years from now, I hope that you can look back at these dark hours of your life and see all the light that people are shining on it. It’s always the people who have suffered and cried and walked the Path of Pain that will be the first to reach out their hands to you. Take those hands. Let them help you get back up. And don’t feel guilty about it. You are not a burden.
Because Some Day, it will be you who is the one reaching out and saving someone else.
You are not alone.
And you are Loved.
If you would like to help this family financially as they cope with medical and funeral expenses, you can contribute through their GoFundMe fundraiser here.
No gift is too small and you can give anonymously if you prefer.
If you would like to provide financial assistance to Lanae as she takes care of Jonah full-time, you can donate here.