On aging and grace

woman--face-eyes

“You look great for your age!…. Whatever, um, age you might be.”

Did you just call me old?

I stared at the teen something girl in the clothing resale shop, perplexed for the first time as the reality that I wasn’t in the “20-something” category anymore sunk in.

Up until this point, I didn’t really see myself that differently from any other 20-year old. And now, unintentionally (I hope), this girl was basically telling me that my style isn’t “teen” enough to buy, my clothes bought too long ago to purchase and resell to today’s discerning youth.

Why was I so rattled? I don’t particularly want to dress as a teenager—those crop tops and printed pants aren’t really my thing anyway—nor do I want to behave as a 20-something year old anymore. At night, I’m too tired to start getting ready at 9 pm to go out. By that time I’m getting ready for one thing only: bedtime. I don’t recover the same way after a night out of drinking (not that those kinds of nights happen much anymore). I don’t really get Coachella, or any summer festival in the blazing hot sun.

I think what this experience really showed me was who I am becoming. A little over a year ago I became a mother, and a few months after that I turned 30. With these changes brought so many other things, from postpartum depression, self-reinvention, blogging, and a self-confidence and security that I never had as a teen or 20 year old. So much has changed in my life.

I take my belly ring out for the last time, it’s pink jewel catching the sunlight as I put it away in my dresser drawer, the glint almost seeming like it is winking at me as I shut it away, another chapter in my life closed.

I smile to myself. I don’t dress the same or wear the same size I used to. I spend a lot of the day crawling after a toddler and wiping dirty hands, doing laundry and dishes repeatedly. My favorite scene isn’t at a bar, but instead is watching my son and husband play. My favorite activity isn’t very social; it’s the quiet moments when my baby boy—although not so baby anymore—grins at me and flings his arms around my neck for a big hug that warms me to my very core.

Change is good. Change is healing. Change is revealing to who we really are, what is important to us, and who we want to be. Bring on the changes. I am ready for them.

The other side of motherhood. The one that no one talks about.

Motherhood is hands down the greatest experience of my life. I’ve never been so in love with this little cherub that has blessed my days. The kisses, the unanticipated hugs, the unsteady swagger of a new walker; I wouldn’t change becoming a mom for anything.

But motherhood also has its dark parts. The things no one likes to talk about. The day to day experiences that aren’t glamourous or sexy. If I took a selfie it wouldn’t be Instagram worthy. On these days I wonder how I will make it through the vast time spans until bedtime. On these days I do laundry (again), dishes (again), and try to tidy my ever messy house (again). I wonder if I made the right choice leaving work, or wonder if it is time to go back. I find myself fantasizing about an hour alone for lunch, uninterrupted bathroom breaks, and the availability of other adults to talk to. Today, though, I might stay in the bathroom an extra few minutes, just to have some space for myself without a little leech clinging to my leg. My patience sometimes wears thin, much to my chagrin, and I sometimes physically grit my teeth before trying to catch a melody for Twinkle Twinkly Little Star while I’m trying to change an alligator-rolling toddler with a poopy butt. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this part?

Why doesn’t anyone tell new moms about the extent of the baby blues? The depression and anxiety? The isolation? The loneliness? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

9-19-17 The other side of motherhood cover

The most important thing that I’ve come to realize is that this is okay, and I truly believe I’m not alone when I hit these speed bumps in the road of parenting. Well, at least not alone metaphorically. Physically, it’s a one woman show over here. Like everything else, motherhood has its up and downs. It’s just that no one talks about the other side of motherhood, the one where you feel so lonely that you want to run up to the next stroller-pushing stranger you see in the street and make friends. Or when you turn on the tv just so that there is another adult human voice in the house because, frankly, a stuffed Elmo telling me about his favorite letters just aren’t filling my void for linguistic interaction.

A mom once told me something that sticks in my mind: “The days are long but the years are short.” And it’s totally true. Even though the days can seem endless, time is really passing by quickly. So whenever I have a rough day, or my little dude and I just aren’t hitting our stride, I remember that tomorrow always hits the reset button and will bring some new development that signals that my little boy is growing up too fast. So yes I’ll get the laundry done and load the dishes, but first I make playtime my priority so I don’t miss a minute. Until mama needs a minute, then Elmo the entertainer can take a turn.

On being lost– and finding myself– over and over again

Okay, so I’m a little lost. I just finished watching Kung Fu Panda 3 with my toddler to try to pass the hours in between naps because I’m sick and feeling like hell and needed some help from an electronic babysitter (yeah, yeah, bad parent, I know). Have you seen that movie? It was actually really good, and I mean in an enlightening kind of way. That fat, dumpling eating panda finally found the answer to the question he’s been searching in three movies for: Who am I? I can relate on all of these…although I guess I’m not a panda, but maybe the rest are true.

I’ve been on a personal quest for a while now. Years maybe. I’ve written about finding my path and my calling, about being lost and finding myself again. Many times I’ve been really close or think I’ve found who my true self is, but then she slips away and my future plans are illusive and out of reach yet again. Maybe it’s just all the changing hormones talking, but motherhood has changed a lot about how I view life. One thing I’m realizing is that even though I love to completely immerse myself in motherhood and be satisfied in that alone as my calling, there’s still something that feels uncompleted. The last puzzle piece is still missing.

8-18-17 A little lost cover.jpg

Why is it so hard to figure out how to combine what you love with your future calling? I keep seeing all these other women put something together and then watch it take off as an enormous success. In reality I’m sure that doesn’t happen for a lot of people, but seeing the successful ones sometimes inspire me, but also can inspire feelings of being…well…a loser. Why can’t I do that? I think to myself, What do they have that I don’t?

It’s not about what I’m lacking, though, it’s about my own journey. This is what I keep telling myself. I thought there was one destined path, but maybe there are many options, and the way that the end looks keeps changing. Why? Because we keep changing. I’m undoubtedly not the same person I was 2, 5, and definitely not 10 years ago. My priorities have changed. My viewpoints have changed. My relationships have changed. So why would it make sense that my destiny would still be the same?

Instead of focusing on making my future successful, I should focus on how to make the now successful. Granted, both types of success are important, but wishing and wanting one over the other is leaving me feeling me depleted, and defeated. What are things I can do right now—or what am I already doing—that make me a success? Focusing on future goals is okay, but not laying the foundation in the present is like trying to win a gold medal in the Olympics without ever training. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’m going to work on things in the present in order to make my future a success. Who I want to be relies entirely on working on the person I am becoming from day to day. What might be helpful in shaping my “self” right now, the woman that will be the present in the future? It’s hard to know, exactly, but these five steps sound like a great start…

  1. Make a list.

I love lists. Not everyone does. But a good list making session gets me all giddy inside. This list is different though. This list contains successes in day to day life right now. What am I doing well? What am I proud of? What makes me happy? It’s important to mark accomplishments and start seeing patterns of what brings joy.

  1. Create vision

I can’t get somewhere if I have no idea how to get there. There are two elements to record here. The big picture (goals) and action steps (how to get there). If I say I want to be a writer as my goal, that’s great, but then what? By saying I want to be a writer so I will write three times a week and submit my work to online publishers twice a month, I can have accountability and a reliable tracking method to chart my progress.

  1. Learn from the past.

There are no mistakes in life, only learning moments. The good thing about the past is that that is where it stays: behind us. It may be really difficult to learn from, but going through things for a reason can help shape the person we become. What are the teachable moments from the past that are important? What are things to never repeat? What are things that really worked out in the end? Don’t repeat what didn’t help personal growth, and do repeat what did.

  1. Don’t obsess.

I sweat the small stuff. I make every minor detail major. These aren’t traits that I am proud of. The outcome is that I ruminate over and over again about not only every [perceived] failure, but also every potential opportunity. I plan and plan and plan, but never actually start. I find enough viable ways to go wrong that I never allow anything to get started off right. There’s a difference between being thorough and obsessing. Being thoroughly prepared allows for being thoroughly ready, while obsessing just creates a lot of static that never forms a complete picture.

  1. The “That’s not it” approach.

My friend Debbie has a fantastic approach that she has been following her whole life. She calls it the “Nope, that’s not it” approach. Instead of picking one direction and forcing herself to fit its mold no matter what the cost, she tries many things until one suits her. Pottery? Nope, that’s not it. Grant writing? Nope, that’s not it. Tutoring? Nope, that’s not it. There’s nothing wrong with finding out that something may not be a right fit and moving onto the next, but it’s silly to waste time forcing something to fit.

I might never find that exact thing out there that will my “it” thing, but there are so many possibilities of what I could be, what I could create, and who I can help in the world.  By focusing on what I love and what brings light and joy to my life, I am okay with going along for the ride.

On motherhood and the “Should Be”s

My head is just pounding. My hormones are going insane after finishing breastfeeding. I’m completely exhausted. I’ve been going to bed before 9 pm the last few nights because I can’t keep my eyes open. T is napping right now. My body is screaming for sleep. But instead of sleeping, I started a load of wash, made coffee, and sat down to write. I like to think that it’s dedication, but really it’s because I’m an idiot. It’s because of all the Should Be’s in my life.

8-4-17 Should Be cover

What is a Should Be, you might ask? It’s the annoying tape that plays in my head telling me what to do. I should be getting something done while the baby is sleeping. I should be doing the dishes. I should be writing on my blog. I should be able to handle all of this. I should be able to do it all, all the other moms do. And so I do. I do the laundry. The dishes. Drink the coffee. Write my blog. I put my well-being and needs aside for my family. I suspect that I’m not alone—at least, I hope I’m not. I’m guessing a lot of moms have moments when they are feeling inadequate or not good enough, or just plain out ignore their own needs for the needs of others.

Should Be’s really ugly sibling, Shouldn’t Be, is also someone I’m very familiar with. I shouldn’t be so tired, the baby has been sleeping through the night. I shouldn’t be at this weight anymore, it’s been over a year since birth. I shouldn’t be having these feelings of depression or anxiety, my life is great.

I tell myself a lot of things, and none of them are helpful or uplifting. Now that I think about—write about—it, I’m even harder on myself than I thought. I am completely self-deprecating. This is a scary realization. I have worked—and do work—hard my entire life, and here I am giving myself zero credit for anything I’ve accomplished. I’m berating myself about every decision I have made. This really saddens me. Why are we our own harshest critic?

Now what? Literally, I was just sitting with my chin in my palm leaning over staring at this half-finished post. I wish I had some brilliant introspective solution for you. I want to write about how we shouldn’t be desperately need to be kinder to ourselves, to marvel in our physical and mental accomplishments as a woman and a mother, and take the time to give ourselves what we need. These are all so true, but also feel so trite. I don’t know how to actually accomplish any of these things. The best I can do for you right now is to tell you that if you happen to be reading this and nodding your head along with me, saying “Yup, me too. That’s me,” then you aren’t alone.

You aren’t alone in your ups and downs. You aren’t alone in your eternal search for answers of the right thing to do for your kids. You aren’t alone in feeling so devastatingly alone when you sit at home wondering what to do next with your toddler. You aren’t alone if you’re pumping at work in a closet. You aren’t alone if you’re crying because you haven’t slept in 24 hours. You aren’t alone if your three year old is screaming in the middle of Target. You aren’t alone as a mother.

Maybe I can take some solace in the fact that none of us really have any answers. All of us push ourselves to our own limits and beyond. We as the universal mother are just doing the very damn best that we can do. And that has to be enough, because that is all we can do.

The dirty postpartum words no one talks about…

My struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety

I sit, peering at my nails with scrutiny. There’s something so gratifying about peeling nail polish off. The blank Word document sits open at my computer. I avoid looking at the screen. I realize I’m just stalling. I check the clock. 9:06 pm. I should really go to bed. Just another stalling tactic. What if they think I’m complaining? It doesn’t matter what they think. What if they judge me? Who is “they” anyway? Your potential readers. What if they don’t care about what you’re writing? Well that’s true, they might not.

I peel off a few more shells of nail polish, little by little removing the last evidence of my only “me” time I’ve had in months. I just can’t justify a manicure anymore when I left my job to be stay at home mom. Every dollar counts these days.

That’s not what I’m really trying to write about though. I’m trying to write about a topic that I can barely face as my own reality that I’ve been living the past year.

7-27-17 Living with Postpartum depression and anxiety cover

I wouldn’t say that I was truly clinically “depressed” after I had my son. I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression, although those silly surveys you take at the pediatrician’s office probably wouldn’t have caught it if that’s what I was. I wouldn’t have let them catch me either. Who would actually circle answers that had scary words in them like crying, hopeless, harming my baby? I wouldn’t be that mom. Not that mom who couldn’t handle motherhood. I trudged on for months, sleepless night after sleepless night.

So maybe I was. Depression is a nearly impenetrable cloud, and in those days of darkness, I was left in its shadow. It was like the sunlight was trying to cut its way past the murky water to the sea floor; I was always left with dim light, trying to find my way through each day. Each monotonous day with a baby. Over. And Over. Again.

It didn’t feel like I expected. I couldn’t seem to pull myself to the surface for fresh air. I felt like I stagnated at about 50-60% of myself. I never could grasp the last missing pieces to feel like myself again. I was anxious. I had bouts of anxiety for no reason, and when I did have a reason, the anxiety was like a vice around my chest, restricting my oxygen.

I’m not depressed. Not me. I’m doing okay. And the truth was, and is, that I am doing okay. It’s hard to believe that though when I was running on no sleep, no caffeine, and no pharmaceuticals, all because of breastfeeding. All because I love my baby more than anything in the world, and I’d do anything to make sure that he is okay. I fell into the trap of “breast is best,” and I wouldn’t hear of doing anything otherwise, to the possible detriment of my sleep cycles and mental state. Okay, to the definite detriment of my state. I wouldn’t even let my mom feed the baby a bottle so I could sleep more than 2-3 hours in a row.

I never had any serious thoughts of harming my baby. Or myself.  I didn’t cry day after day. I didn’t feel like my days were insurmountable. I always could make it through. This, I believe, is the trap that many new moms fall into. We don’t fit the “mold” of postpartum depression, and no one talks about postpartum anxiety, so we think that this is normal, or worse, that we are the problem, or that this too will pass.

Things are getting better for me now. I haven’t gotten help yet, but I plan to go in soon for a mental tune up (I really need to make that appointment). Maybe it’s the full nights of sleep (except when the anxiety keeps me awake), or maybe it’s the hormones settling back down, but I’m feeling a lot better. I do wish that I had gotten help earlier. I wish that I hadn’t been my own martyr, with an “ever forward” mantra, pushing myself past the healthy limits of physical and mental exhaustion. Getting help, whether it be professional or friendship, doesn’t mean I’m not a good mom. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It means I’m smart enough to know that the phrase “It takes a village” is entirely too accurate.

I wish I knew this at the time. I suffered in silence for many months. Now that I’m coming out of that dark tunnel, I’m hoping that I can tell you, new mom, that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. I blame it entirely on the sleep deprivation and wacky hormones. So don’t worry, you’re doing great. But I also want to encourage you to get help if you need it. Don’t wage your internal war alone. You can be so much happier so much faster when you reach out.

You’ve got this, mama.

 

 

I’m not a super mom. I’m not an average mom. I’m just a mom.

I’m been really hard on myself as a mom. Since my little babe is now a year old, I guess I can’t really call myself a new mom. I feel like I should have my shit together. I should have a routine. I should know what I’m doing. And, obviously, I should have lost all the baby weight and be fit and trim, 100% back to normal, with a clean house. Oh and I should also have a “suck it up and handle it” attitude (at least that’s what all those Instagram memes tell me).

But I don’t. I’m still heavy with the weight I gained during pregnancy. I’m still struggling with postpartum depression, baby blues, or just flat out depression—whatever you want to call it these days. My house is pretty clean…sometimes. Some days I’m a rock star and I feel like a pro at this motherhood thing. Some days, like today, I want to crawl back into bed and sleep like Rip Van Winkle for the foreseeable future (would you mind handling the diaper changes for me?).

7-18-17 Just a mom cover

I still struggle with my new identity. Mother versus woman. “Unemployed” versus working my ass off 24/7 to be recognized by no one because being a stay at home mom isn’t considered a “real” job. Fat versus fit. Super mom versus average mom.

But why do we have to be one or the other? What makes one mom “super” while another is just “average”? Is it the amount of activities she takes her kid to? Is it how many decorations or how well-themed a birthday party is? Is it the number of dust bunnies in the corners of her house? Homemade meals vs. frozen? Go get ‘em attitude? Why does it have to be one or the other, why can’t I just be… “mom”?

I suppose it all comes down to the “super mom” stereotypes we create in our heads. I have to be this kind of mom to be really great. I can’t have bad days or let anyone see me struggle. Why can’t I be like that mom who has it all together (and looks great too)? At least, this is the kind of thing I tell myself daily. I’m embarrassed to say “I’m depressed.” I’m ashamed to admit “I’m struggling.” I don’t want to utter “I need help.” But I have these kinds of days mixed in with my supermom days. And I don’t think there should be anything wrong with that. Even the most seemingly put together mom has her kryptonite. No one has their shit together 100% of the time. There’s a hole in that [damn] giant golden inflatable goose raft at the pool somewhere, and I’m watching from the side as it sinks slowly the more use it gets.

There should be nothing wrong with admitting that we have a weak spot and be able to put the repair patch on. I want to be able to say to myself that this is the kind of mom that I am, this is what I am able to do, and I’m giving it all I’ve got. I don’t want to identify as any one kind of mom—tiger, helicopter, crunchy, or otherwise. I want to just be Mom.

What you need for an airplane ride with baby… and what you don’t.

Recently we traveled with our infant, and it was quite a scene. I made sure to pack all the baby gear essential for travel, but I also wanted to be sure that I included everything I would need for our day in the airport and on the airplane. I stayed true to my travel motto: “It’s better to have it and not use it than be without.” We checked our luggage and the car seat, so I prepared a carry-on bag for each of the parents.

How to pack carry-on bags for traveling with an infant

This is what Bag 1 included:

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • More diapers
  • Changing pad
  • Outfit change
  • Warm layer (long sleeve shirt)
  • Plane toys
  • Favorite teether (and teether strap)

Baby Banana Infant Training Toothbrush and Teether, Yellow

Baby Banana Infant Training Toothbrush and Teether, Yellow

  • Book
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Cheerios
  • Empty sippy cup
  • Sealed jar of pureed meat
  • Squeezy pouch of pureed fruit
  • Hair ties
  • Wallet
  • Cell phone

This is what Bag 2 included:

  • Back up toys in case he got bored with the first bag of toys
  • Snacks for mom and dad
  • Extra shirts for mom and dad in case of unexpected baby blowout/spit up
  • Phone charges
  • Diapers
  • Tablet loaded with apps like keyboard, finger paint, and other touch games for baby’s entertainment
  • Water bottle (purchased at airport)

I am probably leaving some things out. Needless to say, we were packed to brim with what I had deemed as baby essentials. We also had the baby carrier, Boppy nursing pillow, and stroller bag shoved in the bottom of the stroller.

Here is what we actually used in the airport:

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Changing pad
  • Favorite teether
  • Cheerios
  • Empty sippy cup
  • Sealed jar of pureed meat
  • Squeezy pouch of pureed fruit
  • Wallet
  • Cell phone

Here is what we actually used on the plane:

  • Anti-bacterial wipes

Seeing a trend here? Yes I, the notorious over-packer, had over-packed  for our plane ride. Thus, my advice to you is to pare down what you think you need to what you actually need. The airport provides so much stimulation for kids you probably won’t need toys. Walking around or just letting baby peer at all the new people will be enough entertainment. Once you are on the plane, the photo instructional card will provide a lot entertainment for tiny hands, and he probably won’t be interested in anything else.

Suggestions for successfully boarding and living through a flight with a baby

  • Take advantage of the early boarding for passengers with small children. It gives you the needed extra time to get everyone on board and also drop off your stroller on the jet way.
  • Shut the air vents. Unless the plane is very warm, you don’t want germy, recycled air blowing right onto your baby’s face.
  • Take the time to wipe everything down. My friend uses Wet Ones anti-bacterial wipes when she travels, but I could only find some all-natural wipes at the store last minute that claimed to kill viruses too. Apparently they worked, none of us got sick going to or coming from our destination.

WET ONES Antibacterial Hand Wipes, Fresh Scent 40 ea (Pack of 3)

WET ONES Antibacterial Hand Wipes, Fresh Scent 40 ea (Pack of 3)

  • Put all magazines and puke bags somewhere out of baby’s reach. Don’t forget to wipe down your new best friend: the picture instruction card.
  • Don’t count on being able to get to your bag under your seat. With a bouncing baby on our laps and ever shrinking knee space, neither of us could reach our bags. Put anything you might need within easy reach ahead of time.
  • Have a bottle, sippy cup, or boob available for take off and landing. These are the times that pressure changes can hurt little ears, and the sucking motion helps to pop ear drums to relieve pressure.
  • If there is no turbulence and baby is fussy, try walking the aisle with him or standing in the back.

#1 Rule for infant travel…

Don’t. Be. Self. Conscious.

I know this is really hard when you have a crying baby and you are sweating while desperately trying every toy or flapping every magazine at your disposal. Sometimes the day just won’t go well and travel will suck. And that’s okay. Most passengers are either parents themselves who understand, or will just put on head phones, and no one will give you a second thought. The person most upset will be you, so try to not even get to that point. It will soon be a distant memory, and baby will (eventually) take a nap and you’ll be able to start fresh again.

The second best rule is that you can always buy what you don’t have, so don’t worry about it. As long as you have enough diapers, wipes, and food for the day, you’re good to go.

Happy travels, mama!

 

 

 

 

 

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