{on motherhood} 365 days later

Last month, E turned one, so naturally I wanted to write up a little something-something for his birthday. It got me thinking about an email from a reader, who said she appreciate that I write about motherhood versus writing about my son

I would've never thought to word it that way, but she was right, and I felt grateful for the distinction. I will always want to write about my experience of motherhood in order to find the lines of similarity with other mothers, and note what seems unique or unusual or even commonplace to me. I will always want to talk about the stuff nobody else is really talking about, not openly, and I will always want to read other stories of motherhood as well on a whole range of topics.

But I'm not a mommy blogger. Nor will I write about my child's life at this moment in time, even though he can't talk or walk yet. That's an important distinction, though the two are entwined. 

Other moms might feel 100% comfortable sharing small anecdotes from their babies, and trust me, I looooove tagging along for that journey. I will like all your cute Instagram photos, I swear. I will tear up and laugh at your essays about what your kids are saying at age four. I will peer from across the Internet, kindly, or revel in what you choose to share with me real-time in real life. However, for me, the whole writing and blogging and posting experience is separate from my child. He is a part of it, sometimes, but not always. He is what made me a mother in the first place, so I'm grateful that his entry into the world shoved me up against the corners and cracks of my heart, mind and spirit—so I could see, and write, more clearly with all of you.

In honor of his first birthday, then, I want to share what he's taught me about motherhood thus far, which in turn, translates into what he's taught me about myself:

  • Lots of truly wonderful moments are simultaneously hard as hell. See: childbirth, marriage, buying property, career, time management, family, "balance", working out, patience, et cetera forever.
  • I often resent the endless neediness that accompanies parenthood, and at the same time, I cherish the gift of that same thing from my own parents. I think it's okay to feel the weight of responsibility, concern and love and also revel in the beauty of it.
  • "Mothers are keepers of bodies." I recently read these words by Courtney E. Martin, and they struck a chord in me. I never realized how much I would love the tactile parts of mothering. Some days, I miss breastfeeding: that sense of physical connection unlike any other. Other days, I miss being pregnant, which is funny because I didn't really love being pregnant while it was happening, but now I look back with wonder and awe about keeping little E by my side 24-7. And every time he grabs my hand, tugs at my shoulder, snags his fingers in my hair, gives an open-mouthed kiss and snuggles into my lap, I want to squish him back inside me. That's so weird, but moms, you get what I mean. It's the whole "your heart is living outside of your body" sentiment.
  • I can't do it all. And I'm not supposed to. 
  • Ask for help and then accept it. Seriously, accept the freaking help!
  • Most of the stuff I worry about is not important. Most of the things I'm looking at on my phone can wait. Most of the feelings I have will pass, for better or worse. Everything is temporary.
  • So many experiences are AMAZING: like dog tails, and light bulbs, and snowstorms, and books with flaps, and a bunch of people clapping in the same room at the same time, and raspberries, and music playing, and climbing two stairs, and long necklaces that jangle, and clothes hangers that click and clack, and walking holding onto someone's hands, and dumping a bowl of Cheerios on the ground, and opening and closing doors. The world is magical, and deserves a loud OOOOOOOH. 
  • My son thinks I'm beautiful, even when I've got three giant breakouts happening on different parts of my face, lines around my eyes, a wrinkled sweater that was supposed to go to the dry-cleaner a month ago, frizzy yet greasy (whyyyy) hair in a half-hearted bun and a crooked tooth. He thinks I'm beautiful, even still, and worthy of a giant smile and a big hug, so I try to offer that to myself, too. (Alternate title: how to come face-to-face with your own vanity and then get over yourself.)
  • Mac and cheese is a perfectly adequate dinner. Take-out is a lifesaver. Eating pizza for four meals a week is fine, especially if you eat a salad as your side dish every time. 
  • It is easy to put your kid first. It is harder to make time for yourself. Prioritize self-care, date nights with your husband, phone calls with your friends, yoga so you don't go crazy, and a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. But stop being a martyr. Quit with the self-imposed pressure around being perfect and doing everything right and living for your child 100% nonstop all the time. You're a woman, and a writer, and a wife, and a sister, and a friend, and a citizen, and a manager, and a runner, and a reader, and many more things. It's okay to care about these other things, too, and sometimes even more than your son for a given moment. 
  • You don't have to pick up your baby every time he cries, but boy, does it feel good to pick up your baby when he cries.
  • Find a breakfast and lunch routine and stick with it. Just makes life easier. For me, that's fruit and hard-boiled eggs in the morning, protein bar for a snack, and some sort of leftovers/sandwich combo for lunch. I don't overthink it.
  • Bathtime is the best. Making a mess is fun. Being naked part of the day is kinda nice. 
  • You are stronger than you think. 
  • You know when something doesn't seem right. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself.
  • Life is so very short, and it can change in an instant, so be present for the good and the bad. Hard days will shift into easier ones. Effortless, peaceful moments might be brief, but take all the pleasure you can from them; bank that shit up for later. 
  • Don't forget about the people who knew you before you became a mother. Those pieces of yourself matter, even if they've changed.
  • Anyone can have a baby, but not everyone can parent. It's so hard, and so incredible. Thank you to the mothers and fathers who have paved the way for me, and who help me parent better.

Happy first birthday, E. You light up our life.

{2017} march intentions and recap

This year, I did a values exercise that led me to these five words: honesty, passion, growth, humor and solitude. I decided to set mini intentions every month, based on these values, and write about the experience.

Ok so it's already almost end of March, and because of everything going on with moving into a new house, I've barely thought about intentions. But what I draft-wrote at end of February still applies, so what do you know, I had a sense of what I wanted to work on this month anyway!

HONESTY: Admitting change is hard.

This month, there's been major change at work and at home. It's exhausting. Sometimes, it is exciting. It is usually uncomfortable. I see it, I recognize it, I know my impulse to shove back/push against/run away from it, and I try very hard to practice self-care so I can ride the waves through it. I wouldn't say I "succeeded" at handling change this month, but I definitely spent a lot of time being aware of it and admitting when I felt overwhelmed.

PASSION: Go on two date nights.

We actually did this! Went to a Johnnyswim concert with my sister and her fiance, which involved cocktails at the Continental beforehand. (Many thanks to a good friend/fellow mama for babysitting E to make it happen, too. Community is crucial.) And then tonight we're going for dinner at our favorite place, Centro, where I'm absolutely having a dirty martini.

GROWTH: Journal every night.

Nope. Sigh. I don't know why, but even writing a few lines every night feels HARD. This is dumb and no excuse because I have time to scroll through Instagram before bed every night. But I'm giving myself some slack this month, considering all the massive change and extra work and unpacking and painting happening, so aiming for more personal writing in April.

HUMOR: Have fun with house decisions v. decision fatigue.

What a blessing, buying a house! And yet, I've fallen deep down, most days, in the Eeyore feeling of being stressed and overwhelmed. This requires a huge attitude adjustment, and sometimes I just want to complain rather than count my blessings. So, here we go.

Wow, we have a beautiful, big home now that we can afford. We are able to paint multiple rooms in it, colors we like! We installed a cool backsplash in our kitchen that ties together pretty cabinets and nice counters. We put up new lights, and I'm obsessed with them. Our first floor bathroom is no longer ugly beige; it is clean, modern and even has a wood wall. (Kudos to my MIL for that vision). The bottom line is that our house feels homier by the day, and rather than get all worked up about what "needs to get done," I need to chill the F out, enjoy what we've accomplished and remember Rome wasn't built in a day. Plenty of time for projects.

SOLITUDE: Put the phone down at night.

You know that moment when your spouse calls you out on something (usually poor behavior), and you're like UGHHHH LEAVE ME ALONE but also, you're right, okay, fine, I KNOW. No? Just me? Ha.

One night, we were watching tv after putting the baby down, and my husband said, "You're on your phone too much, and you're not listening to me." Me: (offended) "What! I do listen! I'm listening right now! I want to relax on my phone in the evenings, too!" (what does that even mean??) (totally defensive). BUT. He was correct. I was getting into the habit of being on my phone too much in the evenings, and then being very distracted toward him and our son. Of course, it is hard to reconcile downtime in a world of social media and great shows. Being present takes more energy than checking out. But I don't really wanna be the latter to my family.

So the next night, I put my phone on the charger when I got home. I played with E and talked to J about his day. I went to yoga (and left my phone versus bringing it in the car). We ate dinner together at the table and drank a glass of wine. I read a magazine and went to bed early, and I woke up feeling insanely refreshed. 

Not every night can go that way, but certainly more can, and it starts with putting. the goddamn. phone. down. (Note: I still have to practice this every day/night, so I'm very far from perfection here.)

{on motherhood} eleven months

I hear the first soft strains of a baby cry that may or may not turn into a full-blown yell. I wait.

The cry has intensified. My husband and I peel ourselves out of bed. "I'll get the bottle," I say, which means he'll handle the diaper. 

I'm pouring a glass of iced coffee in the kitchen. I hear him shut the door and walk down the hallway. "He's up," he says, and adjust his glasses. We smile at each other. Sometimes the baby will go back to sleep, giving us a priceless additional hour in the morning, and sometimes not. Today is a not.

We are all up. I sit on the bed, drinking coffee and typing. Keeping one eye on the baby, who is alternately eating puffs (praise Jesus for the eternal distraction of those fluffy little Cheerios) and dumping them on the carpet. Pulling himself up to stand on the edge of the bed frame, crawling to and from the bathroom door. Loud baby toys ring, like an obnoxious, brightly colored guitar that sings "Love Shack" at the touch of a button. It's too early for this, I think.

My husband is talking. My baby is blabbing. I am multi-tasking. I am always multi-tasking.

MA MA MA MA MA, Ezra demands. He's moving everywhere. He lets out a frustrated yell when he can't figure something out (like how to sit down from standing). He wants to touch, grab, feel everything, and I admire his dedication to connection. I eat a hard-boiled egg while putting on makeup to look less tired. I stand on one foot, a casual tree pose, while he paws at my ankles and I stare into my closet wondering if I can wear the tan sweater with the black jeans. Or did I wear that Monday? I can't remember. 

My alarm blares, indicating it is time to leave for daycare. We are nowhere near ready. We are always fifteen minutes late.

I open my laptop at work. So many emails, so many meetings. I really like my job, thankfully. I drink more coffee and eat a protein bar while walking to a conference call. I feel qualified in a way that is harder to locate when I'm staring at my son. When I'm parenting, I always fear I am doing it wrong. The rest of the day rolls past in a blur, a happy one with moments of stress, but good nonetheless. I get to use my brain. I work at a company trying to make people's lives better and healthier. I have coworkers I respect and admire.

I feel purposeful, useful, competent, needed.

I skirt out of the office to make daycare drop-off, which is earlier than most, but I don't mind because our provider is like a second grandmother. I walk into this woman's home, and I am welcomed by the smiling face of my baby, which feels like clocking into a second shift and being covered in globs of warm sunshine all at once. I ask questions like, "Did he poop?" and "How many ounces did he drink? and genuinely wait for the answers. I make mental lists of needing more diapers, wipes, food, clothes, this and that. There is always more to add to the list. I coo, "Did you have a good day?" to this baby I made, and look at him as though he might answer.

We arrive home. A chorus of UH-OH, UH-OH, UH-OHHHHH rings through the apartment. Chores alternate with games of peek-a-boo. He moves forward in a little walker thing, which some parents would know the name of, but I don't. It is red and green and yellow and orange. I hand him toys, and he drops them off the side with a sly smile. I put him on the ground, and turn away for a moment, and then hear the thick smack of the dog's water bowl being turned over. Babies are fast.

Dad takes over, feeding little bites of cheese (yes) and peas (puke). He hands Ezra the spoon, which is promptly tossed to the ground. Four little teeth. DA DA DA DA DA. We grin at him, and each other.

Fat baby bellies are the absolute best creation ever. Water runs to fill the white bathtub, and he squeals at the side. Obsessed with baths, and splashing. I think about how many baths I took when I was pregnant (a lot). I think about laboring in the hospital tub (ow). I think about the fact that if he could remember those moments, I would never know. His splashes spill all over me, and we laugh with gusto.

He screams at the top of his lungs, seeing a bottle in my hands. I am not fast enough. His dad is the worst. Everything is awful. And then, pure bliss. Eyes closed, lay back, drink that sucker down, finish with a big sigh. Five books and two lullabies later, he wriggles under his star blanket in the crib. I turn on his sound machine, the thing we swore we'd never buy, because we weren't going to be *those parents.* We are suckers because it works. I turn off the lights.

I find a hardened rhythm of settling into routine without feeling like a slave to it. An attempt to practice selflessness without turning into a resentful martyr. A repeated battle to not only ask for help (easy) but actually accept it (ugh). Perpetually behind, at least in a task-oriented sense. Days of feeling so overwhelmed. Of wanting just a moment of freedom or peace, and then once getting it, wanting to touch the soft, smooth skin of my chubby, healthy baby.

I hold fast to date nights. Working on the respective computers at 9 o'clock at night. Glasses of wine. Falling asleep early on the weekends. Laughing while making dinner. Hugging on the couch. Funny parenting memes and inside jokes. Having a big talk about needing to have more sex, and then one of you gets your period or a cold sore or a bad cold for two weeks. Realizing that no, you didn't "fail" at reconnecting, life just got in the way. Loving is hard. Listening is hard. Not keeping score is hard. Choosing to build your life with someone every day is hard. Hard things are worth it.

I write a little bit each day, so I don't go crazy. Like yoga. I'd prefer an hour or two on the regular, but I make peace with a down dog in the hallway while singing ABCs. A set of sun salutations, a high plank hold, a speedy blog post, a freelance outline during nap time. I fit it in where I can, and allow perfection to fly out the window.

I call my friends, but mostly forget to call my friends. I text back in two days. I wish everyone I loved could appear at the snap of my fingers. Screens are not the same. 

I laugh with my sister, so hard that my face hurts.

I worry about the world.

I hear people talk about tribes, and I want to be a part of one. Except it seems like everybody either already has one or is right there in the parenting trenches with me. Maybe not, though. Maybe it just takes practice. I've learned that I needed to get a few months into this motherhood thing before I could support anyone else. I stop saying, "let me know if you need anything!" and start saying "Can I come over tomorrow morning? I'll bring coffee." When a newer mama friend texts me for dinner at the last minute, I ask for her address, because I know that I need her even if I don't know her yet. 

I read about a stranger who lost her baby. I cry real tears that surprise my cheeks with their heaviness. The days are long but the years are short.

I repeat thank you like a mantra to whoever is listening.