Love and Velcro

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I recently came upon this wonderful piece by Coffee + Crumbs (Lots of great stuff there! Check it out!) and it immediately brought me back to the early, extraordinarily difficult days with my son. Reminders of that time crop up now and then because, really, the kind of trauma we both endured — and that’s exactly what it was — isn’t easily forgotten, but this particular piece reminded me of how (literally) attached we once were and how far we have come. And with that realization came the kind of validation I had deeply craved during those long lonely days.

From the moment the Pitocin was administered, my little guy made his feelings known. I carried him quite low toward the end of my pregnancy, but once his eviction notice was sent, I swear on everything holy that kid squeezed himself as far up into my ribs as he could. He did not want a scintilla of space between us and spent the entire first year of his life screaming that desire into the cosmos… and my aching ears.

He was my velcro baby — as attached to his mama as a kid could be. And while it may be tempting to imagine such a scenario as blissful days spent snuggling soft baby skin and breathing in that intoxicating baby smell, the reality is nearly the exact opposite. My life was full of blood-curdling screams every.single.moment I set him down to shower, cook, or even sleep. Picking him up usually knocked the noise level down a notch or two but he still cried incessantly. At one low point while my husband was deployed, it literally took me three days to pay a bill over the phone. My screaming velcro baby was stuck to me like glue, messing up the voice prompts and turning a seemingly simple task into a Herculean feat.

Life was hard, desperately hard.

Unfortunately, it was made even worse by a barrage of comments insinuating that I was somehow spoiling him, that responding to his needs was enabling manipulative behavior and that I had brought this difficulty on myself.

But I had lived through the baby years before — quite successfully, in fact. I knew I hadn’t directly caused his clinginess but I was still troubled by the fact that I couldn’t solve it. All the baby books said it required solving, after all. And most everyone in my orbit, his pediatrician included, insisted that the situation required a tough love approach.

It was a rough situation, indeed. After all, he wasn’t the average clingy baby. My boy suffered colic, severe reflux, feeding difficulties, and weight-gain problems. He was in the care of a gastroenterologist by 6 months and in feeding therapy by the time he turned 1. My life seemed little more than a revolving door between various medical offices with varying interpretations for his many maladies. As a mother, the inability to pinpoint his seemingly never-ending pain was gut-wrenching.

So I held him. What else could I do?

I held him when my arms ached and my back winced in pain. I held him as we both cried ourselves to sleep, unable to get the other to understand what we needed. I held him even as every inch of my body screamed for space, for a moment to breathe. But no matter what anyone else said, I held him. He needed it. I could feel it.

All the while, I questioned myself. I wondered why I couldn’t “fix” him and constantly evaluated what I could be doing differently. I stared in confusion at my clingy, irritable child, wondering why he was so high-maintenance when every cell of my body knew he was a calm soul at his core. What kind of mother can’t understand her own baby? Why was there such a disconnect between who I felt he was and the behavior I was seeing?

By his first birthday, my confidence was shattered. Nothing seemed to be getting better.

And then, one ordinary day, it did.

Life marched on — tenuous at first, and then increasingly sure-footed, like the pitter patter of my little boy’s feet as he ventured off to explore the world outside my weary arms.

And you know what? He has never looked back.

Sure, he is still my snuggle bug. After all, I wasn’t wrong about that soft soul of his. Turns out, he is very much like his mama — introspective, sensitive, and affectionate. And despite all the hysteria that holding a baby might cause an unhealthy dependence, at close to 3 years old, my cool little dude is as independent as it gets.

Though I’ll never know for sure, I like to think it’s because I held him through his pain, that I respected his needs even when I felt I had totally lost my way as a mother. We share the bond of the broken, two people who refused to give up even in the darkest of nights.

Eventually, morning came. And it delivered a (finally) happy and healthy little boy.

So while Coffee + Crumb’s essay brought me back to those difficult days, I know we are safely on the other side. Back then, he fought sleep while wailing the hours away in my arms. Tonight? Well, he’s still fighting sleep — but only because he can’t decide which dinosaur he likes more: Tyrannosaurus Rex or Ankylosaurus.

I’ll take it.

Impossible as it seems in the moment, velcro babies eventually grow up. They detach. They explore their world and inch ever further from the physical closeness of you. And that’s when you, too, will have come through the other side. Just hang on, Mama. Let your little one hold on. Cling together through this bumpy ride because velcro is tough, but so are you.

  • C
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Rules for the Accidental Stay-at-Home Mom

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Some girls grow up dreaming about being a stay-at-home mom. They relished the idea of snuggling their babies all day, baking delicious chocolate chip cookies, and volunteering at school holiday parties.

Not me.

While I will take baby snuggles whenever I can get them, I honestly always imagined myself in the classroom as the teacher instead of the parent volunteer. And baking just isn’t my thing… the two dozen burned Valentine cookies that ended up in my trash can are testament enough of that.

So when I became a stay-at-home mom, it was…well, a learning experience. Everything I had always believed about myself and my career path suddenly shifted. I was terribly insecure about myself as a mom (I mean, who isn’t?), and unsure of how to navigate a life I had never imagined for myself. It took some time and, while I still struggle here and there, these 4 rules have helped me navigate SAHM mom territory:

1.) Stop Explaining Yourself

Five years into my SAHM mom life, I still have a hard time with this. Maybe it’s because I grew up with two working parents. Maybe it’s because I get antsy about falling into an ill-fitting stereotype. Either way, I find myself explaining our family’s choices more than I care to admit.

On one hand, I know it’s nobody’s business. On the other, well, I’m an insatiably curious and ambitious person with a passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of others and even though I am intensely grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my kids, I am just as intensely dissatisfied with “wasting” years changing diapers, doing laundry, cleaning up puke, and waiting out temper tantrums because, frankly, I’m jealous of my husband’s career successes and his ability to have adult conversations while I’m stuck trying to decipher what gibberish word my youngest is screaming about while dinner is burning and the oldest is busy reminding me about the swimming class that started two hours ago.

Whew… Did I just black out?

Listen, explanations that lend themselves to horribly constructed run-on sentences just aren’t beneficial for anyone. It might feel good in the moment but you know what’s even better? Feeling at peace with your family decisions even when you aren’t totally content with your professional achievements. Frustration is inevitable but give yourself a break. You are your own harshest critic.

2.) Make a Long-Term Plan

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When you stumble into this lifestyle, it’s easy to fall into a wheel of negativity. There is the pain that comes with isolation, the guilt of feeling discontented, and confusion in the struggle to maintain an identity. Dealing with such heavy emotions is no easy task, especially when our cultural messaging makes confronting them almost taboo. After all, what could possibly be better than staying home with your babies? Well, depending on your personality, a lot of things — and that’s perfectly fine.

Whatever the reasons behind your SAHM status, if the situation feels less-than-ideal, do yourself a favor and make a long-term plan. Is returning to work possible once your kids are in school? How many years will that take? Check out ways in which you can further your education in the meantime so that you’re prepared when the time comes. Keep an eye out for work-from-home opportunities. And, most of all, communicate with your partner so that you are both on the same page.

Taking these steps will help you maintain a sense of accomplishment outside childrearing, while also serving as a reminder that this is only temporary.

3.) Allow Yourself to Tune Out

Buh-Bye, mom shamers! Ignore their judgmental stares and snuggle into a good book or—gasp!—laze away on Facebook while your kiddos entertain themselves on the playground. It goes without saying that you’ll keep an eye on them but, let’s be real, kids are pretty adept at playtime. They really really don’t need your help. And because your job literally never ends, it’s important to allow yourself a mental break here and there. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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I mean, look up at least once in a while…

4.) Don’t Let Your Interests Die

I know, I know. Easier said than done, right? Especially if you have a difficult baby or are in the throes of toddlerhood (somebody save me…). Maybe the only pastimes you can recall include watching Dora the Explorer on repeat and emptying diaper pails but, believe it or not, you existed for many years prior to becoming a mother. Get back to that girl. Self-care is crucial for all moms, and that includes being selfish enough with your time to pursue the hobbies you once loved.

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Get out in nature (check out the Osprey if your kiddo is still tiny!), read a good book during nap time instead of worrying about the dishes, or sign up for a fun dance class. Hell, start a blog so you can indulge in topics outside of Dr. Seuss and Paw Patrol. But find something you enjoy doing and learn how to put yourself first every once in a while. After all, part of being a SAHM is modeling the kind of behavior you want your kids to emulate, right? Take the opportunity to show them that self-care is not selfish. It is a lesson that will have far-reaching impact.

When you’re an accidental stay-at-home mom, digesting the guilt of yearning for a career while trying to enjoy the fleeting precious moments of childhood, life can feel unsettled. The journey isn’t an easy one but it can certainly be made easier. What are your thoughts? Is there anything you would add to this list?

  • C

 

 

 

 

My Miscarriage Story: Part 2

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By Mother’s Day 2011, we had been back in the states for nearly two months. Life was chaotic and unsettled as we lived out of suitcases and carted back and forth between our parents’ homes but, all in all, we were happy. After an extended period at home with family, we were less than one week from journeying to our next duty station and, hopefully, some long overdue repose.

Early that morning, over a lovely family brunch, we excitedly revealed that we were, once again, pregnant. At eight weeks, we were cautiously optimistic and grateful to give the happy news in person. Everybody hugged and congratulated us, even offering bits of big sister advice to our toddler still nibbling away at pancakes in her high chair.

It was a beautiful moment that perhaps I had been craving a bit too much. Because while I genuinely felt confident that all was well with this pregnancy, the warning signs were, once again, right in front of my face. Back at home, no less than five pregnancy tests stashed inside my suitcase told an old story: extremely faint lines that never turned into the bright pink I had been longing for. And as I excitedly revealed to our family that I had been spared the intense morning sickness of my first pregnancy, my mind refused to entertain the notion that a lack of symptoms could be problematic.

Later that afternoon, my sisters and I walked into our favorite clothing store and, after trying on a few pieces, I decided to treat myself to a long, flowing blouse. It was perfection, I rationalized, in that it could be worn tucked in for the time being but would accommodate a growing belly nicely. That purchase gave me confidence. Everything would be okay, I thought. With that shirt in hand, I felt I could begin actively preparing for this pregnancy.

While leaving the store, I somehow backed up into a door handle with a bit of force. It scraped across my lower back and I winced in pain. After a moment though, the pain subsided and I left for home without a second thought.

Upon arriving back at my in-law’s house, I walked into the restroom and was stunned to see streaks of blood lining my underwear. Immediately, I told myself that this was normal pregnancy bleeding. Indeed, I had experienced intermittent bleeding throughout my entire first, healthy pregnancy and what I was looking at was not nearly as heavy as what I had encountered with my miscarriage several months prior. Once again, I told myself that everything would be okay. And, truly, despite the shock of blood, I felt calm and confident.

In fact, it wasn’t until I told my husband that my faith began to waver. The words pouring out of his mouth remained steady and resolute but I could see fear in his eyes. It was decided that we would monitor the situation for a couple hours and then head to the emergency room if the bleeding intensified. Within about thirty minutes, we were buckling into the car. Still, I rationalized, there was very little cramping so maybe, just maybe this pregnancy was still viable.

Upon being admitted, a nurse showed up and provided me with a gown and instructions to change in a bathroom at the end of the hall. What I remember most about that bathroom was the low, wide mirror that seemed to envelope the wall. It screamed at me to focus on what was happening—to look at myself standing under those glaring florescent lights, underwear bulging from a giant pad. The image sickened me, not because that industrial sized pad represented another potential loss but because it reminded me of the comically large hospital underwear you get after giving birth. How unfair, how twisted, to be forced with such an image at that time. Turning to put on my hospital gown, I noticed that the scrape on my lower back had begun to bruise over. And in an instant, my mind began to play tricks on me. You did this. You shook the pregnancy out of you. This is your fault.

Perhaps that sounds crazy. The logical side of me knew that it was. But when your entire world seems to be one cruel joke, logic doesn’t tend to win out.

Eventually, with my husband at my side, a doctor conducted a vaginal ultrasound to determine the cause of the bleeding.

“What was the date of your last period, again?” he asked.

I repeated the date he had already been told.

“Are you sure?” he questioned. “Because what I’m seeing is measuring about 4.5 weeks.”

“That can’t be right,” I mumbled, racking my brain for a rational explanation.

Moments later, the doctor smiled at me sympathetically and explained that someone would be in shortly with paperwork. Then he closed the door behind him and, for a long time, my husband and I simply stared ahead in disbelief. But once the tears started to fall, there was no stopping them. I sobbed upon that hospital bed with the same heaving breaths that had kept me strewn across the bathroom floor only a few short months ago while a lowly toilet flushed away pieces of me.

“Why is this happening again?” I demanded. “I don’t understand!”

All my husband could do was hold me and let our tears mix together upon the cold linoleum floor. And though I couldn’t articulate myself in that moment, a flood of concerns rushed through my head—namely, that the miscarriage on my birthday hadn’t been the fluke but that, really, it was my daughter. What if I wasn’t ever supposed to have kids but that we simply lucked out on the first try? What if I never again felt life kicking inside me? What could be so wrong with me that two consecutive pregnancies had failed? I felt ashamed of my own body, angered by its inability to nurture a pregnancy. I felt, honestly, like a failure.

Eventually, an orderly appeared with discharge papers. I heard the phrases “threatened miscarriage” and “spontaneous abortion” thrown around. Somehow I pieced together enough to understand that my pregnancy had, for unknown reasons, suddenly come to a halt quickly after conception. My body had taken another month to figure out what was happening.

One might think that walking out of that hospital would be the ending of another unfortunate loss. But, the reality is, miscarriages are long, drawn-out processes. For one thing, the use of the phrase, “threatened miscarriage” gave me misplaced hope that there might still be a chance. Over the next few days, I used up the rest of my pregnancy tests, hoping that the still faintly visible lines meant that the doctors had somehow been wrong. Watching with concern, my husband gently explained that I was torturing myself. He was right.

But that wasn’t all—at a follow up visit several days later, a different doctor looked at the image of my ultrasound and declared that it had been a twin pregnancy. Indeed, when I later saw the notes from the emergency room doctor, he had also noticed two sacs. For some reason, that revelation felt like a second crushing blow. I still struggle with the knowledge that it had been a twin pregnancy, along with the illogical guilt that somehow my body couldn’t handle two.

It was another few weeks (smack in the middle of a cross country move, no less) before doctors could officially monitor my HCG levels back to zero. Life never stopped spinning and I felt viscerally angry over that fact. How could everyone go about their business as if the world hadn’t completely upended itself? How was I to grieve this second loss with a busy toddler running around and a new home to move into? How was I ever going to come to grips with having lost two consecutive pregnancies?

The honest truth is that it’s an ongoing process—even now, even after the birth of a healthy baby boy. Most days pass without incident but, every once in a while, those memories flood back to the surface. My birthday is always a trigger, as is Mother’s Day and Christmas (the time frame of the due date with my second loss).

The guilt never really leaves, however illogical it may be. In fact, it only intensified with the birth of my son. In the midst of sleep deprivation and other newborn struggles, I felt intensely shameful for not fully appreciating the miracle of a rainbow baby. Even in toddlerhood, the struggle still manifests. But it has gotten easier to allow myself a measure of grace, to frame those losses within the big picture of my life instead of letting them define it.

These days, there is no trace of that bruise on my back and I can wear that long, flowing blouse without regret. These days, I find strength in my voice and in sharing my story. I hope you will, too. Because your experience was real and it matters. Speak life into your loss. Speak so that healing can be had. You deserve it. We all do.

  • C

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

My Miscarriage Story: Part 1

 

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Every October during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, I am brought back to my own losses—to the traumas that no longer cloud my everyday life but which exist just under the surface, easily triggered by the unexpected and unexceptional. They have become a part of my being, my story, and my journey. They didn’t end with the physical passing of those pregnancies or even with the healthy birth of my rainbow baby. As any woman who has endured the pain of miscarriage knows, they have never really ended at all. And while I used to feel desperately lonely in my experience, the years have brought a measure of peace; a peace due in part to the many stories others have willingly shared.

Today I know that I am not alone, that I am a member of a sisterhood. And with that comes, I believe, the responsibility to share my story—to help end the stigma of sharing and to encourage others to give witness to their grief. Because our miscarriages weren’t just a moment in time. They continue. Here is my story:

My daughter was about 10 months old when my husband and I found out we were expecting again. We were thrilled to be having kids close in age and, as a military family, felt especially grateful that my estimated due date fell comfortably between what we knew would be an extremely short upcoming duty station.

At the time, I didn’t think twice about the fact that my positive pregnancy test had been extremely faint—so faint, in fact, that I continued to test all week with the same barely discernible result. Though I had gotten pregnant before my first postpartum period and, therefore, couldn’t determine a due date in the conventional way, I had consciously decided to stop taking the mini pill so I knew how long to wait before testing. The results were becoming slightly darker with each passing day but I could never get that bright pink line that appeared instantaneously (before even missing my period) with my first pregnancy. Frustrated but unconcerned, we finally bought a digital test in order to clear things up once and for all. When that one spelled out the word “pregnant” I felt relief rush over my body and immediately forgot about the odd results from the other tests.

Having already had a successful pregnancy, I felt confident telling family and close friends as soon as we knew. Of course, I had heard the conventional wisdom advising against sharing the news before twelve weeks but who does miscarriage actually touch?

It turns out, a lot of people—myself included.

About one week after getting a positive result from the digital test and confirming the pregnancy at our clinic, my back started to ache. At first it was a dull pain, making me think that perhaps I had pulled a muscle. But as the day wore on, it became increasingly intense. I remember writhing around in bed that day, trying to sleep away the pain. Alarm bells had yet to start ringing. The idea that I could lose a pregnancy was so far from my mindset that I had missed one of the most common early signs. What was actually on my mind was that my husband had planned a date night and I was determined not to let a scheduled babysitter go to waste! By the time I woke up, the pain had mostly subsided and I happily readied myself for a much needed night out.

The next 24 hours proceeded pain free. Instead, I was floating high over the surprise party my husband had planned for me. There had been dinner, dessert, and Nori Bong (Korean karaoke) with friends. The following day—my 27th birthday—several friends stuck around our house and watched movies. For some reason, everything about that lazy, low-key day is forever etched in my memory. I remember what we watched and what we ate. I remember the dreary late winter sky that lent itself to snuggling under blankets and dimming the lights. I remember saying goodbye to our friends and walking them to the door, exhausted and ready for bed. And I also remember the bleeding.

It started late that night, still my birthday. And while I had plenty of light, intermittent bleeding throughout my first pregnancy, I instinctively knew this was different. Suddenly, the intense back pain and faint pregnancy tests made sense. Something was wrong and I steeled myself for what had previously seemed an impossible outcome.

The bleeding continued throughout the night—far more, I knew, than could be considered normal.  Early the next morning, I passed what looked to be a large clot. And in that moment, reality came crashing down. I sobbed into the cold bathroom tile while my husband mercifully flushed it from sight. The harsh jolt of toilet water seems like such a cruelly mundane ending—like there should be more to it than the simple flip of a handle. Kneeling on that bathroom floor, I officially became part of this sisterhood, unable to process exactly what that meant or how to move forward. That moment, in all its intensity, will stay with me for the rest of my life.

After consulting with my doctor, she suggested I head into the hospital to be examined. We lived overseas at the time, and while we had access to an on post clinic, anything but the most basic medical care was referred out to a local Korean hospital. Though I was familiar with the hospital, walking into that ER was a daunting experience. I was afraid of having to explain what was happening through a hefty language barrier, unsure that I would have the physical or emotional strength to communicate well enough. Numbness had already set in. Despondency was close behind.

To be honest, I don’t remember speaking at all. I’m sure my husband spoke on my behalf as I stared off in a daze. Once they understood what was happening, we were sent upstairs to Labor and Delivery. Newborns wailed through the nursery wall. A woman in active labor grunted through her contractions. A nurse who remembered me from my first pregnancy smiled and waved excitedly as my husband jumped to explain that the occasion was not a happy one. Walking through that hall was exceedingly difficult. But being sent to the very delivery room, the exact bed, where I had given birth to my daughter less than a year prior? Gut wrenching.

Before long, I was moved to a small area with four other beds where healthy swollen bellies were periodically monitored during the early stages of labor and where cervical softeners were inserted in order to induce labor. I had been in that room before, as well. And though the nurse was kind enough to pull a curtain around my bed, the excitement of soon to be mothers was unmistakable, language barriers be damned.

We waited for quite some time before a doctor appeared to conduct a vaginal ultrasound. And what happened next was…well…odd. Neither of us could communicate well with the other but I assumed he had read my file and knew why I had been admitted. After an extremely brief scan, he abruptly announced that, in fact, I was not pregnant at all but simply on my period. Puzzled, I tried to explain that the pregnancy had been confirmed through a blood test at our on-post clinic. That didn’t seem to phase him. I can only assume that, because the sac had already passed, he couldn’t verify the pregnancy via ultrasound and that his word choice was simply lost in translation.

Aside from being a strange side note, I mention that experience because I would go on to encounter that same flippancy from people who simply couldn’t grasp the very real heartbreak that accompanies miscarriage. Whenever I have felt particularly unheard or invisible in this process, that scenario with the doctor would flip through my mind.

Upon having the miscarriage confirmed, I was monitored for several weeks by our on post clinic to ensure that my HCG levels returned to normal. My doctor was kind and gentle, explaining that miscarriages are fairly common, especially during early pregnancy, and that I could attempt to get pregnant again after one normal ovulation cycle.

And, it would seem, that was it. Once my doctor assured me that my HCG levels had safely returned to zero, I was ready to close that chapter and move on. With our daughter’s first birthday quickly approaching and an international move close at hand, distraction was easy to come by. Looking back, I didn’t take the time to process what had happened or allow myself to fully grieve. I rationalized away the experience as a fluke and felt that our upcoming move would provide a fresh start. In spite of it all, I was truly excited about the future and confident that the pain would stay in the past. Life, it turns out, had plans of its own.

 

  • C

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

The Truth About Sleepless Nights

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Last night, my kids woke up five times between the pair of them. Bed linens were stripped and washed, bottles were refilled, carpets were cleaned (don’t ask), snuggles were requested, and complaints of all kinds were given. Apparently, the threat of death by dehydration or loneliness looms large between 2 and 5 a.m. Who knew?

In the end, I managed to cobble together a few broken hours of sleep despite going to bed early. Nobody was sick. Nobody was teething or in any sort of pain. It just was. And it was exhausting.

The truth about nights like these, no matter how often they occur, is that they are a cripplingly lonely part of parenthood. Even if you are lucky enough to have a partner around to help, it can feel like the rest of the world knows nothing of your pain. Outside, street lamps burn brightly while your neighbors’ windows are annoyingly dark. It’s as if you can hear their carefree snores against the backdrop of your kids’ incessant whining, and in those crushing moments of isolation, it’s easy to feel as though you are failing hard at this parenting thing. Why my kids? Why me? With one in preschool and the other well into toddlerhood, the kind of sleepless nights we often associate with the newborn stage should be far behind me, right? Right?

Apparently not.

As a new mom, I heard a lot of encouragement that helped me tough it through extreme sleep deprivation. And believe me, my kids really pushed the limits. There was also constant reassurance that this phase of life is relatively quick and that sleeplessness would soon be a distant memory.

When you’re in the thick of it, you drink in those words like some magical elixir that powers you through the hard times. And there’s no denying the good intentions behind them. But the truth is, they are often just a placebo, and by the time you realize it, you’re nothing short of an expletive-laced, fire-breathing dragon.

And that’s not just a metaphor, either — crazy hair, smeared makeup, and rancid morning breath can, for a time, become your new normal. Take it in stride. You’re still beautiful, and it’s nothing a hot shower and strong coffee can’t fix.

The thing is, the people who throw these empty platitudes your way were either blessed with freakishly easy kids (rare, but hey, it happens), have blocked out the trauma (who can blame ’em?), or simply refuse to acknowledge it (no one is buying the charade). The truth, though? It’s all a crock of shit. What no one tells you is that the “phase” they are really referring to is parenthood, and sorry sister, you’re already in deep. There’s no turning back.

Tonight it may be a fear of the dark, but in the blink of an eye, it’ll be sleepovers, date nights, and even drinking parties. Don’t kid yourself, your college student won’t be turning in with a warm cup of milk at 9 o’clock. The reality is, your kids will keep you up for the rest of your life. It was in the fine print when you signed your life over to another human being. For future reference always read the fine print.

And while you may, on the whole, get significantly more sleep than you did in the beginning, that doesn’t make unannounced middle-of-the-night parties any less painful. The bar of “normalcy” is ever-changing — for all of us. While three straight hours of sleep may have felt like a godsend once upon a time, when your body has adjusted to a new normal, anything less than six can feel like a punch in the gut.

We like to pretend that night wakings and four cups of coffee kind of mornings are either the stuff of infanthood or have an easily traceable cause, like illness — if you’re a good mom, that is. I mean, reading all the best baby books virtually guarantees the bestowment of “good sleeper” status on your kids forever, right? Their arbitrary standards are obviously a piece of cake to meet, but if your kid happens to fall short, it must by your fault for failing to do x, y, or z.

So (shock!) we don’t often talk about older kids having problems going to sleep or staying asleep. We just yell profanities into our pillow and then walk them to school in the morning like nothing happened. The bags under your eyes may betray your secret, but your lips certainly won’t because discussing it seems to be admitting total incompetence. Nobody wants to feel like a failure, let alone admit it out loud. But if you were to google “why won’t my kid sleep at night?” you would find that you are most certainly not alone.

And that’s what you need to hear. That’s what all moms need to hear. You are not alone.

Whether your kids wake up constantly or just once in a blue moon, it’s okay, and for the most part, completely normal. By all means, check out online forums if they provide a sense of camaraderie. Throw out every four-letter word you know once the door is closed and your little one can’t hear. Break out a 2 a.m. glass of pinot grigio if it helps you relax and put things into perspective. Most of all, talk about it with your friends, your babysitter, your grocery bagger — anyone who will listen. But keep talking. And then talk some more. There’s healing to be had in communication (and commiseration).

Just keep moving, Mama. Parenthood is skinned knees, broken hearts, irrational temper tantrums, and yes, sleepless nights. It’s a bumpy ride, and your journey won’t look like anyone else’s. Just do you — because this shit is hard and that’s okay.

 

  • C

(Originally published on Scary Mommy – 14 September 2016)

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

Hey Kid, Get Outta My Bed!

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My dear, sweet, lovely child,

Let me be blunt: You are driving me out of my ever-loving mind.

Listen, I know you’re just 4 and have very real fears of the dark, monsters, and being alone. I get it. Hell, just a few weeks ago, your dad and I were certain that an off-kilter washing machine drum was actually a blood-thirsty burglar. And when he left our room to confront that would-be intruder, I didn’t place high odds on his returning safely. I wished in that moment I still had a blankie to snuggle up with like you do. The dark sucks. Unfamiliar noises suck.

But you know what? Things that go bump in the night will scare you until the day you die. None of us are as brave as we pretend to be.

That being said, we have got to find a new arrangement.

I’ll be honest, your grandparents were superheroes. They survived four kids — that’s four complete childhoods full of bad dreams, scary storms, and midnight snuggles — with a kind of grace that I can’t quite seem to muster. I try. I do! But, I just wasn’t prepared for this level of torture. Nobody told me!

I’m not sure where you acquired that starfish technique of yours but I have to say, it’s not very conducive to fitting two grown adults and one tiny person in a queen-size bed. But I could live with that tiny sliver of mattress if it meant a peaceful, if precarious, night’s sleep.

Alas, that is not the world in which we live. No, apparently starfish people must flail about as if an imaginary ocean current forces their body to remain in a state of perpetual movement. They seem to have evolved motion sensors that lock onto anything in its path. And by anything, I mean anything called Mom. Dads have somehow acquired immunity. Explain that one.

Sometimes it’s the starfish that shows up. Sometimes it’s just a shadowy figure standing quietly over me until I awake in horror. Even then, I am guilted into letting you crawl into my bed because my inevitable shriek of terror causes you to cry and tell me I scared you. Whatever form your shapeshifting takes, it’s utterly exhausting.

Child, I love you. You are my world. But, for the love of God, if I have to peel your sticky, sweaty feet off of my face more than once a night, you will find yourself with a gremlin instead of a mother at daybreak — and not the cute one either. Nobody wants that.

Look, I know I’m not blameless in this. Websites and self-help books all say that I’ve allowed this nightly behavior to flourish with my apparently less-than-stellar willpower. So…guilty as charged, I guess?

Just know this: I love you. I love you so much that the thought of refusing you comfort in the face of genuine fear is unthinkable, even when my own comfort is drastically reduced. The truth is, while part of me can’t wait to sleep comfortably again, I also know that these days are numbered.

Yes, I want the starfish out of my bed. Maybe we compromise with a sleeping bag on the floor? Just spitballing here. But you, my little girl…you never have to worry about being alone. You never have to worry about the dark. You can always find comfort in your parents…

…until you’re grown up and the washing machine drum gets off balance. Then you’re shit out of luck.

Love,

Gremlin Mommy

 

  • C

(Originally published on Scary Mommy – 13 September 2016)

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**

The Day It Dawned On Me That I’m Not So Young Anymore

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My early 20s don’t seem like they were that long ago. While the days of body shots, cartilage piercings, and other regrettable life choices bear no resemblance to my current life, I still remember them with a kind of clarity that (copious amounts of alcohol notwithstanding) seems to undermine the decade that has since passed.

Perhaps it’s because my “under-tall” stature tends to convince people I am barely within legal drinking age, or maybe it’s because my children have generously allowed me the kind of beauty sleep necessary to keep my skin soft and supple — just kidding, that’s not true at all. Either way, I’ve always considered my husband and I fairly cool. Like, maybe we have more responsibilities and life experience under our belts, but we definitely aren’t old fuddy-duddies, right?

Wrong.

Last week, we took advantage of some rare free time to head out for a fun-filled day sans whiney children. It was blissful, entailing a six-hour round trip drive to reach our destination. We turned off the Princess Tea Party CD that had played on loop for the last three months and listened, gratefully, to whatever the hell we wanted. We snacked on junk food without having to share. I took a nap. Turns out, road trips without children are surprisingly relaxing.

On the way back, we stopped for dinner at a burger joint. My husband ordered some food while I secured a quiet booth and checked my phone to see if there were any messages from the sitter. (And by “sitter,” I mean our good friends who we conned into thinking it would be fun to watch our kids for a day. Suckers.)

Just as we began chowing down, relishing in the knowledge that we would be able to finish our entire meal without any meltdowns, potty accidents, or other inevitable shenanigans, a group of young guys sat down in the booth next to us. They were tan, muscular, and judging from their barely there tank tops, wanted to make sure everyone knew it. They could have easily passed for some serious surfers grabbing a bite after a long day on the waves, except despite the fact that we live in California, we are nowhere near coastline or any sort of water.

As they lounged in their seats, incessantly running their fingers through their thick sun-kissed hair, my husband nodded over at them and whispered, “Do you think they are college-age or what?” Trying to look inconspicuous, I feigned interest in the menu posted above their heads for a better look at the surfer boys. “Definitely,” I agreed. “College kids, for sure.”

At about that time, a gaggle of girls bopped in who happened to know the boys. They giggled and high-fived and jumped around in their impossibly small Daisy Dukes. Tan and tiny, their barely there tank tops ensured everyone knew it. (I must’ve missed the loose, faintly see-through tank top memo.)

Then somebody made a joke, and they all laughed obnoxiously loud. Like, there’s-no-way-it-was-that-funny-but-they-had-to-be-the-center-of-attention-anyway kind of loud. My husband and I looked at one another and rolled our eyes.

“Well, that’s annoying,” he grumbled. With my fingers pressed deeply between my eyes, I responded with, “My sinuses are killing me, and it’s way too loud in here. We need to get home anyway. It’s getting late.”

It was still light outside.

And that’s when the obvious slapped me right across the face. My life looks nothing like that anymore. I don’t look like that anymore. I don’t talk like that. Did I ever resemble this seemingly farcical representation of young adulthood? Moments before, my husband and I had felt victorious over our early-bird dinner while these young guns were probably eating their first meal of the day and wouldn’t go to sleep again until we were waking up. What had previously felt like my not-so-distant past suddenly propelled itself light-years away from my current reality.

I looked down uneasily at myself: conservative cardigan and sensible shoes. (We had walked around quite a bit that day, after all!) I glanced over at my husband: smart polo and khaki shorts (not of the cargo variety). We looked old, comparatively at least.

I mean, we had good reason to be dressed the way we were. We had just come from a Vatican exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library so, duh, we had to at least look like the feeble, tired parents we are.

Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that yet? Yes. We spent our one day alone oohing and aahing over papal artifacts at a presidential library. And we liked it! But that’s not even the best part. Ready for this? We found and reported a grammatical typo in the museum and felt awesome about it.

So, there — whatever. I guess it shouldn’t really have taken some spry young chickens to make me acknowledge my inevitable decline into muumuu dresses and Tom Collins cocktails. But, for now, I’ll happily enjoy my yoga pants and nightly glass of pinot grigio like the rockin’ 30-going-on-80-year-old that I am. Life has brought me to this exact point, and it’s not going to slow down anytime soon. I am just going to get older, grayer, and crankier. But I’m totally fine with that, and you should be too, because I’m comfortable in my cardigans and wouldn’t be caught dead in a see-through tank top.

Besides, at least I know how to hashtag so I’m not totally hopeless, right?

#FuddyDuddyForLife

  • C

(Originally published on Scary Mommy – 8 September 2016)

**C also writes for POMP USA, a start up company promoting businesses owned by service members, veterans, and their spouses.

Please visit www.pompusa.org for more information**