Holding on and letting go

I am sitting on the sofa in my living room right now. The only noise I hear is the occasional chirpy singsong of birds outside, the gentle hum of a fan, and the little ditty my fingers are plinking out on my keyboard.

My son has been at daycare for 2 hours and 34 minutes. This summer he attends for 6 hours per day, 3 days per week.

When we secured a spot in daycare for him back in February to begin at the end of May, it was relief (finding openings in daycare is no joke!). It was also scary and daunting, but it was months off and didn’t feel totally threatening. Then the weeks zoomed by as they tend to do and the days leading up to his first day of daycare hung over me like a dark shadow.

At the beginning of May Jonah and I got sick with colds, we made an 8 hour road trip to visit family, and Jonah’s sleep schedule got completely screwed up. Upon return we fought to get back into a routine, knowing it would fly out the window again once daycare started. For someone who craves stability and feels most secure when she knows what’s coming . . . this is hard.

The feeling wasn’t the dreaded Mom Guilt I hear so much about. I didn’t feel guilty for paying someone to take care of my son part-time. In fact, I was rather looking forward to the break and knew it would allow me to better take care of myself. Instead, I mourned the moment he would realize that his two anchors in his life, mom and dad, weren’t there. I anticipated this shift in our family life and it made me so anxious. Up until this point, our little unit of 3 existed in our own family bubble of sorts. Now, with the start of daycare it felt like a monumental handover of our most precious boy–our sweet buddy–to the entire world. And, I don’t know if you’ve looked around, but the world feels like it’s kind of in shambles these days. I wasn’t ready for what starting daycare symbolized. I also knew that the closeness I’d had with Jonah for nearly 16 months of his life was going to change and I knew that I’d never be that close with him ever again. All of this made my heart feel so heavy.

But I also knew it was the right thing for all of us. He was ready for daycare: learning to trust new caregivers, interacting with more toddlers around his age, learning to be independent, playing, exploring, and absorbing new experiences — I can’t put it into words, but I knew it was the right time and so did Jonah’s dad. On the flip side, I was ready for a change. Motherhood has absorbed my mind, body, emotions, and each and every of my 5 senses since my son was born. It’s been amazing and brutal, life altering and life affirming. I’d do it all again and again and again, even though motherhood felt like it would break me at some points and, true story, also sent me to therapy back in the fall. But with grad school just ahead this upcoming fall, I was feeling antsy to put this new life looming ahead to me in motion. Starting daycare was right for him, but it was also right for me.

But I sure did cry on that first day of daycare. Oddly, Jonah didn’t (although he has cried at drop-off each morning since!). I wanted to hold on to this darling, sweet, squishy toddler . . . even as I knew we both needed daycare. Daycare is opening and widening both of our worlds right now. Jonah’s world has been confined to his immediate family and the choices we made, and my entire world has been wrapped up in him. It’s time for both of us to learn to trust others, connect with our peers, be more independent, play, explore, and absorb new experiences.

I’ll always be Jonah’s mom. That will never change; though, my role may change over the years. Now, instead of being Jonah’s whole world, I am focusing on always being his soft landing place, his shelter and comfort when the rest of the world can feel too big and too scary.

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Holding on and letting go

I picked the wrong birth affirmations

I admire trailblazers. The kind of people who say, “Hmm, I know conventional wisdom says, ‘x, y, z,’ but I’m going to try it this other way that I think will work better for me.” They listen to their gut, honor their needs, and find creative solutions to problems and aren’t afraid to go against the grain.

While this is a trait I admire, I’m about as “by the book” as they come. Rules and guidebooks make me feel safe. Needing to improvise on the spot gives me sweaty armpits. I stick to what I know, even if it means doing something the hard way when I could make my life easier by trying something new or innovating.

This has become especially apparent to me as I entered into motherhood. Media, books, and others around me projected the kind of image I felt I needed to uphold as a pregnant woman. I knew I was supposed to act excited, love my pregnant body, and be eager for the arrival of our baby. I read all the books I was supposed to read, tried masking my anxiety toward motherhood lest I “stress” the baby I was growing (this was something I read and, hoo boy, did I get even more anxious when I read that being anxious could stress out your baby), got a doula, did the yoga, and talked excitedly about building a registry. This was how a pregnant woman was supposed to behave, so I performed the part.

The reality: I was scared of motherhood, anxious about giving birth, resentful of feeling so restricted by my pregnant body, overwhelmed by ALL the books and information, worried about turning our entire lives upside down, and tired of doing so many kegels in yoga.

When my doula recommended writing down “birth affirmations” on notecards to bring to the hospital with me, I did it. I did it because she said it would be helpful. Mostly, I did it simply because she told me to. I am a rule follower, after all, and that goes for following directions. And, because I want to always make sure I do a good job, I googled “birth affirmations,” picked a handful of them, and wrote them on notecards. I didn’t even make up my own! Things like:

Soon I will meet my baby.

My body knows exactly what to do.

There is nothing to fear.

I have everything I need to birth this baby.

I laugh at those now. Those birth affirmations in NO way reflect how I was feeling toward giving birth. When you get right down to it, I felt ashamed that impending motherhood felt so foreign to me and masked it by trying to fulfill expectations of others and follow what all the pregnancy/birth/motherhood books and articles told me I should be doing and feeling.

Since becoming a mom I’ve consumed a lot of media (particularly podcasts) about pregnancy and motherhood and have listened to and read a lot of different stories about moms who share their feelings on being a mother, the affects of the expectation of motherhood vs. the reality, postpartum mental health, etc. Many of these women’s stories weren’t dissimilar to my own: They wanted to have a baby AND they were petrified of having a baby. They willingly entered into motherhood AND they clung to their old lives and the freedom they had pre-baby. They weren’t “baby people” AND they wanted to have baby and start a family anyway. They loved their new baby ferociously AND they were physically exhausted and bored by the monotony of new motherhood. I could go on and on. What I learned, though, is that there is no shame in being honest and sharing your story.

If I have another baby (which I hope to someday!) and if I were to write birth affirmations again (this is less likely. Turns out I’m not a birth affirmations kind of mom), they’d go a little like this:

Thank goodness this pregnancy is almost over.

An epidural is one anesthesiologist away.

You survived a 43.5 hour labor last time. You can do ANYTHING.

You won’t be constipated much longer.

Your pelvic floor will be wrecked for weeks, but you won’t dribble pee forever.

It’s ok if your first feelings toward your new baby are feelings of relief to not be pregnant.

It may take some time to bond with your baby. That’s ok. ❤

There’s a million ways to care for your baby. Pick the ones that work for you.

Take a g-d nap, woman. Just sleep whenever you can. Sacrificing sleep only hurts you.

As it turns out, I can have complicated feelings toward motherhood AND still be a really good mom who is (literally) delighted by her son.

I picked the wrong birth affirmations

Daydreams of a 34-year-old

In high school, I dreamed of living a bohemian life in New York City. I’d have a tiny apartment with a window a/c unit, a closet full of vintage/secondhand clothes, and would share my space with a black and white cat and houseplants.

In my 20s I dreamed of being a writer (still do, if I’m honest), though that dream has always been abstract and less concrete, because by my 20s I was old enough that my inner critic’s remarks were louder than my own dreams, hidden wishes, and desires.

Now I’m 34. I’m married, have a son, and a really beautiful life. Truly, there is no disputing that last bit — if I could have looked into my future when I was younger to see my life now, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it. Another truth: being a mama to a 1-year-old is never-ending. You’re always on call and your tiny boss can’t talk, so you spend a lot of time guessing at what’s wrong if they’re fussy or obsessing about what to fix them to eat when they stop eating the foods they loved a day before.

My son has a bit of a cold or allergies and woke up early (as in, before 6 a.m.). As luck would have it, I did finally get him back to sleep. I found myself sitting in my dark living room sending a quick email to one of my very best friends in the entire world. Just one of those, “Happy weekend…hope it was a good week…let’s schedule a phone date soon” kind of emails. Before hitting send, though, I found myself telling her my 34-year-old daydream. Here it is, along with several others:

  1. It’s Saturday morning, and I live in the same town as my BFF. I wake up, roll over, and text her, “Breakfast?” And she’d text back 5 minutes later, “See you at our booth at 9!” Because we’d have Our Spot, our favorite cozy diner with our booth by the window overlooking the park. We’d meet up for breakfast, just the 2 of us, a few times a month . . . just because we can.
  2. I have an entire weekend all to myself. I wake up early and ask myself, “What do you want to do?” I decide between all of my favorite things: spend the weekend having a staycation in my own town? Spring clean my home, top to bottom, and spend the rest of the weekend just . . . enjoying it? Spend the day biking? Spend the day hiking? Take my camera and go on an adventure to see what I find? Go camping? Every option sounds so good that I finally write each one on a slip of paper and draw one out blindly.
  3. I get to solo travel anywhere in the US I want. I go to Maine and wake up early each morning, hike, and eat peanut butter and jelly on fluffy white bread every day.
  4. I go to yoga class twice every week. Nothing ever stands in my way (including me).
  5. Riding my bicycle any time I want. Just because I can.
  6. I join a book club. We get together each month for a book club potluck.
  7. My house stays clean after I clean it.

I realize that none of these daydreams include my family and a part of me feels badly about that. It’s nothing personal, because I love them and, as I said, I truly have a really lovely and wonderful life. But in this current phase of life where I’m home with my son every day, am exhausted from not getting enough sleep, feel behind on everything, can’t keep the house clean, and don’t have a lot of time/energy/space/opportunity to do a lot for myself my ultimate fantasy is just to have a little freedom and be my own boss and indulge in things only I want to do.

But right now? Right now I’m on borrowed time, because my son could wake up in a few seconds or in another hour. So I’ll just get another cup of coffee and listen to the morning songbirds outside.

Daydreams of a 34-year-old

Is this my beautiful life?

If you could look around my house and smell the inside of my refrigerator, you’d probably think there is something very wrong with my family and me. There are piles of clean(ish…) laundry scattered about our bedroom like islands punctuating the sea (Ah! Ahead I see Underwear Island and just beyond it is the rugged island of Clothes That Need To Be Hung Up), toys here there and everywhere, an array clutter on every surface, dishes that need to be washed, and a very unwelcoming smell that wafts out of the refrigerator when you open.

You’ve probably seen signs before with the saying, “Pardon the mess, but we live here.” I support you if this phrase is embraced by your family — we all have different things we can or can’t live with! However, for me, the state of my house is linked and directly related to how burnt out and exhausted I am.

. . . . . .

We have a lot going on. What family doesn’t, right? Sure, this is just a season of life. Things won’t always be this intense. Or, at the very least, we won’t always be surrounded by a lovable, tiny tyrant who is busy making two extra messes while you’re busy cleaning up the first mess.

But at the same time I just have to wonder if we’re doing it wrong. How many priorities can one person or one family have before you feel like you’re not doing well at any of your priorities? I think that questions sums up how I’m feeling. There’s SO much happening and SO much going on and SO much to process and SO much to do. All of it makes my head spin because it all feels important, but I’m also feeling really depleted and I know I’m not bringing my best self to any of my/my family’s priorities.

We have a spring break trip coming up to visiting family in FL. We desperately need this break and a reset . . . and we desperately need an extra set of hands with our kid for a few days. I’m very hopeful that we can go on this trip and come back feeling more refreshed. But there’s also a part of me that is concerned this FL trip is simply a bandaid that will offer temporary reprieve, only to feel crushed by the weight of all of our priorities again in a couple of months.

. . . . . .

There isn’t really a resolution to this post. No big ‘aha!’ moment or deeper understanding of a better way to Live and Be.

I’m writing this on a Thursday morning at 7 a.m. It’s still dark outside and I’m just crossing my fingers my son will sleep a tiny bit longer. There’s any number of things I could be doing right now (dishes, folding clothes, etc.). But I’m just going to sit here in my dark living room for as long as possible . . . because I can. And once my son is up I will shift gears and do the best I can for him and will play with him and we’ll make the most of our day. As for the messy kitchen, stinky refrigerator, piles of laundry, and household clutter? I make no promises.

Signed,

A very tired person. Who is also a mom.

 

Is this my beautiful life?

Daffodil Watch

Flanking either side of the perilous cement steps to the upper level of our backyard, where our three twigs of apple trees take root (we hope), are daffodil bulbs. They seem to have been planted a bit haphazardly, without a plan or commitment to symmetry who knows how many years back, but I’m so glad they’re there.

Growing up in the southeast, in North Carolina, spring begins whispering sweet nothings as early as January and February. By March the daffodils were always up. The tulips and hyacinths followed, as did all the other perennials. Maybe because they were so reliably early? Maybe because they were so plentiful in yards and garden beds of churches and businesses? I don’t know why, exactly, but I regarded the daffodil as a very common flower. Nothing special.

Then we spent six years in Michigan, where winter hangs on with her icy fingers until May. There were some winters I was so desperate for the spring of the southeast, that I’d spend a rare sunny wintry Saturday morning snuggled under Mom-Mom’s quilt on the sofa looking up images of gardens and fields of wildflowers on my laptop. Fram daisies to lilies, English roses to echinacea, I binged on image after image and built my own imaginary garden.

It was during those six years that I began to regard the daffodil differently. Whereas daffodils in the southeast were a mere taste of all the glory to come in the spring and summer, daffodils in Michigan signaled a shift. This bright yellow trumpets announced the departure of the long winter, let us know we didn’t need to hibernate anymore. The daffodils joyfully showed us that we’d made it and welcomed us back to the outdoors.

And, so, the fact that we find ourselves living back in the southeast, in a house with a yard that already has daffodils planted, feels like a gift. And the funny thing is I really miss Michigan a great deal. I sometimes daydream about moving back someday, relentless winter and all. But in the meantime, I have spring in the southeast and my daffodils.

Daffodil Watch

One Year

One year with our son. One year of growth (for all of us). One year of surprises, frustrations, less sleep, and laughter. I know it’s made me a better person.

.

It’s amazing looking at this little human and feeling deep down in my bones that it was always meant to be him, like he’s always existed in a parallel universe waiting to join us. Then one year ago, on a snowy February morning at 7:35 a.m., there he was. Like meeting God or discovering the secret to happiness, he’s illuminated my life in a brand new way. Nothing will ever be the same (thank goodness).

.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou. It’s my heart’s refrain and prayer and song. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

One Year

Distractions

My brain doesn’t work anymore.

At least, that’s how it feels. Pre-baby brain wasn’t necessarily a well-oiled machine (there’s always room for improvement, right?), but she was well rested and could handle some deep thinking, was adept at concentrating on something for a long time when needed (especially if that something was an awesome book), could quickly process new information, and could remember the names of people I knew.

My post-baby brain is sloppy. If my post-baby brain was a person you’d say to her, “Go home, you’re drunk.” Post-baby brain cannot remember your name. Like, before I had a baby I knew your name so well that it popped in my head as if by magic — at least, that’s how it feels now looking back. Post-baby brain really really really reallyreallyreally wants to read a book. I’ve had a few literary wins in the nearly 12 months since my son’s birth, but very few because post-baby brain cannot get through a page without hopping from random thought to random though. Post-baby brain relies on google a lot more than she used to to tell her (remind her?) how to spell words. Very common words she used to know how to spell 12 months ago. And those dinner leftovers? Post-baby brain put those in the cabinet with the tupperware.

It’s frustrating, but I also know that this is simply the season of life I’m in right now and that’s okay.

That said, it would be nice if I could start training my brain to Do Better and Be More Smart. Enter: The Distractions. The distractions in my day-to-day life are many, but basically boil down to staring at a screen of some sort. Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. Social Media. Scrolling.Scrolling.Scrolling. Ah, but this is within my control, right? Surely I could just decide to focus my downtime on other activities I want to pursue and, you know, pick up a book or something? It doesn’t seem to be that simple.

So much of my day is devoted to baby logistics. Then there’s other house stuff that has to happen, but which is difficult to do while my son is awake and wreaking havoc (and by havoc, I mean making fun messes). That means many nap times are when I can focus on other necessary (but not-so-fun) tasks like cleaning bathrooms and mom dusting (mom dusting is like regular dusting, but instead of a rag and cleaner you just use a baby wipe).

Transitioning from those types of activities to other more enriching things is something my brain doesn’t want to let me do. And so, I collapse on the sofa and just . . . scroll and veg. Plus, honestly, I’m just so tired. Yes, I want to read a book or maybe take some time to do yoga, but my brain tells me that those things will be harder than pursuing my interests, and my motivation is too weak to show my brain who’s boss.

So I’m trying to cut down on my distractions. I’ve downloaded an app on my phone that let’s me block apps that are my time suckers. You could say that I am trying to KonMari my digital life, because while scrolling through Instagram stories feels like a fun activity, it also doesn’t really bring me joy. I am growing more and more uncomfortable with the amount of time I spend on social media, especially Instagram and, embarrassingly, am in a place where I need to depend on an app to prevent me from opening social media apps on my phone. Next I need to explore how to block social media websites from my computer, because when I can’t open them on my phone I can still just visit social media websites, which is another example of how my brain is actively looking for ways to sabotage my motivation and will.

Basically I feel like I’m in the beginning stages of attempting to send my brain to bootcamp. I’m hoping that blocking these apps that suck away my free time will literally force me into other activities I genuinely desire to do. “Can’t lose the last 33 minutes of baby’s nap to Instagram?! Fine…I guess I’ll read a book.” In time I hope I gain better self-control, while also reclaiming my own interests that legit brought me joy before baby boy arrived.

Also, I hope I do a better job of storing the leftovers.

Distractions