Three simple key strokes

I’ve been finding myself stuck in a pretty intense rut. At first I thought it was just writing but then I realized, once again, that while I notice it here first, that doesn’t mean it fails to extend to all areas of my life. I want so much to say something meaningful about this place where I find myself, this trap, this maze, but the declarations don’t come. Nothing comes. I can’t pull my thoughts around it, can’t tame it into words. It just is – hard and tight, constrictive. I would writhe and thrash against it but where would that leave me? A sweaty mess of exhaustion and frustration. And once the energy had seeped away I would be cold. Shivering.

I struggle to reach out. I fumble delving in. I knock up against things, trip, stumble, on the proper response, the what-should-I-say, on etiquette and courtesies and the desire to be genuine, the fear of sounding fake. The terror that I might genuinely be fake, faux, false. An imposter.

I’m aware there are words for the times when I don’t understand, when I can’t relate. My mind knows, logically, that there are things one can say, cookie cutter comments one can publish on the page when a friend, a blogger (one in the same) discusses a concern that isn’t shared. Lacking common ground makes me shaky, slow on my feet, (or my fingers), slow to find the words. An adequate response – it elude me, hides in the muck of my mind. Did I mention my mind is murky?

What do you say to someone when you can’t find the words? When their experience is so unrecognizable? You walked different paths, chose (or were forced to choose) distinct avenues and now find yourselves farther and father away, unsure of what to say. I know motherhood is a journey we share, or is it a common destination? I can’t figure out where it goes in the metaphor – motherhood, mothering – am unsure of the part it plays. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I just need to know, what do I say when the choices made (or forced upon us) are so wildly dissimilar? Don’t mirror my own? When I don’t understand their struggles, not only because I specifically avoided them, but because in the sidestepping I relinquished the qualifications to commiserate.

Is this the time for trifles, pleasantries, Hallmark half truths? Is this the time for silence? I strive to mark the space of misunderstanding. And I fail, again and again. I fail to articulate what exists between disingenuous sympathy and insincere concession. I’m unable to offer solace when I am so void of understanding and appreciation, when the only advice I might offer is so obviously unwelcome.

I hope to be there for people. I want to send my support. But more and more these days I don’t know what to say.

Lately I’ve been pulling away from motherland. Not my own, deeply personal participation in it, not my own mother-trappings, not who I am with my daughter, but the Motherhood that’s put up on display, the Motherhood that’s welded together and touted as truth. That Motherhood, that thing manufactured, the cardboard cutout plastered with the infinite results of any search string with those three simple key strokes – M – O – M – that is what I’m pulling away from. It’s too much, it overwhelms me. When I’m with my daughter I am honored to be a mother. I’m so immensely grateful for who I am, who she makes me. But I want, I need, I long desperately, for something more. I need to flesh out the other parts of myself. And when all I see, all I read, has that word in it, revolves around the product of those three key strokes, I am stifled, pushed down, sputtered out. I am made less than.

I’ve created this world, fashioned it for myself by the choices I’ve made, choices by the thousands, conscious and subconscious, deliberate and ambivalent. Constant, continual choices, surrounding myself with that harsh plastic flashing thing, that Motherhood, manufactured of guilt and blame, isolation and desperation, jealousy and judgement, status and shame, newly acquired economic power and traditional domestic servitude, cultural expectations and perpetuated stereotypes, that Motherhood marked by cavernous divides, fertile and infertile, biology and adoption, loss and a lack of loss, breast milk and formula, stay-at-home and work-outside it, right and wrong, that is what I deafens me, renders me mute.

And that Motherhood, it’s everywhere.

I wonder if I got lost in the metaphor – motherhood as the journey or the destination – because we forget it’s a journey, an organic, deeply personal pilgrimage, when we’re presented with the hard and fast destination – the Motherhood of professional opinions and top ten mommy blogs and Facebook Groups and Twitter links.

That’s where I find myself, so lost in the destination as to entirely lose sight of  the journey.

I just want to forge my own path but it’s so easy to lose one’s way in this bright, flashing fabrication that we call Motherhood.

If you’re gonna spew, spew in this…

I’m sorry you guys. I can’t help it. I’m standing here with my hand over my mouth willing it to stay back but I just can’t contain it.

I’m about to thought-vomit all over this post.

Let the spewing commence.

I know I’m supposed to be imparting sage advice today but the truth is I can’t think of one measly piece of wisdom to bestow. Not one. I’m not all that good at anything and I don’t have any tricks up my sleeve. If I do they’d be copyrighted anyway (Ha! Irony is not dead!) I’d tell you to be mindful but I suck at that myself and if there is anything that really busts my chops it’s a blatant hypocrite.

The truth is I’m totally drained right now. I’m emerging from a cave of strangeness and my mind is murky. Also, in the space between that sentence and this one, Mi.Vida and I engaged in a terse exchanged about money. Isn’t it peculiar how the sentences on the page sit together like they were born that way, one after another with no pauses in between when in reality dishes might have been washed, teeth brushed, showers enjoyed, dinner eaten, all between the keystrokes of one word and another.

My 9:30pm alarm just went off. It’s called 30 MINUTES BITCHES and is supposed to remind me to stop whatever I’m doing and get ready for bed. I never, ever heed its call.

I can’t believe I haven’t written since Thursday. I can’t believe my Found Book Tour post has been at the top of my page for six days. Man, that post sparked some intense conversation. I think that was part of the reason I haven’t been back in so long. I needed to clear my head… and my heart. I needed to let the dust settle from what felt like (very respectful and well intentioned) conversational scuffles. That whole exchange was a thousands times more intense than I was expecting. It sent me reeling, caused me to retreat. I still haven’t read any of the third day posts. For that I feel guilty.

Other responsibilities conspired against my writing this past week. Real life obligations that pulled me away, that busied me. None of them were of much interest and so I won’t touch on them here except to share what I learned.

1. Weekends where Mi.Vida and I stay home with Isa are long and friction inducing. By the end of them we’re both almost itching to return to work, or to just get away from the other for a while.

2. Mi.Vida and I have very different parenting techniques. This can be difficult. See number 1.

3. I need to always have at least one “event” planned during the weekend, lest I lose my mind. A trip to Trader Joes is an insufficient substitute for said required event. Also, see number 1.

4. Yeast rashes suck. Yeast rashes with cloth diapers sucks big sweaty balls. Also, tea tree oil is fucking expensive and treating every piece of our cloth diapering arsenal for yeast costs us over $30 in quarters.

5. I will never truly be happy in life until I own a washer and dryer unit that resides in my personal living space. See number 4.

6. Not grading papers for a month and a half will have serious and unavoidable consequences, such as many hours of marathon scoring over several days.

7. Also the accuracy with which one is able to score papers is directly proportional to the amount of time one has to score them. See number 6.

7. Yoga is one of the most positive influences in my life. I have reason to believe it has bolstered my immune system as well as improved my general health and emotional well being.  It also makes me look and feel fantastic. (So I’m told. ::blushes::)

8. My parents are incredible and my quality of life would be greatly reduced without their presence and support.

9. My daughter is amazing. The extreme highs and lows I experience with her are without parallel.

10. The time it takes to create sub plans for a day of missed school almost negates missing that day of school. Almost. 

Our apartment is under construction. By some miracle our landlord not only agrees that our mold problem is serious but is replacing several windows in an attempt to reduce moisture in our unit. The work was supposed to be done today but (not shockingly) wasn’t. Currently four of the six rooms in our apartment are basically unusable. Only Isa’s room and kitchen are untouched. Tomorrow I have to schlep everything I need to shower and brush my teeth into the bathroom, then I need to shlep it all back (to where exactly?!) when I’m done. The greatest tragedy is that I’ll probably be too lazy to move the space heater in there when I shower and change. Normally I wouldn’t be too concerned but it’s been getting down below freezing in San Francisco lately. We’re not used to that kind of cold around these parts! (Have I mentioned we don’t have central heating?) I am not looking forward to 6am tomorrow morning. Not one bit.

I have been having a hard time writing about my daughter on my blog. I hardly mention her on Twitter anymore either. I’m not sure what that’s about. Like right then, at the beginning of this paragraph, I considered writing about what a great day I had with her at a local children’s museum but in the end I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. It’s not that I don’t adore her more than words can say, because I do, I just don’t feel all that compelled to write about her right now. Or do I feel guilty doing it? I don’t know what that is about and I oscillate between should-I-be-concerned? and genuine curiosity. I really want to write a post documenting all that she can do now, because the last month has been insane in terms of her development, but I just can’t seem to put the words on the page. Hopefully I can man up and just do it (and figure out what my deal is in the process).

Yesterday was Time Warp Tuesday and I missed it. That makes me sad. I thought long and hard about a “turnaround” post to revisit. In the end I decided I’d go back to my TTC days and talk about how much has changed since then. But then I started thinking about how scared I am to TTC again and how most days I just wish, more than anything, I was done building my family because then I could release the myriad fears and anxieties I have about all the gazillion things that could go wrong. Sometimes I feel like every day this community introduces me to some new and horrifying affliction my future child might die of either in utero or shortly after birth. Just having another baby, and knowing whether or not I need to face one of these insurmountable challenges will bring me such incredible piece of mind. Even if something bad happens at least I’ll know what it is and deal with it. It’s this not knowing that kills me. Sometimes it’s too much.

It’s these times when I realize how scared I am to start TTC again in a few short months. I feel like I need to build up my reserves, both mentally and physically, for the path that lies ahead. And while I still have hope that I might enjoy the journey, most of the time I just want to get to the destination already. Seriously, I just want to know.

End hurl.

Man, I feel better already.

The Small Victories

This morning, in retaliation for me taking her cup, my daughter very purposefully threw her bowl of homemade blueberry yogurt all over me and the kitchen, effectively ruining my pants and creating an impressive mess.

And I didn’t lose my shit.

Sometimes it’s the small victories.

What small victory are you celebrating this week?

Time Warp Tuesdays: Waiting

So Kathy over at the Four of a Kind came up with an awesome idea for a blog hop. It’s called Time Warp Tuesday and it involves combing your archives for a post that fits a theme and then reflecting on how things have changed since that post.

This week’s theme is waiting and am quite excited to both present a post and reflect on the topic. The post I ultimately chose (and it was hard) is called Left Behind and it was written in the first month of my blog’s existence and what ended up being the last month of TTC. At first glance it might not seem much like a post about waiting, but knowing where I was coming from I can assure you that it is. The post I chose is basically about wandering aimlessly, waiting for my life to start, and watching others who’d been allowed to start their own lives while wondering when I might be allowed to embark on my own.

I spent many, many, MANY years waiting to arrive at the door step of my life. I never dated anyone until 5.5 years ago when I met my partner and all that time I was waiting to find someone to love, who would love me. As soon as we became serious I was waiting to start a family. There are times when I look back on my twenties and realize that I spent almost an entire decade waiting.

Have I mentioned how bad I am at waiting?

I am such an impatient person and it was hard living a huge portion of my life in a constant state of anticipation. I spent so many years assuming that when I finally had certain things I assumed I needed, all would be right in the world, or at least in my world. I also believed, deep in my heart, that I couldn’t really be happy until I had those things. This created an incredibly amount of stress and anxiety, especially while I was TTC and after my loss.

Currently I find myself in a similar predicament, waiting to be financially prepared to have another baby. Luckily now I have the experience (and the appreciate of said experience) to realize that I can be happy even while I wait for what feels like a missing piece of the puzzle. If fact, if the past two years have taught me anything it’s that sometimes getting that which we covet won’t fix what we think it broken.

This has been a difficult realization for me to wrap my head around. As my readers know, I’ve spent the past month muddling around in my life, trying to find a direction, or intention, that speaks to all parts of of me – my heart, soul and mind. I’m not sure what my life is lacking but I do believe that I am not on the road to a future that I will find ultimately fulfilling.

That means for me, being a mother is not ultimately fulfilling enough in and off itself. That is a hard thing for me to admit. I thought being a mother was what I needed to be whole and for that reason waiting to become a mother was excruciating.

Now, over a year after my daughter’s birth, I’ve come to acknowledge that being a mother does not, alone, complete me. My daughter’s presence does fill my heart in ways I didn’t know it could be filled, satiating needs and curing wounds I didn’t realize existed, but at the end of the day, being Isa’s mother can’t guarantee my happiness or assure my sense of self-worth.

I write this post today a very grateful girl. I am so fortunate to have been given the gifts of partnership and progeny and just as lucky to have learned from my past misunderstandings and mistakes. Some might find it bittersweet to realize that the things you wanted in life aren’t enough, but I’m actually relieved by this realization. Without having found a wonderful man to love, without having given birth to our beautiful daughter, I would never have known that the things I waited all those years don’t, actually, guarantee my happiness. More importantly, I wouldn’t have learned that I don’t need to keep waiting for the other missing pieces to find purpose, direction and meaningful intention right now.

Happiest Mama Mondays: Keeping it Real

I believe I promised a double installment today but you know what? That is too much for me and I’m going to keep it real and only do what I can do, which is one topic a week. I hope you enjoy this week’s topic, keeping it real. (See how I just came full circle there?)

The perfect mom. Or at least a mom who seems to do it all better than you, and effortlessly at that. We all know those moms. They seem to be everywhere. We see them at the playground in size 2 Seven Jeans and a stylish top, sporting (gasp! shock! horror!) decent looking cleavage. We eye them suspiciously on magazine covers, getting caught on camera sipping a latte in their Ugg boots with a well groomed 2 year old in tow as they head off to make the next summer blockbuster.

The reality is the perfect mom is a myth, one whose perpetuation is at best frustrating, at worst severely upsetting to other moms who are running themselves ragged just to persuade their toddler to swallow something vaguely nutritious (hey, it’s made with whole grains!). This week’s chapter of Meagan Francis’s The Happiest Mom is dedicated to ignoring these über-mommies and “keeping it real.”

Now keeping it real is not just about being true to yourself, and your limitations, as a mother. It’s also about remaining true to yourself as a whole and maintaining some semblance of your before-motherhood identity. Of course there are some things about your pre-pregnancy self that you might have to say goodbye to for good. You may never get rid of the stretch marks that now criss-cross your stomach like a war zone, but you can still find time to have drinks with your friends, especially if that connection was really important to you before you had kids.

As mothers we give a lot of ourselves. We give our time, our energy and our enthusiasm to these tiny tyrants people who just keep wanting more, more, more! At the end of the day we can feel we have nothing left for ourselves and after a while we forget that we even liked to read a book or go to a movie or take a yoga class. Suddenly it might be too much for us to bake a cake for our friend’s birthday, even though doing so has been a tradition since you met in college. The problem is, if we let our own personalities get stripped away by mom-dom we’ll lose a big part of ourselves. Don’t you want your kids to know you for who you are? If you want that person to exist when they are old enough to really know her, you have to protect those important pieces of yourself now.

This means you have to figure out what you most cherish in life and find a way to make it happen, even when you already feel too busy to take on anything else. Recently I returned to yoga after a long hiatus. Despite our lackluster financial situation I scrounged together a hefty sum and invested it in myself. Then I started carving space for myself; 2-3 times a week I made sure Mi.Vida was home so I could go to yoga. At these classes I reconnected with myself and my body. At first I hardly recognized this new vessel but after a few weeks I began to feel comfortable again. Now, over a month after starting I feel strong and secure in my physical self for the first time since before I was pregnant. While going to yoga takes continual planning and perseverance the payoff is well worth the effort. When motherhood proves overwhelming, finding time to nourish my body and my soul is truly priceless.

Being true to yourself and maintaining your identity is a very important part of being a happy mom, there’s no doubt. But it’s also true that mothers must sometimes bend to the (fickle) wills of their children. What happens when your kid loves sports and you’re a book worm at heart? I’m secretly terrified that my daughter is going to be the ultimate jock, one who has no parental figures to “toss the ball” with. I don’t know how to play any of the popular sports, let alone help my daughter excel in them. Of course as parents we have to try to be involved in our children’s interests – and who knows, maybe someday I’ll find that I really love soccer and am not all that bad at kicking a ball into a net. Our children just might surprise us by introducing us to our new favorite thing. If that doesn’t happen, and we find we still think baseball is boring (sorry, but it’s true, I think baseball is boring) we can still support our children without going crazy ourselves.

Meagan Francis recommends trying something new at least three times before you declare it a no go. The first time you try to play Wii Sports with your child you might spend the whole time figuring out the controller. The second time you might just get frustrated that you can’t make it do what you want it to do. By the third time you might be good enough to realize you could actually get better at this crazy game, and that you might enjoy doing it (and get a good work out – what mom doesn’t love that)! Trying it at least three times makes it more likely you’ll know for sure if trading Pokemon cards is something you can stomach or if you’re kid will have to invite someone over to get their Magik the Gathering on.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the idea of maintaining your own interests while exploring your child’s passions, take a deep breath and remember, you are a great mom! Motherhood instills most moms with confidence, compassion, focus, organization and patience. Add those newly improved qualities to your already awesome personality and it’s clear what a truly amazing mom you actually are.

So the next time you see Angelina Jolie sporting her six kids on her size zero frame take heart. You’re doing just as good a job as she is and you don’t have six nannies to help you do it. In fact you don’t need six nannies (or a personal chef) because you’re keeping it real… and you’re having fun doing it.

Next week: Finding your tribe

Happiest Working Mama Mondays: Aim Low, Go Slow

I have to admit that the idea of aiming low is not one I’ve generally embraced in my life. I worked really hard in high school to get into one of the top universities in my state. I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist at my job and would recreate a worksheet before distributing it with a typo (because middle school students totally care about that stuff). During my last class of graduate school, which I was taking while on maternity leave and after I returned to work, I failed to redo two assignments which resulted in the only B+ I earned in my degree. This was a big deal for me and I struggled with putting aside my perfectionism for the sake of my sanity.

That is what this chapter of The Happiest Mom is all about, ditching a perfectionist attitude and embracing expectations that are more conducive to keeping calm and staying sane. My track record led me to believe that I’d score in the your-making-yourself-crazy section of the “how high do you set the bar” quiz but I was surprised to find I was more of a “realist” (not without some “blamer” added in, for good measure). So I guess, as a mother, I’m not as compulsive as I have the potential to be.

Still, answering some questions as a “Blamer” made me realize that I have to cut Mi.Vida a little slack. Sometimes he just doesn’t do things the way I would, or doesn’t know how to do them at all (he would admit that on occasion he is totally clueless) and I have to be patient when teaching him and open minded when he does things his own way. Just because a result might not reflect what I’d envisioned doesn’t mean it’s messed up. If I can remember this my relationship will suffer much less.

In fact, perspective was a big part of this chapter. Asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “Will this still trouble me fat into the future?” helps remind me that blueberry mish-mash puree all over Isa’s shirt is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not the end of anything (except maybe the shirt – which she’ll grow out of anyway) even though at the time it can seem that way. When you’re budgeting a ruined shirt can seem like a big loss, but will you remember it a year from now? Probably not.

Another suggestion was to prioritize. Should creating Isa’s six to twelve month photo book be a top priority right now? Probably not. Those photos will be around next month (or next year). Is it okay if the thank you notes from Isa’s first birthday are another month late? It will have to be. (This is why I asked people not to bring presents! Why does no one listen?!) And illustrating my children’s book? Well, maybe I need to take the hint and realize that if “writing a book” is on both the author’s “don’t do now” and “don’t do ever” lists maybe I shouldn’t even be trying to illustrate one. Or at least I shouldn’t be putting any pressure of myself to do so.

Should I be disappointed that this Monday post will probably be read by everyone on Tuesday? Not when I’m late writing it because we were able to extend our vacation by a day! Just getting it out there is good enough for me. In fact, I offer my nonchalance of this post’s tardy time stamp as tribute to what I’ve learned this week. Before I might have been frustrated or felt like a failure when a post went up late. Now, not so much.

So this week I learned that even though I was already somewhat of a “realist” I still needed a bit of a reality check and and it is my intention to aim low and go slow from here on out.

Next week… trusting your gut.


Working Mama Mondays: The Happiest Mom

I would consider myself a happy mother. I’m feel incredibly fulfilled by my daughter’s presence in my life. She is an amazing gift that I’m thankful for every day. But I will admit to struggling in this new role of “mom,” especially as a working outside the home mother. I struggle with many of the challenges other mothers are faced with: keeping the house clean and laundry folded, maintaining a strong relationship with my partner, cultivating friendships, finding time for myself. Sometimes I feel positively overwhelmed by the day to day existence of being a mother; I recognize I could use some tips on how strip my days of stress and infuse them with idyllic happiness.

I don’t remember how I started following Meagan Francis on Twitter but somehow it happened. Soon after I started reading her posts on her blog and when she asked if any bloggers wanted a free copy of her new book, The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood I raised my hand (via Tweet) and said, yespleasethankyouvermuch. A couple of months later the book was forced through my mail slot and I began to read. Before I could very far I thought it might be fun to make it a project. So for the next ten weeks I will be reading a chapter every Monday and trying to integrate the suggestions into my own life. Hopefully by the time school starts again (and we start TTC #2 – eek!) I’ll be a less stressed and more positive mom. While this project is going on Working Mama Mondays will be transformed into The Happiest Working Mama Mondays.

The first tip is to Aim Low and Go Slow. This is perfect advice for a road trip to San Diego, which we have planned for this Thursday through Sunday. The whole chapter is about being patient and having realistic expectations of everyone around you, including yourself. If I can manage that I just might make it through packing us up, driving us down, negotiating with friends in LA, staying with other friends in San Diego and powering 10 hours back home without wanting to kill my partner, myself or any of my flaky college friends. Next Monday I will let you know how it goes in the first ever Happiest Working Mama Mondays.

(I want to make clear that while the books was sent to me free of charge the author did not ask me to mention the book on my blog or do any kind of promotion. This was my own idea and I hope it will be useful for me and my readers!)