When nothing is everything

11/06/2012 at 2:22 pm | Posted in me, Motherhood | 9 Comments
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I’M GETTING NOTHING DONE.

This lament runs through my mind every day. Especially when I’m home with the girls.

I know I’m not really getting nothing done. But the somethings that pile up can become too much to bear.

And I find myself scrubbing dishes as Sophie pulls on my legs. Or shouting to Lily from the mudroom, “I’ll be right there!” as I toss laundry into the dryer. She is always (ALWAYS) asking me to play with her. And in some cringe-worthy moments I’ll snap, “We made you a sister! Play with her!”

We didn’t choose for me to stay home two days a week to be a maid. Of course doing my part to prevent the house from becoming a pigsty is part of the deal. But I’m home to be with my kids. To spend more hours with them than I do sitting behind a desk. And I know how lucky I am to get to do this.

I just wish I could shut down that voice in my head. The one that tells me it’s more important, more pressing, to get stuff done.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Every mom friend I talk to shares this burden, whether she stays home with her kids or commutes to an office five days a week. There is ALWAYS a mountain of work waiting for us at home and children begging for attention at the same time.

It just feels so good — like my life is in order — to accomplish a small task. Clearing off the kitchen counter brings me peace. So does putting away clean laundry. It’s therapeutic. And oddly addicting.

But I got a wake-up call Sunday evening, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

While Marc was away last weekend, I stuffed those three days full of all sorts of fun activities for the girls. We visited with friends, played outside, made smoothies and watched movies. I even took Lily to the ballet. But on Sunday night, as Marc and I were corralling the girls for bed, Lily moped over to me, put her head in my lap and said, “I’ve been waiting all weekend for someone to play with me.”

I won’t lie to you. Her words split my heart wide open. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I put down the laundry I was folding (of course) to go upstairs.

But as I sat up there on my bed feeling stunned and confused by her comment, I saw the simple truth in it.

She is never more happy than when one of us lies on the floor and plays Candy Land or works a puzzle with her. She just wants me to play with her and to be fully present in that moment, even if it lasts just 15 minutes.

And as I thought back on the weekend and replayed Lily’s powerful little statement in my head, I realized I actually did spend a lot of time cleaning or cooking or tackling whatever task was bothering me most at any given moment. All the while asking Lily to play by herself for just five more minutes.

And the thing is, the house is still pretty much a mess. There’s new laundry. New dirty dishes. Toys splayed all over the playroom. Little bits of leaves tracked in from outside.

But, above all, there’s a little girl who needs something so simple. Time with me.

I need to work on this juggling act. Or better yet, put some stuff down to make more room in the rotation for Lily and Sophie.

This is not to say that I’m going to abandon my chores or not encourage my girls to carve out alone time during the day. I’m just going to try to reorder my priorities.

Because getting nothing done means more time with my kids.

And that’s everything.

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On being smothered

10/16/2012 at 3:17 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 41 Comments

One day last week when Marc came home from work, I snuck upstairs to grab a quick shower and steal some precious time to myself. You know, to sit on the toilet without an infant crawling into my lap or a four-year-old telling me I really need to buy some new underwear.

When I walked back downstairs EXACTLY 19 MINUTES LATER, Lily barked at me “Mommy, what took you so long?”

I almost kept walking straight out the front door.

I know I’m not the only mother in the world who longs for her freedom, and I know I made a choice to hand it over in exchange for the biggest blessings of my life. I made a choice — with my partner — to bring children into this world and raise them to be the best possible people they can be. I made a choice to embrace motherhood and all that it brings, good and bad. To have little human beings on or near me almost every hour of the day.

We are blessed with health, a home, loving families, wonderful friends and neighbors, fulfilling jobs. A happy life.

But as glorious and gratifying as motherhood can be, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for more. For space. For room to breathe. For time to just be me.

In those moments when Sophie is shrieking at me to move faster, to bring her something right this minute, to pick her up, I feel smothered. When she tries to cram herself between me and a hot stove at dinner time, clinging to my legs and bellowing at me, despite her dad’s best efforts to retain her attention in the playroom, I want to cry. And it’s exasperating when Lily makes yet another demand of me at the exact moment that I’m finishing doing something else for her. Will I ever be enough? Will I ever not feel suffocated?

Those moments layer on top of one another until my head and heart are begging for mercy.

And sometimes I snap.

On Sunday evening, Lily had just shoved her sister yet again, and Sophie was grabbing at every single toy Lily wanted to play with, and both of them were crying. I took a step toward them, realized I was about to yell, turned on my heel and walked out the door.

In that moment, I knew I couldn’t take another single piece of shit flying in my face. I knew my husband was right there and my girls were safe.

I just walked to the end of the street and back. And in those six minutes, I gained perspective. Nothing earth-shattering. Just listening to the bugs and the sound of my feet on the pavement and breathing fresh dusky air. I felt like the star of a bad Lifetime movie huffing down the street, but man did it help.

Was that weakness? Or self-preservation? Or just plain selfishness? I don’t know.

I walked back into the house and everyone was playing happily like Mommy hadn’t just lost her cool. Marc didn’t mention it later that night, in a nod to the beautiful unspoken code of co-parenting.

And the next day was easier. Because that’s how the universe seems to work when you’re a mom. It throws us those few glorious days that make up for the eighty bajillion bad ones.

I just wish I could figure out how to make peace with the loss of freedom that comes with motherhood. Four and a half years after the birth of my first child, I’m still grieving. And this makes me feel terribly guilty and unworthy.

But I need freedom. Or at least some semblance of it.

During the depth of my postpartum depression one of my doctors told me “you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can put it on your children.” I’ll never forget that advice. Because without air to breathe, how can we help our kids? How can we be the best possible mothers for them if we can’t help ourselves?

That makes perfect sense, right? So why does it feel so horrible to want a little more oxygen?

Parenting a four-year-old-going-on-thirteen

09/11/2012 at 12:48 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 16 Comments

I need to write about Lily.

It’s hard being the best mom I can be for her. Really hard.

You know from reading here that she is an awesome kid. Kind, smart, clever, funny, beautiful in countless ways. She owns my heart.

But she’s also a four-year-old.

Which makes it very difficult to figure out how the heck to be a good parent. Most of my mom-fail moments involve Lily. Like when she demands my time, my attention, for me to turn on the TV right this minute. She doesn’t care that I’m up to my elbows in baby poop. Or that Sophie is wailing so loudly that I can’t hear the little dictator bellowing at me from the other room. So I snap. And then I hate myself.

In her four-year-old mind, the entire universe revolves around her. Her wants, her needs. It’s like egocentrism on steroids. I understand that this is how little kids’ brains work. The trouble is, I can’t maintain that perspective in the heat of the moment.

And then there’s all the extra drama. The girl-ness, which no matter how feminist I am, I realize is a simple truth. Girls are wired uniquely. I get that now. I used to believe it was all societal influence, but it’s not. Lily cries over every single little thing. The tantrums can be epic, especially when I ask her (in as kind a voice as I can muster) to take some time in her room to calm down. Despite my best efforts to instill a “brush it off” mentality, she continues to cry. And to gasp at every injustice, such as when Sophie picks up one of her favorite dolls. She becomes frustrated easily and seems overwhelmed by her emotions. Where to put them, how to make them less big.

The thing is, I’ve been there.

And my parents are probably enjoying a little chuckle at the karma. I was (am?) the overly emotional big sister, complete with manic mood swings and an inflated sense of justice. So my empathy for Lily is overwhelming at times. I remember how it feels to have a pain-in-the-butt little sister (sorry Laura) and how it seemed she got away with murder just because she was the baby. So sometimes I indulge Lily’s tears. I hold her and ask her to talk to me and help her feel heard. She needs that. But not every time.

Thus, my dilemma: How do I walk that line? How do I stay calm when she seems to know exactly how to push my every button? How do I parent with my heart when she hurts my feelings, or when the whining and sassing become like nails on a chalkboard?

And she hasn’t even screamed “I hate you” yet. I dread that rite of passage.

I start each day with a silent promise to Lily of patience and kindness. I smother her with hugs and kisses when she wakes. We start fresh. We try.

And each day has its tender moments, too. The tiny bits of love and sweetness and her breath on my cheek that erase all the hard stuff.

She is mine, I am hers. Always.

A good friend told me that age five is easier. And I’ve heard from other moms that ages six and seven can bring even more mellowing. Please let this be true.

Because we’re both going to need a break before puberty hits.

Those *other* moments

08/24/2012 at 3:05 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 2 Comments

After yesterday’s glowy post about those awesome little moments of motherhood, the universe decided to hand me a big ol’ pile of moments that prove just how un-glowy motherhood can be.

The irony was not lost on me as I lay curled on my bed crying this morning. I had just plopped a wailing Sophie in her crib with a trusty lovey and a stack of books because I couldn’t take another single second of baby screaming in my ear and pulling on my clothes and expressing VERY LOUDLY her unhappiness with everything ever amen.

All this less than 24 hours after I’d written about how much joy it brings me to cut tiny pieces of fruit and wipe sweet chubby cheeks.

Well played, universe. Well played.

The thing is, though, I’m learning that the good always outweighs the bad. Even if the bad swallows me whole and the good is only a spec of a glimmer on a given day. Good always wins.

Case in point: After the grumpiest morning ever, Sophie curled up sweetly on my chest at naptime, clutching Dog the Best Lovey Ever, and fell asleep with her other hand up on my shoulder. The baby who no longer enjoys rocking. Who wiggles out of our arms at every nap, every bedtime, to get into the crib and stretch out.

I knew this was my reward, and I soaked up every second of it.

Take that, universe.

[good thing she’s cute]

Those moments

08/23/2012 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 2 Comments

It happens in the tiniest of flashes.

Like this morning, when I licked my finger to wipe cream cheese off Lily’s face. Or earlier this week when I was slicing blueberries for Sophie. And I just paused. For a little moment. And thought to myself, I really am a mother. I’m doing this. I’m not just playing grown-up.

And then I get back to the cutting and the mom-spit and the butt-wiping and the chaos of being the mother of two little girls.

But those moments, those little glimmers, they stick with me and lift me up when I least expect it. They flood me with feelings of happiness and gratitude and holy-crap realizations of this awesome role I’ve been given.

It happens every now and then when I’m brushing Lily’s hair or bending waaaay down to kiss an imaginary boo-boo on her foot. Or when Sophie walks over to me, book in hand, and backs into my lap with a little plop.

Those moments. They make this life feel real. And unbearably awesome.

Which little moments stop you in your tracks?

Silver lining

07/24/2012 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Friends, Motherhood | 12 Comments

I started the day on only five hours of sleep.

So I should have known it would go down like this …

Scrambling to get the girls out of the house for a playdate, I realize at the last minute that I haven’t packed water or hats or sunscreen. For a 90-degree day outside. I text my pal Cary to say we’re going to be late (shocker) and start grabbing sippy cups and snacks and hats while trying to keep Sophie from emptying the contents of the kitchen cabinets. Then with one leg out the door, toddler on my hip, diaper bag on my shoulder and Lily pulling on the hem of my shorts, it dawns on me that I forgot the sunscreen. Again.

I grab the first bottle I see and go.

At the park, the stroller won’t open. Sophie is hollering from her carseat while Lily troubleshoots the problem with me. I yank on the stroller this way and that, sweat pouring down my face. Finally, the little latch clicks into place and the thing stays upright.

We head to Lily’s favorite patch of sand and I start slathering the girls with the sunblock. Within seconds, bees appear. Two or three around each girl and a handful more hovering over the sunblock bottle perched on top of the diaper bag. Lily freaks. Sophie ambles around, happily unaware that she’s being trailed by bees.

I swat. Cary swats. The bees don’t let up. So we each grab some wipes and begin scrubbing little arms and legs. The bees aren’t fazed. I’m allergic and scared, so I wrangle the girls and head to the bathroom to wash off the sunblock. Where, of course, there are no paper towels. And the faucets only run for a few seconds before shutting off.

Sophie LOVES being in the sink, grabbing at the faucet, the soap dispenser, the front of my shirt (which, at this point, is so stretched out and drenched with sweat that it’s practically hanging open). I manage to wipe the both of them down and blot them dry with toilet paper.

So now we can’t be in the sun. At the park. In July.

Time for the carousel, I announce. Which, mercifully, is indoor and air-conditioned. We clamber aboard and it cranks up, spinning much more quickly than I’d imagined it would. I become dizzy. I focus on the girls’ faces and force back a growing wave of nausea. After the ride ends, I chug some ice-cold lemonade. And start to dry heave.

Cary, as sweet as she is, manages to usher us all to a bench in the shade, where I put my head in my hands while she assures me that I have nothing to be embarrassed about. After a few of Sophie’s goldfish crackers, the nausea subsides and I can stand up without seeing spots.

We take a train ride, then part ways for lunch and naps.

I manage to lie down with Lily that afternoon but still feel sick and can’t really fall asleep. My mind spinning with all the chores waiting for me, I force myself not to get up. Just be still and listen to your child sleep. This moment is a gift, I tell myself.

Then Sophie wakes early and screeches her discontent for the next two hours.

Finally, the silver lining.

In a desperate move to kill the last 30 minutes before bedtime, I decide to take Sophie for a stroll. As I’m strapping on her shoes, Cary rings the doorbell and hands me a CD with photos that take my breath away.

Just like that, the comedy of errors comes screeching to a halt and peace settles into my heart.

On patience and forgiveness

07/05/2012 at 3:36 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 12 Comments

I can’t stop thinking about these words from one of Laura’s latest blog posts:

“… most days i wake up hoping for patience and most nights i go to bed asking for forgiveness.”

So very true.

I never thought it would be so difficult — such a huge, daily emotional test — to raise two little girls.

The three of us can’t escape a day together without this scenario playing out at least once: Sophie starts crying. I pick her up to comfort her. She keeps fussing and squirming. Lily starts whining, usually about something she wants RIGHT THIS SECOND. For me to reach a toy, turn on the T.V., fetch her a snack. Sophie screams louder. I can’t hear Lily. So she whines louder. Bouncing Sophie on my hip, prying Lily from her vice-grip on my leg, I snap.

And I hate myself in those moments.

Guilt washes over me, and I long to erase the memory from my girls’ minds of Mommy losing her shit. It doesn’t last long, and I’m usually able to calm everyone down pretty quickly. But I wish I could figure out how to keep it together. Or, at the very least, lose my shit in private.

I work hard on this every day, coaching myself to stay calm. To ride out the trigger and hope it eventually becomes numb.

I want to be a haven for my children. Every single day — as often as possible — I shower them with love and affection and happiness and laughter. We are silly together, snuggly, and I can’t stop kissing and squeezing both of them. I’ll do anything for a belly laugh.

But those tiny moments of turmoil fracture our bliss.

I know they’ll never really go away (especially as Lily and Sophie become teenagers — oy), but I’m working my hardest to make them as small and infrequent as possible.

Pray for patience. Beg for forgiveness.

My daily ritual.

Needle and thread

05/23/2012 at 3:01 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 2 Comments

There are certain times — little glimmers of moments — that stop me in my tracks and remind me I’m a mother. Not a little girl playing grown-up. Or even the 18-year-old I still feel like I am in many ways. But an honest-to-goodness mother.

Bending down to fasten shoes.

Wiping little faces with my spit.

Cutting blueberries into quarters.

And last night, sewing.

Let me preface this by saying I am most definitely not a sewer. I ship all repair work off to the other women in my family, even buttons. Pitiful. So when Lily’s dance teacher advised us to “tack down” the ribbons on her recital costume, my heart sank. Another project I have to dump on Laura or my mom.

True to form, I carried the little rainbow-colored leotard up to my room and put it in “the spot” so I wouldn’t forget to ask for help. Then I carried it downstairs days later to give to Laura. Then I forgot. Then I hung it in Lily’s closet because the recital was still weeks away so why not? Then I brought it downstairs again, where it stared at me from its perch on the kitchen counter, right beside my purse and the diaper bag.

Until last night.

For whatever reason, I got out my little sewing kit, found some hot pink thread and a needle and sat myself on the couch. And I sewed. I just looped and looped and looped over each little knot, securing them to the dress. Those suckers aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much Lily shimmies on stage.

And when I finished, I felt proud. Motherly. This little flicker of realization skated through my mind and filled my heart, however briefly.

This is real.

Leveled. And back up again.

04/29/2012 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Motherhood | 8 Comments
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So. I learned something new this weekend.

Adults *can* get hand, foot and mouth virus.

And it is horrible.

Take first-trimester nausea and multiply it by at least 10, then add flu-like body aches, dizziness, headache, fever, chills and a throat so raw it feels like it’s lined with razor blades. And voila! HFM, grown-up style.

I know I shouldn’t have been surprised to pick it up, but I was. After all, I’d remained healthy all winter while Sophie and Lily brought home illness after illness. We’ve seen most everything. Ear infections, RSV, norovirus. I figured I’d acquired some sort of mighty mom immunity.

Not so much.

The good news is that it the worst of it was over in about 24 hours. The better news is that my parents live around the corner and lovingly took us in on Friday. Marc had left at the crack of dawn for a fishing trip that had been in the books for months. My throat was a little scratchy and I felt warm, but I didn’t see any reason to keep him home. Within an hour of him leaving, I could barely stand up. It was all I could do to change Sophie’s diaper, feed the girls breakfast and stagger to the DVD player to turn on Dumbo.

Enter Mom and Dad. We had already planned to gather that day because my Nana was visiting. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive the half-mile to their house. But I got us there. Lily scrambled upstairs to play, my Mom took Sophie and I passed out on the guest bed.

After a couple of hours of sleep and a bit of applesauce I felt better and was able to catch up with Nana while the girls played and napped.

Sophie had made a complete recovery after four staggering days of illness, but Lily started to become uncharacteristically lethargic between her typically charged spurts of activity at Nonna and Papa’s house. She also didn’t eat much that day.

And as the afternoon wore on, my symptoms flared back up. I couldn’t stand without briefly blacking out and I thought I would vomit at any given moment. My body ached like I’d been running a treadmill for hours.

At the end of the day I kept telling myself, just get the girls fed and into bed and you’re home free. You can do this.

And I did.

By the grace of God. I really believe this. Because there is no other explanation for the fact that my symptoms eased up just in time for Lily’s first cry of the night. I sprang from bed to get her, and I didn’t fall over.

I gave her some medicine and cold water and tucked her feverish little body in beside mine. And we slept off and on until Sophie woke us the next morning.

Mom and Dad took Sophie on Saturday, and I doted on Lily all day while we recovered together.

Here is one of the brighter moments of the weekend:

I’m happy (and RELIEVED) to report that everyone seems to be feeling better today. Lily’s fever is gone, and she’s regained her appetite. Sophie is up to her old tricks. And my only complaints are exhaustion and a sore throat.

So we went on a breakfast date, played at the park and took naps.

It’s experiences like these that remind me I really am a mother. And that — maybe — I might just be cut out for this job.

Happiness is: a train ride with my girls

03/16/2012 at 3:34 pm | Posted in Happiness is, Motherhood | Leave a comment
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mother and daughters on train ride

My friend Cary took this shot today, and I love everything about it. Lily’s hair, Sophie’s gaze, my obvious grip on my babies. I have so few candid photos of the girls and me, so I really treasure shots like this one.

We had a ball at Pullen Park today. It’s part playground, part gourmet cafe (with Locopops!), part amusement park.

Happy, happy.

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