A Mile in Her….uh, Slippers

I feel I should preface this post by admitting the day prior to me writing this was not a great day of motherhood. I woke up feeling nauseated, my daughter was uncharacteristically fussy all day, and my husband came home early feeling not all that hot either. So, our household cranky quota had been met and then some.

In all honesty, I feel it was a day destined to fail. Combine the previously mentioned crank factor with a diaper malfunction that resulted in me being soaked in urine, and well, yeah. It was one of those days where the morning had melted into the afternoon, I had yet to shower, I had accomplished nothing, and dinner had been demoted to leftovers. My daughter had been doing ’emotional eating’ all day, where she nurses simply to nurse, which due to a stomach the size of a walnut, results in ungodly amounts of milk being upchucked onto mommy. In these situations, I often imagine her with an accent of a dirty Frenchman saying something along the lines of Dis? Dis is your offering? Ah-phew. That is what I think of what you call milk. Try again, mommy. She then proceeds to hurl milk curds on me.

So there I stood in my slippers, 1:30pm, still not showered and realizing that, no, the milk had not gone sour, that smell was merely me.

It was in that moment, staring blankly into the refrigerator, hungry, dirty, and exhausted, I realized just how judgemental I had been in the past. I admit, I used to think motherhood was a fairly easy job. After all, you just have to keep a little human alive, right? How hard could it be? I used to raise my eyebrow at moms who were late to meetings, how they showed up to events disheveled with whiny children in tow.

Well, universe, I apologize.

I get it now. I understand how sleep deprivation is not one or two nights with interrupted dreams, rather it is made up of months years of not having eight glorious hours in one continuous chunk. I understand how this little person in your life is EVERYTHING to you. How when they cry, you ache. (And not just because your milk has let down). I understand the frustration that comes when you want nothing more than to hit the snooze button, but no matter how many times you put the pacifier in, they spit it out and continue to cry. Although I still find it disgusting, I understand when moms say they don’t know if they brushed their teeth that morning…*shudder*. I understand how you can end up at the end of another day, still in slippers, wondering what happened.

And, I understand that even with all of this, you would never trade it for the world. How one gummy smile still makes you tear up with joy. How the clench of little fingers wrapped around your thumb can counterbalance the piles of laundry and the rank diapers. How to coax out one squeal, you will throw pride out the window and dance around your living room singing 17 rounds of The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Prior to motherhood pregnancy, I wore cute shoes. Peep-toe pumps, strappy sandals, beautiful boots – I loved them all. I used to think a day in stilettos was challenging. Little did I know, a day in slippers can trump that and then some.

Life has once again taught me to think twice before I judge. To put away my sneer and to remember the age-old proverb:

Before you criticize a person, walk a mile in her milk-soaked slippers.

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When Life Gives You Lemons… Make Lemon Curd

Lemons.Don’t get me wrong. I love lemonade. In the summer, when it is hotter than Hades, I guzzle down gallons of the stuff. But, let’s face it, lemonade is relegated to summer duty. And lemons, true lemons, come in the winters of our lives.

Things never just break. The oven will break on Thanksgiving, the air conditioning will break when it is 110 degrees out, and you will break out the night before that big interview. (all have happened to me – the oven on Thanksgiving – twice.)

So, I propose a new use of life’s lemons: curd. Preferably paired with some hot buttermilk pancakes and a metric buttload of butter. Because in times of true lemons, I don’t want a refreshing drink. I want soul comforting carbs. And sugar.

The holidays can often be a ‘lemon’ for people. There is extra stress, unachievable expectations, a calendar crammed with events, not to mention the financial strain. With all of this, I am still one of those freakish people who love the whole thing. However, even I admit that everyone is entitled to one good annual holiday breakdown.

This year, I went into the holidays knowing that they would be much different. Having a newborn, I had a strong desire to lock in traditions which will make my daughter’s Christmas experience magical for years to come. But I often found myself mourning the things she will never know. This sense of loss hit me the strongest a few days after Christmas.

My present this year was a beautiful wrist watch from my husband. I have not had a watch as an adult, though I always wanted one (hopefully, it will help me to actually be on time to things…ha!). The watch was a bit large, so I went to have a link removed for a better fit. The jeweler happily adjusted it and when he was done, asked me to put out my wrist so he could see the fit. I giddily thrust out my right hand ready to see my watch in all its glory. He looked up at me and exclaimed, “Ah, a left-handed lady!”.

This seems like a very innocent comment, yet this would be the cause for my holiday breakdown. Why? Well, I am not left-handed. The reason I wear a watch on my right hand is because my father put my first watch on me and HE was left-handed. In that moment, I was transported to my six-year-old self, with my dad, getting my Strawberry Shortcake watch velcroed on my wrist for the first time. I then looked down at my little girl, sleeping in her stroller, and the reality of our situation hit me.

She would never know my father.

She would never eat his Sunday pancakes, never go and cut down her Christmas tree with him, never feel his Christmas beard tickle her cheeks.

This spring will mark the 12th anniversary of my father’s death. Yet, with the birth of my daughter, I find myself reliving the grieving experience with every tradition. My husband likes to say that we humans die two deaths. The first, our physical departure from this planet. The second, the last time someone else speaks or thinks of you. My heart is heavy as I realize I alone hold the responsibility of continuing the memory of my father to my daughter. It will be up to me to share with her how much he loved the holidays. How his eyes lit up as he gave something special to my brother and I each year. How his resemblance to Santa always made me happy. How the smell of his coffee cup wafted through the air as we tore open presents. How he drove us around to see the lights sparkle on rooftops. How certain carols made him tear up every time.

And therein lies my Christmas lemon. I hope one day I will be able to make something good of it. To value the years I had with him instead of chewing on the bitter pith that he is no longer here; that he will never know his granddaughter.

As I pack up the last of the Christmas decorations, I pack up pieces of my father. And I hope and I pray that I will become as good as a parent as he was. That even in the craziness of the holidays, I will be able to carve out traditions with my daughter. Through these, I hope that the memory of my father will live on for years to come. That even though he will not know her, that she will still know him.

Maybe next year we will make lemon curd… and spread it over some of grandpa’s special pancakes.

Lookin’ for Love… in the Social Security Office

I have discovered two things about traveling with a baby.

1) Everything takes at least three times as long and requires at least three times as much stuff. Between blankets, binkies and bucket seats every trip requires much more effort, thought and pre-planning. And heaven forbid you get out the door only to realize that you forgot to put the back up outfit in the diaper bag. Because the epic poo-splosions happen when you are not prepared. Always.

2) People around you either love you or hate you. There is no indifference when it comes to someone with a child. Either they are all up in your face wanting to know how old, boy or girl, name, weight, and how often they poop or…
They ignore you. Simply pretend you don’t exist and try to take a route far away from the thing that may upchuck on them at any moment. I especially enjoy the ‘about face, march’ types. These are the people who are busy in the grocery store looking at various tomato sauces, look up, see you, become intensely terrified by your presence and panic. They then turn around and speed walk away from you. Often forgetting the tomatoes that moments before had captured their full attention.

This being said, when crammed into tight spaces where people cannot run in the opposite direction, many take the approach of ‘if I avoid eye contact with the mother and baby, perhaps they do not exist’. These are my favorite. Mainly, because they often just resume life around you, forgetting that you may be listening in. So it was in the Social Security Office this morning.

I tend to think that people go to government buildings for very specific reasons. In this case, I was there to register my offspring so that I can deduct her on my taxes. Around me were a hodgepodge of what you would expect. The guy who lost his card somewhere, the overly affectionate couple who just got married and were there, together, holding hands, to officially change her name and a few folks who were proudly entering into American citizenship for the first time. And then there was Bob. Bob was a multi-tasker.

Across from me in the utilitarian plastic seat/bench combos was Ruby. By all accounts Ruby was an attractive older lady. She was in her early 80’s, but she still had it. Her silver hair was done up in ‘grandma curls’ (the kind you go get done at the salon once a week) and perhaps she wore a bit too much rouge, but all in all, still classically beautiful. I noticed her when I sat down, and, apparently, so did Bob.

Now Bob was walking in my direction, saw me, shuddered, and did the ‘about face, march’ technique. To his delight, this put him in the path of Ruby. I would like to point out that Ruby and I were the only people sitting in our row. There were MANY open seats around us. But, why take one down the row? Bob saw opportunity here and was not going to let this one slip through his fingers. Down he goes next to Ruby with a smile and sly “Hello”. Bold move, Bob. Bold move.

Most women are natural nurturers. We typically see the wounded and want to heal them. Whether or not this gives way to pick up lines, well, I’m not sure. But, in Bob’s 85ish years on this planet, the sympathy card must have worked for him before. Otherwise, why open with, “Well, my wife died.”? Certainly not your typical, “Hey, Baby. What’s your number?”. Now, granted, I have not been privy to many senior social events, so maybe this is how it’s done, nevertheless it seemed odd. BUT IT WORKED! She was powerless to his puppy eyes and downtrodden expression. She took his hand, expressed her deepest condolences and they proceeded to swap dead spouse stories (all the time forgetting they were in a public government office, not at a clubhouse bar in Florida playing Canasta). I got to hear about their families (oh, those crazy youngsters!), his bowling league, her love of Bunco and before either of them had been called up to a service window, it was determined that they were two lonely souls, living in a large city of strangers.

Bob scored her number. You go, Bob. They are going to have lunch next week. And then, who knows?

I am guessing that neither of them imagined this would happen when they left their homes this morning. Just another day running a few errands. But Bob saw something he wanted and he went for it. I wonder what would happen if more people lived their lives in this manner. Unafraid. Willing to just jump right in.

As I begin this journey called motherhood, I hope that I can bestow that kind of bravery on my daughter. Teach her how to go for what she wants in life. To live without fear of what others will think, without fear of failure, without fear of rejection.

Who knows, maybe this could lead her to love. Even in the Social Security Office.

The dog ate the umbilical cord: Reflections of pregnancy and the first 12 weeks of motherhood

A few years ago we found out that Casey had an issue with his pituitary gland. Doctors explained that this meant two things. One, we would start down a journey of tests and treatments. Two, we would never be able to conceive. As someone who always wanted to have children (and grandchildren) this was a devastating blow. We both tried to put on a brave face. We attempted to accept the idea that we could fill that void with traveling, being a great aunt/uncle to our niece, our careers, etc. However, the news loomed in our relationship as a dark, taboo subject. If I mourned the idea of not being a mother, would that mean that I was not supporting my husband? I would be lying if I denied weeping when my period came, hoping and praying that the next month would be different. Yet, it never was.

I came to accept the idea that motherhood simply was not going to be part of my path.

So, one can imagine my surprise when I was late. As someone who, in my later years, had menstrual cycles that you could set a clock to, being late caused immediate alarm. Something was wrong. I was going through menopause at the ripe age of 29. I needed to go to a doctor.
However, one thing would stand in the way of me expressing my terror to my doctor. The annoying question, “Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?”. Knowing that this could be the cause of emotional breakdown (past experience…), I went and bought a test.

Shock. Disbelief. Joy. Pure joy. Then more shock. And then, uttering the one word to my husband which had been banned from our vocabulary. Pregnant.

Pregnancy was an adventure all in itself. But, having been told I would never have the experience made each gut explosion, swollen ankle, and kick to the ribs a bit better. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, at the end, I was waking every two hours to pee. Yes, my feet swelled every day like loaves of bread rising. I was sore, cranky, and barfed in more public places than I would care to confess. But, at the end of each day, the gratitude of having the experience far outweighed the negatives of pregnancy. And, it was nice that with the utter lack of hair loss, I did not have to snake my shower drain the entire 9 months!

Then came the birth. We decided to have a planned home birth. All natural. All in all, my labor was about 19 hours. About 14 hours into it, I was exhausted, crying, and leaning against our bathroom wall telling my husband, “I get it. I see why people want the drugs. The pain is everywhere.” The was, by far, the darkest hour. Sure that I was close to the end, I insisted to be checked. I was 5cm dilated. Time for a mental regrouping. I lay on the bed taking in the idea that I was only halfway there. And, then my water broke. Then began the real work. I was quickly moved back into our birthing tub and during the next few hours time stopped. Everyone in the room disappeared during contractions and Pain came to greet me. For me, Pain was a very real person that entered the room during contractions. She came and she went, but she was no longer unwelcome. With each contraction, I could feel the baby move down, giving Pain purpose. I remember coming out of the birthing zone a few times during this phase of labor. The first time, the midwife was trying to coach my breathing and I smacked her away and defiantly swam to the other side of the birthing tub (not my finest moment). The second time, I heard Casey’s gentle reassurance that I was doing a great job. I sensed his presence there, and was so thankful to have him by my side. When our daughter came out, she shot out with three pushes in a grand total of about 5 seconds. The moment I pulled her out of the water, I changed. As cheesy as it sounds, in that wet, slimy moment, my world shifted. I watched my blood pulse through the umbilical cord to this little squirming person and finally understood the phrase ‘love at first sight’.

The next few days merged together in a blur of tar-like poop, constant eating, engorgement (aka hard rock, gravity defying, porn star boobs), and admiring this little creature that used to be connected to me. I often woke in the night just to check that she was breathing. I stared down at her, still in disbelief that she was mine. There were no other people coming to be her ‘real’ parents. I was her mom. Her only mom. We began to experience ‘firsts’. First coo, first walk around the block, first pacifier, first grasp, first bedtime story. There were moments of confusion: “What is the dog eating?… Oh My God, the umbilical cord fell off!!!”, moments of fear: “I don’t want to cut her fingernails. You do it!”, and moments where I could feel my heart growing: “She’s smiling!!!”.

Now, as I sit here with her giggling on my lap, I am left simply with one word:

Miraculous.