I Can’t Breathe

I have not been able to breathe right this week. I, like many other millions of people, heard the story about Taylor Swift performing a song for Stand Up 2 Cancer. The song is inspired by a little boy and his mom, the boy having lost his battle with childhood cancer.

When I became a mom, I wasn't prepared for the way things would start to hit me. Things that seemed cruel or unfair before now make me feel like I have been kicked in the stomach. I take on other people's pain because of the universal bond of motherhood – that child could be my child; that mother's pain could be mine. The world looks – to borrow a vocab word from Momastery – awfully brutiful (brutal/beautiful). All. The. Time.

So I didn't listen to the song – Ronan – right away. I was avoiding it. But then I was stopped in traffic, and I clicked this link someone posted on Facebook and it took me to Ronan's mom's blog. I began to read, then I began to cry. The light changed; I had to pull over in a parking lot. I sat, and I sobbed, and I couldn't breathe.

Her pain – this complete stranger's pain – hit me so incredibly hard. I have been walking around carrying this pain, this fear, and this worry ever since. And I can't breathe right. This morning I watched the video of Taylor Swift singing the song, which sucked me into an hour-long rabbit hole of googling and reading Rockstar Ronan. I donated money to the family's foundation hoping it would fill this hole and help me breathe. I included a note to the family because it felt like something needed saying.

But it isn't right. And there is very little I can do. There are a lot of things us moms do to keep our babies safe but against this we have no defense. It is cruel and it is random and it is just so unfair.

So I wrote a check, and I wrote a note, and now I will write this post to remind myself of something important. Every moment I have with my kids – who drive me crazy and who I blame my wine-drinking hobby on – is precious. I am going to try so, so, so hard to remember that on the very worst days.

Because on those very worst days, the days where I am at the end of my rope, crying for a vacation, I am selfish. Because somewhere else in the world, there is a mom wishing for one more day – even a bad day, filled with tantrums and whining and potty training accidents – with her child who she will never see again.

On the worst days, I am going to try to breathe, remember this mom and her lost son, and do a better job. Hug them a little tighter. Count to 10 or 20 or 1000 – however long it takes – instead of yelling at them. I will pull them close and just be grateful for the bad days because it could ALWAYS be so much worse.

That Girl

Our first child was a boy. My husband felt that way all along, and I wasn't really sure. But when he was born, and we knew, it seemed right. "Of course we had a boy first. It's what I always wanted."

When I was pregnant the second time, I knew immediately that it was a girl. Maybe it's because I thought I could will that baby into being a girl or that I really believe in positive thinking and actualizing. Either way, when she was born and we knew, it was the same. "Of course she is a girl. It's what I always wanted."

But she was difficult, our girl. She came out screaming at us and it seemed like she didn't stop until she was nine months old. The only time she took a break was to nurse, or to cat nap in the Moby wrap on my shoulder.

Looking back I wonder if she knew she was a second child and decided she was going to get the same amount of cuddles and adoration that her brother – as an only child – had received before her. Smart girl. I can say confidently that I held her as much as, if not more than, I did her brother.

These days, they have switched it up on us. She is the easy one and he is the tough one. I anticipate this will be the first of several swaps as they grow up but I appreciate that so far they have the decency to balance each other out. I doubt they will be so kind to us in their teenage years.

For now, I am enjoying seeing my baby girl become a little lady. Every time she picks up a Barbie doll or wants to wear a Cinderella dress to the grocery store or demands three wardrobe changes before lunchtime, I think to myself "she is mine. She was meant to be mine."

I have never given much thought to nature vs. nurture, and both my kids had a pretty even balance of "girl", "boy", and "gender neutral" toys until they starting choosing for themselves. Now T's room is wall-to-wall action figures scattered all over the floor and under his covers while A's floor is littered with discarded clothing and accessories – hers and her dolls'.

I think these tiny humans are who they are. It is my job to help them and guide them, but I am loving who they appear to already be on their own. One of the great joys of being a mom thus far has been sitting back and watching them become the people they were meant to be.

Losing My Religion

I come from parents who are practicing Catholics. Not "church on Easter and Christmas" Catholics; Catholics who volunteer their time and resources, show up to church most Sundays and are an involved part of the parish community.

Growing up, my sister and I were altar servers. When we outgrew that, I taught Sunday School for high school community service credits. When I outgrew that, it seems, looking back, that I outgrew Catholicism.

I began my freshman year of college at a Jesuit university; I lasted about a week before I withdrew for the semester and reenrolled in a small liberal arts women's college for the next. One of the many "what-ifs" surrounding that decision continues to be whether I would be more religious now had I stayed then. I suspect I would.

But I am not. I describe myself as spiritual rather than religious. What I don't say, but what I really mean, is that I am lost and more than a little hopeless when it comes to religion. I long for the days of my childhood when I unequivocally believed in God the way I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.

Since I have become a mother, I have begun to feel an acute ache over my lack of faith. My oldest child is between four and five, and is big on "why?" He is four and I struggle to answer his questions; I doubt they get easier as he gets older. This morning he said to me, "Mama, why do people die?"

My breath caught in my throat and I said the only thing I could think of:

"Why do you want to know?"
"I just do," he said.
"Okay, well, most people become very old and their bodies can't work anymore so they die."
"Like Grampa?"
"What about Grammy? Is she going to die? Or Nana?"
"Honey, everybody dies."
"WHAT? NO! I don't want to do that!!!!"

(Tell me about it, kid. Nobody wants to die. Especially mamas. But what I want even less than to die is to have to think about you dying. But you're four. I don't want to scare you and I don't want to lie to you. I want to give you something to believe in, but how can I tell you what to believe – which is my job – when I just don't know the answer?)

It took me a minute, but I tried again. "Everybody dies honey, but you don't have to worry about it for a long, long, long time. And I like to think that even once you are very old and your body doesn't work anymore that your heart and your soul and all the things that make you you move on to the next phase to be with everyone you love."

Silence. "Does that sound okay, love?"
"Yeah, that sounds ok."

Crisis averted, for today. But the fact remains – he is going to ask again. And someday soon, that answer will not be enough for him, as it is not enough for me. And I will feel like I am failing him because I cannot tell him what to believe. Which means maybe it is time to try to figure it out so that he can grow up with the same unshakable faith in something – anything – that my parents instilled in me.

Can New Moms & Old Moms Be Friends?

There is this scene in "When Harry Met Sally" where the title characters are debating whether men and women can ever really be friends. It is a recurring theme throughout the film, which I am sure you know. (If you don't know, I'm not sure how we know each other because I believe in and quote this movie like other people do the Bible.) And because I often relate my real life to my favorite movies, I had a play date the other day that made me think of a similar conundrum with a twist:

Can new moms and old moms ever really be friends? 

"New" and "old" are of course in reference not to age but amount of time entrenched in motherhood. I'd say the cutoff for newbies is one year, but it is open for debate. It also factors in how many children you have, so maybe new moms are new moms until they welcome another small human into their world. Because all of us "old" moms know how much more things seem to change upon arrival of the second one – not just double, as one might imagine, but exponentially.

What brought me to this conundrum was a playdate with a friend who I hadn't seen since my baby shower when I was expecting T. It's been a loooong time. She is now a new mom to a 16ish month old boy, expecting a little girl this summer. We were always friendly, attended each other's weddings, etc. and seemed to have a good rapport. So when she mentioned getting together, I thought "sure, why not?"

In retrospect, there were so many "why nots." The most obvious being that she is still a "new mom" and I am an "old mom." She still travels with snacks for her kid. She hasn't succumbed to allowing the television to babysit her child yet. Her kid doesn't kick, or hit, or bite other kids – yet. See the pattern here? "Still, yet." Because all of us old moms would wager a guess that these are things – like many others – that will change in the coming months with the arrival of baby number 2.

So when A decide to act like her bedroom was a steel cage match and the prize was her toys, rather than that she was having a new friend over to play, I think my old friend/new mom was more than a little shell-shocked and horrified. Add to that an infinite chorus of T screaming "Moooooommmmm, can I play Angry Birds on your iPad? Pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeee?" and we had a recipe for the worst play date EVER. Whereas my "old mom" friends wouldn't bat an eyelash, because they know what I know – we've all been there at one stage or another, with one kid or another.

I have to give my old friend/new mom credit, she toughed it out for longer than I would have as a new mom to T. She was gracious about A being vicious, ill-tempered and mean. She even offered up the obligatory "we should do this again sometime" on her way out the door.

But my husband (who is benefited/cursed by having a home office and got an earful of our ill-fated playdate) summed it up best when he emerged from his office after the wailing had finally abated and said, "so, you'll never see her again." To which I replied, "of course I will. In about six months or a year, when she's an old mom."

Until then, to my old friend/new mom – thank you for trying to be gracious and putting on a brave face. I forgive you for whatever you told your husband about my children when you recapped the event. And I look forward to hanging out again sometime in several months – I bet we'll be able to laugh about this then.

PS The inspiration for this post came partially from K, for when I told her about our ill-fated play date, I believe her response was something along the lines of "Oh L, you know better than to hang out with new moms." And yes, I do.

Not the Kind of Mama (Vol. 1): The Crafty Kind

There are a lot of things that I am not as a mom, which is why this is titled Vol 1. I bet there are more volumes to come.

So…Pinterest. I was early to the party, so I have been a member for awhile. But like a really good party, it isn't any fun until your people start showing up. And over the past month or so, my people are arriving in droves. So I've been pinning, and it's more than a little bit addicting.

(For those of you who don't "pin", Pinterest functions like a virtual pinboard that your followers can view and "repin." And because of this Pinterest algorithm, pins that get repinned "go viral" rather quickly.)

It is also a helpful planning tool for my SIL's upcoming baby shower, the kids' upcoming birthday party and Valentine's Day. So today, more than a little tired of hearing the sound of my own voice I enlisted the tiny humans for a little Valentine's craft-time-slash-dance-party, inspired by Pinterest. (My small people and I – we like to dance. It lessens the yelling.)

So, it turns out that this craft has been described (via Pinterest and also on my Facebook news feed) as a "great way to upcycle broken crayons." But I am not the kind of mama who keeps broken crayons lying around waiting for an upcycling craft project. Let's be honest, I am not the kind of mama who keeps anything lying around waiting for a potential craft project. Which meant that to complete this project, I had to purchase a box of new, perfectly good crayons to break and peel.

This may not sound like a lot of work, but I assure you, it is a giant pain in the ass. Especially as T & A are much better dancers than they are crafters (I mean, they are mine, so I am not shocked). But I soldiered through, and I am pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Here are a couple of tips I learned along the way:

1. Know your fellow "pinners." That way, when they tell you about a "quick and easy craft" you can adjust your expectations accordingly. That smiley girl you went to high school with who was a member of about a gagillion clubs and currently has 1224 Facebook friends? She's not a good candidate for repinning. Neither is the "stay-at-home mom" who also employs a full time nanny or daycare provider. Just saying.

2. Crayons are easier to peel if you break them first.

3. Multicolored mixed media crafts are great for hiding things – flaws, dog hair, and blood from paper cuts, in this case. (Just kidding about the last part.)

4. Pay attention to instructions for things like sizes. I ended up using about 2x as many crayons as necessary because I bought large-sized heart baking sheets. If I had bought the ones with a dozen instead of a half-dozen hearts per sheet I wouldn't have needed to break the new crayons up – I had enough slightly-used-but-definitely-not-broken ones. The silver lining? These heart shaped crayons are like the everlasting gobstobber of crayons.

 5. Preschool Valentines are not about the children. They are about the parents, trying to define what kind of mamas and dadas we are – or are not. And this year, T's mama is sending him with homemade – and pretty freaking awesome – valentines, wondering if it is one of those situations where you "fake it until you make it". Because I might not be the kind of mom who "crafts" yet, but if Pinterest has anything to say about it, maybe I will be someday.


It’s Fine Until It Isn’t

I follow a handful of mommy bloggers. I do not have a great social network of mommy friends in our new town – as much as I would like to! – and reading the mommy blogs offers me a daily dose of laughter and camaraderie and sometimes even a current event or two.

Earlier in the week, I read this heartbreaking post from the Scary Mommy Society. The abridged version: it was written by a Mama whose 3 year old sustained a totally preventable accident. And while the little girl has completely recovered, her Mama never will.

And all I could think of was "it's fine until it isn't." WE ALL DO IT. We all do things with our kids that the voice inside our head says "you know that isn't a good choice, right?" We run to answer phones with toddlers splashing in the tub. We check our mobile Facebook app while our kids are playing at the playground. We stop paying attention for a second – just one second. And sometimes, that second is all it takes.

My heart goes out to this Mama, and all the other Mamas out there who took that one second and will spend the rest of their lives regretting it. Because I know that could have been me. And I am willing to bet it could have been you, too.

Things Change

Today was not my day. I won't bore you with the mundane details, as I am fully aware that my problems – while very real to me – can easily be classified as petty, annoying "white whines." But perception is reality, and today mine sucked.

The icing on the cake came mid afternoon, in the observation room of T's gymnastics class when A looked up at me and said, "Mumma, I pooped." My first thought was, "really, because I just suckered your dad into changing a poop about an hour ago." Followed quickly by "I have no idea where the diaper bag is. And the odds are not in my favor that it is in the car."

What are my options here? I can't pretend I don't know – four other mommies and one grammy just heard my child tell me she pooped. Even if I don't have a diaper, they don't know I don't have a diaper so I have to at least pretend I'm going to change her. Also, it really smells, so I can't even fake a look in the diaper and say, "no no silly girl, that was just gas."

Which leaves me with – schlepping out to the car, fingers crossed that the diaper bag is there. Or maybe a stray diaper hidden under the seat, partially obscured from view by a mountain of fruit snacks and lost action figures. No such luck. I will not tell you what the next step was because A and I made a firm pact in the ladies room of the gymnastics place that we would never speak of it again. I will tell you that it was not pretty, and I judged myself a little bit even as it was happening. Desperate times and all that.

The point is – how did I get here? How did I become a mommy without a diaper bag? Because four years ago – yup, J was born exactly four years ago tomorrow – I was a diaper bag packing pro. I never left the house without a fully stocked diaper bag, including:

– 10 diapers and a full package of wipes (not travel sized, the full package)
– Changing pad
– 3 complete outfit changes, including socks
– 2 receiving blankets
– No less than 2 or more than 4 burp cloths
– 17 assorted sample sizes of diaper rash cream (in spite of T never actually suffering from diaper rash)
– 2 pacifiers (which remained in there long after T just quit taking them around 5 months)
– 3 mini bottles of hand sanitizer
– Mini first aid kit and nail repair kit, including scissors
– Books and toys, including crayons, markers and coloring books
– Snacks and $15 stainless steel baby sippy cup (which T never actually drank out of. EVER.)

It used to take me at least 30 minutes before we went anywhere with baby T to empty, inventory and repack the diaper bag. My husband didn't even try to help – he would just sit quietly with T, trying not to move or make eye contact while I was packing the bag. It was safest for both of us that way.

Fast forward four years – not only have I not packed the diaper bag in months, I apparently cannot even remember to put a diaper into my purse for emergency purposes. So I'm making a little promise to A and I tonight – two promises, actually. 1) I will put together "in case of emergency" mini diaper kits and stash one in each of the cars, and 2) We will work on getting on board the potty train, because I clearly cannot be trusted.

UPDATE: I told you I cannot be trusted. The following day, I grabbed two extra diapers so we wouldn't have a repeat performance (because I haven't gotten around to the ICE diaper kits yet)…and left them on the kitchen counter. And A peed through her clothes at the Bounce Zone. Thank goodness her Auntie had an extra Pull-Up. I. Cannot. Be. Trusted. Poor A.

Hoping for the Best –

There is this saying, "Hope for the best, expect the worst," which I have always found annoying and pessimistic. Perhaps it is because I am what my husband calls "overambitious" – not with everything I undertake, only with things that involve our children and "outings."

He will look at me as I am on my way out the door, off for my latest "adventure" with our children, and just kind of smirk. Like, "Really? You think this will go well for you? Good luck!" And these are not overly ambitious adventures. I am talking about going to the mall. Or the grocery store. Or the Children's Museum.

And it is not that my husband is an asshole – sadly, he is often correct, which I am reminded of a few hours later when I return home. It looks a little like this:

Me: "NEVER again. Do you know what YOUR CHILDREN DID? Are you aware of how they behave in public? Horrible. It was horrible. They were kicking (each other) and screaming (mostly at me) and people were STARING.

Him: "Where are they now?"

Me: "WHAT? WHO? Oh, THEM? They're in the car, in the garage. I ran in to pee by myself before I get them."

Him: (Trying – failing – to suppress a self-righteous "I told you so" smirk) "I see. I'll grab them."

Here's the thing. I get these ideas in my head of the things I *should* be doing with the children. Like taking them out and teaching them how to behave in public. I feel pressured by Facebook frenemies and their annoying pictures of their perfectly well-behaved children; by mommy friends who make their own organic Play-Doh; by mommy bloggers who seem to have it a lot more together than I do.

I don't want my kids to feel like they came up short in the parent lottery because I am not the kind of mom who buys Moon Sand (too much cleanup) or bakes with them (I prefer booger-less baked goods, athankyouverymuch) or smiles and says "it's okay, love" no matter what they have gotten into (anyone who knows me know that I can be shrill – okay, I yell). And one thing I got from my own parents was that there are a lot of things you can do with kids to make up for the other stuff. So I keep trying, dragging them out into the world, and failing miserably.

But maybe I am not, in fact, failing miserably. Maybe I need to readjust my expectations – hope for the best and expect the worst. That way, the day we make it through the checkout line without temper tantrums and pitying looks, it will feel like a tremendous success. And there are days where I am reminded of a different perspective when T says to me, "Mumma, this was a really fun day." He doesn't remember that I yelled, or he screamed, or A threw a tantrum when it was time to leave. He remembers only that we did.

An Open Letter to T’s Preschool

Earlier in the week I received an email from T's preschool. It said:

"Hi All,

Parents have asked for a family class list for play dates and birthday parties. Attached is a copy of the family class list."

Perhaps it should have bothered me that said list included my home address and cell phone number, but I am pretty sure that most of Jack's classmates are internet (iPhone) savvy enough to Google us and find basically the same information, so… who cares. What alarmed me about this particular electronic communication was the thought process that followed:

1. Birthday parties? Wait, so if T doesn't get invited to any birthday parties after the distribution of this list, does that mean he is the smelly kid in class? Or the kid who picks his nose? Shoot, he does that annoying throat-clearing thing now, which we keep joking about is like that kid on The Middle that whispers to himself all the time…

2. Again – birthday parties? T is turning 4 next week, does that mean I am supposed to invite other kids to his birthday party? (The birthday party that is still more of an abstract concept than an actual plan at this point, but still…)

3. Play Dates?! Substitute the words "play dates" for "birthday parties" in thought #1. Repeat with thought #2.

Am tempted to reply all with this:

"Hi all,

I am T's mom. In spite of my asking (bordering on nagging) T to tell me about his day every day upon pickup, he prefers to spend his post-preschool ride home alternately hounding me to listen to "Country Girl" on the radio or demanding to play Angry Birds on my cell phone. Therefore, I have no idea whether he has formed friendships with any of your children and if so what their names might be. We might like to invite some – or all – of you to his upcoming birthday party. Unless your kid mentioned that T is the smelly kid in class, or the nose picker, or the kid who incessantly clears his throat, in which case you can disregard this entire message.

I look forward to hearing from (at least one of) you soon. Even if you want to email me anonymously and confirm that yes, T is any of the above 'that kid'."

My Love/Hate Relationship With Car-Carts

I have two kids under the age of four. From time to time – most often fueled by a fear of what may happen if we don't get out of our pajamas and our house – I take them both grocery shopping with me. Yesterday was one of those lucky days. And it went a little something like this:

T: Ooooh Mumma, I want to ride in the car cart. (For those of you who don't have these – and I'm not sure who you are because if we have them in Maine you must have them where you are – they are these horrific kid cars attached to the front of shopping carts. People put children in them and then the small people are completely obscured from parental view. If you aren't careful, your kid could likely climb out in produce and you might not notice until you get to dairy. But I digress…)

Me: Internal struggle while I weigh the pros (quiet, happy, seemingly well-behaved children) with the cons (germs, e coli, germs, the fact that one or both of them are likely to lick some part of the car cart or their hands or eat food off of it). I relent. And because we were in the parking lot when we spotted the vehicle in question, I couldn't even do a quick wipe with those cart sanitizer wipes. Which might be fine, because I'm pretty sure there is enough alcohol in those wipes to intoxicate my children from the aforementioned licking, eating and finger sucking.

Anyway, the trip through the grocery store went (mostly) smoothly. T: definitely "rested" his cookie on the seat of the car cart then ate it; ditto for A with a piece of cheese. So gross, but once you commit to the car cart you just kind of have to go with it and bathe them in baby wipes once they return to their carseats.

Segue to dinner time. T is wandering around the house mumbling "Mumma, it's so cold in here." Considering that he usually strips down to his Captain America underpants the second we walk in the door, I wasn't overly alarmed. Until I noticed that, for once, he was fully clothed. And apparently freezing, in spite of the flaming red cheeks that he was also sporting.

A little less than 24 hours – and a sleepless, very feverish night where I compulsively googled "meningitis symptoms" and "supermarket shopping carts causing toddler death" – later I can confirm that he has a nasty bug, most likely the flu. Which I am blaming entirely on the car cart.