Five Things this 37-Year-Old Mom Is Accepting About Herself

 

My car will always be a disaster

It’s embarrassing but true – my car is a trash can. Or maybe a recycling bin. It’s full of paper – school work dumped out of backpacks, crafts left abandoned under the seats, paper towels from every hurried meal I’ve eaten in the car.

Within my mobile paper mill, you can find hidden every imaginable item associated with little girls. Broken Barbies. Melted crayons. Socks. Stickers, stamps, books, goggles, half-full snack bags, escaped fruit snacks, pipe cleaners, hairbrushes, crowns, doll shoes, roller skates. The last time I emptied the dump that is my car I found a plastic baggie with a pair of underpants in it.

It’s not that I don’t clean my car. I do. Whenever I accidentally take a sip of the days-old tea left in the travel mug I forgot to bring inside, I attack that car like Don Quixote wielding a vacuum hose.

When I’m done, the car looks beautiful and I decide that this time it will stay this way. I will be a clean car person.  I will install bags for trash and bags for toys and crafts and everything else the kids bring into the car. I won’t eat in it anymore. I’ll check it every night to make sure there are no science projects festering in cups and mugs.

I never do. I never will. I am a messy car person. And at least I always know were my travel mugs are.

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This is not actually my car. I swear.

 

I will always be the person who buys her clothes at Target and only enters Nordstrom’s to use the fancy bathroom

As every change of season approaches I decide that this time I will replace all my cheap, stained and tattered clothes with quality items I actually try on before buying. I will have a wardrobe and it will be full of coordinating, timeless pieces. I will select signature colors that enhance my youth and beauty and I will tailor my well-cut jeans so the hems don’t drag on the ground.

I will, in short, outfit myself like the accomplished, confident woman that I am.

And then I go to Target, where the siren call of the clearance racks draws me inexorably into their depths. Twenty minutes later, I will emerge with a cart full of cheap tee shirts and jeans that are three inches too long but were $7.88.

It’s better this way, really. I can’t do anything with food without getting something on myself. Those cheap tee shirts and jeans spend most of their time heaped in a laundry basket, stuck in the no man’s land between the dryer and our dresser drawers. Yoga pants and jeans that don’t keep their shape feel like old friends, and no tailored top could ever replace my Hogwarts tees.

My pooch is my pooch is my pouch

My first daughter gave me a pooch – that little flap of stretched out skin hiding just under the belly button. It shows itself most prominently when my jeans start to slip down or when I’m wearing a seatbelt — just hanging out there like it was invited. A guest that became a permanent resident.

In the time since I had kids, there have been stretches when I was in really good shape – when I thought I might have some chance of reclaiming my flat(ish) stomach. I ran a half marathon. I took classes at the gym with the words turbo and insanity in them. I was fit. And I still had my belly pooch.

This little gut of mine isn’t going anywhere. And I don’t really want it to. My younger daughter revels in its stretchy softness — she says it’s her favorite pillow and rubs it when she’s tired. It’s like a trophy, proof that my body has made people.

Plus, there’s always Spanx.

I will always be the mom who is there, but just barely

I am capable of functioning successfully in the mom world — I manage to get at least one (non-powdered cheese coated) starch, one protein, one fruit/vegetable, and a measure of dairy into my kids’ picky little bellies almost every day. I don’t allow them to watch Sponge Bob every minute of their free time. I am occasionally successful at negotiating moments of temporary peace in their endless hours of bickering.

I get my kids to school on time, I make it to all their events, and I never miss a deadline to register them for the activities they love.  Hell, I’m a vice president of our PTA.

But I’m never the mom who has band-aids in her purse when they fall down, or wipes when they get ice-cream all over themselves at the playground. Any tissues I have are leftover Chick-Fil-A napkins.

I always leave at least one towel behind at the pool and I never remember to bring snacks. I have been known to blow past exists when driving my kids places because I was daydreaming or listening to the news. I almost walked out of a building the other day without one of my kids, and I only have two.

I’m absentminded, and I always will be. My flakiness has been something I’ve lamented about myself for as long as I can remember — and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never been able to change it.

But I have noticed that my absentmindedness is where my creativity lives. It’s what gives my mind space for the ideas and reflections that bring meaning to my life.  It’s me.

Acceptance is not the same as defeat

I used to see acceptance as another word for defeat. Admitting that there were things about myself I couldn’t change felt like giving up, like admitting I was a failure.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized not every flaw we see in ourselves is actually a flaw — that many of the standards or ideals we hold ourselves up to aren’t important, or even valid.

I understand now that letting go of empty standards for what we should be, and accepting what we are, doesn’t mean we stop striving to be a better person. It means we are no longer wasting our energy in a futile attempt to be something we aren’t. It means we are free to be the best version of who we are.

 

Babies Don’t Keep

Last week, I had a little breakdown. And by “little breakdown” I mean I was sobbing, heavingly and uncontrollably, in my car in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s. I cried so hard that my contact lens became unstuck from my iris and got lost in the back of my eyeball and I had to dig it out – bawling – then put it back in because I’m half blind and I still had to drive home.

It was one of those crying fits that took complete possession of me. I couldn’t stop the tears, and I could barely hold in the sobs as I drove home.  The only thing that tempered my shuddering wails was my paranoia that I’d be pulled over for driving erratically. And if that had happened, I would have had to explain to an officer of the law that it all started because of a tiny pair of pink underpants.

***

Probably the most frequent advice parents of young kids get from parents of older kids is that we should “cherish these moments” with them, when they are small and sweet and need us so much.

I know where those words come from. I can’t look at a mother with a newborn squished up against her chest without yearning to have that experience with my own babies again – even though the newborn days with both my girls were unrelentingly difficult. I already miss the days that have gone by and I know the time will come when I miss the days that seem so difficult now.

Michele Kindercrten

norah cake

I am so overwhelmingly aware of the passage of time that I – a grown woman – had a full-blown crying meltdown in a parking lot because I had just cleaned out my daughter’s preschool cubby for the last time and found a pair of underpants she will never wear again. My baby is starting kindergarten in the fall, and the girl who was in kindergarten just a second ago is moving up to third grade. Everything is going by so fast, and it just keeps getting faster.

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halloween

 

I know children grow up and babies don’t keep. I know what I am going to miss.

What I don’t know, and what I need to hear, is that there is something to be treasured in the future.

So if you read this, and you have a child that has grown up, tell me what I have to look forward to. Remind me that each new stage is a beautiful journey, that with the accumulation of time together I will have more, not less, of them when they get older.  

Let us parents of children who are growing up way too quickly know that there will be moments of joy and pride and closeness and beauty that we will want to bottle up and save as much as we wish we could have bottled up the moments that have already passed.

 

 

 

Birthday Joy

Last week I wrote about my youngest turning five. Her birthday has come and gone and I have to say this: I wish I could rekindle within myself the wholehearted joy of a small child on her birthday. There’s really nothing like it.

Except, maybe, for the joy you get as a parent watching your child experience that complete, perfect happiness. It is a vicarious joy, but even so it’s not diluted.

As parents, our minds are usually distracted, by deadlines and finances and leaky roofs; often we lack the ability to experience happiness without our worries niggling behind it. But I’ve noticed there is a sense of deep fulfillment, along with a feeling of powerful gratitude, when we know that we are able to give our children these moments of pure, unmarred joy.

So maybe I wouldn’t trade being 37 for being 5 after all.

In any case, our now-five-year-old had a wonderful birthday. She was excessively adorable —

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But my favorite picture of the day is one of her with her sister —

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an image that sums up the feelings of the sister having the birthday and the sister NOT having the birthday quite as well as this one does.

Guess we can’t give all our kids pure joy all the time.

Bath Time is Crazy Time

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There is something about warm, unchlorinated water in a porcelain tub that brings out my kids’ inner Kraken. I don’t know what it is.  Maybe the opportunity to be fully, freely nude releases inhibitions along with common sense. Maybe, like a lion tracking its prey, they can sense that a long day has weakened my defenses. Maybe they just really enjoy the thrill of saving their wildest antics for the one place in the house in which they could drown.

All I know is that bath time is crazy time.

My sweet little water monsters insist on bathing together. They are terrified of the shower, so they bathe exclusively in the tub. I let them, despite the havoc they wreak, because honestly you have to choose your battles.

They use this shared bath time as an opportunity to do things they can’t do anywhere else, like fight over whose side of the tub has more water, or who is stealing whose bubbles. They take advantage of the bathroom acoustics to practice their most blood-curdling, bone piercing screams, joining their voices into a wail like the death omen of a banshee.

I say things like, “don’t drink that! Why are you drinking that?! Bath water is butt water.” And “stop laughing at your sister drinking butt – I mean bath – water. It’s not funny. Seriously, it’s not funny.” Or, “God made our bodies beautiful but please let’s keep our private parts to ourselves.”

By the time they get out, I am done – but the bath time/bedtime marathon is not. They still need to get dried and into pajamas. And it is at this point, when I am at my feeblest, that my younger daughter unleashes the full power of her inner demon.

Released from the confines of the tub, she moves to the second phase of her bath time ritual: the escape. Yesterday, I turned my back on her for two seconds and she was gone. I followed her soggy footprints into her sister’s room, where I found her hiding behind the curtains, her little butt pressed up against the floor to ceiling window.

It’s a cat and mouse chase of Tom and Jerry proportions, and by the time I finally catch and clothe her, I am spent. I am nothing more than a shell of myself.

But then this happens.

Norah Sleeping

 

And I am overwhelmed with love and in awe of the fact that these little Krakens are mine.

 

What Grief Has Taught Me

what grief has taught me

It’s January 6th again, the day that I dread. I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t dread this day, and I think I will continue to dread it as long as my memory is intact. I’ve been dreading it more than usual this year, because January 6, 2016 is kind of a big deal.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of my mother’s death from breast cancer. I don’t know why this number seems so significant. There is something about a quarter of a century that feels substantial.

And I don’t know why measuring the time that has passed is so important to me. It’s something I just do, automatically. I can say with certainty, though, that these 25 years have changed me. Looking back to 1991 from 2016 feels like looking from one world to another. To me, it is a different world. I’ve grown up.

I’ve grown up, and I’ve grown in understanding. The roles that cancer and loss have played in my life have never been far from my mind. I’m a thinker (and an over-thinker), and I’ve never stopped thinking about the parts of my life that have so fundamentally shaped the person I’ve become.

So, small though my pool of knowledge might be, I do know this:

Cancer is a family disease.

I’ve never had cancer, but cancer is a part of me.

My mother was first diagnosed when I was four. I was young, but I was very aware of the fear gripping my family. I used to have this nightmare, over and over and over, so often that 32 years later I can still remember it in near-perfect detail. I was in my parents’ bedroom – pale blue walls, bed covered with a white, tufted chenille bedspread. My mother was standing at the foot of the bed packing a suitcase. My father was in the corner of the room crying. I was squeezed between the bed and the wall, watching, hidden. Behind my mother a bear hovered — it wanted to take her away. I knew my mother was scared but didn’t want to show it, and I knew that my father was crying because he was helpless.  This scene would repeat itself in a loop, and it scared me stiff.

Chronic illness — when it carries with it the potential of a death sentence — is terrifying for the person fighting it. It is also terrifying for those who love and need that person. During the long seven years of my mother’s illness, in my heart I was fighting alongside her. The time that has passed since her death has done nothing to diminish my sense of having battled and lost to cancer.

Sharing death with someone is an intimate, profoundly affecting act and everyone should do it once.

My mother died at Christmas. Technically, she died on the last day of Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany. But really, her death began on the 26th when she fell into a coma that only broke when her pain became uncontrollable.

I was there the whole time. I was with her when she lost consciousness. I heard her when she emerged only to moan in pain. I learned what dying breaths sound like and I stood beside her as those breaths ebbed to a stop. I could almost see her soul depart her body.

Four years ago, when I was nearly 37 weeks pregnant with my second daughter, I sat in another room with another person I loved as cancer took his life away too. This time, it was my uncle – one of the best humans I’ve ever known – who was making his surrender. With my aunt and my cousins, I held his hand through a death that was not peaceful.

The memories of my mother and my uncle dying are among my most painful. But I also treasure them. There was an inexplicable beauty in those moments, a sense of connectedness and love. I’m better because of them.

Grief grows as one body.

When you first experience grief – not just great sadness, grief – it creates a sort of nerve in you with the cause of your grief at its core. And once that nerve exists within you, you can’t experience loss without it being touched.

Shortly after my mother died, my grandfather died, also of cancer. I grieved my grandfather, whom I loved deeply, but his death renewed my grief for my mother. As death took more of the people I loved, an uncle, my grandmothers, an uncle again, I grieved each individually and all of them together.

When my second uncle died four years ago, I felt the loss of everyone who had gone before him. But oddly enough, the grief I felt was also a kind of resurrection. Grieving them together somehow brought them back to me individually. For a time they were all with me again.

People die, but grief doesn’t.

Grief is a gut punch like no other. It shatters you absolutely. People tell you that it goes away with time, but it doesn’t.

And as much as you wish in the early days that it will go away, that it will release you and let you go back to being the person you were before it took over your life, you end up not wanting it to go away.

Time makes living with your grief more bearable, but it also takes you further away from the person you have lost. Eventually, grief becomes the strongest connection you have with them.

In 25 years, the world has changed. I’ve changed. And with every year that passes, it’s as though time has taken my mother further away from me. I don’t feel her presence anymore. The memories I have of her are pitifully few. I take them out like treasures now, cherishing them, guarding them, but lacking a sense of their relevance in my daily life.

And now that the grief of missing her in every moment has lessened, a new grief has taken its place – the grief of not missing her in every moment. It’s a quieter grief — and more bearable — but it’s grief all the same.

After 25 years, what I know above all things is that grief never dies.

Mom

 

 

The Smart One and the Pretty One

A few months ago, I was shopping at the local dollar store with my three-year-old daughter. As we went through the store, row by row, my daughter asked for everything she set her eyes on, as she always does.

I usually let my kids pick out one “prize” when we go to the dollar store. I steer them to the craft section, where they can pick stickers, craft supplies, or books — stuff we use.

That day, the craft aisle was overflowing with tempting offerings. Some were on my approved prize list; others were not. We spent a long time negotiating over what  constitutes a prize, and after that we spent an even longer time going through the arduous decision-making process. After changing her mind about a zillion times, she finally settled on the stickers. My body sagged with relief; we had passed through the minefield unscathed.

So you can imagine how I felt when we hit the housewares aisle and my daughter experienced a profound case of buyer’s regret. She really, really, really, really wanted the glitter paint. She needed it. I told her we could trade the stickers for the glitter, but by that point she had grown so attached to the stickers that the only way I could possible satisfy her soul was to buy her both. I said no; she cried.

My daughter is really good with the crying thing. She lets the tears stream down her face, while aiming big, sad, disappointed eyes right at you. She says things like “you broke my heart when you said no, mommy” and “I will never be happy again.”

She was right in the middle of a pretty magnificent expression of pathos when an older man came up to me and said, “Aw, come on. Let her have it. She is too pretty to say no to.”

I’d like to say that I gave the guy a piece of my mind. But I didn’t. I am far too conflict-shy. I just gave him a fake smile and walked away.

There was a lot about that little episode that pissed me off. First of all, I really don’t like it when people contradict my parenting in front of my kids in a matter of discipline. You just don’t do that.

But what really got me going that day was the whole, “she is too pretty to say no to” part. I mean, my daughter is gorgeous, so I get where he was coming from. People are constantly commenting on how pretty she is. They especially rave over her bright blue eyes, which are pretty stunning. And I appreciate the compliments.  I really do. After all, I made her.

I mean, I get it but...

I get it…

But here is where it  gets problematic. First of all, I really don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that it is her prettiness that gets her recognition and appreciation from people outside her family. I desperately don’t want her to feel like when she is out in the world she is defined by how she looks. Sometimes I think we grownups forget how watchful our children are, or how much they observe from life as it goes on around them. And even though she is only three, I can tell that this little girl is aware of how her looks influence other people.

Secondly, I have another daughter. Another gorgeous daughter with brown eyes you can get lost in. And all she ever hears when we are all out together is how beautiful her little sister is. People notice the little one because she is at the peak of her cuteness. But they always seem to miss the older one, the brown one, the one who is as pretty as she is smart.

This one.

This one.

The one who told me the other day that she is ugly. That her eyes are the color of poop and dirt. That her sister is prettier than she is. The six-year-old who is unhappy with the way she looks because “the pretty one” gets all the attention.

I know that, as much as we wish they didn’t, looks do matter in our society.  And I know that when people compliment little girls on how they look, they are doing it out of kindness, with only the best of intentions. I’ve done it myself often enough. There are times when it is biologically impossible not to rave over how cute a small child is. I also know there are times when people need to be told that they are pretty, or attractive. There are times when it is welcome and appropriate.

I just wish that when people engage with little girls out in the world, they notice more about them than just their pretty faces.

And I wish we had a better understanding of the subtle ways our words and actions shape a world that puts far too much value in the way women and girls look.

I also wish that when people see two little girls together, they notice them both.

Because they are both awesome!

Because they are both awesome!

Mom Brain

When you’re a 35-year-old operating on 4 hours of puke-scented sleep who has spent the day sitting sitting in front of the TV watching quality children’s programming with the weight of a hot, sick kid on your chest, your mind starts to go to strange places.

Places like this….

“Handy Manny is really good. He’s like the perfect contractor.”

“Seriously, the guy needs to come over here. I’ve got all kinds of things for him to fix… And I am KIND of married to Mr. Lopart… (Hah! That was a good one, Krista!)”

“Maybe he could even make me those built-in bookcases I’ve been wanting.”

“I mean, he really is that good… And no one ever seems to have to pay him. He’s right in my price range.”

“No one pays him because he gets all his stuff for free from that Kelly chick. She is SO into him.”

“I bet his Angie’s List reviews would be hilarious… People would be like, ‘either I was hallucinating or his tools were talking!'”

(Mental pause)

“Oh my God, did I just spend the last five minutes talking to myself about contracting with a cartoon character? I used to think about economic theory and social justice and stuff. I used to speak three languages. Oh dear Lord, what has become of me?”

“Sh*t… Oh sh*t… Where’s the puke bucket? Where did I put it?! Why can’t I find it? I knew it! I’m losing my mind.”

“Oh screw it, just puke in my coffee mug.”

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I bet he’s cute in real life…

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Just look at the way he handles that tool box.

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“Handsome” Manny to the rescue!!!

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It’s been 12 hours and she is finally asleep. All is well.