Finding Me

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It is 8:49 on a Sunday morning. By all accounts I should still be in my ducky pajama pants. But I am not. I am up and showered. Already, I am so overwhelmed by the list of tasks running through my head that I am literally crying as I dry my hair. Which is completely ridiculous. Phil said he would watch the kids but instead he fell asleep in their bed and they came running into our room. In the past two hours I have already done a load of laundry, some dishes, and explained adoption (thank you Disney channel and Jessie for that important but also difficult to explain episode). All I want to do is write out my feelings but there is a Barbie, a screw driver and one Spiderman walkie talkie on top of my laptop. They are symbolic gifts from each member of my family not so subtly reminding me of who and what comes first.

I know this feeling. I’ve felt it before. It comes whenever I get so overwhelmed by the tasks of my family and of life in general that I forget the loving them part. The how to love me part. That I forget that if I don’t start to love me a bit more, I am going to drown. I mean I literally won’t. It’s not as if we are living within a giant pool. But this is how I imagine it feels. You are sinking underneath slippery and moving parts. There is nothing to hold onto. You can’t quite catch your breath. Things like water which normally feels light, suddenly starts to feel heavy.

My husband gets the kids dressed in matching Jets football gear. This annoys me on many levels; partly because I have been trying to get Ruby to wear that Jets shirt for a full year but only when Daddy the magician suggests it, does she finally want to put it on. She wears it proudly. Dylan and Phil are in matching football attire and they all bound into the room and ask if I will take their photo together. It feels like they are all in on some joke that I am not. They seem so happy, so carefree. So freaking adorable. It bothers me because I want to stay mad at them.

Why do they not have the same ticker of stuff running in their heads? I am looking at them in the midst of this adorable family moment and there is a part of me that is there and another part of me that just has a running list of stuff that has to get done. And I hate myself for that. I feel like a split screen TV. I want to watch the main program, but I can’t take my eyes off that stupid scrolling feed at the bottom of the screen telling me really important things like Khloe Kardashian files for divorce, and Miley twerks with a Christmas Tree. I am having trouble, once again, focusing and prioritizing.

Instead, my own personal ticker reads something like this: I have to finish the kids’ room and start washing the baby stuff and where are their back packs? Did I never unpack them from Friday? Did we get the mail yesterday? Is there still snow gear all over the house? Why do I wash constantly but the laundry hamper is never empty? Can I get the dishes done before my husband’s 87 year old grandmother shows up and starts washing them? How long before she asks me if I’ve hired a cleaning lady? And what about my writing? I need to prioritize that, and my marriage and the kids’ physicals…

And it never stops. Water, sinking, drowning. Phil packs the kids up and takes them for a walk to go get breakfast. I contemplate staying home by myself. There is so much I will accomplish. Which is mostly true. But that overwhelmed feeling will stay with me as long as I stay anywhere where there are constant reminders of my scrolling ticker of stuff. So I hastily pack my laptop and grab my keys to drive 2 minutes away to the local coffee shop.

On the way down the street I pass Phil and the kids walking to breakfast. Yet again, they look so frustratingly adorable together. I slow and roll my window down. In my head I can hear myself saying something like, “Do you want a ride?” or “Can I join you for breakfast?” because this is what I do. I get overwhelmed with life and them and then I get really crabby and take it out on them which is completely unfair. Then when they offer me space to breathe I reject it and jump back into the pool. Which makes absolutely no fucking sense. But it is a rare warm Sunday morning with my family. Why wouldn’t I want to have breakfast with them?

In a most unusual break of clarity I catch myself. I know if I stay with them I will keep sinking and the rest of the day they will only get the muddied and wrung out version of me. So for the sake of all of us, I just wave and keep driving. I am not sure if this is the right decision. I leave my adorable family in the rearview mirror. I drive to go find me. To pull me out and separate me from the list of crap and chores and to dos. Just me.

It is 9:41. I found me. She was at Starbucks with a decaf latte, an ice water, a bacon sandwich and her own thoughts. I am finding it much easier to breathe and I do so slowly, deliberately. I spend a few minutes with my own thoughts. It is the breakfast of champions; or at least of overwhelmed mothers who forget how important it is to champion themselves once in a great while.

30 Ways You Know You Need a Night Out

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Wondering if it’s time for you to get out of the house? You KNOW you need a night out when…

1. You don’t even remember the last time you were out of the house past dark.

2. The last adult conversation you had revolved around poop.

3. Your version of dressing up versus dressing down means choosing between yoga pants, and your “good” yoga pants.

4. Your last night out resulted in the conception of your youngest child.

5. You’ve been watching Disney Junior for over an hour and there are no children in the room.

6. Talking to yourself in the mirror is the closest thing to adult conversation that you’ve had in several days.

7. The most action your bed has seen in months is when the toddler vomited all over it.

8. Your coworker is cranky, so you ask her the last time she made poopy.

9. You know every word to every animated entry in your Netflix queue.

10. Your trash can goes out more than you do.

11. You can’t remember the last time you had a conversation with an adult that didn’t involve telling a child “no,” “stop,” or “don’t.”

12. The baby pukes in your mouth, and you’re just happy it still tasted like milk instead of puke. And you know what puke tastes like.

13. It’s been six months since you’ve used your hair dryer, put on make-up or waxed your eyebrows.

14. You’ve contemplated writing “Free Puppies” on a box and putting your kids in it.

15. You don’t what day of the week it is. You don’t even know what time it is. It’s either day time or night time, and either a school day or not. That’s it.

16. The Fed-Ex guy leaves your packages out by the curb, because ringing your doorbell has resulted in a 45 minute conversation the last three times he’s delivered to you.

17. Going out and having fun seems like too much work, and you’d rather just go to bed.

18. You begin making philosophical insights into Sponge Bob episodes.

19. You are marking TV show premieres on your calendar, because that’s the highlight of your social life.

20. Fixing your hair or putting on jeans has your kids or husband asking “What’s the occasion?”

21. You just muttered “WTF” under your breath for the 20th time today, and it’s only 8:30am.

22. You start having deep conversations with the infant and/or cats.

23. It’s the 473rd Saturday night in a row you’ve been in your pajamas by 6PM.

24. A co-worker has something on their face, and you’ve licked your finger and started to wipe it off.

25. You wake up in the morning counting down the hours until bedtime.

26. The cops have been to your house because a neighbor thought you were being murdered, but it was just you, yelling at the kids.

27. A trip to a Target with Starbucks inside it, without the kids, constitutes the last date night you had.

29. A dental cleaning visit seems like a trip to the spa, and a weekend in jail sounds like a reasonable getaway at this point.

30. You suddenly understand why rodents eat their young.

Related post: 25 Ways You Know You’re a Stay at Home Mom

Becoming Invisible

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When my father was a few months younger than I am now, he tried to throw my mother a surprise party.

She was turning thirty, and although she had never been the sort of person who particularly cares about that sort of thing, thirty is kind of a big deal. It signals a farewell to a specific kind of youth and identity, and as my six months younger father cared quite a bit about that sort of thing, he wanted to do something memorable.

He put a lot of work into the party. He invited dozens of people, all of whom were thrilled to come and celebrate my mom- who would never in a hundred years organize anything like it for herself. And as my father was not exactly competent when it came to party planning, he delegated most of the food related tasks to other people. But one thing he did do was order cheesecakes from a local bakery.

He placed an order for a dozen cakes, in a variety of flavors, to surprise his wife who loved cheesecake. Their friends would bring food, potluck style, their friends’ children would play with me and my sisters, and my mother would experience a spectacular thirtieth birthday party.

That was his plan. But in the early spring of 1987, a terrible flu spread through the city of Pittsburgh. The morning of the party he collected the cheesecakes, and the phone calls started coming in. All but three guests, or their children, had started puking and couldn’t come. My dad cancelled the party, and he and my mom celebrated her thirtieth birthday quietly, packing as much cheesecake as they could into the freezer and living off the remainder for the rest of the month.

I was completely oblivious to these events. I was three years old, and my memory of my mother’s thirtieth birthday is that my parents smiled a lot, my sisters and I got My Little Ponies, and the house was unusually clean.

Now, I feel like I understand my parents. Why my father, at my age, would have wanted so badly to do something special. I understand why my mother, at my age, with three children the ages of my children, would go out and buy them presents for her birthday.

I understand how helpless my father must have felt to make one day, any day, all about her. And I understand how much the gesture must have meant to my mother.

Now, I get it.

When you stay at home all day, when your job is your children, life is only about you if something awful happens. If you get very sick, or injured, or you lose a loved one. The only other way to make something about you is for you to make it about you, and let’s face it… nothing saps the fun out of a happy occasion like sitting down with your kids and forcing them to make you cards. The easiest way to be certain you have a good time is to make sure they’re happy. And that’s why my memories of my mother’s birthday involve my new stuffed purple pony hopping up and down on the dining room table.

As I near my own thirtieth birthday, I think about this. I think about my father as he was then,  thickening around the middle, wearing faded blue jeans and subversive t-shirts. I can see his wide smile, his deep dimples, his bright eyes. I can picture him at my age,  as clearly as I can picture him now. He looks like a stranger, or a distant cousin. This memory of him feels nothing like my father the entity, the man who, for me, defined men. But from my memories I can put him together, like a puzzle. These aren’t just images from photographs, not  remembrances of pictures of him twenty five years ago. These are flesh and blood imprints he made in my mind.

But not my mother. I can picture the photographs of her, yes, but no matter how I wrack my brain I can’t see her as she was when she turned thirty years old.

I can see her hands, rolling cookie dough into balls, dropping them gracefully onto a pan. I can see her ring clear as day, and her fingernails, and her wrists.

I can see the backs of her jeans as she walks ahead of me down the sidewalk, the tail of her shirt hiding her back pocket as she pulls out her wallet to give me a dollar for the ice cream truck.

I can see her bare legs laying in front of her on the porch floor, her ankles crossed and a train of ants walking across them. They look like my legs.

I can see her silhouette at the bottom of the stairs, casually warning me to give up my attempts to somersault down to the living room.

I can see the barrette in the back of her hair as she sits at the table.

But I cannot see her face. I can’t assemble these pieces. My mother is an invisible force of nature, a supernatural entity made of love and discipline and constant presence.

I looked at my father when I was a child. I studied him, this person I loved, who lived with me but who’s comings and goings from a mysterious place called “work” carried the weight of disappearances and reinvention. I never had to look at my mother.

I was always confident she was there. Maybe not in sight, but near by. If I shouted she would appear. If I misbehaved she would reprimand me. If I was suddenly scared or hurt or sad for any reason, I could run to her and wrap my arms around her blue jeans and her elegant hands with their narrow wrists and simple ring would run through the hair on top of my head, and her voice would echo from the everywhere of motherhood.

I can hear her voice, my thirty year old mother, but I can’t distinguish the words. It’s a hum that fills the universe, that permeates every fiber in existence, that rumbles through my bones and soothes them. I can hear its cadence.

At thirty years old, my mother was invisible to me.

Now, I am her.

Like my father, birthdays matter to me. I don’t know why exactly, but they do. Superficial, I know, but I still feel it. And like my father, I feel helpless to give this event some kind of meaning. I sympathize with him so much, this twenty nine year old father of three. I understand him.

And I believe I understand my mother. But to me she will always be something of a mystery. No matter how closely my family parallels hers, no matter how similar our struggles and joys and the mundane details of our daily lives, no matter how much I understand her as she is now, I will never be able to put my feet into her shoes and sympathize with her thirty year old life the way I do my father’s.

And in a way, this makes me feel closer to every mother. To every other woman who has been a shadow, an omnipresent force in their children’s lives. To every stay-at-home parent who’s children don’t bother to look at them when they come or go, who rush past and ignore them because they will always be there. It makes me feel closer to them, and at the same time it fills me with grief so deep I can hardly name it.

I am this vibration, this mysterious force. And in my own ethereal, faceless way, I will also be erased from my children’s memories, continuously replaced by the constantly changing, endlessly aging face before them.

In my memories, if I must picture my mother, I see her now. Maybe a little less grey, maybe somewhat thinner, but still- as she is now. Familiar glasses. Familiar lines on her face. Not the slender, black haired twenty-something beauty I know she was.

That girl, that young woman, she is somebody I will never know.

I feel the grief that I have already lost part of my mother forever.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I was the only child so self centered that they never bothered to look up, but I doubt it. I see it in my own children who once stared forever at me unblinking as they lay swaddled in my arms, and now run past without so much as a glance when I remind them to wash their hands or hang up their coats.

Maybe it isn’t turning thirty that bothers me. Maybe it’s losing myself in motherhood. Maybe it’s the fear that I’m already gone, replaced by this ghost who’s voice will soothe my children’s memories, long after I’ve died.

And while I mourn this former me, I am filled with a guilt and a joy so great they bring me to tears.

I have always wanted to be this thing, immortal and benevolent and profoundly loved. Loved until I dissolved into the enormity of the word, until it absorbed me and replaced me with the all powerful phantom caring for every child, every person, with a fierceness so raw and so bold and yet so constant they disappeared into it.

I have always wanted to be a mom.

Being More Than Mommy

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For the past eight and a half years, my life has revolved around two little faces; most everything I do is for them. After all, I am Mommy.

The night I saw those two pink lines was one of the happiest of my life because getting married and having kids were my top two dreams in life. I used to sit in the basement of my house with pink cream soda in a plastic wine goblet and stuff a pillow under my shirt while watching episodes of my favorite (banned) TV show, Felicity.

The rest of the dream kind of fell to pieces when being a mom required more than sitting around all day holding babies and gushing over how cute they were. Who signed me up for these chores? What do you mean we have to eat and wear clean clothes? Stay at Home Mom and Housewife are synonymous; I just wish someone had told me that when I was younger.

I’m thankful we made the sacrifices for me to stay home, but I wasn’t  excited about all the extra stuff that came with it: Nurse or bottle feed? Cloth or store bought diapers? Our bed or his crib? Every decision we made about how we were going to raise our kids was challenged on a regular basis and as a new mom, I doubted myself on every level. Insecurity set in real quickly with me and when our second son was born, postpartum hit me pretty hard. My life consisted of diapers (store bought), naps and being an advocate for my four year old who had been exposed to something he wasn’t old enough to deal with on his own. Mommy was all I could be; I completely gave up on trying to be anything else.

Very slowly I learned how to pull myself out of the pit I felt like had become my home. I was able to smile genuinely at people again, and when my oldest went off to school, I cried and missed him, but I was so excited to get to know my youngest, Josiah, in a brand new way. For the last three years he and I have gotten to hang out and snuggle and play and explore the world around us.

Now he is five years old and Kindergarten is staring me in the face and I’m also struck with the reality that I’m about to enter a brand new phase of life. My childhood dreams pretty much stopped at the baby part; all I wanted was to be Mommy. Now I will have six hours a day, Monday-Friday, to myself and I wonder just what the heck am I going to do?

“Well, Julie, what do you like to do?”

Wait. Who is Julie? Oh right. That’s me . . . isn’t it?

Suddenly I’m realizing that I’m not quite sure who I am anymore outside of the Mommy role. I didn’t plan beyond that dream, and like I said, the dream paled in comparison to the reality. I am not the same woman I was when I saw that positive pregnancy test for the first time. I am forever changed.

The published novel and the ones that are waiting to be published, those are extra, things I never dreamed about doing but now can’t imagine not doing. But aside from that, what is there? Facebook? Pinterest? Sure I could lose hours there, but who wants to look back and say, “Hey, I knew what everyone was making for dinner every night of the week . . .” or  “Man, I pinned a ton of awesome design ideas that I’ll never be able to mimic.”

This is a phase of life that I feel completely unprepared to walk into. I am Mommy. That’s who I am. It’s what I do. But here I am about to have time to actually stare at the woman in the mirror, ask her who she is and what she likes to do, and to be honest, I’m a little nervous about her answers. But there is no one else in that mirror but me, and it’s time to rediscover who that is.

The Importance of Getting Away

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Last week, I went away without my son or husband.

I hadn’t gone away like that EVER since my son was born (he’s two years old) and I must confess that IT WAS AMAZING.

Another confession: I didn’t miss my son, at all. Or my husband. I had about 36 hours of girl talk, wine, sunshine, laughter and rest. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until I was actually there.

Two years into motherhood and I’m now a firm believer that going away without your kids should be required. Just like that visit to your OB six weeks after giving birth or the yearly pap or that video on not shaking your baby… but a LOT more fun. Why? Because then we would have to do it. Had someone forced me to take some time away sooner, I probably would have been a whole lot less resentful and cranky.

Looking back, I now see that I failed to recognize the need to nurture myself as a person, and a woman… as something more than just a mom.  Once I was away, I realized how much I needed to be surrounded by my friends, the girls who (pre-baby and pre text messaging) I’d be on the phone with into the wee hours of the night.  The girls who can probably finish my sentences. It was nice to escape the everyday routine and to catch up on two years’ worth of gossip too. And, let’s face it—it was REALLY nice to do something that didn’t require listening to Mickey Mouse (no offense to Mickey) or watching Elmo.

It’s time to stop pretending to be good moms we have to be glued to our kids. I know my son loves me, even if I go to work, and even though I just spent 36 hours enjoying myself (and not feeling guilt about it). I figured since I now have lost any privacy in the bathroom whatsoever, it’s the price he has to pay for watching me pee.

We moms have a way of putting each other last, and I think it’s time to stop the madness.  The truth is I want to spend some time AWAY from my kid, or time WITH my friends, whichever way you want to spin it. It is OK to want to do something for myself once in a while. Because getting away will keep me sane. 36 hours of laughter, good food, and adult conversation (that I’m not going to lie, did revolve a lot around my kid) made me feel so alive, and happy.

Pure joy.

I plan on making the trip a yearly getaway, and I plan on getting all my mommy friends on board.

We deserve it, damn it. And so do you!

Related post: Being More Than Mommy