I’m BaAAck! – Why I left and the co-meltdown that inspired my return.

It’s been about seven months since I’ve written. I have a half-written post about Calvin’s first birthday still saved on my desktop. He’s now eighteen months old. At first, I made excuses: “The birthday party plans took all my time.” “It’s busy season at work.” “Just one more episode.” But, the truth is, I was scared. It took more courage than it should have for me to even start publishing a blog in the first place, and, as time went on, my fears were only fueled by my own self-doubt. I started to dread opening my Instagram page, dreading the thought of seeing model mothers. Feelings of inadequacy flooded my mind every time I saw a post from a successful mom blogger. Even moms who seemed to embrace imperfections seemed to do it so perfectly. They’d write about how things aren’t always perfect, but their photos told me another story. My insecurities were consuming my every thought, and I felt it must be better for my mental health to just avoid anything that made me feel unfit. So, I just stopped. I stopped writing. I stopped reading. I stopped looking. I just stopped doing anything that would make me vulnerable to feeling inadequate. Then, two weeks ago, we started the fall semester of Calvin’s music class.

I may not have an Insta-worthy house or wardrobe. I know that I should spend more time meal-prepping and less time in the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. I definitely need to work on my patience. I don’t give 100% of myself to my family 100% of the time. I’m very aware of my shortcomings, but I can give myself credit for something. I try my very best every day to fill my son’s time with healthy, meaningful activities that stimulate his development. He doesn’t use the iPad or watch videos on my phone. He gets two hours or less of screen time, watching only programs that promote learning or physical movement. We read, color, do puzzles, stack blocks, and spend tons of time outside playing and learning about nature. He goes to swim classes and yoga classes and music classes. He goes to Sunday school with other toddlers. He goes to the daycare at my gym. We have passes to the aquarium and the zoo and visit both regularly. Despite all of this, Calvin still seems to have social anxieties. He’s shy and timid and has separation anxiety. He doesn’t like to play with or even around other kids, especially rambunctious kids. Every single time (I’m not exaggerating. It’s Every. Single. Time.) I take him to the gym’s daycare, I get a message saying I need to come get him because he’s inconsolable. We’ve been paged at church to come back for him because he won’t stop crying. He’s undoubtedly the strongest swimmer in his class, but I can’t move him up to the next level because he can’t handle going in without me. If another child approaches him on the playground, he immediately finds me and hugs my leg. It makes me sad that he doesn’t enjoy playing with the other kids. It breaks my heart to see him cry when I drop him off at church or the gym, but I always take comfort in knowing that it’s not abnormal and that he’ll likely outgrow it.

However, when we started the fall semester of his music class, things changed for me. There were no summer classes, so Calvin hadn’t been to music in about four months. During the spring term, he was shy and clingy, always staying in my lap, but he seemed to enjoy the instruments. Knowing that both the musical and social aspects of the class were good for him, and seeing him learn new songs and dances over the summer, made me excited to sign him up for the fall course. I was confident that he’d be more interactive. He wasn’t even walking in the spring, so I pictured him coming back into the class and really showing off how much he’s grown physically and mentally. I pictured him learning the songs, dancing, and perhaps even working up the courage to start running around with familiar kids. I just felt so certain that this class was the ticket to getting him out of his shell.

On the first day of class, I packed him in the car, full of hope and excitement, ready to show off my smart, funny, musical boy! When we arrived, he started inexplicably crying. I popped him out of his car seat and set him down on the sidewalk believing that letting him walk in by himself would both distract and calm him. Then he fell, and this was a real fall, not just a toddler stumble. Blood, tears, and screams shifted my excitement to anxiety. I took him into the bathroom, cleaned him up, and did my best to calm him before class. No such luck. He was still crying when we walked in. Still crying when class started. Still crying while other children played. Then, during a freestyle dance session to the tune of “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire, all of the toddlers took it upon themselves to get into the most adorable dance circle you’ve ever seen. Phones and cameras aren’t allowed in this class, but even the teacher pulled hers out to capture the sweet moment. Every kid in the class was enjoying the purest bliss of music and friends, every kid, except mine. Calvin was still clinging to me for his life, still crying, and in a moment of vulnerability like I haven’t felt in a very long time, I lost it. I clung to him, clutching him as close as possible, and I cried with him. It was one of those cries that just fell out of me, one that I couldn’t control. I was sobbing. It was as though I was letting out something I didn’t even know I was holding inside of me. The song ended. The class went on to play with instruments and practice new songs, and I just kept weeping. Calvin was able to pull it together at the sight of a pair of maracas, but I just couldn’t. The thought of my child missing out on something great because of fear and anxiety just hurt my heart so deeply. Watching those sweet kids dance and play, knowing how much my boy adores dancing and playing, knowing how special and playful and smart and hilarious and wonderful he is, yet realizing that he’s too afraid to share his huge personality with others just made me ache. I cried through the rest of the class. He fell asleep in the car while I was still crying. I collected myself. Then he woke up from his nap. I saw his sweet little face and lost it again. I cried again when Joe got home and again when I went to bed.

I can’t explain it. I know that I was unreasonably upset. I know that nothing is wrong with Calvin. I know that it’s okay that he was having a bad day and okay that he was nervous. I know all of that. I knew it before and I know it now, but I didn’t know it then. I believe I felt something exclusive to motherhood, a sort of culminated, paralyzing fear for my child. I felt it build every night when he was a newborn, checking his breathing obsessively, and every time I’ve trusted someone else to watch him, every time I’ve buckle him into a car seat, every time I’ve thought about his future. I worry constantly, and I suppose that constant worry just built itself into a fountain of uncontrollable waterworks on that particular Wednesday during music class.

As I collected my thoughts and reflected throughout the following days, my mind drifted back here, back to a space where I intended to share my struggles, seeking clarity and perspective and unity.

I will never have a flawless Instagram feed. I refuse to edit my photos. I refuse to edit myself – my experiences, my body, my family. I won’t. Maybe that means that no one will find me interesting. Maybe that makes me and my story unattractive to most, but, you know what? That’s fine. Because I’m not here to be flawless or “perfectly imperfect.” I’m here for me. I’m here for Calvin. I’m here for moms who sometimes cry inexplicably and uncontrollably. I’m here for moms whose hearts ache for their children, who understand what it feels like to have your whole heart walking outside of your body, who know unconditional love and know that “unconditional” means blood, sweat, tears, poop, vomit, boogers, dance parties, breathless giggles, bedtime stories, and those tight-squeeze hugs that melt you into puddles. I’m here because motherhood is not like anything else, and I’m back because I don’t want to make it up alone.

Even if Calvin’s Mimi is the only mother reading this right now, I want to acknowledge and thank every mother who may stumble in here. Thank you for your selflessness, your compassion, your sacrifice, and thank you for sharing your parenting journey with me, if only for five minutes.

Talk again soon? Let’s.

 

 

 

Magic Moments

Long before Calvin, when I simply daydreamed about having a husband and baby of my own, I pictured these sweet moments in my head. Maybe it’s media, maybe it’s stories passed down by family, but these special moments I envisioned were largely firsts: first smile, first word, first steps. I saw these milestones as tearful, sweet moments of laughter and celebration, just like the movies. Last weekend, we took Cal to the beach for the first time. I imagined him playing tirelessly in the sand, giggling uncontrollably as the waves reaches his toes, and soaking in the sun and sight with wonder and awe. That is not what happened.

 

Preparing for most any possible scenario, I packed and umbrella and towels and snacks and water and sunscreen and hats and wardrobe changes and toys and swim diapers and regular diapers and three different types of wipes. I fed him a big breakfast, and we hit the road. We arrived, parked, and had to carry the bags and towels and umbrella and bucket and baby out to the sand. Then it was a good five minutes of “What now?” Should the umbrella go up first? Or do we lay out our towels? The baby definitely needed sunscreen, but we’d already put him in the sand. As I rubbed the sunscreen and sand into his soft skin, he was understandably unhappy. Then the umbrella fell. I turned to help. Then Calvin rubbed sand and sunscreen in his eye. He was crying. We were frustrated. This was a mistake. After cleaning and comforting Cal and making sure our belongings were secured, we ventured to the water. This was sure to turn things around. He loves baths, so this was sure to be great. I quickly realized that baths aren’t cold and don’t have waves or salt. The ocean is definitely not a bath, and he noticed right away. As I carried my crying baby back to our spot in the sand, I hoped he’d at least take a bottle and calm down a bit. Thankfully, he did, so we sat under an umbrella and gave him snacks for the next hour. Then Joe packed the bags and disassembled the umbrella as I rinsed Calvin in fresh water and changed him into warm clothes. Then we loaded the car up with junk and with sand and with crumbs and ventured home. No giggling, no playing, no wonder, no awe.

 

Most of Calvin’s firsts have not been what we expected. His first word was what? We really don’t know. He clearly said “Mama” at only a few weeks old when he would get upset, but it had no meaning to him. He didn’t know I was “Mama.” He’s made lots of word-like sounds since then, but which ones are technically words? All of them? The ones that have meaning to him? We weren’t sure when to count the first time he rolled over either. He kind of fell into it a few times. When was it intentional? Hard to say. His first smile? Also, unclear. He made faces that looked like smiles early on, but most were more like yawns. How can we tell when he smiled out of joy for the first time? He hasn’t taken his first steps yet, and least I don’t think he has. He let’s go of furniture while standing and sometimes sort of teeters or toddles once before falling. His development seems consistently on track, and that is what ultimately matters, but these milestones I pictured for so long have been far from the images in my head. We celebrate his progress and continue to expose him to new things, but these Hallmark moments just aren’t where we expected. They’re not in his milestones.

 

The moments of overwhelming joy, the kind of joy that moves us to tears, are surprisingly found in much simpler circumstances. For instance, last night, Calvin was taking a Tupperware container for a ride around the house in his little red wagon. His highchair was in his path, so he stopped pushing the wagon, moved the highchair, and pushed the wagon through the opening he’d created. Then he put the highchair back where it goes! This is probably a mundane, boring, unnoticeable scene to most, but to us, it was pure magic. He was just so determined and smart and responsible and considerate, and he absolutely amazed us. These are the moments that feel like my daydreams. They exist. They’re real. They’re just not what I expected, like when I asked him where his head was, and he just knew! I don’t know how he knew, but he did! So, I encourage you to embrace these moments. Let yourself really stop what you’re doing and feel the warmth and power these little scenes have to offer. I’m confused about pretty much everything in life, but I feel confident that these moments are what it’s all about. Yours will look different from mine, and they’ll certainly look different than your imagination, but they exist, and they are just as special.

Sickation Days

I was hit hard with an intense cold last weekend. It’s the third time since Cal’s arrival that I’ve been sick enough that Joe’s quarantined me in our bedroom so I won’t infect the rest of the family. The first time I had mono and was out for a week. Each quarantine has included Kleenex, NyQuil, OJ, Vick’s, and all that good stuff. Sounds miserable, right? Days of sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and not being able to see your husband and baby? Well, I’m not particularly proud to admit it, but I didn’t actually hate it. The days also included lots of sleep and Netflix and ice cream and sweet, sweet silence.

 

I love spending time with my family. Ninety percent of the time there’s nothing I’d rather do. However, about two percent of the time, I want to be with friends, laughing and reliving my youth (hence Vegas), and the other eight percent of the time, I just want to be alone. I want to watch shows my husband won’t like and eat dessert without sharing and finish a thought uninterrupted, but I just don’t have it in me to say, “Hey, the baby is yours tonight. I’m going to go watch Bravo in bed with Ben & Jerry. Night, guys!” I don’t really like the thought of them potentially having fun out there without me, and I can’t relax knowing Joe is doing dinner and bath and bedtime on his own while I do nothing. But being sick? It takes away all of that guilt. I need to rest. I need to keep my family healthy. I’m doing my part right here in bed. It’s what’s best. When else can I say that?

 

I feel like I came out of my most recent cold with a new-found optimism, an outlook on life that embraces times that seem difficult or sad or icky. There always has to be a silver lining, a greater purpose, right? I think we have to believe that in order to feel joy. In being sick, I learned the value of alone time. Last night, Calvin had an upset tummy. We had to clean him up and change his sheets and make a bottle and rock him and comfort him until nearly 2:00 AM. Knowing I had a 5:00 AM alarm, I was initially frustrated. However, as I rocked him, I realized how big he felt in my arms and how his legs dangled over the side of our glider. I remembered a time, one that feels like last week and years ago all at once, a time when his whole little body fit cradled in my arms. It occurred to me that he’ll never fit in my arms that way again but also that he’ll never fit in my arms this way again. It won’t be long until we don’t fit in that glider together at all. It’ll feel sudden when he doesn’t want me to rock him back to sleep anymore, so I held him closer, and I embraced the 1:00AM snuggle. I wrapped my arms around him and my heart around the moment.

 

It’s not always going to be easy, and it may sometimes not be possible, but I am committing myself to looking for these silver linings, these hidden blessings in seemingly everyday frustrations. It may be a moment to myself or a sweet baby snuggle, but if I can just look for something to celebrate, something for which I can give gratitude in every obstacle, I know I can help fill my heart and my house with joy. And that’s what my family deserves, a home filled with thankfulness and celebration every day, no matter what.

 

So, even though sometimes we just need to cry or scream or take and extra long bath, I encourage you, Mama, take a sickation day, laugh when the baby joyfully splashes in the dog’s water bowl, be grateful you have a home even when it requires seemingly constant repairs, enjoy your ugly, outdated, but oh-so-comfy couch, and fill your heart with as many happy memories as it can hold. I believe our families will thank us.

What Happens While Mama’s in Vegas…

Last week I did something I said I’d never do as a mom (you can add it to the running list of things I do that I said I’d never do): I left my baby behind and took a trip to see Queen Celine in Vegas with girlfriends. I used to wonder, “What kind of mother would leave her young child for a selfish trip with friends?!” Well, now I know: a good mother would! If you’re not comfortable leaving your baby behind to take a trip, that’s completely understandable, totally okay, and you’re a good mother too! But, let’s face it, some of us just need a little time to feel like normal adults who have a reason to wear heels and that sparkle eyeshadow in the back of our makeup drawers, and it’s really not selfish. It’s just a way to feel like ourselves again and, really, a way to feel new and lost appreciation for our families and the lives we’ve built at home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or some nonsense like that, right?

I’ve had two long weekends away with Joe since Calvin was born, but this felt different. I knew no one there would be able to share the moments in which I missed him so much it hurt. I knew no one would by dying to look at his adorable videos while we waited to be seated at dinner or while we tried to fall asleep, but I also knew that this could be very good for me. I knew that having a little too much champagne and experiencing “My Heart Will Go On” live would remind me that I’m still young and worthy of such experiences.

This would be the longest Joe ever had Cal by himself, so I knew it would be good for them too. However, I did expect some bumps in their experience alone together. Joe is a great father, but he doesn’t know all that goes into packing the diaper bag or which sippy cups are acceptable to Calvin or where I keep the Diaper Genie refills. He knows how to feed, clothe, and bathe him. He knows how to put him in the car seat and keep him safe, but he doesn’t have Calvin’s playlist downloaded for that moment his screams fill the car with panic and desperation. I didn’t expect Joe to fail, not at all. I just expected to come home and start writing about their funny mishaps – forgetting to pack snacks, running out of diapers just in time for a car seat blowout, going to church in footie PJs – stuff like that. When I asked for updates throughout the weekend, things seemed to be going as expected. I got a photo of Calvin eating a family-sized bowl of pasta for breakfast and another of him crawling around without clothes because “he’s just going to get them dirty anyway.” I got a call telling me our kitchen sink fell through the counter and flooded the kitchen. I knew Calvin was safe and fed and loved, but I was bracing myself to come home to things all out of order – a home that painted a scene of two boys just trying to survive the weekend, but when I actually got home a little after midnight last Monday, I experienced something quite different.

When I walked in, I didn’t notice the sink first. Before I saw anything, I smelled the cleanliness. It turns out, the sink broke because Joe was soaking our oven racks in soapy water as he deep-cleaned the kitchen. The counters were cleared of everything except the bottle drying rack and fresh flowers. As I moved through the house, I saw Calvin’s toys were put away neatly. The blankets were folded (nearly) perfectly. The dirty laundry baskets were empty, even the ones where I put dirty cleaning towels. I didn’t even know he knew where those were. The shower was scrubbed. The bathroom counters were cleared…except for two Lush bath bombs, one from Joe, one from Cal. I was overwhelmed. I felt gratitude, love, disbelief, and, honestly, quite a bit of disappointment in myself for expecting anything less.

Joe has always been thoughtful. He can sense the tone in my texts and knows when to bring home dessert and/or (usually and) wine. I’ve had fresh flowers on my kitchen table since our second date…unless we’re going out of town because he’s “not buying them just to let them die alone.” I honestly wasn’t surprised that he picked up the house or that he bought flowers. I was, however, surprised that he seemed to manage everything, in many ways, better than I do. He did admit that he wanted to impress me and that he couldn’t maintain this level of cleanliness and overachievement on a weekly basis, but, wow, I was impressed. It made me realize how much I underestimate and underappreciate him. I chose him as my partner because I love, respect, and admire him, but too often I let myself believe that no one could run the house better than I do. Why? Because I want to feel in control? Because I want to make myself valued? Yes and yes.

I learned so much that weekend. I learned so much, in fact, that I’ve been working on this post for over a week and couldn’t even narrow in on what I learned. It was intended to focus on what happens to Daddy and Baby when Mommy’s away, but that intention died out in the best possible way. So I pondered…Should I focus on how important it is to remain young and vibrant and fun, to be yourself and have new, adult experiences? Or do I want to focus on appreciating and not underestimating your spouse? Or should it really be about the underlying issues in all of this? Welp, after I don’t know how many edits, I’ve decided to keep a little of all of it because it all matters. I’m allowed to learn more than one thing in a weekend. And I’m allowed to appreciate more than one experience. And I’m not being graded on this essay, so who cares? I’m supposed to be making things up, right? And since I’m not being graded, I’m going to do something I’d never accept from one of my students, I’m going to conclude this piece of writing with a bulleted list, so here it goes…

A list of advice based on my Vegas weekend experiences:

  • Don’t feel guilty doing something for yourself once in a while. That “absence makes the heart grow fonder” nonsense isn’t really nonsense at all, and it’s nice to have a fond heart.
  • Pack your bag the way Marie Kondo would. It’s delightful.
  • Trust your husband. You married him for a reason, you know.
  • FaceTime your baby, and take screenshots. It’s hilarious.
  • No more than TWO glasses of champagne. You’re older now, and the headache isn’t worth it.
  • Finally, See Céline Dion live. It’s spiritual. You won’t be sorry.

*Note: Photo quality courtesy of Joe and Calvin.