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Sitting With Her

February 16, 2017

A few months ago I gave birth to my last baby. In predictable fashion, the time has gone remarkably fast. One minute he was emerging through a ring of fire, and now he’s growing out of small white onesies and requesting beer with dinner instead of breastmilk (just kidding, he prefers wine).

It is easy to panic about this passing of time, especially when everyone tells you to soak in every minute before it’s gone. It’s like if someone told you to really enjoy your ice cream cone now so that next week when you’re craving one, all you’ll have to do is remember today and you’ll be satisfied.

I wish that’s how it worked. I wish that three or five or seventeen years from now when I’m craving that newborn smell and the weight of a baby on my chest, all I’ll have to do is close my eyes to experience it again.

Instead I’ll only feel the familiar ache.

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A few months ago a friend was crying over her daughter’s loose tooth. “Something is wrong with me,” she said. “There is nothing sad about a loose tooth.”

No, we said shaking our heads. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

This past fall, I took my first baby to Kindergarten. He was ready, I was ready, but when the time came to leave him at the door–he clung to my arm and asked me not to go.

“Stay with me,” he said, tears in his eyes. “I don’t want you to leave.”

“You’re going to be so brave,” I said to both of us.

Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Yesterday a friend wrote to me and said she was failing as a mother. It’s so overwhelming. I can’t be everything to everyone. I’m doing something wrong.

No, no, not at all. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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For a long time I looked for some sort of cure for saying goodbye to this phase of life, hoping that when the time came, I’d be ready. Equipped with all the tools to manage and cope and not drive everyone crazy with my inability to let go. Mostly I hoped to simply feel ready to move on; happy to say goodbye to the stained highchair, tall stack of diapers, and bulky pack-and-play that never folds down quite right. Instead I am so relieved to learn the truth. That just because it is hard to say goodbye to these baby stages doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I am and will be so many different kinds of mother in this life. A mother of babies, a mother of toddlers, a mother of pre-teens and teenagers and 30-year-old men. And when I look back at the mother I was to these small children and feel that familiar ache, I hope I sit with her. Let myself grieve what she lost in late night feedings and celebrate what she has become. Just as there is room for joy and gratitude and exhaustion in parenthood, there is also room for what comes with saying goodbye. And for me, that is a lot of sadness and emotions.

Please keep Austin in your thoughts.

The door is not closed, but it will close someday one way or another. And when I find my heart heavy, I know what to do. I will look to that mother, rocking her baby in that well worn chair, and I will sit with her.

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How To Read Books And Neglect Your Family

September 28, 2015

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Every week or so, someone asks me how I have time to read all those books while also being a wife and mother to two young children. It’s a valid question, considering most people have better things to do than speed read celebrity memoirs and young adult thrillers. My standard answer is usually pretty tongue-in-cheek. For example, “You should see my dishes!” or “I just don’t parent my children!”

It is not the whole story, but it’s not exactly a lie either. I absolutely neglect my dishes and ignore my kids for the sake of reading, but there’s more to it than that. But before I answer how I do it, let me tell you why.

Just like every other unathletic millennial girl, I’ve been reading under the covers until 2am since 1995 when Stacey McGill got diabetes in The Babysitter’s Club. For as long as I can remember, reading has been both an escape and joy. It’s also become a habit and discipline. Any writer knows that in order to write anything, you have to read everything. In an interview last year, the Portuguese Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago was asked about his daily writing routine. His answer was, “I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.”

So that’s why. Here’s how.

I just do it. Not every day, not every week, not when the kids are sick or I’m in the middle of projects–but most of the time I simply make the time to read. My house is rarely clean because I don’t consider being a housewife my job. Mothering, yes. Loving my children and helping them grow up, of course. But the laundry? The dishes? The piles of unopened mail and old magazines? That is not part of my job description. I help take care of those things because I live here, but I’m not putting it on my resume because most of the time everything is messy and I wait for Austin to be home so we can work on it together.

Mother first. Writer second. The rest is relationships and occasionally taking out the trash. Whenever I see friends and family who find joy in cooking or general housewifery (and househusbandry!), I think– Atta girl! Please invite me over for your casserole. I will never be that woman. I will always push aside housework and complicated recipes for reading or writing or lying on the floor while the kids try to scratch my eyes out.

Speaking of the kids, I will also always be the mom who says, “This is Mommy’s time!” or “I’m reading, please stop poking me with that fork” because 1) There are only so many minutes in a day I can play dinosaur tea party and 2) Monkey see, monkey do. And if my monkeys turn out to be readers who sometimes neglect their chores to finish the last few chapters, I will consider that a pretty big win.

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The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Received

August 26, 2015

There are a lot of things you shouldn’t say to new moms. Things like “Have you lost that baby weight yet?” or “My cousin’s baby slept through the night at 3 weeks!” Unsolicited, passive aggressive advice is not welcome either. Things like, “I think sleeping with your baby is crazy, but that’s just me…” or “Doesn’t formula cause AIDS?”

Not cool. Not cool at all.

Of course there are times to give advice, times when moms need a little help or a gentle nudge in the right direction. Mostly it’s a matter of timing, only offering your two cents when your two cents is needed. If you are having trouble knowing when this time is, listen for the following words: “I need your advice.” It’s that simple.

Here are the top ten best pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever received, all given to me in a kind and gentle manner. All with perfect timing and the wisdom of moms who care.

Thank you, moms. You know who you are.

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1) Your body was made for this.

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You want me to push a who out of what now?

Things your body was made for: labor, delivery, c-sections, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, resiliency, anger, love, exhaustion.

Things your body wasn’t made for: Full body waxes, an entire container of Oreos, meth.

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2) Never say never.

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Things I said I’d never do: Co-sleep, sleep train, use formula, google cheap daycare near me! at 2am.

Save yourself the embarrassment.

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3) Treat them like a human person.

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Things we expect of our dogs: obedience, submission, quiet. Things we expect of our kids: the same, but be cheery about it too! Here’s the thing though, kids aren’t puppies. I know it’s confusing.

It’s hard to treat a child with respect who is ignoring all your demands and throwing your toothbrush in the toilet. Really, really hard. But what if you were shorter than your roommates, constantly tripping, unable to make coherent sentences, and not allowed in the bathroom? There’s a reason kids act like drunk maniacs. Patience teaches patience. Grace teaches grace.

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4) There’s a difference between sharing and bragging.

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The first time my first baby slept through the night, I was so excited, so proud, so FULL OF MYSELF that I immediately texted all my friends and family that lo and behold, my child hath slept through the night! He didn’t do again for another 8 months. Karma is a delight.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Every kid is different and unique. Sharing is caring, but sometimes it’s annoying too.

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5) Just when you think a stage can’t get worse, your kid usually gets over it.michael scott

It will get better. There is no other piece of advice that is more true and more repeated in the world of parenting. Newborn screaming? It will get better. Postpartum pooing? It will get better! Baby teething? Toddler screaming? Four-year-olds terrorizing the houseplants? Dude, it will totally get better. The days are long but the years are short. They will be peeing in that potty before you know it (really).

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6) Acknowledge feelings.dwight

You don’t have to pick up your baby every time he cries. You don’t have to give your toddler a cookie every time he asks for one. You can acknowledge how they feel, even if it evokes the craziest of crazy eyes from your tired, Grinchy soul. For example:

“You’re tired, you want to be picked up!”

“You’re so sad, you wanted to stick your hand in the blender!”

“You’re so frustrated, you cannot process one single emotion rationally!”

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7) You are the mom.

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You are in charge of your kid. Not your mom, not your neighbor, not your frenemy from church who has opinions on food allergies. You know what’s best for your child because you are the mom.

Self doubt is a part of being a parent, but it’s true what they say–mama knows best. Trust your gut. Do what works for you and forget the rest.

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8) Children are not a problem to be solved.

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Children are not a problem to be solved but a person to be enjoyed. The problem is that parents are problem solvers, so it’s hard when your perfect baby comes with a list of things that need to be fixed (sleeping, eating, bug ingestion). Realistic expectations only work in our favor. They (and you) will be fine.

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9) Ask for help.please

We are not designed to be alone. Work, children, marriage, our aging parents and arm skin–all of those things require support. Other parents and people are our greatest asset, even if it’s just your cousin’s half sister who offered to babysit on Saturday mornings so you can grocery shop in peace.

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10) Get away.

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Get away from your kids. I know it’s hard. I know they might cry and wonder where you are and bump their head on your mother-in-law’s coffee table. The hilarious thing is that they will be totally fine. The first time’s the hardest, the second time is okay. But soon enough, with some gentle practice, leaving your baby and your kids becomes second nature to everyone. A weekend at grandma’s house is good for everyone, even if you never leave your bed.

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Guest Post: A Letter To Moms Whose Partners Works Long Hours

July 2, 2015

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Austin started his first day of residency yesterday with 50 patients, two weeks of night float, and the nerves of a high school freshman who has never been in charge of a human life before. Some say making it through intern year is harder than making it through four years of medical school, but we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Suzie sent me a letter of love and encouragement on surviving residency. I immediately shared it with my medwifery friends who now refer to it as “the letter,” and thought I would share it with you, too. Not only is it full of wisdom, but it’s packed with the kind of real life tips that are actually useful. It’s one thing to say, “Be patient!” but a rare thing to tell you how.

There are so many professions outside the medical field that require long hours away from partners and children at home without a co-parent. When I sent this letter to my friend Katie who is married to a farmer, she could only nod in mutual understanding. There is so much sacrifice that comes in any marriage, but ones that involve a lot of time apart require a certain skill set. One that I’m only starting to learn.

A letter for the sisterhood who is at home doing dinner alone for the 100th time.

We got this.

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My dear friend Kate,

This is it. This is your “you’ve arrived at residency letter.” I don’t claim to have any amazing advice.  I only have a few  more years on you as we are about to start our LAST year of residency, as you begin your first. So, here are my thoughts.

Resentment is a dangerous emotion. Everything you feel as you go through this adjustment period (believe it or not, you will get used to this new insanity) is valid. The sacrifice you’ve made will feel huge and so much more than you knew you ever agreed to.  Try as hard as you can though, to avoid resentment. Resentment will seriously mess you up. When I’ve felt true resentment, and I have, I’ve learned to immediately name it and share it with Kyle. Often resentment comes when I don’t feel like the sacrifice is being NOTICED or appreciated. For me, I’ve learned I need words and reminders that Kyle is GRATEFUL for the sacrifice.  You might be the same way, or not at all. My advice is just to be careful and take note of resentment and don’t let it linger.

I want to talk about guilt. It will be EASY and tempting to make Austin feel guilty. Sad stories of the kids crying for their dad, little videos sent that are meant to be cute but really have a subtext of “ you’re missing this…” or a subtext of “these kids are crazy and it’s all your fault.” It’s easy to point out what they’ve missed because of work and always emphasizing how much harder your life is because of his chosen career. Please remember that what you want Austin to feel is GRATEFUL. Not guilty. Guilt does not make anyone feel better. But feeling recognized and appreciated does. Guilt builds a wedge and just makes things harder. It isolates. And a very important thing to know is he will already feel guilty on his own. More than you will know at first. He will ache to see his kids and worry about what this whole thing is doing to his family and relationships. Yes, he will work Mother’s Day and feel like shit about it already. For the first part of residency, he will doubt himself as a doctor, a husband and a father and that is a heavy burden. Be the person who makes him feel better, not worse.

I am not suggesting a 1950’s relationship where your needs are sidelined because you don’t want to make him feel bad. NOT AT ALL. I am saying is you want to get through this together and be stronger for it and I believe it’s important to be mindful of how words and actions elicit guilt. Always know there is nowhere else he would rather be than home with you and the kids.

Create a buffer for extended family. They will not get it. They just won’t. They will take things personally and be offended when they shouldn’t be.  He will miss family days, holidays, and forget how old his nieces and nephews are. As much as you feel you can, help them understand and then move on. Don’t let it get to you that they don’t understand. They can’t.

Share with others who get it! Vent and cry and talk it out. Please talk with me, voxer 1000 times about his schedule, I WANT TO KNOW. Tell me 23 times how his next day off is 24 days away. Here’s my advice though, share with those who get it in an uncensored way, but for everyone else, stick to small doses. Share with me and “the birds” and new residency friends. We will get it!! You will notice others want to understand, they genuinely do, but it can cause a sense of pity and friends not wanting to share with you about their weekend plans. You will get a sense that they just feel bad for you. You might just have to see how this goes for you, but I’ve found that friends in the same situation react in a way that feels helpful and is uplifting. With friends who can’t relate it feels like you’re dragging them down or just raining on their amazing 10 weeks of summer off with their teacher husband.

DON’T WAIT. Do not wait for Austin. I can’t stress this enough. If he’s working Saturday and texts that he will “be leaving in a few minutes” right as you’re about to head to the park with the kids, DO NOT WAIT. Do not wait to have dinner because he said he might be “out the door soon.” Do not always wait to do something fun with the kids till dad has a day off. Waiting = resentment. Too often the reality is he won’t be home in a few minutes. It will be 20 or 30 or another 2 hours. His day off will be switched or cancelled when he’s called in. If you’re living in a sense of waiting for him you will go crazy.  It’s always better to not wait because if he does get out the door…great! He can show up at the park and surprise the kids and it will be wonderful. If he makes it home for dinner, he can heat up a plate while everyone is still at the table. So much better than waiting around feeling angry. Don’t hold him to time. You just have to be really zen about this. It is hard and as you know I am not a zen master. They have no control over their time. It is what it is.

If he’s working on a holiday, don’t look at facebook. Enough said. Try as hard as you can to not compare your life with “normal” people’s lives. It is really hard.  Don’t look at everyone’s barbeque pictures on the 4th of July when you spent the last 12 hours dealing with crying whiny kids all by yourself. You know the quote on comparison. Thief of joy.

Listen and give space regarding what he needs to share about his days. His days will include some really boring things and then some really dramatic and really heartbreaking parts too. Help him not be a robot about it all. They need a wall to get through it day after day, but I think they really need someone to listen when they are ready to release the emotional parts of the job.

Let’s talk about the kids. I have a good friend from Goshen whose dad is a doctor. I’ve talked to her a lot about this and gained some insight from her experience. She has shared that her memories of this time are completely shaped by her mom’s reactions and attitude. I’ve found that challenging in a good way. She doesn’t remember feeling like her dad was never around or missed everything, even though she knows that was the case. She remembers how her mom always stressed and reminded her how important she was to her dad.  It’s important to remind the kids how excited dad will be to hear about something compared to,  “too bad your dad missed this…” This sounds like a no brainer, and you are obviously an amazing mom and will do this naturally. It is something I do find myself needing to remember. It is especially hard when Kyle gets called in on a day he should have off or has to work Christmas morning for example. My attitude completely shapes Amelia’s reaction and attitude (and soon Everett’s.) Amelia has gotten many real life lessons on how to deal with disappointment (as will your kids) so I try to be aware that I need to model what I want her to learn. I’m not saying to be fake, but there is a bit of theatrics when young kids are involved. This is a long time of their childhood and the memories are important.

Lastly, perspective. This is a mental exercise that seems ridiculous but I honestly find myself doing it A LOT. I really do try to think of things I am grateful for, because as you know, all the scientists and Gretchen Rubins of this world are right. It does make you happier to be grateful! I try to remember military wives are apart from their husbands for 9 whole months. As you know, I often hate cooking dinner. I used to complain about it all the time, but I’ve stopped. Because when I am so stinking sick of being the only one to cook dinner over and over and over, I think of refugees with hungry babies and honestly, how dare I begrudge the gift of feeding my children?! What a lavish luxury to prepare my children food THREE times a day. How many mama’s in this world would give anything for that? I could cry about it right now.  These sorts of mental exercises and perspectives help me remember that when it comes down to it, the majority of the human race has endured much greater hardships than spending a 14 hour day alone with their children. It’s NOT THAT BAD.  (THIS is not to negate feelings of the opposite that actually IT IS UNBELIEVABLY HARD. Yes. It is.  Both are true.) Mental exercises in perspective and gratitude really do help.

When it comes down to it, it will all be harder and easier than you think. It will be unbearable and then, just like that, not as much.  You’ll be going along great, thinking you’ve got it all under control and then a month from hell will take you down at the knees. But the next month will be better, and rotations and night floats will come around more than once and you will notice it is easier than it was the first time.

You’ve got this. I am here for you and I love you!!!

Suzie

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What We Say (Five Questions That Are Hard To Answer)

June 11, 2015

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A few weeks ago I was standing in line at the post office when a woman with four young children trailed in behind me. She was carrying a large box, an overstuffed purse, and a very tired baby. I said a quick hi, how are you. She replied good! And then we both pretended I didn’t just ask a mother of four how’s she feeling with a bunch of hangry kids at the post office during lunchtime.

It’s part of the social constructs of life. Someone comes up and asks a polite question and we give a polite answer back. It’s not that they aren’t sincere or that we’re not honest, it’s just that not everyone needs to know that “I’m fine” means “I’m tired and possibly have a sinus infection.”

The concept of TMI is insulting to those of us who like to just tell it like it is, but I will admit to small talk for the sake of saving everyone the long version. I’m also the kind of introvert that is an open book with friends, but quiet as a church mouse with the other moms at the library.

Five questions no one really wants to answer, the last being my personal favorite as it usually involves panic and mild hives.

Here’s to finding middle ground.

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1) You have a newborn! How are you feeling?

What I say: I’m doing okay. A little tired and sore, but hanging in there.

What I mean: The other day I sneezed and I think part of my vagina fell out. I’m not sure. When I called the doctor, they put me on with a nurse who said to apply ice and maybe take a few deep breaths. I hung up and ate fourteen individually packaged brownies to cope. Breastfeeding is going okay, minus the blinding pain and cracked nipples. My cousin told me to put cold cabbage leaves down my shirt, but so far I just smell like coleslaw. I’m doing the best I can. My plans include survival and lifelong abstinence. I don’t know, I haven’t slept since last Tuesday.

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2) What do you do in your spare time?

What I say: Read, write. I haven’t had time to watch much TV, but I heard Broad City is good!

What I mean: Let’s see, watch as much good TV as humanly possible while also keeping up with library books, writing projects, and herding the kids from room to room. Also have you ever seen the hit TV series Friends? Because I’m still watching that, too. Lately I’ve been dragging myself to aerobics at the gym so I don’t die of a frozen pizza induced heart attack at 30, but most of my very limited spare time is spent doing things that don’t require thinking, talking, or making eye contact with strangers.

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3) How are the kids doing?

What I say: Good. Very busy!!!

What I mean: Yesterday my one-year-old took one of my sneakers, dipped it into an unflushed toilet and drank it shot style. She would have gone for seconds, but I intervened which was pretty devastating. Have you ever heard the mating call of a howler monkey? That’s the sound my daughter makes when I take away her feces water. If one more person asks me to make them a sandwich, I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom for the remainder of the week.

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4) Are you thinking of having any more children?

What I say: I’d like another one, but Austin isn’t sure. We’ll see!

What I mean: I AM SO TIRED BUT ISN’T THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH AMAZING. I love birth. I could give birth all over this place. I love screaming for an epidural and pushing out a new slippery human into the world. The recovery is semi-horrifying, but have you ever smelled fresh baby scalp? It’s a heroine shot of love. How could that phase of my life be over? YOLO. Let’s do this one more time. It should be the easiest one yet. They can sleep on the floor like Tarzan and eat table scraps from the other two. My husband disagrees, but I think that’s because he enjoys sleep, hobbies, and easy vacationing.

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5) What are you up to lately? Anything exciting?

What I say: Oh, I don’t know. {Insert advanced stuttering}

What I meanI found a five dollar bill in an old pair of pants the other day, that was pretty thrilling. I wish big things were on the horizon; that the book I’m writing is finished or that I’m planning a cross country road trip to California. But the truth is the list of writing projects is long and money is tight. I hired a once-a-week babysitter and am starting a babysitting swap, but like most people– every day is about balance. Finding joy in the mundane while moving forward with the big picture. I am happy but it’s also a lot about eating a burrito in the dark after the kids have gone to bed. That’s about as good as it gets.

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