Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the category “Parenting”

Sometimes

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I liked being a mom. I hesitated for a moment – just a split second – before offering the answer I knew was correct, the expected answer.

Yes! Yeah, I love it. It’s wonderful. Being a mom is great. A challenge, but really wonderful. Of course. It’s great.

I heard myself repeating the same words over and over, frantically racking my brain for something specific. The truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t. I’m supposed to adore motherhood, but that day, I didn’t. I left the restaurant troubled by my response, and over the last few months that little piece of conversation has come back to haunt me at every one of my lowest parenting moments.

You’re a terrible mother. You couldn’t come up with a single reason you enjoy being a mom! Why did you even have children? 
It’s certainly no secret that motherhood has been a difficult adjustment for me. Sleep deprivation, kind to no one, I think does an especially hard job on me, and neither of our tinies were (are) good sleepers. Isabella would wake infrequently but it would take us close to an hour to get her back down, and she didn’t sleep through the night till she was 1. Barrett had awful colic for 5 months, and at 13 months old, he is still waking up 6-10 times a night.

The night before Mother’s Day (of course) was a very rough one for Bear. After he woke 5 times between 10pm and 1am, Stephen finally gave in and got him up. I was too worked up to sleep, so I got up too. We sat on the living room floor in our robes, Barrett playing quietly between us, and had an awful conversation about our big doubts, disillusionment with God, and disappointment over unanswered prayers (the middle of the night is obviously the best time to talk about these light topics).

“If I had known what this would really be like, I never would have had kids,” I muttered, refusing to let the hot tears surface.

The desperation and rage when it’s 2:30 am and I can’t get baby to calm down and fall asleep; the trembling fear of finding out just where my line is and how close I can come to it in the dark hours of the night.

The inability to walk out of a room, or even move from one spot on the floor, without my child wailing because I am leaving.

The chronic sleeplessness, the chronic feeling that sleeplessness is making me a shitty parent.

The look of fear on my child’s face when I suddenly snap and lose my temper; the satisfaction of losing my temper; the immediate rush of guilt afterwards; the many broken items in my wake.

The loss of identity, loss of autonomy, slow death of untended relationships, sacrifice of career.

The constant demand for attention, the always being-needed.

The frightening realization of just how easily I can be worn down by whining, complaining, and backtalking.

The surprise of just how much a 3-year-old’s careless and ignorant words can hurt.

The tiredness in my very bones.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit.

Yes, this is part of my parenting reality… but it’s not the whole truth. I got the chance (bless my husband) to go sit by myself at a coffee shop on Mother’s Day, and I took the time to write in the journals we keep for both kids.

God began to show me that I am indeed a different woman than I was before I gave birth… and that’s exactly how He intends it. He helped me see all the things I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have kids.

The incredible gift of growing and birthing new life.

The indescribable feeling of being the one and only source of nourishment a newborn baby needs.

20 unbelievably tiny toes; 20 chubby fingers; the pattern the blood vessels make on the inside of Isabella’s ears; the faint birthmark on Barrett’s side.

Nursing smiles.

The glorious feeling of a baby breathing deeply, sleeping soundly, wrapped on my chest as I sing and worship.

The sweet feeling of a small head resting heavily between my shoulder blades, riding on my back as I hike.

Seeing eyes light up or arms flap happily, hearing gleeful shouts of “Mommy!” when I walk into a room.

First steps, first words, first everythings.

Hearing my daughter cheerfully, and of her own volition, recite to me the little incantation of love I have always said to her, “I love you higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, and bigger than the skies!”

The surprise of just how many beautiful, clever, hilarious, stunningly insightful things a 3-year-old says during the course of a single day.

Cooking dinner to a backdrop of the loud, joyful chaos of giggling, shrieking, chasing, and playing; a home full of wild happiness.

Being confronted by the ugliest parts of my heart; my need for control, my anger, my deficit of Every. Single. Fruit of the Spirit. Dealing with it, and allowing it to change me. Where I was inflexible, closed off, and stubborn, I am softening, opening, yielding.

Isabella and BarrettHad I not had children, I would never have had to deal with the tough stuff… but I never would have known the beauty I was missing, nor the power to become better, become transformed. The truth is that parenting is hard. REALLY hard, and messy. It is also dazzling and magnificent and FUN. Like any journey worth taking, parenting is made up of many small moments. Some of them suck. Some of them are amazing. Strung together, they are the stuff life is made of.

I suppose if I had the chance to answer my friend over again, I would say:

Sometimes. Usually I like it… sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don’t.

And that’s ok.

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On My Most Urgent Prayer

Parenting is my crucible. How immensely rewarding and reworking and relentless it is. How huge is the responsibility of tending two tiny humans, day in and day out, again and again, without stopping, like the waves upon the shore.

I stand in The Here and Now, keenly aware of how my words and actions will ripple through days, months, years, decades, as these small people grow into big ones, complex and independent, with relationships and big plans and influence of their own.

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And I tremble at the massive weight of this. I live in fear that my lack of constancy should teach them more than my rare glimmering moments of self-control. After all, children remember what we said less that how we said it, how we lived it.

Oh, I tremble.

So when the baby is screaming, the toddler whining, the pressure building, when I feel trapped by the tedium of it all, this is my prayer:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for trusting my slipshod self with this beloved girl and beautiful boy, and help me, help me, help me do this right.

Though I feel laden, they are no burden; caring for these little hearts is a privilege.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Help me, help me, help me.

On Living in the Trenches

Our baby boy arrived on April 15th, nearly 5 weeks ago. It feels like yesterday, it feels like eternity ago, it feels like he’s been here the whole time. Our family feels complete, and my heart is full. Isabella taught me how to love unconditionally, and now I love without struggle.

Everything is so different this time. Where the first 6 weeks with Isabella were a fog of numbness and depression, I’ve felt (mostly) happy, present, and balanced this time around. I’m head over heels in love with this little boy.

So it’s hard to explain why I’m still ticking off the days till the baby stage is over.

When I go out with the kids, Isabella walking by my side and little Barrett snuggled on my chest in a sling or a wrap, people notice. And I grit my teeth every time they do.

I avoid eye contact with the little old lady at the grocery store who slowly wanders my way. I keep my eyes straight ahead on walks, ignoring the woman who looks towards me with congratulations on the tip of her tongue. I pretend I don’t hear the  bank teller’s hushed-but-loud-enough-I’m-obviously-intended-to-hear-them comments, “What a cute baby!” and “Aww, so tiny!”

Usually the well-meaning interluders are older women who miss having little ones, or younger women whose children are just old enough that they’ve forgotten the hard parts about having a baby. Or, maybe they just genuinely loved the baby stage. It’s been well-established on this blog that I am not one of those women.

When people look at me knowingly with a smile on their face, I think most of them are imagining that my day-to-day experience (though challenging, certainly) is an idyllic baby paradise that looks just like a Johnson & Johnson commercial, where my infant and I stare deeply into one another’s eyes and smile and bond, and soft light pours in through a window, and I have showered within the last 7 days.

But this is what it’s really like:

I’m living in the trenches. It’s warfare, and I’m just keeping my head down and trying to make it through the day. And yeah, it’s been a while since I bathed. At least I’m alive.

Don’t get me wrong- I couldn’t possibly love this little dude more. I’m crazy about Barrett and Isabella. Before I had kids, I didn’t know you could love someone – someone so little and helpless who can reciprocate nothing – so damn much.

Parenting babies is my refining fire, a blaze I cannot put out. It makes me better, stronger, yes. But the process brings my every heinous imperfection to the surface. It’s valuable but it’s also painful, ugly, and really, really hard.

We fought for a noble purpose in World War II, but the reality on the ground was muddy and bloody and perilous.

 

I genuinely appreciate congratulatory comments from people who actually know me, even if they don’t understand what it’s like for me. But what I appreciate even more is when fellow soldiers say “hang in there,” or “me too, mama.” I love when veteran parents tell me “you’re doing great,” and “keep fighting, it’s worth it, I promise.”

I don’t need pressure to enjoy every single second because it “goes so fast,” or stories about how much worse it will be when they’re teenagers. I need validation, commiseration, and the assurance that it eventually gets better.

I can’t be the only one. Caring for a newborn, working a terrible job, getting through the semester, going through counseling… Who else is in the trenches with me?

We’ll get out eventually. We will.

On Teaching Toddlers to Own Their Bodies

Adults behave curiously around small children. It’s something I’ve noticed since having my own child, and it’s a mixed bag. I appreciate when people kneel down to speak to Isabella on her level; I understand when people change their tone of voice; I don’t mind when people ignore me and address their conversation to her.

What I can’t understand is why adults would treat a child in a way that they wouldn’t dream of treating a fellow adult. People get inches from her face, freely touch her, and fail to interpret basic body language. Many people don’t seem to think twice about expressing physical affection with a child who is a complete stranger, as if children were public property.

I suspect this happens to most children but I feel like this happens a lot with Isabella. I’m definitely biased, but her remarkable cuteness invites attention from people nearly everywhere we go.

A few weeks ago, we were at a social event with friends and acquaintances, most of whom recognize Izzy but don’t really have a relationship with her. At one point while I was holding her, a man at the party came up and said hello to her. She did the usual tuck-my-head-into-mommy’s-neck-and-glower-warily-at-stranger move. He tickled her ribs and gently teased her about being shy, and she cuddled hard into me. (If you have kids you know the move- when they tuck their legs up tight and try to make themselves disappear into you.) When he tried a couple more times, she finally said, “No! Stop!” several times, quietly but forcefully. He playfully poked her a few more times before I wrapped my free arm around her and turned away, mumbling something about how she was overstimulated.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking about this incident. I feel a little bad writing about it because the guy is a friend that we know and trust, and I know that he had the purest of intentions- to interact and play with my daughter. But I felt bothered that he – like nearly every adult we encounter – had no sense of boundaries and completely failed to read Isabella’s basic body language and even her clear words.

What bothered me more was that I failed to enforce Isabella’s comfort zone when she wasn’t able to do it herself. In that moment, I chose to help him save face instead of protect my daughter. It doesn’t matter that an adult isn’t doing anything wrong, it matters that Isabella feels uncomfortable or unsafe. And because I was afraid of offending this person, I didn’t do my job.

You might think, what’s the big deal? It’s just a little innocent tickling. She’s fine.

We’re going to get deep here, but just for a second. Not many people know this about me, but I was sexually abused for many years as a kid. I’ve gone through intensive therapy and inner healing and today I’m really and truly whole. But because of my experience, I’m extremely protective of my child.

We’ve all heard the stats- 1 of every 4 girls will be molested by the age of 18. I was. My daughter will not be.

Because we can’t be with our children all the time, it’s important to be intentional about teaching them to protect themselves. Children’s brains are hard-wired during the early years, and every experience shapes their behavoir and how they relate to the world.

I think the first and most basic thing you can do with young kids is teach them that they have ownership over their own bodies. How do you do that?

1. Respect their boundaries during physical play

Most of us can easily tell the difference between a playful “stop, haha!” and a serious “stop!” while tickling or roughhousing. When they seriously ask you to stop, stop. She needs to know that she has the power to accept or reject physical affection from anyone. A playful poke might not seem like a big deal to us, but it can be a huge violation of trust to a child.

2. Respect their boundaries when giving affection

I’ll admit that it’s not always easy for Stephen and I. We’re both very affectionate people and we love to love on our little girl. But when she pushes me away when I try to kiss her cheek, or says, “No, down,” when Stephen scoops her up for a hug, we listen. As a trusted adult, your child looks to you to help establish and enforce her boundaries. Remember, just because that cute little kid is too little to physically prevent you from tickling them, kissing them, or picking them up, that doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to do it.

3. Hold them to the same expectations

Isabella stopped nursing a few months ago, and she still absentmindedly pulls at my shirt or feels my chest. When she does it, I gently but firmly tell her, “I don’t like it when you pull my shirt down.” When she climbs on my lap and jams her elbow into my pregnant belly, I stifle a yelp and remind her “That hurt me. I’d love to have you on my lap, but only if you can sit still.”

4. Employ non-physical consequences

There are times when I have to forcibly remove Isabella from a location, but whenever possible, I give her the option to remove herself, and she usually does. Stephen and I, for a variety of reasons, don’t use spanking or any other kind of corporal punishment. One reason is that I think this sends the child a message that their body doesn’t belong to them; it tells them that a violation of physical boundaries by an authority figure is an appropriate consequence for misbehavior. This is especially powerful considering that the vast majority of child molesters are adults who are in a position of trust and authority in a child’s life.

5. Use anatomically correct terminology

If you exhibit a comfort level with the correct words for the human body, children will naturally develop a comfort level with their own body. More importantly, child molesters are not going to talk to your daughter about her vagina. If she starts calling it a cupcake, you’ve got some investigating to do.

6. Teach about appropriate and necessary touch

Obviously, there are times when genuine necessity trumps a child’s objections, like diaper changes and doctor visits. Certain people in certain situations will have to touch your child even if it makes him uncomfortable. Now is a great time to start discussing these necessities and laying out the appropriate circumstances for them to occur. For instance, it’s ok for a doctor to touch you at the doctor’s office when mommy or daddy is with you. It’s not ok for an adult to take you to a room alone and “play doctor.”

 

I couldn’t get the incident at that party out of my head, because I feel like I failed. In the grand scheme of things, that one moment isn’t going to have a huge long-term impact, but realizing that every experience shapes a young child’s understanding of her world, it made me want to get a little more serious about teaching Isabella that her body belongs to her. Period. Even if it offends an adult.

Even if you don’t have your own kids, you can still help to instill this sense of body ownership. When interacting with a little one, follow the same unwritten social rules you would with an adult: give them some space; watch their body language and facial expressions; don’t dismiss their words, (no matter how cute they sound); show them respect and respond to their cues.

On Calling Myself a Feminist (even though I’m a stay at home mom)

This post is part of a link up with Kelly J. Youngblood over at Renewing Your Mind on the topic of feminism and traditionalism. Check out her post and the others that have been shared! (This is the first Linkup I’ve done. I have no idea if I’m doing it right.)

I was raised in a home where my parents generally played traditional gender roles; my mom was a homemaker for the majority of my school years, and my dad worked outside the home at least 40 hours a week. Yet somehow, I grew up free from the notion that women are bound to the home.

When I was in junior high my mom went back to school, and I thought her valiant and daring for it. She became a vet tech, a profession her school teachers had discouraged her from as a girl because she “wasn’t smart enough.” I think she determined then and there that if she had daughters, they would do whatever they wanted to do with their lives.

The church I grew up in has, to date, ordained more women than men, and half of our staff are women. The idea that women are any less than men, or that they must be relegated to certain roles in the home and church, was one completely foreign to me until high school. That was when I learned about the glass ceiling and the gender wage gap. I learned that most churches still don’t ordain women. I learned about modern polygamy. I learned about the stunning number of female babies aborted in China every year. I learned that most women worldwide are little more than property.

I was horrified by the reality of it all and dove headlong into a kind of immature, militant feminism, though I’m not sure I would have known to call it that at the time. For many years I shouted “Never!” to the spectre of marriage and children, “My whole life is ahead of me, I’m going to change the world!” (but wouldn’t you know, I fell in love with an incredible man and discovered you could be married and still change the world).

cheris KrameraeFor a long time I thought “feminism” was fundamentally the opposite of “feminine,” that anything which could be classified as conventionally female (like cooking dinner or wearing makeup or having babies) was something I should consider as antiquated, something I’ve been gloriously liberated from. As if a modern woman choosing motherhood over a career is like a dog returning to its own vomit.

I call myself a feminist, but I find myself filling the oh-so-traditional role of mostly stay at home mom, because it makes a lot of sense for our family and I (usually) really enjoy it. And though I also bear the slightly less traditional title of business owner, I often feel that I’m not allowed to use the feminist label because of how I spend most of my days: in the home. However, when I buy into the lie that my vocation makes me who I am, I’m doing a disservice not just to myself and my daughter, but to the feminist movement. That just turns feminism into another way to define me as a woman, to relegate me to a certain role, when feminism is really about freeing every woman to make her own choices.

And now, with a daughter of my own, feminism is more important to me than ever. Isabella is only 2 years old, but someday she’ll enter the adult world and get to make choices of her own. And since I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I decided to stay home and raise kids (except the kids themselves), I’m devoting the rest of this post to my daughter. If she asked me today, “Why did you decide to be a homemaker?” this is what I would say.

Dear Isabella,

I don’t view my choice to be your full-time mommy as a concession or a sacrifice of any kind. I do important and valuable work every single day, shaping and guiding you through childhood, teaching you how to be a powerful person. You are a little revolutionary. You will change the world in the way only you can, in the way God created you to, and I get to be part of raising you up. I want to spend as much time doing that as possible.

I get up every day knowing that you will be watching me. I’m acutely aware of the influence I have in your life, and I want you to know a few things.

I want you to know that you will never hear me say “I’m fat.” You’ll never hear me make negative comments about my body, or yours, or any one else’s.

You hear constantly that you are cute, pretty, adorable, sweet, and beautiful (and you totally are), but you are much, much more. I want you to know that you are also fearless, fun, witty, compassionate, intelligent, joyous, creative, and strong.

I want you to know that no one can tell you who you are and who you aren’t. Your identity comes from Christ and not your chromosomes.

I want you to know the value of your body and your heart and how to fiercely guard both. (I certainly will, with a shotgun if necessary.)

I want you to treat others with respect because you’ve never been treated any differently by your Mommy and Daddy.

I want you to know that you are only limited in this life by yourself.

I want you to dream great big dreams and I want to dream them with you.

I want you to do these things in simplicity because I’ve plowed the way for you, because many plowed the way before me.

I love you dearly and I love watching your grow every single day.

Mommy

 

*Don’t forget that I am off social media this month. I’d love to read your comments so please don’t leave them on facebook and twitter!

On Apples, Anger, and Choices

One evening, after a particularly long day along with Isabella, I was watching a movie I had started while she took an afternoon nap. When she woke up she started playing alone pretty happily, so I sat on the couch eating an apple, hoping to watch the last half hour of my movie.

Then she started getting restless. She went in the kitchen and asked for something that I wouldn’t give her or didn’t have, chocolate or cookies or something. She started to get angry. I started to get frustrated that I couldn’t hear the movie. She went into a full-blown tantrum, screaming and crying and stomping her feet.

I don’t remember exactly what she was upset about, but I remember with perfect clarity thinking how satisfying it would be to hurl my apple across the room at our front door.

I remember the way the apple, only 2 or 3 bites missing, burst on the front door when I acted on that urge.

I remember how Isabella, still standing in the kitchen and safely away from the door, fell suddenly silent.

I remember striding across the room, picking up the larger pieces, and throwing them against the floor, tiny pieces flying everywhere.

I remember Isabella peeking her head around the corner of the kitchen wall and watching, wide eyed, as I lost my shit.

I remember how she started to cry.

You know what? For a few seconds, it was satisfying to destroy that apple. But I’m never going to be able to forget the look on her face when I whipped around. My anger melted into shame instantaneously.

Even though it’s been nearly two weeks, Isabella remembers, too. She frequently remarks, “throw apple,” gesturing towards our entryway that was the scene of fruit carnage that evening. Sometimes she comments that the floor is sticky. She brings it up at seemingly random moments.

I apologized immediately after my outburst. I sat down with her and told her that even though I was frustrated by her tantrum, it was wrong for me to throw that apple and yell. I told her I was very, very sorry. I asked for her forgiveness, and she gave me a kiss, and we sat on the floor surrounded by millions of tiny apple fragments and hugged. After I finished cleaning up, we shared a piece of cheesecake and giggled and cuddled.

But she keeps bringing it up and I have to relive those awful moments every time. I realize that she needs to talk about it because it was a significant event for her, so I’m helping her process it by re-telling the story with her, and it comes up less and less.

But I’ve had a wake-up call. I realized today that, Oh God, it’s happened. Isabella is old enough to remember my mistakes, old enough to recount them to me. She’s old enough to have significant events etched into her heart. Oh, God, help me.

I don’t make a habit of throwing produce and shouting at my child, but I have my moments. And a time is coming very soon when I will be put back through the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced:  caring for a newborn. Only this time, a small child will be witness to my behavior. A child to whom I am the universe. A child that remembers my actions and builds her beliefs about her growing world around them.

I’ve struggled with anger as long as I can remember, and it’s clear that I need to deal with it, now, at any cost. I just don’t really know how. Yes, I believe God can change my heart, and I should take it to Him in prayer, etc, etc, but my behavior is my sole responsibility. In my reading of scripture there is a clear emphasis on self-control, and I’ve never been able to develop much regarding my notoriously quick temper.

I wrote and rewrote the ending of this post a million times, each one a variation of “I can’t control this anger.” But that’s a lie. I am not powerless over my power. I am not the Hulk. I am a human being with an option to sin or not sin.

When it comes down to it, I make a choice. I can talk all I want about my lack of self-control, about what feels like an overwhelming biological reaction, but I’ve always had the self-control to keep from physically hurting my child. Clearly, I make a choice not to act on certain urges, and a choice to act on others.

The fright and surprise I saw in my precious child’s eyes that day comes back to my mind, fresh and raw as if it had just happened, every time I start to feel the tension build and the heat rise in my belly. I scared her, and I won’t do it again.

On Forgetting

Me and Izzy, 2 weeks old.

As I talk with Isabella about her new baby brother or sister, I find myself thinking often about when she was a newborn. I’ve written many times before about the struggles I faced as a new mom, and that wasn’t even a tenth of it. Many of my friends saw me during those days, soul splayed open, raw from the pressure, sleep deprivation having removed what little filter I normally possess. I talked openly about my on-and-off hatred of being a parent, how I would never be good enough, how I wondered if I really loved my child, and most of all, the horribleness of seeing how truly horrible I could be.

I was so angry with our parent friends because no one warned me. No one told me how frighteningly powerful your emotions can be at 3am. No one told me how maddening it is to listen to your child scream continuously in their car seat. No one told me how tired I would be. No one told me how powerless you feel when your child is crying and you can’t. figure. out. why. In the words of Chris Martin, “Nobody said it was easy… no one ever said it would be this hard.”

Me and Izzy, September 2012

Today Isabella is nearly 2, and while I still think I’m less suited to be a full-time mom than many of the incredible women I’m blessed to know, I love her dearly and would do it all again for who she is and what we now enjoy. When I think back on the first days and weeks and months with my little girl, what I remember most are the sweet and wonderful things. Not the frustration. Not the exhaustion. Not the guilt.

Now I understand why they didn’t warn me… they forgot. I wish I knew then what I know now: I will forget. I would have spent far less time struggling to be perfect, resenting Isabella, feeling ashamed. I would have more beautiful memories to look back on today. I would have gotten help. I would have held on to the good things and held my mistakes loosely. I would have been humbler, more merciful to myself.

I wish, I wish… but that season is over. I can’t go back and re-live those early days, but I can live today. And I get a chance to do it differently with a new baby.  I’m going to be happier this time.

This sweet tattoo isn’t mine. I found it on Pinterest.

On Trusting Yourself

I’m excited to be participating in the Preparing for Birth Series at A Little Bit of All of It.  This week’s topic is “Advice for the New Mom,” and Lord knows I had to learn a LOT when I first started doing this 17 months ago.

When you have a new baby, you’ll find yourself answering the same handful of questions over and over again, to the point that you develop short, scripted little answers for each of them.

“No, we’re not really sleeping. I guess you could call it napping, two hours at a time.”

“We’re not going to be trying any sleep training, but thanks for the suggestion.”

“I’m breastfeeding on her cue. She’s nursing around 12 times a day.”

“Oh yeah, she was born with all that hair.  My sister and I were both the same way.”

“It is fun! I just love being a mom… most of the time.”

But there was one question that I was never able to nail down my quick and easy answer for…

“What has surprised you most about being a mom/having a baby?”

I was asked this question surprisingly often, and it caught me off guard every time.  I never knew what to say.  Let’s see…

Breastfeeding, not sleeping, the power of my emotions, the number of diapers a baby can demolish in a single day, the stress, the love, the joy, the doubt, the exhaustion, the beauty, the hours we could spend watching her do absolutely nothing but simply BE.  Just all of it.

I was woefully underprepared for motherhood (though I think it’s fair to say that most of us feel pretty out of our element at first).  I was terrified, and couldn’t allow myself to consider the possibility that after childbirth (for which I was extremely prepared), I would be responsible for the care of an actual newborn human baby.  I had zero experience with babies.  They made me uncomfortable.  I didn’t like them.  Truthfully, I was afraid I wouldn’t like my own.

When Isabella was born I was overwhelmed.  I was in constant doubt, questioning myself at every decision, sure that I was doing everything wrong.  The Baby Book became my best friend, always nearby when I was nursing so I could look up all the startling or alarming or confusing things I was encountering every moment.  During those early days I spent a lot of time googling things on my phone and reading blogs and books and WebMD articles.

But as Izzy and I got to know one another, slowly, very slowly, I began to listen to my own instincts.  Instead of asking Dr. Sears what he thought, I started to focus on my daughter.  I was amazed (and still am) by how powerfully you can love someone.  I adore Stephen, but it’s different.  We fell in love slowly as our friendship grew.  We chose each other.  We share with one another, we give and receive.

I didn’t choose Isabella- she came to me, with nothing to offer but her small self, her new existence, her complete and total reliance on me for all her needs.  And I was head-over-heels, fiercely, and suddenly in love with her.  I didn’t have to try.  I didn’t have to conjure up motherly feelings that weren’t there the day before. One day she was in my arms, and I was irrevocably changed.

That’s what surprised me most about being a mother; it comes naturally.  We are biologically, physiologically, and emotionally hardwired with the instincts and abilities to care for our children.  Even if you’re terrified, everything you need to mother beautifully is already inside you.

My advice to new moms is simple: trust yourself.

On Starting Fresh

Isabella woke up sort of angry today.  I don’t know why, maybe she’s just having one of those days.  I woke up pretty happy but it didn’t take long for me to catch her mood and soon we were both grumpy.  I’m having one of those very-busy, cleaning-the-house, putting-dishes-away, please-can-you-just-play-by-yourself-like-you-did-yesterday kind of days.  But Isabella is having one of those I-need-you-to-hold-me-every-second-of-my-life-forever-but-I-also-want-you-to-put-me-down kind of days.  We are just not on the same page.

She signed “eat” so I sat her in her high chair and cut up some cherries for her.  She eagerly gobbled up every last one of them and signed “more.”  I cut up a whole bunch more and went back to washing dishes.  She threw her cherries on the ground (on the carpet), reached her arms out toward me, and with the saddest most piteous look on her face, began to wail.  At this point, we’d already had many, many of these moments, I’d listened to so much whining, been followed around and grabbed at and cried at all morning.  I, hands wet and soapy, threw the cup I was cleaning into the sink, yanked her out of her seat, and plopped her on the ground.  “FINE.  If you don’t want to eat, DON’T EAT. Just SIT THERE.”

If you’ve ever thrown a fit back at a toddler who is throwing a fit, you know how super helpful it is.  As I cleaned up her cherries, finished the last of the dishes, and dried my hands, she cried louder and louder.  At this point it was obvious that she wasn’t just frustrated that I had inexplicably given her the additional cherries she asked for.  I had treated her and spoken to her without love, I had become angry for a stupid reason, after little frustrations from the whole morning had built and built and built.  I could see so clearly in her face that I had really hurt her feelings.  My heart softened immediately.

“We’ve both had a hard morning.  Let’s hit the reset button.”

I set everything else aside and gently gathered her up.  We sat down on the couch together and she nursed and I could feel the tension draining from our muscles.  I talked to her as she nursed and told her how sorry I was for being angry and overreacting, for not being patient, and for not giving her grace.  I apologized for putting things and chores ahead of her needs, because the dishes will be there.  The laundry will be there.  But she will grow and change and these moments, these days when she craves my attention are precious.

She looked up at me, just looking into my eyes and me into hers, one of my most favorite things about breastfeeding.  She signed “nurse” and smiled and everything went back to being ok.

It’s easy for me to let a bad few hours stick with me and before I know it the whole day has been horrible.  But not today.

On Rejoicing in Every Milestone

Isabella turned 15 months yesterday, and almost on cue, has finally begun to walk.  For those of you not acquainted with childhood development, 15 months is sort of late for walking.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting this stage- not because I’m worried about Izzy’s development, or because I think she’s lagging behind.  I don’t think about that crap.  I just really, really, really want her to be able to walk.  If you’ve seen me in the last 15 months, chances are, I was holding a small brown-haired blue-eyed girl.  For 9+ months, she was literally attached to me.  After she was born, it didn’t change much.    She’s always been a high-need baby and a very social person, and the best place to interact with her world is from my arms.  My selfish thought is that walking will give her the ability to get where she wants to go without my help, and (hopefully) need my attention a little less.  Like, instead of wanting me 90% of the time, maybe she’ll drop down to 70%.  That would be a huge deal for me.  Mostly, I’m just stoked for her to do something new.  She’s really excited about it.

Parents I chat with are often surprised to hear that I’m dying for Isabella to walk on her own.  When I express this sentiment I’m typically met with some little comment that is intended to sound like helpful advice from someone who has “been there” but is truly just stupid, like “trust me, you’ll change your mind once she starts walking” or “when you have more kids you’ll wish they waited longer!” or the always ominous “just wait…”

I fully reject this “advice” and the entire mindset that goes along with it.  It’s this idea that each milestone is something to be sad about because your baby won’t be a baby forever, or whatever.  Or the idea that somehow children are supposed to be convenient for us.  Mostly, though, I think it’s that a lot of women, in particular, like to feel needed and therefore get their value from being needed by their kids.  Each milestone, especially walking, is a step (ha) towards independence.  If you get validated by being needed, parenthood is going to be a long and difficult journey.

I’ve enjoyed every milestone in Isabella’s life.  I love watching her grow.  I get excited about the new things she does.  And no, I will not wish she had waited longer to walk because it’s harder to keep a fully mobile baby safe.  I will not hope my younger children will wait to walk.  I will rejoice in every milestone and every new season of my child’s life.  And if you have discouraging little “trust me, just wait…” comment, keep it to yourself.

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