Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

Archive for the tag “New Parents”

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.

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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.

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