serenity now

Serenity Now: how parenting is like being a super hero in training

Lately, I’ve had the feeling that having children is like becoming a super hero. Not in the get exposed to nuclear waste and suddenly find yourself in possession of amazing mutant powers sense, but in the receive a call to greatness and head off for some really intense training with some kind of fighting master who kicks your ass and teaches you to calm your inner storms and harness all of your strength in the service of something greater. Only in this scenario, my ninja masters are about 3 feet tall and their methods seem a little questionable. Like, they might violate the Geneva Convention. Luckily they’re really cute, because they push me to just about all my limits at least 10 times per day.

I never thought of myself as a super patient or gentle person, but when I think about how much those powers have been tested and grown in the last 3 years of this bizarre baby-led boot camp, I might as well be a super human in comparison to my former self. I don’t always get it right, but luckily my little teachers are very patient and determined to keep testing me until I learn.

They’re so good at it, in fact, that I’ve thought about lending them out so that others can get this sort of zen training themselves. Every time I drive past the ecumenical meditation center, I fantasize about dropping off my two little zen masters to give the folks inside some real mindfulness training. Finding peace in a tranquil room while listening to the soft sounds of a babbling brook? That’s the easy level. Finding peace while two master interrogators pepper you with questions every 36 seconds is some next level stuff. Finding it while someone needs to potty, the other is starving, they’ve just gotten into a hair pulling match over a dollar store toy, you’re 10 minutes late to get somewhere, you haven’t had time to feed yourself all morning, and suddenly everyone hates everything they’re wearing and YOU GAVE ME THE WRONG CUP, MOM, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE…well, that’s super hero type stuff.

Most days, these little fantasies make me laugh. When I think about all the ways even my most exasperating moments in parenting are helping *me* to learn and grow, it’s easier to feel something closer to appreciation than desperation. It especially helps to think of myself as Batman and the girls as my little martial arts masters. Because I may not be Super Mom yet, but every day, I’m learning a little more.

it’s apparently breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, i’m not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

When I nearly died from complications after delivering our twins, I grieved one thing possibly more than any other: the loss of my ability to breastfeed my babies. Breastfeeding was just something I knew that I would do. It was really important to me, and in our first few days in the hospital, I was breastfeeding Etta and pumping to send milk to Claire in the NICU at Children’s Hospital, too. I remember the agony of my possessed hospital pump that would randomly turn itself to high and threaten to rip my poor nipples right off. I remember the ritual of Jon cleaning all the various parts in the hospital room sink so we could get ready to do it all over again all too soon. And I remember the pride I felt in sending those little 2 ounce bottles of “liquid gold” to my girl recovering from surgery to close her myelomeningocele, feeling comfort that if I couldn’t be there holding her, at least she was getting a little bit of me to strengthen and nourish her. It was so important to me, that when I was intubated and unconscious in the ICU myself, my husband had a lactation consultant bring the pump up, because he just knew I’d be very mad if I woke up and discovered they had let my precious milk dry up.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Unfortunately, when I woke up, they told me that drying up was exactly what I would have to do, because the medicines I needed to help my heart were not safe for nursing moms, and there were no safer alternatives. I had to stop breastfeeding so my heart wouldn’t stop beating.

From where I sit now, with happy, healthy three year olds, this seems like an obvious choice– the clear, right thing for my health. But at the time it felt rather devastating, because I believed I’d be settling for “second best” for my babies. Oh, how I cried. I remember noticing that even my damn formula can said “breast is best” on it and SOBBING. And for a while, I felt sad or defensive every time breastfeeding came up. Sad because I didn’t get to do something that was important to me. Defensive because I felt like so many people essentially wanted to see a doctor’s note to justify our “choice.” “Breast is best” became a trigger for rage– oh yeah? Let me show you how bonded I am to these bottle-fed babies! Let me tell you about immune systems and antibodies when these formula-fed kiddos haven’t had a single ear infection in over 3 years of life!

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

But now, 3 years in, it’s amazing to realize how all of that has just kind of fallen away. My kids eat food now. They drink mostly water, and sometimes whole cow milk. No one really asks if they were breast or bottle fed. No one really questions our bond, or their intelligence, or their health. They’re just happy, healthy kids, and what seemed SO IMPORTANT and SO DEVASTATING to me back in that hospital room, my breasts and my heart aching for what I could no longer give to my babies, well, it seems so far away and so small now.

it's breastfeeding awareness month, and for the first time, I'm not sad

Today, I don’t feel a twinge of pain or sadness or loss when I see my friends nursing their babies. Today, I can stand alongside other parents and say that our culture needs to do a whole lot more to support nursing parents. And today I also feel a whole lot of compassion for those of us who feel a little too aware during breastfeeding awareness month, too aware of what we perceive as our failings or shortcomings, or too aware of what we perceive as judgment from others, or too aware of loss and pain. To you who are still in that place, I am writing this to say: it gets better. Your babies will thrive not because of what they are drinking, but because of your great love. They will be bonded to you not because of your breasts but because of your hearts. They will be healthy because of your care, not because of antibodies in their milk. They will grow, and they will thrive, and this big deal will shrink and shrink and disappear in the rearview. I promise. I’ve finally made it there.

threenager

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Back when we were first entering the twos, people started warning me: “Don’t believe the Terrible Twos thing. Twos are fine. Threes are terrible.” For the most part, I didn’t mind the twos. Yeah, they developed attitudes and the ability to say NO! But I was mostly too enchanted with their growing verbal skills and emerging personalities and ability to walk and fetch things to be too bothered.

Now that I’m a few months into three, I think people were right. THREE, MAN. THREE SQUARED, ACTUALLY. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. When they are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Two-year-olds can be defiant, but three-year-olds are committed and they won’t shut up about it. They’ll give you a monologue manifesto about why you wanting them to put on their shoes/eat that thing they asked for and then decided they hate/use the potty/hold a hand/stop stealing toys from their sister/stop WHININGOMG is the most ridiculous thing in the world. And then they’ll put a hand on their hip, give you the stink-eye, and go HUMPH! for emphasis.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Claire in particular seems to embody another three-year-old stereotype. She’s a “threenager.” Three going on fourteen, I kid you not. She’s moody and sassy, yes, but she also desperately wants to be older. Here are three things that keep happening again and again.

I must, I must, I must increase my bust…

That was a line from Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, a book I loved at 13 and which seems to speak to Claire’s soul already at 3. She’s amazed by boobs. She admires them, she asks me about them, and she compliments me when I’m wearing particularly cute boobs, by which she means a sports bra, particularly my neon pink one. And she asks me daily if her boobs are coming in yet. Nope. Probably not for another 10 years, kid, and then, considering your genetics, probably not by much, anyway.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Steal my kisses

Claire has also recently developed an affinity for “wip-stick.” Her mama happens to love a bold lip color, and she is always complimenting me on my color choices. And then she demands a kiss, on the lips. How sweet, you might think. But it’s not about showing affection. She’s hoping some of my lipstick will wear off on her lips, so she can wear it too.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

Learner’s permit

It’s normal for little kids to be interested in cars. We have a lot of toy cars, but to Claire they’re about as satisfying as when she said she wanted a “baby” for Christmas and she had to keep correcting people, “not a doll, a real one.” Claire wants to DRIVE. Every day when we get in the car, she asks me if she is “tall enough” to drive yet. Nope. And you’re not nearly old enough, either, kid. She has to settle for the race car carts at the grocery store. Which she drives like a crazy New Yorker, hollering “BEEP BEEP! OUTTA MY WAY!” to the folks just trying to shop. I blame the book “I Stink!” about a grouchy big city garbage truck for that one.

on having threenagers | the adventures of ernie bufflo

My little threenager isn’t all sass and shenanigans, though. She’s also full of sweetness. She appears to be a natural-born nurturer and has been dubbed the junior babysitter of our playgroup. She’ll gently and expertly hold all the baby siblings, fetch their pacis and diapers for their mamas, and happily hand them toys and blankies to play with. Mostly, she’d rather play with the babies and chat with the mamas than play with her same-aged peers. She also takes excellent care of her own mama. She’s always asking me how I’m feeling, stroking me gently, giving me giant bear hugs, and picking random moments to whisper “I wuv you, Mom,” and totally melt my heart. She pushes me to my limits, confuses the heck out of me, and totally has my heart.

the grownups ain’t coming


I was having a chat with a friend the other day about being vs. feeling like a grownup. I have realized something crazy lately, mostly since becoming a parent, but also since turning 30: the big secret of being an adult is that almost no one actually feels like one a lot of the time. That and the fact that the only major perk of being an adult is getting to have ice cream or popcorn for dinner if you want to. But mostly the thing about not feeling like a real grownup.

At least I don’t. I find myself, 30 years old, mother of twin three year olds, married, homeowner, scheduler of important things, manager of some serious medical issues, meal planner, writer, friend…and feeling like I’m playing house. I look around at all my responsibilities, which I usually handle just fine, and often wonder, “Who the heck decided I could handle all of this?” It’s like I’m waiting for the real grownups to show up and take charge, only to realize, the grownups ain’t coming. The grownups are us.

I’ve even realized that I seem to think of “adulting” like others might think of playing video games: I’m earning or losing points along the way, and occasionally leveling up. Remembering to pay a bill: points. Actually calling and talking to the insurer or medical supply guy or specialty nurse about something: points. Doing all the steps of my skincare routine for more than three days in a row: points. Exercising, even with kids underfoot: points. Eating the recommended servings of vegetables: points. Remembering the paperwork for the kid thing: points. Not getting sunburned or allowing my kids to get sunburned on the beach vacation: points. Not letting the clothes get funky in the washing machine before switching them to the dryer: points. Hosting actual adult parties: points.

Getting married? Leveled up. Buying a house? Leveled up. Moving halfway across the country? Leveled up. Dealing with loss? Leveled up. Facing my own mortality in a major way? Leveled up. Becoming a parent? Leveled up. Twins? Leveled way up. Having a kid with a disability? Leveled up. Managing my own chronic health issues? Leveled up. Realizing what I do or DON’T want to do with my life? Leveled up.

It’s like I think that if I collect enough points or get to a final level, I’ll stop feeling like I’m pretending at being a grownup and actually feel like an adult. This probably makes me a stereotype of a Millennial, but what can I say, I graduated high school in 2003. My generation allegedly feels like adolescents forever. Guilty as charged. The thing that really lets me know that I’m a grownup is that I now know it doesn’t matter if I feel like an imposter, because I still gotta get shit done. It turns out being a grownup is a lot like being brave: it’s about feeling one way but doing the damn thing anyway. Brave people are still scared. Real grownups still feel like kids playing house a lot of the time. You just don’t tell anyone you’re secretly earning merit badges in your head and move along your merry little way.

lessons i’m learning in my toddler’s dance class, and a Claire Bear update


In this room full of toddlers in tutus, absolutely no one is worried about their rounded belly under purple spandex. No one has given a thought to her chubby thighs in pink tights. Not a one has looked in envy upon the body of her classmates. Instead, as a boombox plays an instrumental of “Beauty and the Beast,” they giggle and grin. They grab hands and twirl. They hug and spin. They are grace in action, even as they regularly fall down.

Even as I feel my own infrequently-exercised thighs burning as we march with high knees and pointed toes around the room, I’m learning powerful lessons too. And they have nothing to do with poise or pointe, and everything to do with grace. Grace for myself and my perfectly imperfect body. Grace and love for the women around me, that I may see them as hands to hold and partners to dance with, not competition or something to compare myself to. Grace, even, for my toddler when she refuses to participate with the rest of the class on a particularly bad morning.

Six weeks of dance classes with Etta Jane are drawing to a close, and I am happy to sign us up for the next six. My happiness is doubled because this time, I get to sign Claire Bear up too. After a year and a half in developmental preschool, Claire has made a lot of amazing progress. Enough, in fact, that we feel ready to back off on some of her therapies. She’s going to be staying home with Etta Jane and me, and we’ll be seeing her PT on an outpatient basis. I am thrilled to get more time with my girl before she has to start real preschool all too soon, and I know she’s going to love dance class as much as Etta Jane and I do. I talked to the teacher and made sure that it would be ok if she had to wear braces and sneakers instead of ballet shoes, and was assured that she is more than welcome to join the class. Grace abounds. There was a point where I didn’t think our girl would walk, and now she’s ready to DANCE.

naming and claiming…yourself

 

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Me in my original Ernie Bufflo days.

 

My name is Sarah. Except it wasn’t always.

I was born Sara. For a while, as a young kid, I insisted my name was Ernie Bufflo, which is why this blog has such a funny name, and why encounters with people who previously only knew me online are always a little awkward, as people are obviously hesitant to ask a total stranger, “Are you Ernie Bufflo?” in case they’re actually wrong and the other person has no idea what they’re talking about. Then, sometime in Sunday School, I became aware that the Sarah in the Bible story actually has an “h,” and I became convinced my parents spelled my name “wrong.” I felt about Sara the way Anne Shirley felt about Ann:

“Oh, I’m not ashamed of it,” explained Anne, “only I like Cordelia better. I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”

“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E, I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.

For years, I managed to pass as a Sarah-with-an-h. I possibly even lied a little in order for my drivers’ license to say “Sarah.” My diplomas all said “Sarah.” I was Sarah, not Sara. I figured I’d make it officially official when I got married, but then I discovered that the Social Security office only changes last and middle names, not first names. I thought I’d have to go through the courts, but then I discovered that for a simple spelling change, all I needed to do was request an amended birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records and pay a $15 filing fee. I got myself a new birth certificate, and while I now probably have an identity document trail too sketchy to run for president, I’m officially Sarah Sweatt Orsborn.

Needless to say, I think it’s important and powerful to be able to name and claim yourself and your identity.

Fast forward several years, and now my little Etta has started making it clear that she wants to be known by both her first and middle names. While my non-Southerner husband wasn’t too keen on the idea of a double name, it seems our girl has other ideas. We’ve always called her Etta, but she proudly introduces herself “NAME ETTA JANE!” Claire calls her Etta Jane, too. As far as I can tell, she figured Claire Bear has two names, so Etta Jane should as well. And who am I to deny my girl the naming rights I so proudly claimed for myself? If she wants to be known as Etta Jane, then I’m going to have to train myself to call her that.

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Name Etta Jane.

 

 

turn that frown upside down

Most mornings, after we drop Claire off at school, Etta and I meet up with our friends (my mom friends and their kids, her toddler bffs) to do something fun– zoo, story time, science class for preschoolers at the museum. We’re so used to this that any deviation from the fun-with-friends theme kind of feels like a letdown for both of us. Sometimes, though, a mama has to go to Target, and then one can only hope for the best.

The best is not what we got this morning. I thought she was on board with my “first we go to Target, then we go to the park” plan, but her whole body stiffened as we approached the red cart, and I knew I was about to have a fight on my hands. I attempted to fold Cardboard Etta into the seat and strapped her in. That’s when she deployed her favorite protest method: the high-pitched dental drill whine. I was determined not to bail– I had stuff to get so I could make Valentines for Claire’s classmates, teachers, and therapists, and we had also depleted our Goldfish stocks. (I needed to pick up my prescriptions, too, but I’m just now realizing I forgot those.) I gritted my teeth and planned to Just Get Through This.

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She continued to whine like a dental drill as I pushed her through the store. I pretended it wasn’t happening. At one point, a mama pushing a cart with a toddler and a baby caught my eye and we both just laughed and exchanged a “what can ya do?” look. SOLIDARITY, MAMAS. Somewhere in our rounds through the store, Etta decided to stop whining and enjoy tossing things into the cart for me. There is nothing she loves more than being a Big Helper, so if I hand her stuff and then let her put it in the basket, she feels like she’s helping. By the time we got to the always-ridiculously-understaffed checkouts, she was happy to put things on the conveyer belt for me and chat with the cashier. “Hi,” she said, “name Etta Jane.” She always makes me think of Tarzan with the stilted way she introduces herself to others.

Of course, right as my kid’s tantrum ended, an adult woman decided to throw one herself. Just behind us, I began to hear yelling and expletives. I have no idea what happened, but this lady was pissed, and she was yelling at one of the nicest cashiers at our Target, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume she was being a giant jerk for no reason. She had a toddler with her, and he was crying in fear as his mother screamed invectives at the nice people in red. “Baby sad,” Etta said. “That lady MAD.” I had to wheel past her yelling obscenities as we left the store. “That lady is throwing a tantrum, Etta. She’s being really rude. Even grownups throw fits in public sometimes, but it’s still not OK,” I said. I kind of hope the lady heard me. She jerked her crying kid by the hand and said they were “getting the f*** outta here.” I wish I could have scooped up her kid and taken him to the park with us. I felt my jaw clenched at her outburst as we drove away.

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It was sunny and 50 degrees at the park. We had the whole place to ourselves. My girl’s hair shone in the winter sunlight, and I watched her little curls flying as I pushed her on the swings. “Swing higher, Mommy!” We didn’t talk much; we just soaked up the sun together. I love that she chose a “baby swing” for herself, just like when I ask her if she’s big or little, she tells me she’s a “widdle gurl.” Darling, you can stay my little girl forever. She played in the sand and made me a “castle.” She braved the big slide, the one with two humps. Then we did some more swinging and came home for lunch. I let her watch some Elmo to wind down before nap, and she snuggled in my lap while I breathed in her coconut-scented hair and kissed her sweet cheeks.

Sometimes, when my teeth are gritted and I’m pushing that cart through Target with the squealing kid everyone is staring at, it’s hard to see beyond that moment. And when I feel trapped in such a moment, sometimes I wish I could throw a tantrum too. But this whole parenting thing has been like a nonstop class on both the zen of being in the moment when the moments are lovely and the zen of knowing that even the crappy moments are just a moment too, and they will pass.

As I scooped her up and carried her down the hall for her nap, she asked, “happy, Mommy?” Indeed, little one. So very happy. So happy I’m willing to forget all about that dental drill sound you sometimes like to make because most of my time with you is oh so sweet and oh so fleeting, something to soak up like a rare warm day in February, something to bask in like winter sun, something to breathe deep like sweet coconut-scented baby curls, so I will breathe it in until bursting.

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