um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.

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I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.

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Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.

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To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.

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We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

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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.

mombod

The other day, I started noticing a phrase in people’s tweets. “Dadbod.” At first I just thought it was some sort of inside joke among some of the writers that I follow, like the physical embodiment of dad jeans, or something. But I soon realized that they must be getting this dadbod thing from somewhere. So I did what I usually do (read, used Twitter as my own personal Google) and tweeted something like, “I’m going to need a dadbod origin story. What the heck are you guys all talking about?” I mean, when childless hipster friends on Facebook have started to mention their “dadbods,” there’s some kind of Thing going on. Helpful folks on Twitter led me to this piece from The Cut, which was apparently riffing on something a student at Clemson named Mackenzie Pearson wrote. Basically, “dadbod” is what frat boys with beer guts are now calling their physique. Like, I’m not ripped because I’m too busy having fun, please enjoy my dadbod.

The gist I got from The Cut is that dadbod is something some folks are into. Like folks who really dig Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. I’ve been known to say a dude looks like “a cute dad,” and I happen to be married to a pretty hot dad, so I guess I might fall into the dadbod fandom. Dadbod is apparently just a funny hip coinage for an average, healthy male body that doesn’t spend a ton of time on like, Crossfit or something. If you were to call it what it really is though, you’d probably call it average.

At the end of the piece, though, one of The Cut’s editors says “I can’t stop thinking about how offended I would be if men were talking about the ‘Mombod.'” Except PLENTY of people have made it clear that “mombod” is an actual thing, yes, but also a thing to be avoided like the plague. No one writes appreciation pieces about the mombod and how “doughier tummy areas are good at sex — better, even — than, say, a ripped-abbed [person].” Because obviously, we doughy-tummied mommies are not sexual beings but rather sad sacks who need to GET THAT BODY BACK, RETURN TO OUR PRE BABY BODIES, GET A BEACH BODY, ROCK THAT BIKINI POST BABY, ETC.

mombods are sexy
with my mombod in my mom jeans with my offspring.

Dudes are allowed to have “dadbods” and be seen as cute for it precisely because their worth isn’t as intrinsically tied to their appearance the way women’s worth is.

Here’s the thing though: mombod is real. Some women get “back” to tight abs and perky boobs after they become moms, but I’d venture that most of us are changed in at least some way by the experience, and there isn’t really any going back. Even if you “lose that baby weight,” stuff just isn’t the same anymore. We can see our bodies as damaged goods, or we can embrace the transformation. Growing twins may have left my midsection softer and my belly button unrecognizable, but it also made me feel more deeply connected to my body. And you know what that is, really? A sensual experience. An empowering experience. And sensuality and power and even softness are sexy.

So. If “dadbod” gets to have a moment, if we get to admit that “imperfect” male bodies are desirable, let’s do the same for “mombod” too. Whatever body you have, mombod, dadbod, rippedbod, fatbod, YOU are what make your body sexy, not the other way around.

a good nap, spoiled

I probably need to do some self-examination to truly get to the bottom of these feelings, but as the mom of two preschoolers, I cling to the quiet of naptime like a life-preserver. Parenting small people requires every ounce of patience and energy I have, and I begin to run low after a few hours. I need a respite in the middle of the day to gather my reserves and recharge a bit, to refill the patience and energy tanks so that I have more to give in the hours before bedtime. And on days when my kids won’t nap? I feel actual rage. It’s like I can feel them actually stealing MY TIME away from me, and I start to feel desperate– how will I find more patience and energy to last me until bedtime?

I should have known as Etta Jane drifted off in the car on the way home from the daffodil festival that we were borking any chance of an actual nap. But visions of some quiet time on the couch to read danced in my head as we attempted to put both girls down for a nap after their short car snooze. I went back in twice to get them back into bed. I handed them books and begged them to just lay there and be quiet. But eventually it became clear that the nap  rocket was not leaving the launchpad. I pictured my husband going in to work at four. I wondered what I was going to feed us for dinner, something that seems to occupy at least 75% of my brain most of the time. I wondered how in the heck I was going to make it to bedtime on current patience and energy levels. I got mad.

“Why don’t you leave and go somewhere and let me take them?” my sweet husband offered. Blinded by my desperation for the nap time that wasn’t happening, all I could feel was trapped. “Where would I go? There’s nowhere for me to go!”

I heard him telling small people to put their whiny voices away, heard him finding them shoes, and as he led them outside where he had planned to spend naptime working on the garden, I snuck away. I sat on the couch and tried to gather some patience and energy. Small people soon returned demanding snacks, so I fixed them a cheese stick–no, cwackers!–no, the orange ones!–no, the ones she has! I got exasperated and raised my voice to ask them to OH MY GOODNESS JUST SHARE WITH YOUR SISTER THERE ARE PLENTY OF SNACKS, WHY DON’T YOU EVER ACTUALLY WANT THE ORIGINAL THING YOU JUST ASKED ME FOR?

I realized maybe I needed a snack and some quiet time too. I fixed myself some cheese and crackers. I retreated to my bedroom with a book and the cat, who I am worried about lately because he’s been sick, who keeps getting put on the back burner because life is sometimes so very hectic with small non-napping constantly-snacking insanely-picky preschoolers running around.

I ate my snack and read a chapter and enjoyed the fact that the cat is such a quiet, lovely companion. I felt the patience and energy meter start to creep up, just a hair.

Soon a small white-blonde head bobbed in next to my bed. “I sowwy mama. I sowwy I made you mad by not shawing wif my sister.” I melted. “I’m sorry too, baby. I’m sorry I got so mad about the nap and the snack. I love you very much.” I read two more chapters as my little sprites wandered in and out, catching worms with their daddy outside, pausing to come in and try on some of my necklaces, wandering back out again. I appreciated the sound of their stompy little kid feet in the hallway, snuck some kisses on top of soft hair warmed in the spring sunshine. I helped Etta wash her hands and returned to my perch. I helped them find “the widdle bubbles” and then returned to my perch. I got out my laptop and felt moved to write this post, confessing my sins to the page, releasing them as I typed. The brittle edges of my bad mood began to soften. I forgave them for not napping, forgave myself for being tired and impatient. To be a mother, for me, is to have to forgive myself at least seven times a day. Thank heaven grace abounds. I’m still growing, too.

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.

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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