It didn’t feel right

I remember distinctly the first, and the second time, someone called me “Mom”. It was hours after Big Man’s birth, and I was being wheeled to his bedside just before he was transferred to his NICU. A nurse said, “Here comes Mom.” I looked around. I didn’t feel the least bit like a mom. I certainly didn’t feel like this baby’s mom – I’d failed him in every way in my mind, my body booting him out well before it was time, not protecting him the way I should have. There was so much guilt wrapped up in that word, “Mom.”

The second time I was called “Mom” was five days later, when I finally got to see him again. I walked up to Big Man’s isolette, and his  nurse whispered to him, “Your mom’s here.” I still didn’t feel an ounce his mom. I had been pumping every three hours faithfully since his birth days earlier. Spouse had brought video of him for me to watch every day. I’d signed the form for his birth certificate. But I still didn’t believe I was a mom. Everything about the process was wrong at that moment in time.

I was afraid of my child. He was so tiny. He was connected to so many tubes and wires. His face was covered in tape, his eyes covered by goggles to guard them from the bili lights he was under for jaundice. In my heart, it was my fault he was laying there, when he still should have been inside of me. I held him that night. He was too small for me to hold in my arms, so I held him on a pillow. One of my biggest heartaches is that they could have put any baby boy before me and told me he was mine, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. I’ve never said that out loud before.

Days passed. I spent hours every day next to his isolette. One day, I saw him kick out one leg, stretching beyond the boundaries of his cuddler, and I realized that was the exact same leg, the exact same motion he’d made while still inside of me. I connected the baby in front of me with the baby that had been in me. Suddenly, the name, “Mom” didn’t seem so wrong. His primary nurse encouraged me to take an active part in his daily care, even if it were just to take his temperature a couple of times a day before diaper changes. I gained faith in myself, and started to not flinch when someone would call me “Mom.” Eventually, I was the one changing his diapers, flipping him from side to side, watching his color instead of the machines so much, even occasionally pushing his feeds through his feeding tube. Once he graduated to an open crib, and was off the vent and CPAP, and able to be dressed in more than a diaper or hospital t-shirt, I changed his clothes as well, and then gave him baths. I read to him. I talked to him. I held him. I grew into my Mom name. By the time he came home, three months after his birth, I knew him, I knew me as his mom.

The guilt never leaves…the guilt over his birth, the guilt over being afraid of him, the guilt over not knowing him, the guilt of not being there for him his first five days of life. The first time I was known as Mom, it didn’t feel right. It took me awhile to get there. I don’t know if that hurt ever quite goes away.

Those hard questions

Yes, the Herd has been on something of a hiatus this summer. Truthfully, I’m still working on fitting all the new pieces of the puzzle together, and have been trying to just be in the moment rather than always thinking about how I’m going to write about the moment. What it comes down to is this: I’m freakin tired! No one ever told me having high schoolers – high schoolers involved in any kind of activity – means you essentially don’t get summer anymore. Bless, between a trip to Palm Springs, two weeks off from cheer practice, and Big Man being at cross country camp for five days, I’ve had a few sleep-in mornings, but we’ve had two (TWO!) beach days all summer, and one of those was over the weekend. I’ll update, at some point, what we’ve been up to. But for now, I give you this….

Remember the Princess likes to ask some of those “holy hell, what now?” questions, usually while we’re driving to or from dance? Yeah, that. She unleashed a few beasts last night. They’ve been twirling around my brain. First, she asked when I knew I didn’t want to be the same kind of mom my mom was. Wait, what? Not even going to touch that one here. Then she comes at me with, “What would you change about yourself as a mom?” Good grief. She doesn’t pull any punches, does she?

What would I change about myself as a mom? In some ways, I wish I were the mom that LOVED to get down on the floor and play board games with my kids. I detest board games. Drove me insane to even attempt them when the kids were little. Zero patience. Nada. Zip. Zero. But you go with what you’ve got, right? So I learned to accept I wasn’t that mom. Not a huge fan of the disaster crafts seem to leave behind either, but we’ve done our share…which accounts for the fabric paint on the kitchen table, family room carpet, and sofa, as well as the stack of contact-paper-laminated Thanksgiving and Christmas placemats taking up space in my buffet, (I actually really love taking those out every year – they make me smile), and who knows how many sheets covered in paint/glue/glitter. I don’t really like forts made out of sheets, pillows, couch cushions, blankets, and everything needed to hold said fort together. Why don’t I like them? Because I’m the one who only ever ends up putting everything away.

Are you sensing a theme here? I wish I cared less about messes. I wish I had more patience. I wish I was less easily frustrated. Those are the things I would change most about myself as a mom. Notice she didn’t ask me what I think I rock as a mom? That just dawned on me. Maybe I’ll bring that up when we’re driving to dress rehearsal tomorrow…equal time, right?

She also asked me what I would change about Big Man’s personality, the one so much like my own. I just see him doing things the same way I did in high school, in life, and I would (and do) push him for more – to do what he’s capable of, at the level he’s capable, to speak up for himself, to advocate for himself, to not give up when things get hard, to not always take the easiest path just because it’s easy.

And then she asked me what I would change about her. I’ve said before, I wish I’d been half what she is when I  was her age. She’s me, to the power of ten. She’s courageous. She’s a fighter. She goes after what she wants. She’s determined and focused. She sticks up for those who need a champion. She’s a perfectionist. She can be fearless. So what did I tell her I would change? It’s something most women probably need to change. I told her, when she compares herself to those around her, she only remarks on the negative. She doesn’t comment or even seem to notice/recognize her own strengths, those skills and traits with which she stands out.

Like I said, these questions have been floating around my mind since our conversation last night. It hit me when we were driving home from Costco this morning…she  never asked what I would change about Little Man. Maybe it’s obvious in her mind – take away  his autism. But when I asked her about that this morning, she said taking that away would change who he is completely, including the awesome and really cool parts of him. We would just make life easier for him.

She really doesn’t let me slide on this mothering thing. She has that tendency to ask me things I’d rather not address even in my own mind,  much less in a conversation with my daughter. But she makes me bring those things out into the light, look at them, analyze them, talk about them. Hopefully someday, I’ll see the results of these talks in the form of a healthy relationship with her, and seeing her as a successful mother to her own inquisitive daughter.

In which something has changed

Yes, the Princess graduated from 8th Grade last week. As one of my friends said, “She was up on that stage so much, she should have had her own chair.”  Yes, she is something of an overachiever, and is well-liked by her teachers. She’s that kind of kid.  She’s more than ready for high school. I do believe, for the last couple months, she’s felt halfway between both, as she’s at the high school every weekday morning for cheer, then heads off to her school for classes. She has friends who will be Seniors come fall, and friends who will just be entering seventh grade.

She’s been a teenager for nearly two years, but it seems just recently something has changed. Now it really matters to her how she looks when she walks out the door. Frizzy hair is a no-go. Clothes and shoes must be just right. Will a boy like her, ever? Will she one day be asked to prom? And oh, by the way, can she go to the mall with her friend for a few hours? Can she go with me to get a manicure? Can she have her hair colored the way the other girls are doing theirs? Wait, what? Cue eyeball roll (you know, the one so typical of teenage girls).

Where did my American-Girl-Doll-playing, I-need-a-unicorn-pillow-pet-and-unicorn-onesie, pigtail-wearing little girl go? I dropped her off at the JV Cheer Captain’s house the other day to hang out (for hours on end) with most of the JV team. They talked about boys, who is dating who, which kids got in trouble for what, dresses, nails, hair, phones. They didn’t really swim so much as they stood in the pool/floated in the pool, talking.

This all feels new. It’s as if I woke up one day to an entirely different daughter. That little girl still hovers in there, but we don’t see her often. This new, completely teenage-girl girl is who we see most. I know she sees me watching her sometimes with this searching look. And there are days I’d swear she asks questions just to try and stump me, throw me for the proverbial loop.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s still a good girl. I don’t worry too much about where her life is headed. She’s a driven, self-motivated, rule-following perfectionist. She has goals and plans. She knows what’s right, what matters. She knows one wrong choice made in a split-second can have life-altering consequences. I have a feeling the next four years are going to be kind of incredible to watch. Something has changed, and it’s scary, but it’s also wondrous to see.

Treasured Time

I  had a weekend wherein I was repeatedly reminded to treasure the time we have, and to take time to be with family and friends when the opportunity is given.

The Princess had her 8th Grade Dinner Dance Saturday night. Her middle school years are winding down quickly. This was the first of many celebrations. She’d gone dress shopping with her friend a few weeks back, and dress buying with her dad the week after. It doesn’t always hit me how grown up she’s becoming, but then I’ll see her all dressed up, and those glimpses I used to get way back when have become our reality. The big girl I would only see when she was in her recital makeup is now the girl I see every day. A boy asked her to the dance (the day before the dance). Another boy wanted to ask her to the dance. The only thought I had was, “I’m so not ready for this!” The neighbor boy across the street is also in 8th grade, at the same school, so we took them together. As we were taking their pictures, it felt like they’d just had their first day of Kindergarten.

P and N

Where did our babies go?

Very early Sunday morning, the Princess, Little Man, and I drove to Arizona to attend a golf tournament. The tournament was serving as a fundraiser for friends of ours whose son was recently diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, DIPG. He’s seven years old. We wouldn’t have missed being there to support our friends. Spouse and Big Man golfed in the tournament. We went for the family portion – lunch, games, silent auction, helicopter ball drop, and so on. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and so many people showed up to support this family. My heart ached though at the reason. All cancer is ugly. This one….I can’t even wrap my brain around it. Their motto has become #mostbestdays  I’m trying to live that. It’s cliche, but there’s no guarantee you’re going to get a tomorrow.

After the tournament, we went to stay the night at my Daddy’s. We could have stayed at a hotel with the other families in town for the tournament. That would have been fun. But I’m taking advantage of every opportunity I have to spend time with  Daddy and Mom. We had a really awesome night with them, laughing and talking, eating too much good stuff, and getting just a bit spoiled. Mom takes such good care of us when we’re there. Monday morning, we loaded up the cars and made the six hour drive home.

It was an insanely packed weekend, but I would change a minute of it. I’m treasuring time…..time with my babies, time with  my family, time for my friends who are in need of love, support, and prayers.

 

How they won

Oh my….I’m going to throw myself under the bus here. I SUCKED as a toddler mom. I mean it. I was horrible at mothering the little heathens beauties. They won, on a daily basis. It makes for lots of good stories now, but back then, I wasn’t sure we were all going to come out the other side. Why, then, would I have had the three of them so close together, so as to have three toddlers under my roof at once? I wanted it over with, as quickly as possible. Hah! Not really…our family happened the way it happened. I may have spaced them out a bit more, but God had other plans, and once the older two were so close together, I didn’t want a huge gap between them and Little Man. He was going to have an uphill battle as it was. But I digress, as usual. Squirrel!!!

So, yeah, I sucked as a mom of toddlers. But those two…Big Man and the Princes….good golly, they were like the Wonder Twins. I couldn’t mentally keep up with them. The things they would come up with to get into, destroy, and just cause general chaos…I would never have even dreamed those things up as possibilities. And yet they did come up with it all. They did the usual stuff…pulling all the Tupperware out of the cabinet, climbing the pantry shelves to reach the cookies, eating frozen waffles underneath the dining room table while I was upstairs feeding their brother, hiding candy on the little shelves created by the leg tops of the pool table, writing/coloring on walls/doors/every other solid surface available. They also did other things that I cringe yet to think about. They “fingerpainted” with baby shampoo on the carpet. Yeah, guess what happens when you try to clean up baby shampoo? It keeps bubbling. When we steam clean the carpet in Big Man’s room, to this day, bubbles will come up. No lie.

They used my porcelain Nativity pieces for target practice, throwing poor Mary over the baby gate into the middle of Big Man’s room, then taking aim at her with the rest of the pieces. Why, you might ask, did I even have a Nativity set made of porcelain out with toddlers in the house? Well, it was set up in the upstairs hallway, up high. Their playroom and toys were all downstairs. They weren’t supposed to play up there at all. I did manage to rescue a sheep, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and a donkey. The rest of the pieces went the way of the vacuum cleaner to the trash.

They seemed to have an obsession with toilet paper. Once, after a trip to Costco, I left the huge package of toilet paper (you know, the one with like 36 rolls in it) in the upstairs hallway. When you have toddlers and hear silence, and then hysterical giggles, you need to be VERY afraid. I went upstairs to find they’d unraveled at least twenty rolls, all through the hallway, into one bedroom, through the jack-n-jill bathroom to the other bedroom, back down the hallway to the third bedroom…..I’m sure you can picture it. Another time, they filled up my jacuzzi tub and threw as many rolls of toilet paper they could grab into the water. I’m pretty sure I may have had a breakdown after that little event.

The worst all-time, however, was the day Big Man cut the Princess’ hair. Now, I know nearly every kid cuts their own or their sibling’s hair, but I’ve never seen nor heard of it being anything like what these two got up to. Because they were so close in age, and just close in general, they didn’t really realize they were of the opposite sex. But Big Man had short boy hair and the Princess had long, spiral-curly, blond girl hair. He changed that for her in the span of about twenty  minutes. I was at the grocery store, so it wasn’t on my watch (there I go throwing Spouse under the bus today too). I came home, put groceries away, made lunch, and called them to the kitchen. I turned to see the Princess sitting at the counter and my brain couldn’t really process what I was seeing. I turned back to the fridge, then back towards her again. Her hair was gone. ALL of  her hair was gone. Big Man had cut it off….all of it…..to the scalp. And she had sat there and let him do it. I was speechless. And then I started to cry. Neither of them had ever seen me cry before. It freaked them out. But all of her gorgeous hair was gone, left in piles on the floor of Big Man’s closet. Spouse found me sitting up there, crying, with her hair in my  hands. I think I’m still traumatized.

When I took them to preschool the next day, I walked in with the Princess behind me. The director’s desk was right at the front door, and she knew right away something was up, so she asked me what was going on. “Big Man cut Princess’ hair” I told her. She, sweetest woman in the world, told me every kid cuts their own or their sibling’s hair. I said, “They do, but not like this” and I pulled P out from behind me. I just heard a swift intake of breath, and I think I started crying again. She was called a boy so many times in the months that followed, I finally got her ears pierced. I  had her in dresses every day. People stopped me to ask how her treatment was going, assuming her hair was that way because she was sick. It was awful.

Six months later,  he did it again. And a year after that, he cut his brother’s hair off (and yes, all the scissors in the house were locked up high after the first time – he worked really hard to get to them). See, they won, and I sucked as a toddler mom.

Calling/Called

A little over a week ago, I went to the women’s retreat through our church. The theme of the day was “Called”…not what you’re called to do, but who you’re called to be. It hit home as I have been in a place lately of figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, where I want/need my life to go.

I’ve been feeling this urge/need lately to do more, be more. It’s an internal push, with some mild external pressure. There’s this voice inside my head telling me I’m not enough, I’m wasting my education, I need to contribute more to our household financially.  My friendship circle has shifted  from nearly all stay-at-homes, to nearly all working in some capacity or another. Add to that, our oldest will start college in under four years. Within seven years, all three kids will be in college. Yeah, terrifying, especially when you look at the cost of schools these days.

There’s another voice in my head that pushes back against that other voice. It wonders how a job fits into all this madness. And what job would that be? What direction do I go?

The retreat made me think and feel deeply. Maybe where I am now, who I am now, what I am now is where, who, and what I’m called to be. My kids need me around, even if just as their chauffeur/cook/laundress/maid. Teenagers need someone to pay attention to them…..who their friends are, what they’re doing, what they’re not doing. They need constant reassurance they’re loved, that they have enforced boundaries. Maybe my best me is being what they need the most at this point in time. Maybe I’m called to be that advocate for my youngest child no one else is capable of being. Maybe the me I’m called to be is who I already am, doing what I’ve been doing, sharing our journey that others might find hope, not feel alone, or be enlightened by what I’m writing.

Maybe if I stopped struggling so much, and just did this, I would find the peace of heart I’ve been seeking.  I’ve been praying, and trying to quiet my mind so I might hear who and what it is I’m meant to be.

Pentagon Memorial heart

A letter to my children – Please don’t try to be whom you think I want you to be

My dear sweet babies –

You’re good enough for me. I love you as you are – quirks, noises, procrastinations, sizes, messes, strengths, weaknesses, fights, arguments, snarkiness and all. I love YOU! Please don’t try to live up to whatever standard you think I have for you, whatever expectations you expect I have for you. Please don’t try to be perfect. You’ll end up not liking me much, and liking yourself even less.

Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, I hope you fail sometimes. I also hope you learn to recover from failing. Maybe if you learn to fail and recover from failure, you won’t let fear of failure hold you back from chasing your dreams. And don’t be afraid of being wrong. It keeps you humble, and helps you realize how much you don’t know. It also helps you appreciate the knowledge and skills of those around you.

Don’t try to be whom you think I want you to be. Please just be you. I love the person each of you is becoming. It is a gift to watch you grow and discover. I love that you’re all different from me, no matter the similarities we may have. I don’t want you to be exactly like me nor your dad. Be you. You’re interesting.

Growing up, I never felt good enough. I didn’t feel what I did was acknowledged. I didn’t feel who I was deserved to be loved. That made a huge impact on me, to this day. I hate believing I’ve displeased someone in any way, that I haven’t lived up to expectations, including my own. I don’t ever want you to feel that way. I know there are times I come down on you, I see that look on your face, the one wondering why you aren’t good enough for me just the way you are. I’m so sorry I’ve ever made you feel that way. I will try my best to keep that look from your eyes.

You are good enough. You’re good enough when you forget to put your dirty clothes in the hamper and leave them on your floor. You are good enough when you leave your dishes in the sink. You are good enough when Legos are all over the family room floor. You are good enough when you leave a project until the night before it’s due. You are good enough when you forget to bring your PE clothes, book, or lunch box home from school. You are good enough when I have to make a special trip to the store for your favorite snack we’ve run out of, supplies for your project, new pointe shoes, or hot chocolate. You are good enough when you’d rather sit next to me with your headphones on than have a conversation with me. You are good enough when you drop your stuff in the middle of the floor and leave it there. You are good enough when it’s 10:30 at night and you’re still awake. You are good enough when you’re punching me in your sleep at 3:30am.  You’re good enough when you want one more hug, one more snack, one more drink of water before bedtime. You’re good enough when you ignore me for the video game you’d rather be player. You’re good enough when your report card isn’t “perfect”.  You are good enough when you make a mistake during your dance performance.

You are good enough. I love you. Go be you, not whom you think I want you to be.

Love,

Momma