Thursday, August 29, 2013

5 Big Thoughts

I've had "blog writer's block" this past week. Usually, a topic will strike me (often, the title comes to me first, when in other writing I can't think of a title to save my life), and off I'll go, the words just pouring out. Most of my posts are free-writing, without a ton of editing involved.

This week, though, nothing. I don't know why, but I have an idea. I've been thinking BIG THOUGHTS, so in some ways I think my little slice-of-life thoughts can't come through. So, here are 5 Things That Are on my Mind.

1) The horror of living. Dramatic much? Not when you consider that in the space of a couple weeks a blogger I follow had a newborn son who died of a crazy rare heart problem or that in my tiny hometown a 3 year old shot himself to death with a found gun. I internalize things like this, empathize, put myself in the place of the parents. It drives me crazy. Leading to...

2) Crisis of faith. Now, crisis is a bit of an overstatement here. Over-analysis of faith may be more accurate. I've long had a complicated relationship with God and all matters of faith. Namely, how can an omnipotent God allow the situations above to happen? What is the purpose of it all and WHY should I trust such a being? And, I conclude, my God isn't omnipotent. I can't reconcile it. I believe God can give us strength to bear this life, but I don't believe that he can fix all the bad stuff and just chooses not to.

3) Time is passing. Though I haven't had to deal with back to school emotions, I've once again lived vicariously through all of the parent bloggers sending kids to kindergarten, high school, college. And I look at my little guy and realize that he's almost 2.5 and I never realized that 2.5-year-olds can sing so many songs, identify so many colors and shapes, hold conversations. My vision of a 2-year-old before I had one is what a 1-year-old really is. What I have now, I imagined in an late 3-year-old. Munch is growing up TOO FAST. Leading to...

4) Eddie Money. Namely, "I Wanna Go Back." This song slays me. I want so badly to hold my newborn Munchkin again, to swaddle him, to smell his newborn smell, to watch him learn to roll over and scoot and crawl. I wanna go back. And I fear that throughout Munch's whole life, this will be what I feel. Soooo....

5) I'm present. I breathe. I watch Munchkin do his newly mastered forward rolls and I high-5 him when he does something that he loves. I snuggle him in the mornings and dance with him in the evenings. I enjoy every smile and even, as much as possible, every meltdown. This is life. Here, right now. And I don't want to miss it for all my obsession with Big Thoughts.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Balloons: The Bane of my Existence

My 2 year old son has many obsessions, ranging from watching “Big Block Singsong” to pushing every button imaginable to checking if the light outside our house is on each night. The biggest obsession he has going, though, is balloons, which he inexplicably still calls “booms.”
(Full disclosure, obsessions are in Munch’s DNA: I will listen to one song seven times straight. Hubs will play a video game level 2 million times until he beats it. Munch, I fear, is doomed in this regard.)
I believe my husband and I instilled the boom obsession because when he was born, we got a Mylar “It’s a Boy!” balloon and tied it to the rocking chair where I often nursed him. Tiny infant Munch would watch that balloon sway back and forth, back and forth. This balloon lasted for months, it was the best balloon I’ve ever seen.
When he got old enough to realize that he could hold and interact with balloons, a little after his first birthday, he flipped out when he had one. I mean crazy screaming, mostly because he couldn’t reach the string when it went to the ceiling or because he wanted to clutch it to his chest and it would float off, as booms will. So, from about the time he was 12 to 18 months old, balloons were banned from our household. Balloons seen in public caused tears and screams and rants and raves and swift changes of route. Avoidance at all costs.
The things we love most are indeed the things that drive us the most crazy, eh?
When Munch turned 2, he sort of had outgrown his complete psycho problem with balloons. We realized it after he threw up on the car on the way to Wegman’s and we continued with our shopping, believing it to be car sickness (it was the flu, turns out), and he got a green balloon and a yellow balloon and was the most joyful boy in the world. At home, he let the balloons hang out on the ceiling and he played with them, but didn’t meltdown when it was time to say “Night-night, booms.”
Just as he outgrew his stroller obsession, it seemed Munch was “over” his balloon obsession. Now, balloons were just beloved. He can see them, notice them, and let them be. Yes, in the checkout lines at grocery stores, he cries. (I’d like to pop every single one of the dozens of balloons we have to pass on our exodus.)  But, he mostly forgets them as soon as we’re out the door.
We’ve even started buying him a balloon every other week to have at home, and he’s been oh so happy about it. I thought all was well.
And then, daycare got the brilliant idea to attach shiny gold star balloons to its signs, apparently in an attempt to attract new patrons.
For some reason, Munch fixated on these balloons. He asked for the “yellow booms” every day. Once, as soon as his eyes popped open at 7am, he looked at me and said, “Yellow booms” and when I said, “They’re at school,” he immediately burst into tears.
On walks, he would direct our steps past school, just so he could look at and subsequently cry about the yellow booms. He would say, “I touch it. It’s my boom.”
This went on for weeks, WEEKS, as school added more and more booms to their signs. To add insult to injury, they were STARS, Munch’s favorite shape. As each day brought more boom-induced meltdowns, I started to believe school hung the balloons JUST to spite us, JUST to torture us, JUST for fun at our expense. 2-year-old tantrums will do that to a person.
Admittedly, Hubs and I considered popping the balloons under cover of darkness.
But, I wouldn’t have wanted school to believe they were vandalized, so they stayed.
And, one day, as balloons are wont to do, they deflated and then were gone. And Munch pointed out where they were and said, “Yellow booms?” And accepted my answer, “Balloons are bye-bye.”
I pray they don’t get replaced.
This post is written in response to Mama Kat’s writing prompt, #3: Write a post that incorporates the word: balloon.
Mama’s Losin’ It

Friday, August 16, 2013

About Me

Purple is my favorite color.

I'm afraid of small dogs, especially terriers.

I'm the middle child, of three sisters.

I have a hard time being vulnerable; thus, parenting terrifies me on a daily basis.

But my son is worth every clench of anxiety.

I don't really do "girly."

I didn't "always think I'd be a mother."

But I think I'm pretty good at it.

Autumn is my favorite season, spring my least.

I live in Maryland, but still consider myself "from" Michigan.

I moved in with my husband 6 months after we started dating.

I love fast food like whoa.

Coincidentally, I was an overweight kid/teen.

I lost 100 pounds in 2001.

I take thousands of pictures of my son, but don't share any of them online.

I have brown hair and brown eyes.

I'm a people-pleaser but working on it.

I think everyone could benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy.

I cried the first time I used Ny-Quil because I believed I would never wake up (I was 23 years old).

I think Co-Advil is a miracle drug.

I always wanted to marry a redhead, and I did.

I love my husband desperately.

I wrote one novel, and half of another. Both need work.

I like romance novels.

I think I can watch horror movies, but I end up crying and can't sleep.

I want to believe.

I love Disney and Harry Potter and the county fair.

Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte are my favorite classic writers.

I'm not known for patience, but I am patient with my son.

If worrying burned calories, I would be a size 0.

I like instant gratification.

I love to proofread and do data entry.

I love rock and roll.

I pray, but I'm not positive to whom.

I try to get others to look on the bright side.

In situations like plane rides and standardized tests, I anticipate the worst.

I believe conspiracy theories.

I think crop circles are supernatural.

It drives me crazy to be "shushed" or told to calm down.

I eat up inspirational quotes.

I should meditate.

I should stop saying "should."

I love lists.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

PDAs in Front of the Youngster

I'm an affectionate person by nature. I'm a "hugger," if you will. This holds true with relative strangers and members of my family, none more so than my husband and son. I love nothing more than cuddling with Munch, and I soak it up even more now that he's an active toddler who someday will flinch at a kiss from Mommy.

My husband and I are affectionate and always have been. Once, a family friend commented to his wife that he'd like her to tug at his arm hair like I was Hubs' (a little weird, but I do like to tug on the arm hair).

Now that we're parents, our displays of affection haven't ceased, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. I'm not saying we like make out in front of Munch, but we kiss and we hold hands and hug. I think it's incredibly important for Munch to witness.

And he's clearly taking it in. Take last night. Part of our usual bedtime routine involves Hubs and I swaying with Munch in his darkened room to some Veggie Tales before we lay him down to fall asleep. I hold Munch and Hubs rubs his back. Last night, Hubs and I kissed over Munch's head and as he sometimes does, Munch pulled our necks back together for another kiss.

Then, when he was seeming to pull us forward again and Hubs went to kiss me, Munch said his own name--as in, No, Dad, kiss me! It was so sweet and so precious and a perfect little quiet moment.

My parents were affectionate when I was growing up. My mom greeted my dad with a kiss at the door every afternoon. I remember times watching from the backseat as they held hands across the center console in the car. It comforted me, to see my parents showing outwardly that they enjoyed one another. (Though their marriage ended, I still believe those moments were genuine and true and critically important to my upbringing.)

I want Munch to grow up in a household where people love one another, show it, and say it. I know that when Munch is a grumpy tween, he'll likely roll his eyes at his parents kissing each other or him. There'll be screams of GROSS and averted eyes when Hubs and I kiss. But even if he doesn't realize it, seeing us love each other outwardly will have an effect, and a good one.

My dad has said that his parents never told him they loved him growing up. Thus, my sisters and I never told our grandparents we loved them, though they hold such special places in our lives. Recently, I've started telling these now-80+-year-olds that I love them when we part after a visit. Usually, they say something like, "Well I appreciate that." But last time, my grandma said, "I love you too."

If not now, when? We are scared to tell people "I love you" because it makes us vulnerable. We're hesitant to hug for fear of being pushed away.

But the only thing that matters in this world is loving one another, and making sure those you love know it. And the only way for them to know is to tell them and show them.

So today, hug your kids, hug your partners, hug your parents, hug everyone you love. Let your kids see you plant a wet one on your spouse's cheek, or rub her shoulders, or smell his hair. Nuzzle your toddler and pat your teen on the back. Show kindness and let those you love know how much you value them. If not now, when?

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Beautiful Hair I Have

I'm not vain, not really. I'm usually the opposite of vain when it comes to physical attributes. But one thing I've always loved is my hair.

It's brown with reddish highlights, usually at least to my shoulders, shiny, soft, and, to my eye, gorgeous.

Once, a teacher in high school was demonstrating some tool, I have no idea what it was called, that measured things as tiny as a strand of hair and he used mine as an example and said, "You have very fine hair." So science backs me up. haha.
Here's a nice example of a good hair day (wasn't Nathaniel Hawthorne a hottie?)

As with most things, my hair has become even more beloved to me since becoming a mother, because Munch is a hair-toucher. He strokes his own hair when he's tired or relaxing, and he loves to stroke mine as well. I don't blame him!

This is not the post for negativity, but I'm sad to say that I am getting a LOT of grays. This devastates me. I've been getting noticeable grays since I was in my early 20s and they've multiplied exponentially in the past 2 years (did anything stressful happen to me in that time period? Hmmm...) I think it's genetic, though, because my maternal grandma was pure white in her 30s. EEK!

I'm trying to be a woman who embraces the change with dignity.

But I mostly fail, as I stand at the mirror and pick out gray after gray or take the opportunity at a red light to fish some out.

I only dyed my hair one time and let it grow out immediately.

I don't want to dye it because I love, as I said, the color and the texture, and dyeing changes both of those things.

But they're both changing naturally anyway.

What to do, what to do.

In the meantime, continue loving my God-given hair!

What gorgeous hair that bride has!

 What do you love about yourself? Tweet it using the hashtag #12ThingsILoveAboutMe

Friday, August 9, 2013

Snapshot: The Ol' Count and Jump

It may be time to get Munchkin into gymnastics. The past 2 nights, Munch has stood on my pillow, counted himself off, and launched headfirst to the middle of the bed. Last night, he almost did a forward roll from a dive!

(We are aware that this is not the safest of activities, and we only allow Munch to do this under close supervision. What was it that Mama told her monkeys about jumping on the bed?)

Anyhow, it went down like this:

Munch stood on the pillow. Out of nowhere says, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.... SIIIIIX! and launched.

Reset on the pillow. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, garble sounding something like 13, 14, 15. Launch.

Then it got a little weird and a lot cute.

Reset on the pillow. He started singing, 8, 7, 8, 7, 8, SEVVVEEEEEN and launching. This went on for a while. They must sing a number song at school. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Returning to Work

One of my coworkers is back to work today after 12 weeks of maternity leave with her beautiful baby girl. Seeing her has me thinking about that day looong ago, over 2 years now, when Hubs and I dropped Munch off at daycare for the first time.

Confession: Though I like my work, I wish I could do it part-time and be with Munch for 20 more hours each week. I dreaded going back to work. For me, maternity leave was a magical, blissful 4 months of moments in time, moments I would never get back. I would never, even if I had another baby, experience their like again.

It was Munch and me. We fell into a happy routine, most days. Once he was about 6 weeks old and I felt brave enough to take him outside, he and I went and met Daddy for lunch almost every day. We still look back longingly on those early days at Panera, with Munch sleeping in his bucket seat.

Then, I'd take Munch to our favorite outdoor shopping center and we'd take a walk around the lake, which would put him to sleep again, and then I'd sit with a Starbucks and still-sleeping baby for an hour or so at Barnes and Noble.

And that's pretty much all we did, for 4 solid months. I loved it, I loved him, and I loathed the idea of leaving him with ANYONE every day, except me.

But, bills come calling and leaves come to an end. Returning to work was one of the hardest experiences of my life, and I still feel sad thinking of those first devastating weeks.

I did several things wrong, going back to work. The biggest one is I went back on a Monday. Mondays are torturous days under the best of circumstances, but they are the worst for maternity leave endings--the long week stretches out ahead and the thought wouldn't go away: How am I going to do this for 4 more mornings?

Hubs and I went to daycare together, that first morning. It's likely I wouldn't have been able to leave my still smush-faced baby if we didn't go together. We dropped him off, and I did that part "right" at least. I kissed his little head and handed him over to the teacher. We'd picked this place months ago, and I was confident in them. But I was also ragingly jealous of them--they got to see my baby ALL DAY.

I got out of the room without crying, I think made it to the car. Hubs and I went to Starbucks and sat quietly for a few minutes, just feeling the oddness of knowing he was out there, a mile away, with virtual strangers, and we were here. I felt like my arm had been cut off--or, really, my heart severed out.

Those first weeks, I would shut my office door and cry. A lot. More than I think a lot of mothers do. I just couldn't stop thinking about Munch and how I so badly wanted to be with him. Looking at pictures made it worse, so I didn't have many on my desk. I don't know if I was maybe mourning maternity leave, but at first, being back at work felt like being squarely in the middle of grief.

Once, I ran into a coworker whose baby was then 18 months old. We stood in the copy room while she told me that sometimes she would go into her baby's room just so she could smell her. And she started crying right there. The anxiety released in me a bit--it was normal, maybe, to miss someone this profoundly.

Well-intentioned people said, "You'll get used to it." I wanted to SCREAM, That is worse. I didn't want to get USED to missing Munch, and, worst of all, being away from him.

I had to accept that this was life. I couldn't change it, not with our financial situation. I had to stop thinking about alternatives because they drove me crazy. There was no alternative.

Honestly, I entered counseling. Once I found the right doctor, it was the absolute best thing I ever, ever did. I wish I'd gone years ago, or at least when I got pregnant.

Because, duh, becoming a mother changes you. Fundamentally. And yet, after the beautiful bubble of maternity leave, there was my life. Right where I left it. My same office. Same coworkers. Same commute. Same parking lot. Same responsibilities.

And yet, who was I? Who was this mother-me who had reveled in weekdays spent at the bookstore, gazing more at her sleeping boy than the page of her book? How could I be all the "mes"--Mother-Me, Worker-Me, Wife-Me, Weight-Watcher-Me, Sister-Me, Daughter-Me, ME-Me?

Going back to work felt like the world crashing in around me--HERE ARE ALL THE THINGS YOU MUST DO AND BE. So I needed help adjusting, integrating all the Mes into one healthy person.

And, just as everyone said, I have "gotten used to it." It just took me a while, a LOOONG time. It helps that Munch is happy at daycare, and he's learned so much. He loves it, really, and I do feel that I'm doing something positive for him, putting him in the world and showing him that mommy works, just like daddy.

Just as giving birth is a rite of passage, so is returning to work. Maternity leave, which is far too short in this country, is a sort of bridge between the life-changing, world-shifting event that is becoming a mother. Returning to work felt like learning to stand on my own again, entering the world anew.

I still miss him. I still feel guilt. But I'm better at telling myself it's okay. He's okay. I'm okay.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Snapshot: Poppin Goldfish in Church

Last weekend, at my younger sister's ordination service, Munch surprised everyone and sat quietly for about a half hour at the start of the service. I think he was overwhelmed by the crowd, maybe, listening to music, and just getting his bearings.

By the sermon, which was given by a bishop, an older man with an intentionally bald head and white goatee, Munch had turned around on my lap and appeared to be listening attentively. He had a bag of Goldfish and kept popping them in his mouth and crunching down on them, just like he was eating popcorn in a movie theater.

The best part was, he kept turning around and whispering, "Papa." We may have seen a bishop; Munch saw a friendly grandfather entertaining a room.

I'm starting a new post series called "Snapshot" wherein I try to capture a memorable moment. So many things that happen in this life are moments, fleeting, but these are sometimes the most important times to remember.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thanks, Boobs: World Breastfeeding Week

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! Before I had a child, I never dreamed how important breastfeeding would become to me. My mom makes no secret of the fact that she didn't nurse; I had very few points of reference. 

It's hard to believe that it hasn't yet been a year since Munch and I stopped nursing. For the first 19+ months of his life, much of our days revolved around breastfeeding. I constantly thought about when he would need to eat next, where I would be, and how I would finagle it if we happened not to be home.

I know some women are able to just hold the kid with one arm and keep on with their lives with the free hand, but that was not me. I am what some would term "busty" (if this was 1950) and my body's former high weight and subsequent weight loss left me with let's say fleshy bosoms. They take active managing. Impossible to cage in button-down shirts and difficult to pin down comfortably for jogs.

Breastfeeding changed how I felt about myself and made me not so critical of my non-perked boobs. They were now life-sustaining wonders, producing milk because my baby needed it. They knew their job and they did it for nearly 20 months. Thanks, boobs!

And thanks also for making me feel:

Brave. I avoided nursing Munch in public when possible, but sometimes it was unavoidable. I did a lot of nursing in the car, but in the dead of summer, that wasn't happening. One of many memories is sitting in a Panera Bread in Pennsylvania with my mother-in-law holding up my breastfeeding shield while others ate and a worker slowly, slowly swept the floor around our table.

I never felt embarrassed or ashamed for people to know I was nursing. In fact, I felt almost defiant. I've read the stories of women being boob-shamed in Target and various other places; I felt like, I dare you to say something to me. Bring it on. Luckily, no one ever mentioned it, but I was prepared to defend my right to feed my child.

Proud. If you know me, you know I have some self-esteem issues. I feel like very little comes easily to me. And my head had been filled with caveats surrounding breastfeeding: "Don't blame yourself if it doesn't work. There's no shame in formula feeding. You're not a failure if you can't do it long term." And I believe those things; I believe and know that breastfeeding IS hard and there is no shame in choosing formula.

But after a few bumps, breastfeeding came easy. By day 3 in the hospital, one nurse asked if I had other children because we were doing so well. Breastfeeding was something that felt natural and easy, once I fell into a routine with Munch. In a time when everything--from how much a newborn should poop and pee to how to safely swaddle his tiny body--felt fraught with uncertainty, breastfeeding was a gimme for me, and I'll be forever grateful.

Connected. Breastfeeding connected me to my child like no other thing. But it also connected me to generations of women, spanning thousands of years. Our bodies, our mothering bodies, did this miraculous thing. It is natural, yes, but that makes it no less a miracle.

And beyond that, it connected me to Nature. I read stories of how each mammal's breastmilk does specific things for its young--seals, for example, produce milk that is very high in fat because of the rough conditions in which seals live. The milk knows, the mother's body knows. And that is a miracle.