Primal

How do we learn to love our children? When does it begin? Where does it grow from? Is the love just there all of a sudden or does it bloom over time?

This last fall was one of tragedy. I watched a Mama lose her baby. This Mama waited a near-eight months to meet her child and spent a mere 12 hours with her. Then this Mama lost her baby. In seconds, that tiny, beating heart slowed to a stop. And just as quickly as she was there, she was gone. Yet the longing, the seed of adoration was planted. And now this Mama will spend the rest of her life longing for a different ending.  A do-over she will never get.

As a Mama with three children, these last couple months have been humbling.  And it makes me wonder where the love comes from.  That feeling that washed over me when I took in my new babies and cried because the love so violently gripped my heart.  I have that same feeling even now, when I lay next to a sleeping child, whether he is nine, six or four, as I watch him sleep.  Peacefully, trusting and innocent in my arms.  Where does it come from?

I watched as this new Mama grew that love.  Witnessed as it rose in her like a building wave, crashing into her heart, breaking into her soul.  The love seemed to scare her, feeling foreign and unexplainable, yet coursed through her like nothing she had felt before.  And then the being for whom this crushing emotion was felt, was gone, leaving her raw and starved.  So what is the Mama to do with all the love that was left over?  That love that wasn’t there the day before seems so familiar now.  That love collides with a loss so profound it cannot be explained, for the word grief seems painfully pathetic in comparison to the feelings this loss actually illicits.  But the woman is now a Mama.  She is changed.

I have learned that children do not make the Mama.  The devotion to a life other than your own is what makes the Mama.  It’s a love with which we are all familiar whether we make the same decisions about bedtimes, school, discipline or vaccines we all share that unfathomable adoration for our children.  And to hold all that love in your heart for a child who is not in your arms, at your breast, in your sight, forces one to conjure a strength so powerful that it almost seems impossible to trudge on.  But even without the child, she is still a Mama.  The Mama is in her now.  And she will never again be the same.

And after witnessing this, I will never be the same either.  I’ve come to recognize that the love of a Mama is the most basic of our actions.  An unlearned emotion which all of a sudden and uncontrollably just exists.  The love of a Mama is only known to another Mama.  The love of a Mama is Primal.

Peace, Mamas.

 

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Love is Free

I’m going out on a limb here but I think everyone should have an opinion on something.  If you don’t have an opinion you can’t really be relevant.  So here goes.  I had a conversation with someone today about parenting.  But I think it goes deeper than parenting.  Read on.

A man disclosed to me today that he was struggling terribly with his sixteen year old son.  The child is in an alternative school setting as he was removed from a traditional school setting due to violence and complete disregard for rules and authority.  It’s true that traditional school is not the right placement for all children however, I feel strongly that the school failed this child.  Nevertheless, the child has been exhibiting violent behaviors, cutting and most recently drinking.  The father stated that he came home to find his son sleeping and when he awoke him, he found that he was heavily intoxicated.  I asked how he had disciplined his son to which he responded I gave up on discipline a long time ago.  My wife doesn’t back me up and if we can’t be a united front, it’s never going to work so I just stay away from it.  Me, probing: Don’t you feel like he was testing you? Like he wanted to see where your hard line was?  If you didn’t draw the line at drinking, do you think he may push that line further the next time?  Maybe… maybe.  But he was so sick, I don’t think he’ll do it again for a while.  He already smokes.  And I know he’s gettin’ into pills too.  Ah, what can you do.  Kids.

I’m not sure I mentioned this before but I am a social worker.  At my past job, I assisted people experiencing homelessness with finding housing, obtaining medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, creating resumes, repairing credit and provided support with transitioning from years in prison.  In my current position, I oversee a wellness program for seniors, people with disabilities and families who live in public housing.  I have seen poverty.  Motivated addicts, coached offenders, supported parents who have lost their children or are in the process of getting them back and made reports for them to be removed.  And what I can surmise from all this I have bared witness, what I can draw from these life events which may appear critical, is that they are chronic.  They are part of a chronic cycle that was learned, from one generation to the next.  Passed down like a quilt or a recipe, these cycles of abuse, poverty and drug use are to blame for the generations of dysfunctional behaviors which will follow.  These cycles are powerful.  This life we know is not fair to humans who are born into a field which is not level.  These cycles take such incredible strength to overcome that it can seem nearly impossible.

Sounds discouraging right?  That generations compounded by poverty will just continue over and over again.  Well here’s the kicker: Love is Free.  Love, patience and time do not cost a penny.  This man, sitting across from me today need do nothing more than to go home to his son and prove to him that he cares.  Tell him he loves him and that he’s not going to stand by and watch him give up on life.  The father has not been provided the skills to do this because his father didn’t give a shit either.  It’s a total cop out to say that but it’s true.  Love is free.

I am often struck by a quote from Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  Well here’s the change I wish to see in the world: I want it to be better for my kids than it was for me.  I want the world they grow up in to not have nuclear bombs, ethnic cleansing and genocide.  I want them to know only of kindness to humans and respect for this earth we share with plants and animals alike.  I want my children to recognize when a fellow human needs help.  And help.  I want them to find partners they love and make babies and love them.  Really love them.  No small feat.  But I would dare to wager that many, many parents want the same thing for their children.  Even the gentleman I spoke with today.  He is a good person.  He works hard.  He’s lost hope that his son can see and appreciate the wonderful things in this world.  Just as soon as he remembers how to care about those things, he can inspire his child to see them to.

So Mamas (and Papas) be that change.  I’m not a person who judges.  And I certainly don’t claim to have things figured out- and I very seldom give advice without being asked but I am right here and now telling you- begging you- to see that good in the world and challenge your children to find it too.  Because my kids have to live in this world with your kids.   And my grandchildren have to live with your grandchildren.  Be that change.  And love your children.  Give them your time.  Grace them with your patience.  It will not lighten your wallet but it will make our world that much richer.

Peace, Mamas.

Lunch Love Notes

Do your children miss you?  I didn’t realize quite how much mine did until this week.

When I was little, my Mama often sent love notes along with my lunch.  The notes wouldn’t be long lists of the ways I pleased her or why she loved me better than my sisters (sorry, girls), the notes were more an indication that she thought and cared about me when I was not with her.  And even though my mom hasn’t been packing my lunch for over two decades, she still let’s me know she’s thinking of me.  Be it texts, emails or dropping a quick dime, she let’s me know I have been on her mind.  And it still feels good.

I write notes to my kids along with their lunches.  Usually quick things like, Hope you have a super day!  or I can’t wait to see you this afternoon!  But they always end with I love you, Mama.  Always.  Sometimes, I try to hide the note in with their lunch and make them search it out.  Sometimes, I toss it in at the last minute.  And sometimes, I forget.  Earlier this week, Mooch asked me if I would sign his Lunch Love Note from our entire family so he would be reminded of all of us during the day.  I asked Cub if he read the notes I sent.  He said yes and that his friends always tried to snatch the note from him to read it.  Timidly, I asked if it embarrassed him that I sent the notes…  (Say no, say no, say no…)  Yes, he said.  Do you want me to stop sending them with you?  No, he grinned.  [One of those Mama Moments]

Cub and I decided that I could try to write his Lunch Love Notes in code using a Lord of the Rings Lego decoder…  Well, I am truly a Mama of three boys.  So we are going to work on the decoder so I can tell him I Love You without anyone knowing.  But for now (until I learn to be a better Mama of three boys), we are going with this:

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The next morning, just as he had asked, I included a note with Mooch’s lunch which read: Dear Mooch, I hope you have a wonderful day and I can’t wait to hear about all the new things you learned and friends you played with!  We love you, Mama, Daddy, Cub and Zook.  XOXO.  I hid it inside his cloth sandwich bag and Velcroed it shut.  At dinner that night, I asked him if he had gotten the note.  He said he had found it and asked his teacher to read it to him.  Then I snuggled it when I had my nap time so I wouldn’t miss you as much.  [Mama Moment]  Sure enough, I found the Lunch Love Note crumpled up in his slipper.  Have I mentioned lately that I adore these children?  Maybe not enough.  Read on.

It’s reminding me that all too often, we Mamas spend hours per day critiquing our children.  Helping them get something right, giving out pointers, requests, advice.  We instruct, we make demands, we provide feedback.  These are all important things for sure but I wonder if the times per day we tell them we love them or miss them match these critiques.  Should it?  Now that I spend some time thinking about it, we do spend a great deal of energy on correcting our children and pointing out (kindly, of course) when they have made a mistake.  I am confident I tell them I love them at least… Twice… Shit.  It’s a simple thing.  It’s just that there are many other things that I need to say.  But what could be more important than I Love You…?  I think we all know the answer to that.

Now I am not talking about just saying it for the sake of saying it.  I love you I love you I love you.  See?  Meaningless.  But what about, The smile you had when you got off the bus today made my whole day better.  Or, I love your hugs.  Or better still, Can I have an extra hug so when I am missing you later today I remember how it feels to hold you?  These deeper, more meaningful expressions of love are just that: Deeper and more meaningful.  Which is exactly what I think kids need.  We need to quantify love for them- otherwise they may get lost in the vastness of it.  One of my favorite things to say to my kids is I love you more than all the leaves on all the trees in the whole entire world.  Then I point out a tree and ask him to try to count all the leaves.  I can’t- there’s too many, Mama.  Yup.  That’s right kiddo.  That’s right.

Peace, Mamas.

Sunday Reset: Mother’s Day Do-Over

One of the most wonderful parts of beginning this blog was finding out I am not the only totally dysfunctional Mama out there- there are so many more crazy women out in the world who are flailing through life, feeling like miserable failures and powerful gladiators at the same moment.  This was never more apparent to me than last week.  Mother’s Day not only a let-down (and not in the awkwardly-wet-booby-spot-on-your-shirt- way) for me- but many of you also had Mother’s Days that sucked!  That’s awesome!  Well, not really awesome but it made me feel like I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get breakfast in bed, only to open the silver dome over my perfectly cooked eggs (which we don’t even have, but I picture it with the dome) to find some exquisite piece of  sparkle.  Now if you were one of the ones who got the dome, good for you.  But instead of the dome, I awoke to fighting, yelling and three little pains in the ass… And a big one in the neck.  On the heels of my last post, we decided this weekend would be a Mother’s Day Do-Over.

I enjoyed tee-ball, Big Truck Day with the kiddos (with no fights or whining- shocker!), a fire in the yard, marshmallows- and plenty of chocolate- wine spritzers and a very special date with my man.  Sunday was filled with gardening, rolling in the grass with the three wonders who made me a Mama, a great workout and impromptu dinner with neighbors (which of course included more wine).  It was a wonderful Do-Over Weekend!

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I hope that all you Mamas who had a rough Mother’s Day got your Do-Over.  It felt beyond necessary to be appreciated and my ability to not have crazy expectations enabled me to feel the joy of playing with my children.  The comfort of spending time with my husband.  To feel the love of Mamahood.  That’s what Mother’s Day is about.  I didn’t need flowers (or the fricken silver dome) to have a meaningful day.  I just needed my children.  And the handsome guy who gave these wonderful little souls to me.

But a pedicure would have been nice too…

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Mama Gets Real… Toes are a wreck.

Peace, Mamas!

 

Breaking Up With the Breast

It’s happening.  This is really happening.  And just when I said self-weaning was bullshit.  Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a breastfeeding blog, because that’s coming abruptly to an end.  For the second consecutive night, my little guy sheepishly crawled in with a brother and snuggled in.  Without me. Without me.  Without his Mama.

This moment has been on my mind all day.  It was my first thought this morning, consumed my commute to work, filled the spaces in my mind during meetings, brought on an ache in my throat after lunch.  I was distracted as I watched my oldest play lacrosse tonight, at dinner and in the yard.  As I watched that sweet boy run and throw his head back in laughter, rolling in the grass, flashing me that toothy, goofy smile, I knew bedtime was coming.  We brushed teeth, I held my breath.  Climbed the stairs, put jammies on.  Stomach tightening, Are you going to sleep with your brother again tonight?  Yes.

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And all of a sudden, this became a story about a Mama losing her baby.  If reading that doesn’t signal the pierce of a tear, the sting of your nose, or your breath to catch, I can tell you that as a Mama, short of tragedy, there may be no greater loss.  So here is the raw truth: We want our children to grow, learn, become.  But the instances when they start to leave us are both the most heart-breaking and heart-filling moments we may ever experience.  A child turning from what was once the only comfort he knew, while causing undeniable pain, is a Mama’s greatest accomplishment.  We raise our children to leave us.  But the moment it actually happens is nothing we could have fathomed before that point.

This is also the story of a baby growing into a child.  He’s not leaving his Mama, he just needs her a little less.  We need to learn to bond in a different way.  I am beyond thankful that he is choosing this path on his own will.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’d wondered if it was time or thought about how we would do this.  He’s taken the guesswork out of the process.  I’m trying not to let this break my heart.  Trying so hard to accept his choice.  I never, in my whole life, thought I’d grow so attached to nursing.  It’s not the act of nursing, it’s the connection we share at the end of the day.  Correction: It’s the connected we shared at the end of the day.

My heart feels heavy and light tonight, if that’s possible.  So much of Mamahood is filled with experiences which are both the best and worst thing all at once.  I’m living in the moment; documenting these moments, pouring my guts out because I need to not feel alone in this.  I know I’m not.  I know there are a many of Mamas nodding their heads right now.  Thank you Mamas.  I know there maybe some who are not Mamas reading too- and hopefully now you get it.  Now you get a peek into this world of being a Mama.  The struggle, the success, the pain, the bliss.  The Love.

Peace Mamas.

Dropping the Guilt

Five years ago I dropped the Guilt.  I stopped judging myself.  I stopped criticizing myself.  And others.  I stopped blaming myself for sleepless nights, deviations from a strict feeding schedule and shabby weight gain.  Five years ago, I let go of rigidity, pressure and stress.  I embraced the sleepless nights.  I welcomed the midnight feedings and relished in all day (and night) cuddles.  I gave up trying desperately to be the pre-baby person I used to be.  I began being a Mama.  Which is really kind of ridiculous considering I already had been for nearly three years prior…

I had planned for a natural delivery with my oldest but he apparently had a bad sense of direction and when he refused to point his head north, we ended up with a c-section with 6 days notice.  The first blow to Mama’s self esteem.  His means of entrance into this world was also the birth of Guilt.  Deep, self-loathing, ugly Guilt.  Poor latching issues, coupled with slow weight gain, compounded by a steady stream of well-meaning guests seemed like good places to point blame in the those early months of stress; however, I could only credit them with supporting roles.   I looked at the plastic faces of mothers smiling with their eyes closed as they held half-naked babies on the diaper package.  I kind of hated them.  How could they be so happy with this?  Why don’t I feel like that?

I was kind of a crappy Mama to my sweet first child.  I certainly could have been worse- there was no neglect, no shortage of snuggles, playtime or love.  But I could have been happier.  I could have done it better.  I could have lived in the moment instead of thinking ahead to the next.  And judging myself every step of the way.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

I had missed the boat on happiness and I would be damned if I was going to do it again.  Call it a new outlook, confidence, or chance.  Call it rebounding from a devastating miscarriage.  Call it relief from a stressful, agonizing pregnancy.  Call it what you want but something inside me clicked.  With the birth of my second child, I really became a Mama.  I started to enjoy being a Mama.  I stopped fighting the warmth of cuddling a baby while the whole world happened around.  I threw out the schedules (and the books), let go of the nightly bath routine (seriously, what was my hang-up with that?) and kicked that ugly bitch called Guilt to the curb.  And now, I am a better Mama.

Five years ago, my Mooch was born.  I honestly had never known a greater feeling.  He taught me to be a softer, more patient Mama to my oldest and prepared me for the insanity of my youngest (and holy shit, insanity is a gross understatement).  I am inspired by his love for life and his willingness to welcome changes; his openness to unconditional love.

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His fifth birthday also marks the death of Mama Guilt.  The Guilt still makes plenty of guest appearances, haunting me at the first sign of insecurity; lurking, waiting for weakness.  When Guilt rears up, ready to pounce, I carefully, diligently fold her back up, put the lid on her box and place her back up on the top shelf of the closet and close the door.  I put her away.  In the dark.  Where I never want to be again.

This year, as I wish my sweet Mooch a delightful fifth birthday, I also celebrate the death of Mama Guilt.  Peace Mamas.

Dear Mooch

My Dear Sweet Mooch,

Tomorrow, we will accompany you to Kindergarten Registration.  On the eve of this monumental event, I felt it necessary to write to you in a effort to put words to my thoughts during this experience.  Your life began with a bit of a rocky pregnancy.  At a few points, there was real reason to worry but you came into this world a soft, fleshy, pink lover.  You latched on within moments of your birth, despite being born via cesarean, and didn’t let go for 16 long months.  You were affectionately dubbed Mooch due to your tendency to beg all the food and affection anyone had to offer.  The name stuck.  And to this day, you are my sweet Mooch.

You were the easiest baby.  Which I desperately needed.  Coming off the emotional bender of raising your brother, your calm, peace and need for constant cuddles was warmly welcomed.  I could have held you for days at a time.  And sometimes I did.  To this day, you will give out affection in the form of hugs, kisses, snuggles and hand holding without reservation. Rubbing your warm cheek against mine before you close your eyes is the highlight of every day.  You take care of others’ feelings, sometimes more than your own.  You recognize when someone has been hurt and try to make it better.  You are inclusive and empathetic.  You love without abandon.  You are one of the brightest lights in my life.

Your favorite color is secretly purple.  I know you don’t want your older brother to know.  You asked for the purple glitter at the store and I watched you grin as you smeared it on the fresh glue.  You love to play house and enjoy pushing the stroller- no doubt pretending you are a loving, softhearted dad just as your own.

You are a child who loves to give love.  Never lose these parts of yourself.  You will be tested.  Your gentle heart will be broken.  You will be left out, hurt, embarrassed, lonely.  I desperately wish to tell you that you will be spared the harshness of others but it would be a lie.  Please do not let go of the love you have for others.  The softness of your soul.  These are defining attributes and the best parts about you.

Thankfully, I still have another few months to prepare for the hole you will leave in my heart when you are gone from me for hours each day.  When you will begin to have a life away from me.  I will let you go because there is a whole world of people out there who will benefit from your kindness and love.  You will touch lives, I can guarantee that.  People will be better because they know you.  Better because you can share your gifts with them.  I am not quite ready yet but I am aware that this is the first big step in the direction of letting go.  Always be my Mooch.

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I super love you to the moon and back and beyond.  More than all the leaves on all the trees in the whole wide world, more than all the stars in the sky, more than anything.

Mama

Something a Little Different…

My little guy is in love.  With boobs.  My boobs.

I have to begin by saying that there may be some naysayers out there- some of my closest friends and even family.  I am nursing my 28 month old.  Some friends have nursed past six months, some past a year, and some still past two years.  I am aware though that I am a minority.  We nurse before nap and bedtime every day.  And most mornings.  And when he’s sick.  And when he takes a wicked head-knocker.  But that’s it.  Promise.

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Co-workers: Some know and some don’t.  The ones who know may talk behind my back or not.  The ones who don’t, well they may now.

Family: They know.  Most support.  Some judge.  Some pretend they are cool with it- and those usually ask way too many questions.

Friends: Well, there are two camps.  Camp One: Supporters.  Camp Two: Non-supporters.  Nuff said.

I didn’t ever make a decision that I would nurse long term.  When he was born, I remember thinking we’ll just go as long as we can.  The La Leche (nazi-breast feeders) says that children will wean themselves by a year, two at the most.  Lies!  These are lies!  No child of mine has ever “self-weaned”.  It’s a forced week of crying and husband hating.  But still.  Let’s try this.  A year came and went.  Well, let’s see what happens.  Eighteen months.  Huh.  He surely will wean by two!  Two years old.  Um.  Where exactly are we going with this?  I have no clue.

And people want to know.  They seem to really want to know.  Oh, you haven’t weaned yet?  How long are you going to go?  Well, he’s got to stop by kindergarten!  No wonder he’s so attached to you…

The truth is that I shouldn’t care.  I shouldn’t let stares, comments, questions bother me.  Because I am not nursing other people.  I am nursing my child.  But it matters to me.  I can’t help but feel insecure.  It’s not enough to make me wean him but it’s enough to make me more guarded about who I tell.  It’s enough to make me feel insecure.  And it’s enough for me to ask myself Should this be over?

Whatever we are doing seems to be working for us.  So please.  Unless you have nursed an older baby, unless you have seen that little latched smile, unless you have had your breasts kissed goodbye, and even if you haven’t: please don’t judge.

We Mamas make choices that we think are the best for our children and we feel strongly that these are the safest, smartest, most logical decisions.  We scour the internet, read books (and books and books!), take classes, talk to our friends, listen to our Mamas, our sisters, teachers, babysitters.  We buy stupid stuff that people tell us we need, or that we see others using so it has to be useful, right?  We bend over backwards to make sure our kids will have the best shot at life.  That they will grow up to be smarter, more secure, more independent, stronger, softer, healthier, more successful then the generation before.  So why do we judge the decisions of others so harshly?  I believe it’s because we are insecure.  We need some shred of assurance that we did the right thing.  And we get that by shooting down the choices that others make which might differ from our own.

Be secure.  Your child is alive.  Your child is strong.  Your child will be smart and independent and healthy.  Because of you.  And mine will be because of me.

A beautiful thing has happened because of this blog.  Mamas are coming together. I am not taking credit for this- it’s merely happened that women with children have been brought together because we all yell at our children.  We all know we shouldn’t.  We don’t judge each other.  I feel the strength from my closest friends when we trade texts about how our kids are driving us up the wall and it seems not quite as bad.  It seems comforting, reassuring, comical even.  We need each other.  We need cheer each other on.  Let’s try to do the same with sleep training, homeschooling, potty training, curfews, breastfeeding.

Peace Mamas.  Feel the love of Mamahood!