You know how some days are especially long, or maybe overwhelming for whatever reason?
Those days when your anxiety is running high, and you can’t wait to get the kids to bed and run away as fast as you can anywhere? To Target. To Hawaii. To call a friend or your mom. Out front to get some fresh air and silence.
Those times when the kids have been constantly up in your grill all the hot, sticky day, with you refereeing so many squabbles. Or maybe after a long day at work when instead of getting a minute to yourself, there are kids to feed, help with homework, bathe and put to bed.
In those times I like to head outside into the cool night air, and take a couple of power laps around the neighborhood. Letting the nighttime stillness slowly fill my brain.
I look up at the moon and the vastness of the universe. I hear the crickets. I smell the jasmine and the dryer sheet-scented steam coming from people’s homes.
The walks are a chance to let the thoughts and frustrations of the day bat around in my head until they tire themselves out. Maybe I throw in some fantasies that I’m in Hawaii all alone or buying all the things at Target, or getting down with my celeb crush dujour.
Then I head home, but I don’t go inside right away. I look at my house from the street, and consider the good fortune of whoever lives there. The two (sometimes barely) functioning cars out front. The two whole stories. Safe and cozy. Just a house in a row of other houses. Not the prison it occasionally feels like from the inside.
This is a happy home. Full of so much yummy food and sand from shoes and yelling and kissing and love.
Finally, I go inside. Ready for some Netflix and a new day.
Last night I got home after work and had one of those rare nights when you handle all the shit. With much assistance from your spouse if you’re lucky like I was last night.
I did the dishes. I mopped the floor. I made those brownies that had been staring at me from the just-add-butter-and-eggs box for months. I did yoga, and while in downward dog noticed dust bunnies under the couch which I promptly swept up. Then I went upstairs and read to a kid hubs had bathed, and folded my three baskets of clean laundry.
I was feeling like hell yeah, it feels good to knock shit out that needs to get done instead of putting it off. I planned to make a borderline sanctimommy post in the morning.
Then the morning arrived.
I put on my nice red power dress, still feeling myself from the night before.
My 3 year old saw me putting on the dress and remarked it looked like her Angry Birds towel.
Not yet knocked fully off my high horse, we prepared to head out the door for work and daycare. If only I could find my keys. They were NOWHERE to be found, and I needed to be at work in a hurry to do my weekly radio interview over the phone.
In the midst of my frantic search that included lots of begging my child to PLEASE step out of my way, I suddenly noticed the silence.
I looked up to find my daughter grimmacing in her favorite spot to poop in her Pull-up, behind the rocking chair. I didn’t have time for this literal shit.
With minutes to spare before my radio interview, I plopped her on the potty, emailed the d.j. to call my cell, and somehow found my keys in the mothereffing kitchen trash that was now in the big bin in the garage READY TO BE TAKEN AWAY FOREVER. Why were my keys in the trash? I. Don’t. Know. Maybe cuz life doesn’t like sanctimommies, even borderline ones.
The poop wasn’t happening after all that, so I threw her Pull-up back on (no time for clothes), and put her in front of True and the Rainbow Kingdom.
I huddled in the far corner of the living room to take the call. Mercifully, the cell reception held, and True worked her magic.
My daughter went to daycare a few minutes late, and I arrived at work in my red Angry Birds dress like “Come at me, bitches. You don’t know the morning I’ve had. I have keys in my purse, brownies on my counter and pride in my stomach I’ve been forced to swallow. Bring it.”
A beautiful day at the beach with my smiling kids. But let me zoom out a little and give you the fuller picture.
I cropped in on this shot because there was a teenager just behind my son showing us the business with her legs spread open. Fortunately, she was wearing a bathing suit. But still.
Maybe I’m feeling extra protective of her because she lost her cell phone and asked us if we’d seen it before breaking into hysterical sobs. My husband and I helped her look and let her borrow his phone to call her mom.
Cuz when you’re a parent, you’re a parent, and not just to your kids.
We’d brought beach chairs, but probably used them for 15 minutes total. There were kids wanting us to take them down to the water. There were sand throwing fights to break up, and little sisters knocking down sand castles and big brothers tattling on little sisters. There were snotty noses to clean. There were people needing to pee. Mostly me.
There was hydration to think about, and sunscreen to keep applied. There was sand in every tiny crevice and caked in hair. So much sand.
Fellow parents in the sandy trenches were having similar experiences. A mom trying to relax on her stomach for a second had handfuls of sand on her butt and a smart-ass son telling her “Mom, you got some sand on you.”
I remember when my husband and I would come to the beach to chill. To read. Maybe even to doze off.
Those days are gone. But, we did get a workout in lugging those chairs and all the other stuff back to the car while hollering to our kids, “Just walk! Keep walking! That’s all you have to do”.
I take in these sunny, fun-filled days and moments of togetherness with such appreciation. They’re wonderful snapshots to tuck in the memory album.
That’s right. Some hairy ass legs. With a haggard, grown-out pedi the icing on the cake.
But look deeper. Those wolf woman legs…those yetis of suburbia…those “maybe I can pass them off as a feminist statement” gams, are in EXERCISE pants.
Cuz I didn’t have time for shit last weekend, and certainly not shaving. I was about to head out of town for a baby shower I was helping organize. The kids were all up in my Koolaid demanding breakfast and care and love like kids do.
But, damnit I like yoga. It helps me feel good, and it’s good for me. It clears my head. And we parents need to make time for ourselves when and how we can.
If we wait til everything is perfect before we take care of ourselves, we will be doing us a disservice. Besides, is anyone watching us anyway? We’re all too preoccupied with our own personal maintenance to care about anyone else’s.
So I pulled my exercise pants (not even legit yoga pants, cuz these were the ones on sale at Grocery Outlet) over my hairy ass legs and went to yoga.
Hear me roar, yoga class and world. A roar made more primal by my hairy ass, wildebeest, sexy AF legs.
Fear is so important to our survival when we’re babies, and so damn worthless most of the rest of our lives for those of us fortunate to have a safe place to live and enough to eat.
Afraid the other kids won’t like us. Then, as parents, afraid the kids won’t like our kids and scared the parents won’t like us.
Afraid to leave for college. To choose the wrong career path. Afraid to marry the wrong person. Afraid to be alone.
I see you, fear.
Terrified of childbirth. Of infertility. Of being a parent. Of losing ourselves, whatever that means.
Scared we’re not doing this parenting thing “right”. That our kids’ birthday parties aren’t cool enough. That we haven’t baby-proofed hard enough. That something horrible will happen.
We’re even afraid we’re not fearful enough.
I see you, fear.
But you know what? You’ve taken enough, and never give anything worthwhile in return.
So you can hang out in the background, but you’re not in charge. You can’t suck the fun out of the little moments that make this thing called life so awesome. You’re not going to destroy the major milestones, either, or tear us away from working towards our goals and fighting to make a difference in people’s lives.
Before having kids, I was kind of a badass. I wouldn’t say I had a black heart, but my heart might have been singed a little bit around the edges. I didn’t know that motherhood would change me, turning my singed heart soft and red, maybe even with cute little sequins. Motherhood has turned me into a big old softy.
My first career out of college was a court and public safety newspaper reporter. In that role, I reported on some gnarly incidents and trials, like murders, brutal assaults, and crimes against children, without so much as blinking. I quickly became emotionally “hard” because I had to be. I had to protect myself from becoming too involved in the stories I covered for my own well-being.
My emotional toughness extended well beyond the courtroom walls. I prided myself on not shedding a tear at weddings, and even funerals if the person who died wasn’t especially close to me. I just didn’t allow myself to experience the full emotional impact of situations that pull at the heartstrings. I thought of other things instead and gave permission to feel removed from the circumstances I encountered.
From the minute we smell our newborns for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget.
As a parent, I empathize with every other parent out there. Although I’m not directly experiencing the panic of losing a child in the grocery store and the knee-weakening relief of finding the child again, or worse, I can’t help but put myself in that parent’s shoes. Every news story, each TV commercial with a slightly sappy premise, and every song on the radio speaks to me differently now. And they don’t even have to be about a child for me to dissolve into a pool of sniffly tears.
NOW THAT I’M A PARENT, I SEE THE CHILD IN EVERYONE.
Now that I’m a parent, I see the child in everyone. I realize that the lonely old man in the airline commercial waiting for his grown children to come visit him was once someone’s child. The fact that the man is old becomes secondary to him being lonely, and in him, I see my own 5-year-old son when his best friend at school won’t play with him. I see and feel the unifying emotions at the core of people, instead of just their superficial outer shells.
It’s clear that parenthood molded me into this mushy, sensitive person, but how? I believe that loving someone as vulnerable as a baby, who fully depends on you as their parent or caregiver to protect them from any and all harm, helps a person better appreciate the fragility of life.
From the minute we smell our newborn for the first time, or snuggle our adopted toddler, or watch them smile, or hear them laugh, or think of the miracle it was that they found life in this world with us, parents know a unique brand of love that we won’t ever forget. In turn, we know that the parent we are learning about in any given newspaper story, or the fictional parent we’re reading about in a novel, must experience that same unique brand of love we feel for our children.
IF WE’RE GOING TO RAISE CARING YOUNG PEOPLE, WE BETTER DAMN WELL BE CARING OURSELVES.
I believe parenthood does us a service by making us feel so deeply, and bringing children into this world and raising them is the act of uncovering our inner empathy and leaving it raw and exposed, again and again and again, every single day, for the rest of our lives.
There’s a reason why so many of us parents’ guilty pleasure is ugly crying while binge watching This Is Us. Feeling strong emotions not only is good, it literally feels good. Feeling is about living fully, experiencing every bump and curve in the road and sitting nothing out. Life is full of emotions, and nowhere is this so acutely demonstrated than in parenthood, through a baby’s adorable first laugh or the joy and heartache of your last child leaving the house for college. It’s a roller coaster ride of feels, and there’s no “chicken” exit once we have children. We’re stuck on the ride, like it or not. But I feel we are better because of the ups and downs of parenthood.
I thought I was strong before I had kids, because I didn’t cry and kept my emotions on the back burner. I now see that heightened emotions are an advantage of parenthood. Not only does being sensitive make us more alert to our children’s emotions and able to comfort them, it helps us be more aware of the emotions of everyone we encounter. This heightened sensitivity helps us be better people in general, even if that’s as simple as buying someone who seems to be having a bad day a cup of coffee.
If we’re going to raise caring young people, we better damn well be caring ourselves.
I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky. But after kids, my body is about as pliable as twice kiln-fired clay. It bloats. It sags. It pooches. It stays poochy. A 9-pound human form filling one’s abdominal cavity has a way of causing permanent change, in a way that a dorm meal could never hope to do.
I thought you’d always be here. I figured you’d never get wrinkles, or sag in weird places, or get bulges. You’ve never been super-skinny, or super-fit, and you never had a taut butt; most of the time, it was so flat that I was constantly at risk of flashing my butt crack out of the top of my sagging jeans. Nonetheless, I thought you’d always be there for me, with your smooth if not less than perfect form.
In high school, everything hurt me: boys, school, mean girls. But nothing affected you. You held firm, even with my regular diet of Cherry Coke, individual pizzas and Skittles. I barely exercised. If laziness was a sport in high school, I probably would’ve gotten a varsity letter. But still, my weight and my waistline remained untouched.
In college, I practically lived on cafeteria slop, alcohol and Cheez-Its. I’d beat you up night after night. I gained weight and lost it again. You got mad at me. You even made me sick sometimes. But I always bounced back. You always forgave me.
Then I got pregnant, and you disappeared. So I’d like to send you off with this goodbye letter.
Before I got pregnant, I could jump without wetting my pants. Hell, I could even run. I never had to worry about peeing myself while laughing at a funny movie, because you were oh so wonderfully un-leaky. But those days are gone now.
Before I had my babies, my breasts didn’t so much hang as sit firmly on my chest. There wasn’t a prominent blue boob vein to be seen. The nipples weren’t the least bit purple or stretched out or cracked, and they pointed straight out instead of down.
Of course, once I got pregnant, my nipples turned purple within the first few months and they never fully returned to their pre-baby state. So thanks for that, body.
Remember, pre-baby body, how I used to groom you so lovingly? I’d start by treating you to a long, steamy shower, with every delicious-smelling body product imaginable. Then I would shave your legs, using real shaving cream instead of lather from a pube-covered bar of soap. And speaking of pubes, remember how we used to trim and then shave those, too?
I took you for granted, pre-baby body. I poked and prodded you and stuffed you with junk food, and every time, without fail, you’d bounce back like a Slinky.
These days, of course, I’m a lot more busy. I have kids. Long, leisurely, grooming-filled showers are a thing of the past. If I shave my underarms every few days, that’s pretty much as good as it gets. I hope you don’t mind, body, but after all, it is winter. We can totally rock leg hair and no one will notice, right? And if man buns could become a trend, why couldn’t long pubic hair? Pubic buns, anyone?
Remember, too, pre-baby body, how I used to give us pedicures every couple of weeks? Our toes were always so adorable. I still have that oversized makeup bag full of nail polishes I used to use, only now those polishes are pretty crusty and don’t see much use.
My bones ache. I’m tired, and not the kind of tired that sleeping until noon on a Saturday can fix. I’m tired to my core. Sleeping in will Never. Happen. Again.
Nothing is the same since you left, pre-baby body, but I don’t miss you. You see, my purple nipples have fed and comforted each of my children on countless long nights. That fat bulge on my hip makes a perfect baby seat. My hair doesn’t need to smell like coconut conditioner, because it smells like me and that’s comforting to my kids. And my feet aren’t cute, but they still do a passable job stepping around Legos on the floor.