Motherhood Has Made Me Much More Sensitive

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Aren’t they cuddly, though?

 

As published in Romper.

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.

I didn’t understand that once I had children, separating myself emotionally from heart-wrenching and even heart-warming moments would no longer be an option. Motherhood has made me so much more sensitive.

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.

Hi, I’m The Mom of the Bad Kid

sad schoolboy waiting in the schoolyard,selective focus

As featured in Huffington Post Parents

 

We all know the kid. They were in every class we had in school growing up.

They’re in our kids’ classes now.

Pushing kids on the playground. Refusing to listen to the teacher.

Getting sent to the principal’s office.

The bad kid. We always wonder, whose kid is that, and why do they act like that? My kid would never act like that, we think. Until they do.

I have an embarrassing confession to make: that “bad kid” is mine.

Children who act out can be easy to put in a box and to develop stereotypes about. We as a society are often quick to assume the child must be emotionally disturbed or have parents at home who don’t care or don’t try hard enough to teach their kids right from wrong.

Before my almost 5-year-old developed behavior issues in daycare at 3, I was a parent who judged parents of difficult children. “They’re probably the type of parents who let their kids walk around the house with a giant bag of flaming hot cheese puffs,” I’d think. Worse, I’d assume they screamed at their kids at home or ignored them entirely. Maybe even that the parents were physically abusive to their kids.

These were parents who shouldn’t have been, I thought, who fell pregnant and stumbled through dealing with the small humans who resulted from their carelessness.

This wasn’t me. I’d grown up in a loving home with parents who just celebrated 35 years of marriage. Most of my family are teachers. Getting my name on the board for talking once a year was as much trouble as I found myself in. I knew that when I’d have kids, they’d be good students, too. Why wouldn’t they?

My son was the baby everyone hopes they’ll have and few do. He was calm and mellow, sleeping through the night by six weeks old. He hardly fussed.

He blossomed into a bright, loving and active toddler.

When he turned 3, however, and moved into a new class at preschool as he struggled with potty training, his anxieties resulting from the transition surfaced. He became rough with other children and teachers while he struggled to make new friends and feel some control over his life. He began throwing temper tantrums.

My husband and I started to receive phone calls from the teachers when they found themselves unable to calm his tantrums. The preschool didn’t believe in timeouts. Instead, they’d just talk to him about his behavior, which proved ineffective.

As my son made friends and became used to the changing preschool structure, his behavior improved and the sweet, loving boy we knew him to be returned.

Recently, my son started transitional kindergarten, which is a sort of “kindergarten before kindergarten” for kids whose fall birthdays make them just barely too young for kindergarten in my state.

Here at last was the strict structure and behavior consequences I’d been seeking. There were behavior charts and clips that moved up and down them. There were stickers and small toys for good behavior, and timeouts and even principal office visits for bad behavior.

My husband and I walked my smiling son up to his first day of school, baby sister in tow. He was so excited. So were we.

Just days later, the first phone call came from the school.

Your son dropped an “F” bomb and wouldn’t listen to the teacher, they said. He was sent to the principal’s office. Already? We were devastated.

We talked to our son about his behavior. We took away his privileges after school. No TV. No treats after dinner. Still, he acted out. Coming close to bullying other children as he tried to make new friends again. Throwing temper tantrums and chairs as he tried to regain control of something, anything, in his new environment.

Then came the scheduling of a parent-teacher-principal conference. All in the first two weeks of school.

My husband and I showed up for the conference in our work clothes. Ready to listen. Desperate to help our child. Not at all the delinquent parents I’d thought “bad kids” have. The principal told us she found our son’s behavior “very concerning for a 4-year-old.” He was using curse words correctly, she said. He didn’t show any fear of her or the teachers.

Really, he’s a good boy, I told them. He’s just going through a tough time of transition. They looked at me blankly. Disbelieving. He was the bad kid, and they knew it.

At home he generally continued to be the sweet boy we loved. Sure, he could be moody and defiant, but mostly he loved to present his dad and me with his artwork gifts, and snuggle in bed at night as we read stories. He clearly wore his emotions, good or bad, on his sleeve. It was just who he was.

It broke my heart to know the school teachers and administrators thought of my child as the “bad kid,” a label that I knew from having so many teacher relatives could stick with him indefinitely. My precocious, smart, funny, affectionate boy, with his bewitching green eyes, could be forced to wear the “bad kid” label throughout his school years. All because of a rough patch as a young child.

Determined to help our son every way we can, my husband and I set up a system with his transitional kindergarten teacher in which she sends home daily letters on his behavior and we respond accordingly with rewards or punishment. So far, the daily follow up seems to be helping. As does piling on extra hugs and kisses and attention.

My experience with my son’s behavior has taught me that kids can act out for a number of reasons, even with devoted parents who are mortified by their child’s behavior. Even when the child is not seriously emotionally disturbed.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that “bad kids” generally aren’t at all.

I Trust My Body More After Labor

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Trust me, that head was not comfy coming out…

As featured in Romper

I’m kind of a control freak. And an anxiety basket case. It’s a toxic combination, and one that did not help me to trust my body in anyway when I was pregnant. With a history of my periods flowing unpredictably and a lack of coordination, my body was a stranger I didn’t trust. But it was labor, with its chaos and mess and unpredictability, that helped me learn to trust my body. And honestly, I trust my body more after labor in a way I never did before.

My distrust of my body started young. I was an uncoordinated kid who had trouble with simple physical tasks others sailed through, like walking along a curb edge or climbing a jungle gym. Because these tasks were hard for me, I feared them. I was afraid I’d trip over my feet and fall down while running, and I clung tight to the swing on the playground instead of jumping from it like the other kids because I didn’t trust my body to land upright.

Because I doubted my own physical abilities, those around me started to doubt my abilities as well. “Be careful! Watch your step,” my parents would say to me all the time. On hikes, my dad would automatically reach for my hand to steady me when the terrain got the least bit rocky. Even when I had younger siblings, it was me he worried about. Because I was uncoordinated. Because my body wasn’t to be trusted.

 I have also been terrified of vomiting since I was a young child, a disorder known as emetophobia. This phobia caused me to spend a good deal of time monitoring my body for signs of illness, as though this would somehow help me control my body and its wellness. And my distrust of my body only manifested in other ways as the years progressed.

When I finally got my long-awaited period at 15, I bled so heavily I soaked through a pad and turned my pajama shorts scarlet red one night. My heavy periods, which were also irregular, caused me to have an iron deficiency. A few years later, my anxiety at heading away to college exacerbated my nervous stomach and I never wanted to stray too far from a bathroom in case I felt a gurgle. My body was not to be trusted.

When I finally went into labor, my body pushed aside my fears and took over. I’d always feared losing control, but to my surprise I felt relief that my body knew what to do when I didn’t.

When I became pregnant with my son in my late 20s, I was sick, terrified of throwing up (even though I somehow avoided it with both of my pregnancies!), and just overall pretty miserable. Sure, I was awe of what my body was creating. I loved feeling the little nudges that later turned to punches. But ultrasound pictures and feeling baby kicks from outside my tummy barely hinted at the miracle of humanity brewing in my belly.

 I studied up on labor in my baby books, determined to be as in control of the birthing process as possible. I attended birth preparation classes and packed my hospital bag with cute underwear and candles. I packed a photo of my cat, because I clearly had no clue what I was doing.

My body, the same one that bled profusely, the one I worried couldn’t balance on a curb, had created human perfection.

When I finally went into labor, my body pushed aside my fears and took over. I’d always feared losing control, but to my surprise I felt relief that my body knew what to do when I didn’t. My contractions started out mild and far apart, and grew consistently closer together until it was time to head to the hospital. Right after the nurses threatened to send me home from the hospital because I wasn’t dilated enough, my water broke and I was admitted to the hospital. My body was on my team. An epidural provided pain relief, but still my body knew what to do. After a long night of labor, I pushed out the most beautiful baby boy I’d ever seen, cone-head and all. He was perfect. My body, the same one that bled profusely, the one I worried couldn’t balance on a curb, had created human perfection.

 My daughter’s birth four years later was a surprise unmedicated labor because I didn’t have time for an epidural. I didn’t brush up on any “natural” pain relief techniques for her labor because I was so sure I’d have an epidural again. But my daughter was born an hour and half after I arrived at the hospital, though, so an epidural wasn’t possible. I bleated like a goat in agony. I pleaded and begged for drugs. Anything. I couldn’t possibly endure a natural labor. This was not what I wanted. My body couldn’t handle it. Still, it could. My body took over, pushing my baby down and out in violent and effective contractions. I screamed and begged and pushed my baby out. She was big and chunky and healthy and beautiful.

 

I’d never trusted my body, but when it really mattered, it was behind me. Working for me when I gave up. Creating perfection in snuggly little baby form.

 The way my milk came in to feed my babies and the quickness with which my body healed after my labors only reinforced my newfound respect and appreciation for the work it could do. My body, like so many women’s before me, knew just what to do to protect the gift of life.

 

My body has earned my trust, and I’ve learned to be less nervous, to take more risks with physical feats. Yes, I’m not the most coordinated person on the planet. I have a nervous stomach. Sometimes I have heavy periods. But I’m totally and completely capable, thanks in part to a strong and able body that lets me dance, hug, exercise, and maybe most impressive of all, make babies.

Kid Not Your Mini Me? That’s A Good Thing

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If you’re anything like me, you probably fantasized for much of your life about having a little mini me one day.

Yes, there’d be a partner in the equation, but their genes wouldn’t matter much. Or something like that.

Of course, the reality of parenthood is that our kids will inevitably be everything we don’t expect them to be, and often, nothing like us. Sometimes, nothing like us or our partner.

My mini me fantasy didn’t evolve much from the time I was a little girl to my first pregnancy five years ago.

I’d pop out a ruddy-faced baby with thick, dark hair like I had. She’d be kind of a funny-looking thing, like yours truly, but then evolve into a precocious, cute toddler with brown pigtails.

She’d talk a lot but stutter, and be physically awkward. She’d have a crazy imagination. I’d tell her it would all be OK, because, after all, I turned out alright.

Needless to say, none of that happened. I had a boy, and he was one of those rare babies who pops out gorgeous. Yes, I’m biased, but he was really a looker. Wispy, dark blond hair. A flawless complexion.

He grew into an agile, coordinated toddler. Worst of all, he was fearless. As soon as he was able, he was climbing on rocks and walking along narrow ledges.

I was a big mommy’s girl and homebody, but he wasn’t. He never really liked to be held. He’d rather sit by himself and talk to you. He’s super smart. Has a memory like an elephant. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

He loved daycare and then preschool. When I come to school to pick him up, he runs away begging for a few more minutes.

He’s a lot like my husband in looks and personality, but not exactly like my husband.

I recently had my second child. When I found out in the ultrasound she was a girl, I did the ugly cry. I couldn’t believe it. I was convinced after the birth of my son I’d have another boy, and I certainly wasn’t going for three.

Here it comes, I thought, my mini me.

Not so much.

She, like my son, came out gorgeous. Porcelain skinned. Big, long-lashed eyes. Auburn hair. She looks a lot like my sister who I look nothing like. Go figure.

In some ways, she is similar to me. She’s a momma’s girl. She likes to cuddle. The rest remains to be seen. I’m sure no matter what she’s like, she’ll be very much her own person.

That’s the beauty of parenthood, isn’t it?

We’re not here to replicate ourselves. We’re here to facilitate new, unique life with all its perfections and imperfections. We’re here to help mold that life to be the best it can be. The kind of life that changes things, lived by a person who comes up with new ideas no one’s thought of before.

All on our kids’ terms, not ours.