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.
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.
Starting out with a newborn just over a year ago, breastfeeding was much more than something I did. It was a way of life. Every decision I made at that time took breastfeeding into consideration. Going to the store, heading to bed, even eating breakfast, I had to ask myself first: had the baby eaten? Did she get enough? Could she spare me for a few minutes or hours? I breastfed to sustain my baby. Though I generally enjoyed breastfeeding even in the early months, the endeavor was undoubtedly exhausting and all-consuming. I was all about my newborn, and so was breastfeeding at that point. In the year that followed and brought my baby’s rapid development, however, my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter changed. I have to admit, these days I breastfeed more for me than for her.
Breastfeeding was something my baby and I both had to work hard at. We started out smoothly enough, but at her one-week doctor’s checkup I was shocked to learn that she’d lost more than a pound off her birth weight. She was a content newborn who almost immediately slept through the night if I let her. And I was ashamed to admit that I did let her sleep through the night, thinking she must be receiving enough milk to stay down for that long without fussing.
Breastfeeding wasn’t just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked.
My baby’s typically unflappable pediatrician was concerned by her weight loss, and I followed his orders to wake her up every few hours at night for feedings and made an appointment with a lactation consultant to help with different breastfeeding positions that would help my daughter gain weight. I snuggled my warm little diaper-clad daughter in the lactation consultant’s office every week, stuffing my nipple shield-covered breast in her mouth in a variety of different breastfeeding positions. Then I’d wait with bated breath as she was weighed to see how much milk she was getting. A half-ounce per side at first. One ounce as we continued to work at it.
My priority at that time was to make sure my baby was drinking enough breast milk, and my baby and I made a great team in making that happen. With the aid of a little formula, she blossomed into a chubby baby in just a few weeks. I was proud of us for pushing through the difficult patch and making breastfeeding work. And not only did she thrive physically on my breast milk, she also loved the comfort and closeness of breastfeeding. My daughter was most content in my arms, and wearing her in a front carrier was a sure way to calm her down on the rare occasion when nothing else soothed her.
But breastfeeding wasn’t just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked. I realized those moments when time seemed to hold still wouldn’t last, and I tried to commit her baby smell and fuzzy head to memory.
Sometimes, though, we’re in a hurry and she’s satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn’t seem to mind. But I do.
Of course, those early times didn’t last. I returned to work, and our breastfeeding sessions dwindled to before and after work and the occasional lunchtime session. As many times as I breastfed a day, I was hooking myself up to the plastic breast pump just as often. Washing bottles and pump parts was a nightly ritual I loathed. Before long, I stopped pumping and just breastfed my baby on demand when we were together.
Today, my yummy-smelling baby who I used to hold in the crook of my arm has grown into a toddling 14 month old with wavy blond hair past her ears. On most days, I still breastfeed her twice: once in the morning before work for me and daycare for her, and once before bedtime. Sometimes, though, we’re in a hurry and she’s satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn’t seem to mind. But I do.
It would be simple for me simply skip more and more breastfeeding sessions until we stop breastfeeding entirely. My toddler used to pull at my shirt when she wanted to breastfeed, burying her head in my chest, but she does that less these days. Still, I offer her the breast and she half-heartedly accepts, eyes turned towards her older brother or the TV. Sometimes I breastfeed her from the couch as she stands next to me, unwilling to lie still.
Our breastfeeding days are dwindling, and I’m sad about it. I know nursing still benefits her as a toddler by providing immunity and comfort, but it’s no longer her sole source of nourishment. What was once our daily constant in those early months is no longer as necessary as it used to be. Soon, we’ll be done breastfeeding entirely, replacing those moments when she used to breastfeed with kissing attacks and tickles and hugs. but breastfeeding has not been easy for me to say goodbye to.
For the time being, I’m going to hold my 14 month old close as she wriggles around, and run my fingers through her growing blond hair. I’m going to give myself permission to breastfeed for me. I know soon I’ll no longer have the chance, so I’m going to enjoy it while I still can.
My job has always been an important part of my identity. OK, maybe not my first job as a teen working the concession stand at a movie theater, but everything that came after. Even while shoveling popcorn, I was committed to offering great customer service and a smile. When I got pregnant with my first child, quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom wasn’t an option on the table. We needed the money, and I wanted the satisfaction of using my skills outside the home and to contribute to society through working. I literally worked until the baby popped out and took the minimum maternity leave. For my second baby, however, I received some important advice from friends to take an extended maternity leave and enjoy some extra time with my baby. And honestly, it was the best advice I got from my friends.
Before I fully understood state law during my first pregnancy, I was working as a newspaper reporter. I planned to work until the day my son was due. However, my son was due on a Friday and I typically worked Tuesday through Saturday, so I decided to continue working until the day after my due date. I wanted to save every day of my 12-week leave for after my baby was born.
Pregnancy and parenting a newborn are hard enough without having to try to navigate complicated state and federal maternity leave laws, but that’s exactly what I was doing, and badly. By the last few weeks of my pregnancy, even walking was uncomfortable, with the baby weighing heavy on my bladder and my muscles aching. Still, I trudged out out to crime scenes to report on them, and up and down the courthouse stairs to cover trials for the newspaper. I received a lot of questions and comments.
“Still working, huh?”
“You must be due any day now.”
It was just too soon to be away from my baby.
Somehow, I made it through my last day of work without going into labor. As if my body knew it needed to hold on just long enough, I went into labor in the early morning Sunday, just hours after I finished my last work shift.
The 12 weeks of maternity leave after my son’s birth came and went quickly, but I was grateful that I had that much time home with my son. I knew of many new moms who worked and only received six weeks of disability pay as they didn’t qualify for Paid Family Leave or another paid leave program. Therefore, some of these parents could only afford to take a six-week leave. Others couldn’t even afford the partial pay, and returned to work a week after birth.
I was able to take 12 weeks of leave because of disability leave after the birth, followed by the six weeks of Paid Family Leave, which I qualified for as someone with a job who was contributing to State Disability Insurance. When I returned to work, I did little more at first then stare at the album of baby photos I brought as my eyes welled with tears. It was just too soon to be away from my baby.
Pregnant for a second time, I initially planned to take 12 weeks again. However, a few conversations with friends and coworkers changed my mind. One coworker at my same company who’d recently given birth took a full four months, including some time before her baby was born. I was intrigued. I’d heard of similar experiences from other friends inside and outside the office. You’ll never get this time with your baby back again, they’d say.
I did some research and found that in addition to my 12 weeks of paid leave, I was entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Although six weeks of that 12-week leave would be used consecutively with my state Paid Family Leave, that left me an additional six weeks of unpaid leave I was able to take. I decided to take four of those six weeks of unpaid leave, for a total of 16 weeks. But I elected to not take the full 18 weeks allowable under the law as I didn’t feel our family could afford to be without my income for that extra time.
When my work supervisor asked when I wanted to begin my maternity leave and how long I’d be taking, I was anxious to say I wanted to start two weeks before my due date and four months after the baby’s birth. She seemed surprised, but OK with it. She had no choice but to accept my decisions, legally anyway. That’s because she was required to hold my job for me, or something comparable, during my leave due to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.
At eight-and-half months of pregnancy, I was more than ready to take some time off work and enjoy some rare alone time. At the advice of my friends, I didn’t feel guilty about keeping my son in preschool for those couple of weeks and sitting home catching up on crappy daytime TV while I washed and folded baby laundry. I was resting and relaxing, and my body and mind needed the break.
My daughter was born a couple of days before her due date, and during labor I was able to pay attention to my early contractions that lasted several days, timing them and monitoring them closely. After my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as rushed as I had with my son when the days and weeks flew by and were jam-packed with visitors. Instead, I took my daughter to the park and the store in the front carrier. I let my eyes linger over her sweet little baby features and made time for snuggles whenever possible. The extra maternity leave time was especially important since I was splitting my time off between my two kids.
The last month of my leave was unpaid, but my husband and I saved money beforehand in preparation. In the end, I felt the few weeks of unpaid leave were well worth the money lost because of the extra baby-bonding time and moments to myself before birth. Once again, we were fortunate that we had the means to support ourselves without my income for a short time. And after I’d gone back to work after both babies were born, my husband took several weeks of paternity leave so that he had time alone with the babies as well.
My friends had been right. I wouldn’t be able to get back this fleeting time with the babies once it was gone. They’re little once, and for such a short time. My job could wait, and thankfully, it did. My boss didn’t give me any grief about my leave, and I was able to pick up where I left off after a short catch-up period. Fortunately, my boss has young children of her own, so she was fairly understanding as I got back in the swing of work.
Returning to work, I was refreshed and fully healed. I had a solid breastfeeding routine down, and was ready for adult interaction and the challenges of the workplace. Thanks to some great advice from friends, I was able to find a work/life balance that worked. Without their advice, I would have probably taken another less-than-adequate maternity leave, not fully understanding state and federal leave law and stressing out about my job.
All said, I wouldn’t trade a day of the chubby baby snuggles that came with my extended maternity leave.