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On Birthdays


I don’t like a lot of things other people love. I don’t like Christmas. I don’t like drinking. I don’t like loud, raucous parties or Game of Thrones (books, I haven’t seen the series) or M&Ms. I’m not interested in rock concerts, even for my favorite bands. Okay, maybe the Beatles, but only because it’d be a miracle since half of them are dead. I don’t care for fast food or Starbucks and I flat out HATED Hawaii.

And I’m not a fan of my birthday.

Hold on, you say. Join the club! Nobody likes their birthday after 21. Anyone saying otherwise is lying. And women aren’t even allowed to have birthdays after 29!

And, yeah, that’s all pretty true. But there’s still a weird pressure? expectation? implied societal contract? that I should at least enjoy my birthday. I should skip work, stuff myself with cake, buy myself presents, or do whatever it takes to fill that void.

What void? It’s the space that exists between everyone’s normal day and what makes it your special day. It’s the absense of change between yesterday you and one-year-older you.

As a kid, your birthday is a big deal. Or, well, it can be. Cake, presents, maybe a party. Maybe a party no one shows up for. Maybe not the presents you wanted or no presents at all. Maybe burnt cake or “the year Mom became a Vegan” cake. I can’t remember most of my birthdays as a child. I’ve seen a few pictures of the early ones. Regardless, I know what it’s supposed to feel like. I started remembering my birthdays because they stopped living up to that gut feeling.

That’s not to say I had an awful childhood or anything. Far from it. I had great birthdays, with slumber parties and pizzas and all manner of fun all the way through high school and then well into my 20s.

But you wake up the next day and think, so this is 16? 18? 25? 34? Doesn’t feel any different. I look back on some of my more recent parties and it looks like I was trying to capture that essence of BIG CHANGE that came with blowing out those candles.

I mean, it’s a lot harder to get that rush as an adult. Turning 10 is a big deal, but turning 34? I keep having to do the Math to remember my age. And that’s not an “I’m so old I can’t remember” thing. It’s a “this number has little to no significance in my day-to-day life” thing.

Plus, parties are so difficult now. It wasn’t so bad in our 20s, since most of our friends were also in their 20s and eager for weekend shenanigans. Now? Friends we’ve known for over a decade can’t find the time for lunch or miss our son’s birthday because their kids have competitions or games. Adults are busy. Adults with kids need sitters and 6 months notice just for brunch.

But listen, I could go on about how birthdays are always lacking. Even if all my Facebook friends and family post on my page, a sulky part of me will wonder why I didn’t get more calls or texts (which, yes, is super dumb and petty, but try explaining that to my Id). Or more birthday cards. My husband has an unparalleled record for amazing gifts, but somehow the fact that my family typically doesn’t go in for birthday gifts will still bother me. This is despite knowing that there are 5 adult kids in my family, plus 3 spouses, 1 girlfriend, and now 5 grandbabies, which is just a TON of people to keep track of let alone afford cards/gifts for. It’s actually kind of nice that there isn’t that pressure to get something for everyone for every occasion because when I do manage to get bday cards sent, I feel like a superstar and not like it’s some obligatory thing.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to go all negative about this so I hope you stuck with me through the moping. I wanted to approach this year a little differently to maybe alleviate that inexplicable post-bday let-down.

First, to address that lack of BIG CHANGE between 33 and 34. Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of your life not a lot changes over a year. You, as a person, are pretty much set by the time 30 hits. But on the other hand, so much can change for you. This time last year, I had a newborn and I was clinging to sanity like Gandalf hanging off the bridge in Khazad-Dum. Did I let go to go fight the Balrog? No, because I stayed sane and didn’t have time for smoting my enemies and getting reborn with new threads. Now, I have a toddler who is mobile (understatement) and a daily/nightly challenge. Am I the same mother I was last year? HA, no. I am a little bit more confident even if I am still vastly intimidated by the tasks that lie ahead (17 more years of them, yikes).

And last year, I was still trying to integrate Mom into my personality. I recently saw a meme about how having kids doesn’t make the person you used to be disappear or some shite.

My friend (mother of 6) who posted it was pissed and at first I didn’t get why. It seemed like the normal inspirational drivel I usually scroll on by, but I’m new to the whole Mom game still and there was some context I wasn’t privy to. Anyway, the woman I was 2 years ago, before I was even pregnant, is kind of a stranger to me now. Weird, right? I mean, she’s still there, utterly confused by how difficult it is for me to get a pedicure on a whim. But I can’t seem to see her as me anymore? And I don’t want to go back to being her. I sometimes wish I could, on bad days or long nights. Just, not really. If I could get a full night’s sleep, crochet all day and still get my happy boy, that’s the deal I’d take. So yes, that person matters, but only because I couldn’t exist now without her. There’s no going back to her. No giving up Momming to indulge the illusion. Having a kid changes you because you must or they die.

Good grief, this is getting all over the place. This year qualifies as a BIG CHANGE year for me, but every year can do that if you just tally up all the little ways you have grown, whether emotional or psychological, or whatever. Every moment you are alive is BIG.

As for the gifts and cake and filling that void, well, I have a cupboard full of chocolate. My hubby got me the writing seminar with Neil Gaiman (SQUEE). My good friend is making me a super cool bag. My boy now plays by himself during the day so I can get crochet done again. And the universe has been plentiful with blessings.

To wit:

Tim Curry narrates the audiobooks for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

2 of my good friends just had healthy babies, one on Buddy Boy’s birthday.

I am alive and in shape (round is a shape, I checked).

I have a decent, caring husband who does dishes and vacuums and folds laundry and plays with his son.

Our tax refund is enough to pay for a flight home this summer so our boy can meet all his cousins and aunties and uncles.

Captain Marvel was pretty great.

I could go on. And so could you. The world is filled with awful, more every day. Take time to remember the good if you can. It won’t fix anything, but it can make things bearable for a time.

Now go forth and enjoy my birthday!

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On Raising Babies


What is it like, having a baby?

Well, the actual having part has been documented quite thoroughly, from the making to the birthing (though the accuracy is quite lacking if you ask me).  And there are any number of humorous RomComs and straight comedies about adults coming face to face with infants as a reality (oh, a grown man has to change a diaper, how hilariously unexpected!!!).  Besides Hollywood’s take, there is the experience that most of the planet has first hand.  I guess it’s kind of expected that the knowing comes with the experience.  Or something.

Forgive me if I’m sounding a bit spacey.  I haven’t slept for more than 2 hrs straight in nearly 4 months.  No amount of napping seems to make up for that.

Anyway, I finally found the correct metaphor for how it feels with my son on a day to day basis.  It’s very much like running a race.  Actually, it’s like running 3 races.

Everyday, from the time my husband goes to work at around 7 or 8 until he gets home at 5:30 or 6, I run a marathon.  But it’s a cross country marathon where the terrain changes daily and I’m not sure about the route or how long the race will last.  It’s broken up into segments by feedings (still every 2 hrs) and diaper changes, but that’s pretty much my day.  When he’s not eating, he’s either napping (on me) or playing or fussing.  The fussing intensity varies, but in the last few weeks he’s started to fuss when he’s tired and needs a nap.  He will cry for a while, I don’t know how long really, while we walk him around the house and sing or shush.  Then he will fall asleep for an indeterminate amount of time.  That is what he is doing now, which is why I have the time to write.  If it’s almost feeding time and he gets that nap fuss going, we’ll try to distract him with play until it’s time to eat because nursing usually puts him down.  But if we feed him early he just gets pissed off.

When Buddy gets home, the race becomes a relay where we pass him off to each other for various reasons.  “Take him, I need a shower.”  “Give him so you can wash dishes.”  “I can’t take the crying, you’re it.”  And back and forth as we do chores or recharge.  This is also the main race during the weekends, though I guess that’s more of a co-race situation since we tend to spend as much time doing stuff together with him as apart.  The most romantic thing Buddy has done since Buddy Boy was born was offer to take him to the commissary without me.  I hadn’t gotten to sleep until 4am for no reason and he wanted to let me nap without someone kicking me every few minutes.  I ended up dream-feeding (feeding him while both of us doze) the boy for a few extra hours and we went to the commissary together, but it was still most sweet.

Which takes us to the last race: sprints.  Or what most people casually call running errands.  We aren’t really racing against time or anything, but it does feel like we are carrying a time bomb in the stroller.  Like I said, he eats every 2 hours.  So at most we have an hour and a half to run errands before he starts fussing for feeding.  Sometimes we can push this further because he tends to sleep in the car.  But there’s no way to know if he’s actually going to sleep or if he’s going to stubbornly stay awake.  Even if he’s not crying, he’s still not getting a nap that he might need.  And once he’s out of the car, it’s a gamble as to whether he’ll stay asleep or wake up.  Most recently he’s been waking up as soon as we leave the car, which means it really is a race to see how much we can get done before he goes NOPE to the whole experience.  So we no longer spend whole Saturdays running all over creation, browsing and window shopping, etc.  My errand running is brutally efficient so I can get him back home to eat.

You may wonder why I don’t do longer trips and just feed in public.  I have a few reasons, actually.  For practical reasons, I like to split my errands up into multiple days because if I don’t get out of the house every day, I go a little bonkers.  Another reason is that it is such a time suck.  He takes 30 minutes to feed, if he feels like it.  If he is hot, uncomfortable, or ornery, it takes longer and is no guarantee that he will stop fussing and let me finish shopping.  So I go through all the effort and just end up spending more time doing errands rather than getting home where I can feed him in comfort.  The second is that it is ungainly/difficult.  I never realized how un-sitting friendly everywhere is.  I personally don’t want to stand in the middle of an aisle trying to hold up a squirming bowling ball for 30 minutes.  Because, yes he squirms and he weighs the same as a bowling ball.  A very large, squishy bowling ball.  It’s bad enough if I do find a nice place to sit because then I have to handle a crying baby on my lap while I try to un-holster a boob, get my nipple shield on (I have flat nipples so we need the help for latching), and get him positioned, all why holding on to a bare modicum of decency under a cover-up so some stranger doesn’t get a free shot of my nipple.  And then it’s not like he just goes all comatose once he’s on there.  He squirms and kicks and twitches his head around and cries, I have to adjust him and the shield and hope that he settles, but not so much so that he falls asleep before he’s done eating because then he’ll just wake up 15 min later crying because he’s still hungry and I’m STILL not done in Target.  All while people watch and judge me.

If I’m worried about decency, why not feed him in the privacy of a bathroom?  I’m so glad you asked.  First, I’m not worried about covering up that much.  Covering up is an inconvenience that I will do if I feel like it.  My modesty will extend only to where it is convenient.  So if I can’t get him to latch or if it is making him too hot or if I just don’t feel like it, the cover is going to stay in the bag and you’ll just have to deal with it.  Once he’s latched, there isn’t much to see anyway since I use the 2-shirt method (tank top pulled down under a t-shirt pulled up).  Second, bathrooms are GROSS.  Public bathrooms, private bathrooms, doesn’t matter.  They’re gross.  I have fed my son in a bathroom a couple of times, once because there was simply no place to sit in the store and again in the family bathroom which I mistakenly thought might have a seat in it.  Both times were awful.  I gotta ask the people who suggest bathrooms as feeding places whether they have ever been in a public bathroom before.  I mean, none of the toilets have lids, for starters.  That means there’s no place to sit.  I might have been able to feed standing when he was really little, but Buddy Boy is well over 15 lbs now and I’m a tiny weak person.  I’ve been in a splint for tendinitis in my right thumb because of picking him up repeatedly.  He is, what some nice lady phrased, a pork chop.  No lids on toilets also means that when they flush, all the stuff in the water becomes a lovely mist that covers up to 10 feet of the surrounding area.  So, yeah, gross effing germs on EVERYTHING.

I want a little privacy so you all don’t stare at me while he whines and struggles and in general is a little butt-face while I’m trying to provide him with life-giving sustenance.  I don’t get that privacy when I go out into the wide world because breastfeeding friendly spaces are simply not a priority.  That’s fine.  That just means I sprint through my errands.

There you have it, the three modes I travel in now.  The problems I tend to face stem from me forgetting what race I’m in.  I forget that in a relay, I can pass the torch when I get tired.  Or I get to the middle of the afternoon and realize I’ve been sprinting instead of pacing myself and the next hour or two before Buddy gets home is going to be rough.  Or we get stuck at every stoplight on the drive home while Buddy Boy cries inconsolably because we treated errands like a marathon.  I suppose the hardest adjustment we’ve had to make is accepting that it will be a continuous race for YEARS.  There’s no actual breaks, no time to waste.  We can’t just blow off a Saturday and be lazy because that was the ONLY chance we had to get the lawn done.  Or fold the laundry.  Or whatever.  If I can’t sleep at night, I feed my boy and then do some chores.  That might be at 2:00am.  But then I can spend most of the morning just feeding him in bed while we both finish sleeping.  We are tired in bone and body.   But I’m frankly not as tired as I expected to be.  Well, not physically tired.

I am frequently emotionally tired, psychologically tired, just tired.  I get tired of being a mother, being the soul provider all day long, being the responsible one.  I get tired of not knowing why he’s crying without guessing.  I get tired of not doing what I want to do whenever I want to do it (to include eating and peeing).  I get tired of waiting to see what he’s going to do, what his mood is, what he feels up to.  So I pass him off to my loving husband for a little bit, sometimes as little as 10 minutes is enough.  I do my pumping or read a chapter of Harry Potter and I can retake the mantle of Mommy.

It’s funny how often in the first 3 months I lost my temper.  Found myself yelling profanities at my son because I just snapped.  He needed a fresh diaper when I thought he was still hungry.  Or he couldn’t get settled on the boob, either because he was too tired or just not hungry enough, and I just wanted him to eat and go to sleep.  Not really funny HAHA, but funny.  Because one second I would be furious, to the point where I’d have to put him down IMMEDIATELY and the next second I’d be holding him determined to figure out what he needed.  I felt very Jekyll and Hyde.  I still get frustrated now, it never goes away.  My fuse is very short.  That doesn’t stop me wanting to hold him, cuddle him, make him smile.

What I’m trying to say is it’s not all kitties and rainbows and humorously messy diapers.  It’s good days and bad days and just days.  And we go one day at a time.  Honestly, what other choice do we have?

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Parenting Don’ts


Today, I took an easier pace on my walk and pushed myself harder on my push-ups.

Today, I sent a box to my brother in an attempt to be helpful from 1400 miles away.

Today, I finished book 51 of my summer reading challenge.

Today, I rode a horse for the first time since I was ten.

Today, I stood behind a woman in FedEx who taught me a little something about parenting.

I am not a parent, except in the special way pet owners are to their pets.  I used to work in a church nursery, which gave me a broad spectrum view of both parents and kids.  That was an excellent learning environment because it showed me just how unique each parent-child relationship is.  It also demonstrated how very difficult it is to be perceived as a good parent in public.

Let the kids run wild and you clearly aren’t teaching them discipline and respect.  Yell at them or (God forbid) spank them in public and you’re some kind of monster.  There’s always someone looking over your shoulder and judging you.

I do it, too.  A lot.  And whenever I observe parenting I disapprove of, I always say to myself, “I’ll never do that with my kids,” or something similar.  I also have grandiose plans for what I am going to raise my kids.

For instance, there were two little girls running amok in FedEx, a 3 and a 5-year-old, I think.  They were freaking adorable and they weren’t doing much but leaping out at each other between the aisles and squealing.  Their mom was talking on her phone the entire time she was in the store.  Not keeping an eye on her daughters, not giving her full attention to the clerk.  When she reeled in the girls when she got to the desk, she ended up juggling her phone and the papers she was shipping while the girls clung to her legs and got in the way.

I made faces at them and then started shadow boxing with Buddy, because that’s what I do when I’m bored.  At one point, the younger girl knocked her face against the counter and started crying.  First, the mom asked the older sister what happened.  Then, presumably because the girl didn’t appear to be hurt (no blood or anything), she had the older girl take her sister (still crying) to sit by the door.

Still on the phone, she finished with her transaction.  Still on the phone, she took her daughters out into the dark parking lot to her SUV.  Still on the phone, she drove away.  I told myself I would never be that attached to a phone call.

Then it occurred to me that I rarely use my phone to make calls, so phone calls were not a real threat to my parenting technique.

Don’t worry.  When I really think about it, I know that reality makes a mess of all high-minded parenting ambitions.  The best laid plans are easily mislaid by toddlers.

I will say this, though.  If your little girls are in the back of your vehicle, GET OFF YOUR GORAM PHONE.  You know what, even if you don’t have kids, maybe don’t block half of your vision and half of your brain for a conversation that really can wait.  You may not be chauffeuring a couple of rugrats around, but the person your carelessly run off the road might be.

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