How many times could that be the title that best describes our lives?
We’ve been interrupted. Not by anything particularly significant but by a series of things–the start of the school year, the change in weather (or not, in So Cal), a glitchy computer. We work hard to keep so many balls in the air that it’s hard to stop them all when one drops.
My writing dropped. But there were kids to pick up and events to volunteer for and a football season that isn’t quite going the way we expected, plus two-fifths of my family was in physical therapy twice a week at the same place, but of course not the same time.
So I didn’t have the balance to lean over and pick my writing up.
One day I was on the school’s website putting money in the kids’ lunch accounts and I saw the Jobs tab. I clicked it, for fun. There they were, a list of jobs I could do without having to plan a lesson or grade a paper. Hourly. Minimum wage. None of the responsibility but all the fun.
And I thought…Is it time?
This stay at home mom gig was never meant to be forever. Just a season. I had no idea how long the season would last, but in the last six months, I have felt a restlessness. Annie goes to full day Kindergarten next year. I know that I can keep the house and run the finely tuned engine that is our family schedule and still work at least part-time.
This was the question that interrupted me the most. It’s age-old, isn’t?
What am I doing?
I gave it my full attention. The Holy Spirit helped me out by crashing my laptop spectacularly last week. She didn’t send the Blue Screen of Death. No, no. My screen went RED. I don’t even know.
I couldn’t write, even if I wanted to. I had no idea how much noise my computer inserted into my daily life until there was only silence.
Into the silence came a decision to attend a conference and an invitation to a retreat. There was a friendship issue with Kate where the other mom and I have been able to have really good, supportive and thoughtful conversations about how to help our girls navigate their feelings. Shea and I talked about my going back to work and decided not yet, not until Annie is in full day school.
Something is happening though, swirling around my head and heart. The tide is turning, the season is changing. Something wonderful and inspiring this way comes.
In the meantime, I am still Here, rooted and growing.
Vanessa, from Suburban Mama Goddess, posted before Christmas that she baked an ugly cake. I felt her pain.
I was ten the first time I made a cake all by myself. It was from a box, but I still took it very seriously. While it was in the oven, I didn’t go outside and play with my brothers. I sat on a chair in the service porch and read my book.
When it was done, I took it out and turned it upside down on a rack to cool. There was a nice breeze coming through the back door, so I set the cake on the chair to cool faster.
Then I set the timer for 30 minutes, grabbed my book and sat down on the chair to read.
Girlfriend, yes I did sit on my cake.
Ten years later, I was home for winter break from college, and my mom asked me to bake a cake for my grandfather’s birthday. I got all fancy and tried to make two layers. I had no Food Network to tell me to even the layers before I tried to frost them. It was crazy lopsided. I honestly thought that a good thick buttercream frosting would make it look even. But I used margarine, and the frosting broke and slid all over the top of the cake. Then I left it in a spot on the counter that takes afternoon sun, so when I came back, the frosting had melted down the cake, over the plate and onto the counter.
In desperation, I dug through the baking cupboard and in the way back found a shelf-stable tube of green frosting that had only expired the month before. I tried making green roses on the pink cake.
When my grandfather saw it, he wanted to know who let the green owl in the house.
A few years later, I decided to make an egg nog cheesecake for Christmas dinner. I will admit to not being 100% sober when I made it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came out of the oven with nary a crack. I stenciled some stars on the top with grated nutmeg and carried it off to my parent’s home.
After dinner, I carried my cheesecake proudly to the table. I cut my brother a slice and passed it down. He took a bite and chewed. Then he started laughing.
Which of course made my other brother dive for the cheesecake with a folk and scoop a big bite into his mouth.
Then they both were laughing. By the time my dad took a bite, my first brother had spit it out: “It tastes like playdough!”
In fact, it did. I was mortified. “What happened?!” I wailed. My aunt asked me about the recipe. I didn’t remember it exactly, because Coors Light, but when I got to “three cups of flour” she stopped me. “Three cups???” she asked. “Are you sure?”
When I got home, I double-checked. Turns out, Coors Light and I misread 3 tablespoons as 3 cups and never looked back.
Every now and then I try again. For Father’s Day a few years back, I tried to make a scratch lemon cake in a sunflower cake mold for Shea. When I turned it over to pop it out, only the petals came. The center of the flower stayed in the pan. You better believe I cobbled that thing together, frosted it and served it up, gaping hole in the middle and all.
You know how something stupid can get you thinking?
Last week one of my friends posted “Which TV mom are you?” The pictures were of Claire Huxtable, Roseanne and Peg Bundy.
I am Claire, minus the law degree I thought to myself. No nonsense, fair, funny. For sure.
And then I got Cindy Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210.
Cindy was skim milk—good for you but boring and forgettable. Minimal impact.
And stupid enough to let her sophomore daughter have a hotel room for prom.
Hello? I wrangled 200 teenagers a year for 18 years. I taught them Thoreau, for the love of God, and they liked it. People respected me, 16 year old people, and they don’t hardly respect anyone.
How on earth am I like Cindy Walsh?
Sweet goodness—have I turned into Cindy Walsh????
This could be a stay at home mom thing. Transitioning from working mom to stay at home mom is not for sissies. I don’t want to turn this into a working vs. stay at home mom tirade because that horse has been Rode. To. Death.
(Rode. That’s right.)
I’m just saying that when a woman is kind of a big deal in her workplace, the eye of the hurricane, staying home can be like hitting a wall.
I am not complaining one bit. I am just saying that “big deal” and “hurricane” are not words I use to describe my time at home.
I used to be one bad ass teacher.
“I’m a bad ass stay at home mom!” is something no woman said ever.
Not that I want to go back, mind you. I never want to go back. And yes, I know the work I do now will resonate through the generations. Fruit of my womb. I get it. I’m thankful.
But this stupid quiz made me realize I miss being the eye of the hurricane, sometimes.
Vanessa, from Suburban Mama Goddess took the quiz and got Carol Brady. Vanessa is not Carol Brady. Maybe even more than I am not Cindy Walsh. She didn’t like it either. We had this chat:
I would love to believe that changing my drink would solve this problem, but that’s a slippery slope. Where do you go from Kettel One and Tonic? Absinthe?
I know what I have to do.
Make peace with the fact that my Claire days are over.
Find a way to balance Cindy and Gloria while avoiding rehab for an alcohol and plastic surgery addiction.
And stop taking the stupid Facebook quizzes.
PS: Dana took the quiz and got Claire. I didn’t talk to her for two days. You can cause your own mid-life mama crisis at www.playbuzz.com.
My younger self would have seen this statement as a challenge and asked with a saucy smile, “Are you sure about that?”
This older and wiser version of me knows better and actually grieves the years I spent trying to be too many things to too many people. My mantra used to be “I got this” with little thought to whether I needed to have it or not.
I have learned to say no, or say nothing, which is maybe even more powerful.
Now, Worn-out Wonder Women make me nervous. I feel like a recovering junkie: If I get too close to their whirlwind lives, they will suck me back into the vortex of Being All Things to All People. The affirmation that comes from keeping friends, colleagues, bosses, families and spouses happy can be intoxicating.
But to paraphrase Emerson, it gives no peace. Wonder Women are running from or towards something, for sure. In my own case, I was trying to find something that I already had. But I was moving too fast to know or appreciate or enjoy it. Now I try really hard to be still and present, but I can only do that if I have time.
And I can only have time if I tell others No.
No to commitments that only serve me or my ambition
No to people who do not know or care about my family.
No to people or things that do not bear fruit.
I only owe one yes in my life, and that’s to God.
Lysa TerKuerst of Proverbs 31 Ministries has a new book out called The Best Yes, which is all about curing “the disease to please” and escaping “the guilt of disappointing others” that comes from saying no. Today and tomorrow, if you order one copy, you can get a second for just $5, plus a free audio download.
My name is Jennifer and I met Jen and Dana when we were all teachers. Now I am a homemaker for my amazing husband, two beautiful sons, and one slightly neurotic cocker spaniel.
In July, Jen and Dana invited me to guest post with the instructions to write about something that “fired me up”. I never anticipated breastfeeding to be the topic that pushed me into writing.
August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and I realized that I needed to tell my story about my experiences. When I was pregnant with Jacob I assumed I would breastfeed. I mean, it’s free and healthy! How hard could it be? Oh the naiveté! I know some women who are so incredibly fortunate to have had easy experiences. I am not one of them.
My initiation as a breastfeeding mother was a rocky one. When Jacob was a newborn he refused to nurse. He would shut his mouth and go to sleep every single time I tried to nurse. So there I was with a hungry baby and my “talent”, which as a friend once put it, is producing a lot of breast milk. I will forever be thankful to a dear friend, who is a Lactation Consultant, for giving me peace of mind over using a bottle. Once we made this feeding decision, I heard a lot about how now he would never take to nursing and that I needed to keep trying. The comments were masked in concern and support but I felt like less of a woman/mother for feeding my baby with a bottle. I fought the guilt since it was still my milk; plus, this way my husband was able to feed and bond with Jacob too. Prior to this I didn’t even know that exclusive pumping was a thing but I did it. I remember crying as I learned to use the pump and asking God why Jacob wouldn’t latch. Thankfully, Jacob decided to nurse at three weeks old but it was still touch and go for some time after that. We got through some days “nursing session by nursing session” but we didn’t give up and I ended up nursing Jacob until he was 14 months old. (Take that, naysayers!) I know now that I had to learn to pump so that I could provide milk for Jacob while I was at school earning my MA. Plus, six months later a friend of mine had a very similar situation happen and I was able to minister to her in her time of need!
When I was pregnant with my second son, Andrew, I thought I was ready. I knew what nursing was like. I knew it might be difficult and that it would probably hurt. If all else failed, I knew my way around a pump. As it turns out, I was not prepared for the entirely new kind of hard that establishing, and maintaining, a breastfeeding relationship with Andrew would prove to be.
Last week, Andrew turned 1. But he was born one month early at 36 weeks gestation. His birth was very quick and he was small so he ended up with fluid in his lungs (Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn) and became a NICU baby for a week. Unfortunately, he could not eat those first three days because of his rapid breathing. As I did with Jacob, I pumped every three hours so I wouldn’t lose my supply. Within a week I had a stash of over 100 ounces. The NICU nurses were impressed. He went from tube feeding, to a bottle, before learning how to nurse. Remember my “talent”? My less than six-pound baby had to learn to nurse from breasts that were bigger than his head. Once again, it was not easy and it hurt. He was five days old before we had a successful nursing session. I still cry when I think about how relieved I was that day.
Nursing Andrew was easier than Jacob only because he was eager. The hard parts were the technical ones like correct latch and drinking enough. Because of my “talent” I also had to worry about foremilk/hind milk imbalance which is a product of the vicious cycle of having so much milk that he would be full and I would have to pump out the excess; I was desperate to avoid mastitis. I had to actively work to decrease my supply just enough so that he wasn’t choking at every feeding but not so much that my supply went away. I went back to see a Lactation Consultant for some peace of mind and the reassurance that we were doing things right. Unfortunately, when Andrew was about two months old he rejected the bottle and would only nurse…I felt like I was on a leash tied to my baby. There were other factors at play but Andrew’s refusal of the bottle, and my subsequent inability to get a break, were big factors in the severity of my Post Partum Depression (PPD). There were a few months there where I just wanted to get out of the house and part of me resented nursing Andrew. Statistics will tell you that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of mothers developing PPD but it was making things worse for me. Despite all this, I believe my PPD would have gotten worse, due to guilt, if I had stopped nursing Andrew at four months of age. This was when my PPD was at its strongest point, as four months is when PPD tends to peak.
Since my baby refused to take a bottle, my freezer filled up with pumped milk. I knew I needed to donate it but I could not bring myself to give it away. It took me months to give away the first batch of milk and I totally cried over it. I was literally giving away part of myself and it was super hard to do. (You know the phrase “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”? Whoever came up with that nugget never had to pump their own milk.) I ended up donating over 300 ounces to our cousin’s baby with Down Syndrome who couldn’t latch. Each time I gave away my milk I cried but it also got a tiny bit easier. I knew it was needed elsewhere, my baby wasn’t got to drink it, and I sure wasn’t going to let my milk go to waste in my freezer!
My baby is 1 and I am doing better. I am at the point where I am cherishing every nursing session with Andrew because I know they are numbered. It’s interesting though how things change. When I was almost done nursing Jacob I was ready. I was looking forward to having my body back to myself. Maybe it’s because things started so poorly for us. I don’t know. I just know that I feel differently about weaning Andrew. Jen has a theory that we attach more strongly to our PPD/Anxiety babies. That could be it. One thing I do know is that I am proud to be a breastfeeding mom. It has been so much harder than I could have ever imagined but I am so glad I didn’t give up. It is such an amazing experience to watch my babies develop rolls upon rolls of baby chub because of ME. Rolls that I get to tickle and kiss to my heart’s content.
During this month of Breastfeeding Awareness I celebrate my personal journey in being a breastfeeding mother and I support all mothers in feeding their babies. Exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, donor milk feeding, formula feeding, supplemental feeding, and any other method of feeding, we are all doing the best we can for our babies and for ourselves. We should all be proud of that and we should be supporting each other. I know I would be telling a different story if it weren’t for the support of my amazing husband and the mamas in my village.