Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

Career Counseling

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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I have two teenagers in my house, which means two people question my intelligence on a daily basis.

The years are long gone when my children thought I could bestow gems of great wisdom upon them or provide an answer that would make all things right again.

Their desire for my input has changed so much in the past few years that now I’m almost grateful when they ask me for anything but money.

And when they actually do seek my opinion, I want my words to be meaningful and memorable.

Unfortunately, that isn’t working out for me.

Take, for example, the other evening when my daughter asked me what career she should choose. Her question was preceded with an explanation that a few of her I eighth grade comrades have already decided. One, she told me, wants a job like Penelope’s on the television show Criminal Minds.

I was briefly distracted from the conversation by the thought that such role models as Penelope didn’t exist when I was growing up, and I wished I had known about that career option. But my distraction didn’t last long as I was drawn back into the conversation by Kendall’s insistence that I provide some clear career advice.

The best I could give her was, “Find something you love to do.”

That answer is one of the many reasons my children constantly question my intelligence. It’s the kind of answer that teenagers would consider “lame” if they actually used that word anymore.

And so, my daughter persisted.

“No, really Mom,” she said. “What should I be?”

I couldn’t give her a better answer.

Just that day I had been sitting in my office with my board chair discussing various issues related to my work for a non-profit, social service agency. I had launched into yet another passionate commentary about how to better help the people for whom we provide services while she listened attentively. When I was finally silent she said, “You are one of the lucky ones.”

Apparently, I had a confused look on my face because she added, “You have a job in which your values, your beliefs and your spirituality are all part of what you do every day. Few people are as lucky,”

She then told me about a former youth group leader at her church whose profession was building bombs.

“He lived in a perpetual state of conflict,” she said. “But he had to feed his family.”

I appreciated her comments. I didn’t mention that most of the jobs I’ve had could barely feed my family and that I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband who also works. Instead, I thought about the strange and twisted path that has become my career. I didn’t even know that the work I do was a career option when I was my daughter’s age. But somehow, through a series of both personal decisions and life events, I have landed where I am.

And I couldn’t be happier.

And that’s also why I couldn’t provide my daughter with a better response to what kind of career she should pursue. I don’t know how relevant my, or any other person’, input should be. She has so many choices to make and so make events to still experience.

What I really wanted to say was “Get an education in a field that interests you and  experience life as much as you possibly can. If you do both, your career will fall into place. Even if you don’t always have a job you love, you’ll have the foundation for an amazing life.”

I would have said that to her, but I know she would have  given me  a classic Kendall look that can only be defined as a mix of pity and frustration.

And so, all I could do was repeat what I had already told her  - make a decision based on her own interests and skills.

She still wasn’t satisfied with my answer, but I knew that giving her a list of professions wasn’t really going to help.

I also knew that someday she’ll recognize that maybe, just maybe, her mother was smarter than she once thought.

What I’ve Learned in One Month as a Mom

Friday, September 12, 2014
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AJ is one month old today. I can’t believe it! Time has flown by, and at the same time it feels like she’s been here for much longer than just four weeks. I already can’t imagine life without her.

Here’s some things I’ve learned in the past month about being a mom to an infant:

  • Getting to know your baby is a process. I thought I would know AJ from the moment I held her in my arms for the first time. But when I met her, I was surprised by the realization that she was basically a stranger. I had to get to know her just like anyone else I meet in life. And she had to get to know me. We are still getting to know each other. I think this concept can be the source of some heartache and frustration for a new mom. I thought I should know her mannerisms, her personality and exactly how to handle her from the start, and when I didn’t it upset me. But it’s so much more wonderful getting to know her over time and discovering something new to love every day.
  • Another process, at least for me, was really feeling like a mom. It took me a while to feel like I was the person who could take the best care of AJ. I’m still learning how to be her mom and some days I feel more confident than others. Being only one month in, I know I have a long way to go before I truly feel confident in my mommy abilities (or will I ever feel confident?!).
  • Nothing can really prepare you for what it’s like to have a newborn. It’s hard work – I mean really hard work. Who knew holding a baby could make you so tired! I’ve shared some of my experiences with crying and sleeping, but nothing can compare to the first-hand experience.
  • New mom brain is worse than pregnancy brain. I cannot remember anything. I set reminders on my phone for everything from doctor’s appointments to fall TV premieres. Recently I even wrote down the things I wanted to tell Chris when he got home from work. My memory is that bad right now. I blame it on the lack of sleep.
  • After only one month, I’m not afraid to admit I have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m trying my hardest, and AJ, Chris and I are figuring it out together. If there is any first-time mom of a one month old that does know exactly what she’s doing…give me a call and let me know your secret.
  • Last but not least, I never knew how someone so small could fill my heart so much! Every day is a wonderful new adventure, even if we don’t leave the house :)

I’m interested to hear from other moms – how does your experience with your newborn compare to mine? What did you learn in the first month?

Late nights (part 2)

Friday, September 5, 2014
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I actually looked up the definition of tired in the dictionary. My thought was, “I don’t think tired accurately describes what I’m feeling right now; what does good old Merriam-Webster have to say about it?” The first definition for tired reads, “Feeling a need to rest or sleep.” That’s the kind of tired I felt pre-baby.

Another definition reads, “Drained of strength and energy: fatigued often to the point of exhaustion.” YES – that’s the kind of tired I am now. Drained of strength and energy.

I reread my post Late nights (part 1) before I started on this one. I was definitely losing sleep then, but there are several significant differences to pre- and post- baby sleep loss.

Before when I was awake, I didn’t have to be alert. Even if my mind was racing, I could lie there in half-consciousness and slowly fall back asleep. Now, when I am awake I have to be alert. Diaper changes, feedings, carrying, soothing and sometimes cleaning up messes require attentiveness and energy. It’s not like getting on Facebook or reading a book if you can’t sleep; it’s hard work.

Before when I wasn’t sleeping, I knew eventually I would be able to catch up on my sleep. I could take a nap the next day, or by the next night I would be so tired I would fall asleep despite being uncomfortable. Now, I have to be up every few hours despite how tired I am, and it is non-stop. There is no catch-up night where I can sleep for a solid eight hours.

Newborns need to eat at least every three to four hours. That’s measured from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of another. In the first week, AJ ate every one and half to two hours and each feeding took about 30 to 45 minutes. And she never went immediately back to sleep when she was done. That doesn’t leave much room for momma to catch any sleep.

When she did sleep, I could not. My mind was full of worries (and frankly will always be). Is she breathing? What does that noise mean? And so on.

Full of those worries, every time she makes a peep, I wake up. Often, she will fuss until Chris or I pick her up and hold her; our arms are her favorite sleeping spot. They say you cannot spoil a baby by picking her up to stop a cry; but if you can, we are getting close.

While I have not slept for more than a three-hour stretch since AJ was born, the good news is it has already gotten better. We have some bad nights and some good nights, but she normally goes about three hours between feedings now and eats much quicker. And I am a tiny bit more relaxed, so I’m able to fall asleep if she is asleep. Chris is always willing to stay up with her if she is crying or fussy, even when he has to work the next day. We are both slowly adjusting to life with less sleep.

I’ve heard tales of babies sleeping six hours at a time when they are a few months old. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would be a dream come true. I know we’ll get there eventually, but for now pass the coffee.

The Bright Side of Sibling Struggles

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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If I were a great parent, I would have taken appropriate action when my son told my daughter to shut up. I didn’t take any action, which means I’m not a great parent or a very good referee.

The problem is that my ability to see shades of grey is magnified when it comes to my children.siblings

I didn’t like my son saying “shut up,” but I also knew that “please be quiet,” wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere. And where he wanted to go was away from his sister’s loud and persistent singing.

Don’t get me wrong.

My daughter is a wonderful singer. She was born singing. When she started daycare, the teachers said they always knew where Kendall was because they simply followed her song.

Not much has changed over the past decade, which is exactly why Shep reached his limit and  yelled “shut up.”

His sister, on the other hand, had every reason to be belting songs at the top of her lungs. She  has an audition for a musical  on Saturday and she was trying out every piece of music she thought would be appropriate.

Since I understood both of them,  I couldn’t take sides. What I could do was  sympathize with both of them, and that’s the path I chose to take.

It may not have been the direction for which parenting experts advocate, and it certainly didn’t do much for creating peace in my house. But I like to think it provided my children with a glimpse of the real world.

In the real world, people have different priorities, and sometimes those priorities conflict. We have to figure out a way to live together anyway.

In the real world, we know that music  may touch the soul, but the same tune affects everyone differently. We have to let others dance to their own beat just as we dance to ours.

And in the real world, maintaining general happiness in life requires deciding when to fight for what you want and when to walk away. The best decisions are the ones that take into account the perspective of others.

I may not have given my children the gift of having the world’s most wise or  patient mother, but I did give my kids what I consider one of the world’s greatest gifts.  I gave them a sibling with whom they have many of the same conflicts they will soon have to face with roommates, co-workers, spouses and maybe even their own children.

And I also like to think that someday, in the distant future, they might  actually appreciate that gift.

All the Cries

Friday, August 29, 2014
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Babies cry. Everyone knows this. Baby cries have never bothered me. Not on an airplane, not at the grocery store, not in a restaurant. I hardly notice a baby crying unless it’s in a very silent place (like church). When I do notice, it doesn’t annoy or upset me; I feel more for the parent trying to console his or her baby than anything else.

So I’d say I was significantly unprepared for how much I would be affected by my own baby crying. Her cries break my heart. I can hear her from anywhere in the house. If I’m sleeping, and she so much as makes a little coo, I wake up. And can’t go back to sleep, even if I’ve just fed her and it’s dad’s turn to soothe her. My mind races: Does she need me? What’s wrong? What does she need? I guess it’s that motherly instinct kicking in. One whimper and my senses shoot to attention, ready to meet her every need (if I can figure it out).

The baby books say you’ll be able to decipher your baby’s cries and respond based on what they need. Only in the last couple days have I started to notice different patterns of crying and sometimes been able to soothe her by meeting the need of her cry.

A single ‘wah’ is a cry not to be taken seriously; it comes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. I try not to let this cry bother me.

‘Ack, ack, ack’ is her tired cry. When she starts crying like this, I’ve learned it’s best to just hold her in my arms and be quiet and still. Eventually, she’ll doze off.

‘WaUH, waUH, waUH’ is her hungry cry; feed immediately or face the consequences.

‘Grunt wah, grunt wah’ means it’s time for a diaper change. But don’t change immediately; the grunts tend to come back after five minutes of silence.

‘Sob sob, whimper whimper.’ That’s her…oh wait, that’s ME crying. Hormones, exhaustion, hunger, not being able to figure out what your baby needs…there are many reasons new moms cry.

‘WAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH AHHHHHH WAHHHHHHHH’ is the worst cry of all, impossible to interpret and inconsolable. It’s this cry that makes me shed my own tears and hurts my heart the most. This cry comes at any time and lasts for a long time. Earlier this week, it lasted for three hours. I’ve tried everything I know to console her, and nothing works. I dread this cry. When she cries this way, my emotions range from sad to frustrated to desperate to sad again.

At her two-week checkup this week, the doctor said AJ has the symptoms of acid reflux. This may be why she has the terrible cries. I had acid reflux while I was pregnant, and it made me want to scream for hours on end too. I’m following various instructions to try to soothe her reflux. I also was given the go ahead to give her a pacifier, which has worked wonders.

Soothing her reflux may help, but the fact of the matter is, babies cry. Sometimes they cry for what seems like no reason. I won’t always know why she’s crying or be able to soothe her. I know this, like everything, is a phase, and we will get through it together. Holding her and comforting her is the best thing I can do, even if it doesn’t stop her crying. As I’m sure any mom knows, hearing your own child cry is worlds different than hearing a stranger’s baby cry.

And on that note, I better wrap this up…I think I hear a hunger cry starting.

As Time Goes By

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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I have friends who swear their  bodies are the clearest indicator of the passage of time.

I disagree.birthday cake

Granted, every time I bend my knees, they crack and creak. Every day when I look in the mirror, I see another wrinkle on my face. And every effort to read small type has become an exercise in futility.

But my aging body isn’t what really makes me feel the passage of time.

That comes with watching my children grow up.

Last Friday, my youngest turned 13. The night before Kendall’s birthday, I walked into the family room as she and her father were looking at her baby book. She was laughing at the funny stories I had documented in the  pages and was looking at photos taken on her fourth birthday. In one picture, she was smiling at the camera while her friend Joey had his arm slung around her shoulder as he gazed at her.

“Oh yes, Joey,” I said looking over Kendall’s shoulder at the book. “He told us he was going to marry you.”

Kendall rolled her eyes and continued to flip through the pages of her baby book while her father and I looked at each other.

That photo had been taken nine years earlier, but Giles and I felt as though we had been joking about Joey’s intentions only yesterday. To Kendall, Joey is a distant, if non-existent, memory. My perspective of time appears to be out of whack.

For example, at church on Sunday I was talking to a woman whose daughter just started high school – at least in my mind she had just started high school.  But when I asked how she was doing, her mother reminded me that she is a senior in college. I couldn’t believe that many years had passed, and I thought about how college is just around the corner for my son, a high school junior.

Even though Giles and I have been making payments on Shepherd’s pre-paid college plan since he was born, I’m having a difficult time realizing that the time to make use of that fund is almost here.

I was holding a newborn in my arms the day we bought the plan. At that time,  my son’s college education was only a vague concept for the distant future when I would be a worn-out  middle-aged woman.

I like to think the years were too short for me to be that old and worn out. They did, after all, go much more quickly than when I was a child and summers went on forever and Christmas seemed as though it would never arrive.

I’ve come to recognize the days will continue to grow shorter and the years will continue to fly by. I’ve also come to recognize that even though there is nothing I can do to slow time down, there is a great deal I can do to ensure I treasure every minute of it.

Poop, Spit Up and Tears – Baby’s First Week

Friday, August 22, 2014
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Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

Taking a cue from news anchor Savannah Guthrie and sharing my no-makeup hospital photo

“Come watch how funny this is!” I said to my brother as little AJ grimaced. Squirt. Time for a diaper change. I took her over to the beautifully set changing table and began to take off her diaper. As I went to make the switch between dirty diaper and clean, SQUIRTTTT, out came another round. All over her new, white Pottery Barn changing pad, diaper caddy and changing table runner. All over her diaper pail. All over the carpet. All over me (brother was thankfully spared). We could barely contain our laughter. Looks like the joke was on me.

And so goes many similar moments in the first days of AJ’s life. My husband Chris and I have laughed often, slept little and loved more than words. Both AJ and I have shed tears. I’ve only been projected pooped on once twice.

My labor and delivery was quick and relatively routine. The nurses and staff at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital are amazing and I owe them and my doctors a huge thank you. I would never have made it through without their caring and generosity.

I got the epidural I swore I would not get. I only realized after it was all over that I had a notion in the back of my mind that getting an epidural would be “taking the easy way out.” Trust me – there is NO easy way to birth a baby. After everything was said and done, I felt like a superhero at the end of a movie – beat up, barely alive, but I had just saved the world.

The first night at the hospital was by far the hardest. AJ cried almost all night and the only way to soothe her was to nurse, which neither of us knew how to do yet. She would only come close to sleeping while in my or Chris’s arms (still the case some nights). Come Wednesday morning, we were more than ready to get out of the hospital, go home and start our new life.

Nursing was difficult and frustrating to start. I could not have done it without the help of the lactation specialist at Women and Children’s. It’s still a heavy responsibility to bear, being the only one that can feed your child, but it gets significantly easier with each feed.

I wouldn’t dare say we’ve formed a schedule yet, but we have started to get into a semi-routine of feeding, cuddling, napping and trying to take care of ourselves. She feeds every two to three hours throughout the day and night, some days more regular than others. Diaper changes are almost constant, and we’ve learned that diapers need changed with speed similar to a NASCAR pit stop to avoid a mess on the changing table or ourselves. Sometimes she sleeps soundly in her bassinet, other times we stay up holding her in her rocking chair. Spit up has become my clothing’s constant accessory.

Although we’ve learned more about parenting in the last week and half than I could imagine, this is only the beginning. When she cries, we don’t always know how to soothe her. We don’t know if we are doing things the “right” way. But we are trying our hardest, and we love her more than we thought possible. Chris goes back to work on Monday, and I don’t know what I will do without him. I’ll face an entire new set of challenges taking care of her alone during the day. I do know I will cherish the first two weeks of AJ’s life for as long as I live; a time when the three of us had no obligations other than each other, when we began to learn to be a family.

She has arrived!

Friday, August 15, 2014
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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s preliminary data, 3,957,577 babies were born in the United States in 2013.

Using that statistic, we can estimate that around 10,800 babies are born every day in the U.S alone, more or less. Having a baby is a common thing.

That doesn’t make it any less extraordinary when you have or adopt one of your own.

It’s amazing how something so normal is so special when it happens to you. Having a baby is nothing short of a miracle, even though it happens to thousands of people every day. Every story is unique, every baby special.

My heart is overflowing with joy as I type this – our own special miracle was born Tuesday, August 12 at 8:10 in the morning. Our little AJ is finally here, and we are captivated by her perfection.

Please forgive me for the short post this week, it’s been a busy one for us. I have so many thoughts running through my head, and yet I’m speechless. I can’t wait to share more about her birth, lessons learned in our first days at home and adjusting to life as a mom. Right now, we’ve been home for less than 24 hours, and I’m still taking in everything that has happened in the last couple days.

I reached the end of a journey on Tuesday – pregnancy – only to begin one incomparably wonderful and challenging – motherhood.

Beneath the Surface

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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I have a friend who grew up with an unhealthy fear of thunderstorms.

Her fear was unhealthy not because she hid at the first sign of a storm or trembled at the sound of thunder. It was unhealthy because it was based on a lie.

Her fear was built on a belief that her cousin had been killed when struck by lightning.

Only after years and a well-cultivated phobia of lightning did her parents reveal that her cousin had actually committed suicide.

I was thinking of this Monday night when both of my children wanted to talk about Robin William’s suicide. My daughter asked how he could asphyxiate himself. My son just wanted to express his shock. Since I was also in shock, I had very little to add to the conversation even though I knew I should. I don’t want my children to be afraid of thunderstorms any more than I want them to think suicide is about a person’s final act.

Instead, suicide is about everything other people don’t act upon.

I first realized this when the brother of one my daughter Kendall’s classmate’s killed himself. The boy was in middle school at the time, and my daughter relayed the same story that the media did: the boy had been bullied. That revelation was followed by the typical outcry to address bullying by calling out people whose words and behavior are hurtful.

What I didn’t hear was an outcry to simply to pay attention to each other despite labels or diagnoses or cliques or fame.

Some people might say that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in the world, and an overweight middle school student had nothing in common, but they are wrong.

They had a great deal in common.

They were both people. They both had feelings. They both struggled to meet the expectations of others. They both wanted to belong to a world that often doesn’t make sense. They both fought internal battles that others couldn’t or didn’t see. Because of this, they both hurt inside. And they both committed suicide.

Like millions of others, I feel the loss of Robin Williams, but I can’t claim I knew him any more than I knew the brother of Kendall’s classmate.

I never had the opportunity to share a smile, listen to, interact with or show my compassion for either of them, and I never will.

But I do have the opportunity to do all those with a neglected child, a homeless adult, a rebellious teenager, a lonely senior, a rude customer or client and an overly-talkative neighbor. Not only do I have the opportunity, I have the obligation. All of them are my fellow human beings who have feelings, struggle to meet the expectations of others and have a simple desire to belong to a world.

And they, like me, generally show only a small piece of themselves to the rest of the world. We keep what lies just below the surface hidden in hopes that we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities to a society that is quick to exploit them.

I can’t imagine Robin Williams ever approved of such a world. Instead, I choose to believe that he wanted all of us to recognize that imperfect people make the world interesting and meaningful. I believe he knew we should all look beyond the superficial to where imperfection and insecurities lie. And he  would want us to dive into whatever depth we are capable of reaching with others so we can work together to save all those who are drowning.

I also believe he would encourage all of us not to fear the thunderstorm and instead to dance in the rain that comes with it.

Late nights (part 1)

Friday, August 8, 2014
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I look over at the clock – 1:30 a.m. I slowly finagle my way out of bed and head to the bathroom. I’m not remotely close to tired and hunger pains have set in, so after washing my hands I go downstairs for a glass of milk and a few graham crackers. I then head to the nursery, sit back in the recliner, and open a novel. It’s going to be another sleepless night.

No, I have not had my baby yet. But I’m already losing sleep. For several weeks it has been an endless cycle of waking up every hour, if I can get to sleep at all. I’ve never struggled with insomnia or trouble sleeping before, so this is all new to me.

Finding a comfortable position with a bump this big is next to impossible. Lying down also causes heartburn and my nose to get stuffy. Since my bladder is squished, I have to use the restroom constantly.

In addition to all the physical discomforts, my mind races every night. All I can think about is baby. I think (okay, worry) about labor and delivery, bringing her home, taking care of her, what it will be like this time next year, what I need to wrap up at work before I take off, and countless other thoughts.

Our recliner/rocker in the nursery is the most comfortable place for me to half sit/half lie right now, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in that room. Which is wonderful, except I’m trying to get my thoughts off of baby as much as I can, and sitting in her room doesn’t really help. I go almost crazy thinking about when she will arrive during the day, the last thing I need is to think about it all night too.

Many people like to joke and say, “Get your sleep in now while you can!” If only we could store sleep…we’d all be a lot more energetic and happy. But that’s not the case. I like to say the sleeplessness of the last weeks of pregnancy is your body preparing itself for when baby comes (might as well look at things positively). One big difference between now and then is now I am able take naps and relax in the evenings; I know I won’t be able to do that once the baby arrives.

Our baby girl is expected to arrive any day now. I’ll probably look back on this post and laugh at myself for thinking I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Late nights (part 2) will come once baby is born; I’ll share how they compare.

Until then, I’ve invested in several good books to keep me occupied during the sleepless spells.