No Time for Time Frames

As all aspects of life do, my journey with body image struggles and body dysmorphia have had an ebb and flow feeling to them in the last year. At times I have been far too (read: entirely) consumed by the tasks of mothering and me-ing to be all too concerned about how my body looked and if I was “getting that post-baby” body back. At others I have been bogged down by the very fact that no, I am not getting that.

But honestly, after nine years of pregnancies (I found out just after Thanksgiving, 2008 about the first and delivered the fifth just before Thanksgiving 2017), what does that body even mean? What exactly would it even look like? Does any 36 yr old much resemble their 26 yr old self? With or without child bearing and birth?

I think what’s getting under my skin right now (beyond the fact that my three oldest children are of that age and we are of that stage where they’ve maybe been trained to start expecting a pregnancy announcement sometime soon [nope; never again] and keep making ridiculous statements about my belly) is that Wilson’s almost a year old. That means I’ve totally passed the sort-of accepted “40 weeks in/40 weeks out” time frame in which we give moms out to “bounce” back.

Yeah. Not much bouncing around here, folks.

I could give you a laundry list of reasons as to why (laundry could be one of them, come to think of it) this is so. The one that interests me most currently is that as much as I still feel societal and internal pressure to be as trim/fit/what-have-you as I have been before, I also am working really, really hard to just be OK with what IS.

And this is me:

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For the last month, I’ve hardly worn jeans or real pants. It’s been leggings and workout pants and sweats on constant repeat [Full disclosure: it’s probably going to stay like that for a while because my littlest two littles keep sharing germs with each other and me]. So I don’t really have my normal markers of knowing how things fit to gauge how I feel. (I haven’t been on a scale and actually seen the weight on it in five years. I can’t know those numbers and also know my sanity). I have still been doing my 30 minutes a day of yoga, but even that hasn’t been enough to keep the negative thought spiral from happening lately. Clearly, I have to keep working on that, and part of that acceptance and moving through it is honesty.

That pants in that picture (in which my shirt matches the wall AND my phone)? Those are maternity leggings and I LOVE them. I bought them last year to get me through the end of Wilson’s pregnancy. They were a size bigger than I normally wear in maternity clothes. And I’m still wearing them now, just shy of her first birthday. And they’re not all that loose. And you know what? That is what is. Am I thrilled about it? Not really. But does it define me? Hardly.

My weight at my six-week post-delivery appointment with Baby Lincoln is what sent me to counseling in the first place for body image concerns. I just knew I couldn’t keep living with that pressure. While the pressure and the thought spiral both still exist and get worse some times more than others for me, I can look at these leggings that I love, that I never thought I’d still be wearing and say: OK. Here is where I am in this body right now. Time frames and pressure to be different be damned.

I know I won’t feel quite this OK with what is every day, but any day that I can get a little bit of that peace? I’ll take it, leggings and all.

 

 

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You Gotta Be

Recently I had to tell someone “no” to a request of my time. Full disclosure, I had already (many, many months ago) told them “yes,” so my “no” was totally a backing out which isn’t great to do, but sometimes it is just as necessary as it is shitty.

As has been pretty clear on the sparse, random posts of this month, 95% of October has kicked our butts. After the baby got sick and everyone else either recovered or maintained health, I got a full-on seven day sore throat that wrecked the majority of last week for me. I am just now, on the 29th of the month, sort of coming out of the fog of travel and sickness and pure on exhaustion. So no, when I got the call to remind about the thing I said I’d do darn near a year ago, “yes” could no longer be my answer even though I knew that was going to be displeasing and problematic for the asker.

I get it. It sucks when people leave you hanging. But it also sucks when you run yourself ragged for the sake of others. And I was honest. It would have been easy to lie and say that I had an appointment and couldn’t be there. But instead I straight up said we’ve had a crazy, draining month and that I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It.

Let me be real for a second….

I have no day time help (minus the fact that Ben can alternate preschool pickup with me most of the every-other days). I run a shuttle service. I am a professional waiter (not of food, but of time during speech and before/after preschool). I provide all the food, play, naps, bathroom duties, and the million other jobs of a daycare provider/SAH parent. I also own a business and work a separate job from home (which is bonkers hard, y’all, when your little people are still in that same home with you all the live-long days). I survive on coffee, social media, uplifting and also snarky GIFs and messages with my girlfriends, and books. And yoga. Always yoga. I don’t get to go out for lunch because I can’t afford a babysitter, much less find one, and my sweet 11 month old baby still won’t let anyone besides B hold her, so no. I don’t really have much effort or energy left for commitments outside the home because my home sucks every last drop out of me.

Clearly I feel guilty for backing out. You see that, right? But I’m writing this to remind myself of two things: 1) it is 110% OK to put my own air mask on first by saying “no” to something I don’t want to do. Even if it doesn’t feel that way, it IS. And 2) when I am no longer in this stage of parenting, may I please forever remember that when I ask something of a mama who IS still in it, that I always, always lead with, “How can I help?”

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Dissent

In the two weeks since my trip to DC, which happened to be roughly two days in which I lived at least three lifetimes, we have had non-stop child sickness in our house which has made this October the longest of Octobers in the history of ever and not in a cute pumpkin and scarf/boot kind of way. Truman took 13 days to recover. Raegan is on Day 6, and Wilson is on Day 1.5.

It has been an intense month.

And, needless to say, the sleep deficit around here as of late has also been bonkers, which hasn’t helped how any of us are feeling about this October to end all Octobers.

Also cast to the wayside with my sleep, really, has been my time to recover and process all that went down in DC. In fact, I am still dealing with the intensity of emotions surrounding my experience both in DC and that which led me to be part of that trip. The 48 odd hours that I was actually gone were packed with so much effort, on so many levels, that I legit had nothing left to give when it came to anything outside of our lobby tasks.

No sight-seeing. No souvenir shopping (except for keychains for the children at the airport). No friend/family visiting on the East Coast. No protests or marches even because just to do our prep work and meetings was enough to take it out of this first time advocate.

And that’s OK.

It was a matter of self-care to give myself permission to set all else aside and just be there for what was asked of me for the trip. (Have I mentioned yet how incredible and trauma-aware the ACLU folks were before, during, and after our Senate staff meetings? I know that part of my empowerment and strength those two days came directly from them being so supportive of and sensitive to their audience. From the language they used in emails to the pre-Hill trainings and stress-management techniques they shared with us, they has us covered. And you know the yoga teacher in me loved the breathing techniques they shared with the group.)

Why I still don’t really feel recovered two weeks later, though, is because life carries on. Especially when you have little Littles still in the picture, you don’t get to go off and be an adult only and then come home and still be an individual, too. I dove head first into advocacy and then head first back into parenting, and the super exhausting kind of parenting, too, where you are worried about and tending too a million extra germ-induced tasks each day. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t still been fighting the good fight.

Contrary to what some folks seem to think, I did not go in to this experience under a false assumption that it would definitely yield the results I wanted. Not at all. I knew, based on my Senators’ voting records and tendencies that neither I nor the group I traveled with would be likely to change their minds. But that was no reason not to go and I am glad I did not let that likelihood keep me from saying “yes” to the offer.

Using your voice, even when it shakes, even when you know it is likely to fall on deaf ears (which are often quite synonymous with closed minds)? That is dissent, my friends, and it is good and right to still let your voice cry out even when you know the decision has already been made.

Semi-side note: In case you can’t tell, I have been obsessed with Ruth Bader Ginsberg lately. As in, read a book, located a documentary, and ordered my very own version of her dissent necklace (half of the proceeds of each one sold go to some pretty rockin’ charities), all in the last two weeks. So this, along with a wall print of the shot of our lobby group that was taken on the steps of the Russell Senate Building after our meetings, is how I commemorate my trip and the use of my voice, even when it turned out ultimately to be one of dissent, not (yet) direct change.

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To the Melting Mamas amidst Meltdowns

By the end of church every Sunday, I am undone. I am sweaty. I am covered in drool and Goldfish remnants. I am also usually so taxed from sitting through 1 hr and 15 minutes of controlled time with my herd of children in the pews that by the time we get home, I am cranky and/or want to curl up in Child’s Pose and not move for at least 1 hr and 15 minutes (which, PS, is never, ever possible).

I am a literal and figurative mess on Sunday mornings.

And you know what? I attend a church that loves kids. They and their noises and their antics are welcomed on a regular basis and often I get mad props and big love just for being there with my five.

The last couple weeks, though, when I have had to wrestle a baby who can’t be put down and won’t go to anyone but her daddy (& even then only for short bursts of time) and monitor four other Littles who are busy, busy, busy in the balcony where we sit (and because summer won’t die, sweat), I find myself questioning why I bother.

Wouldn’t it be easier to stay at home with the baby? To watch the service on FB and let Ben take the kids to Sunday School? To only go to service when one of our crew is singing or playing bells?

Well, yes. That would be much easier. But we started attending this church as a family and we feel that the church is part of our family, so bailing and watching from the sidelines doesn’t feel like a real option. We want our children to be part of this community and they aren’t going to get that if we ourselves are not part of it.

That being said, an innocent enough comment got tossed my way after service today (ironic giving the sermon on “Taming the Tongue”) that took a self-deprecating joke I had made and shot it down with the message of: nope. not good enough. you’re not doing enough. And I lost it.

Not in immediate response. I held my tongue in the moment and bailed out a side door so no one would have to see my tears, but I share it now because are you kidding me? Even in jest or innocent jokes? Just as the sermon said today, words matter. And I am literally sweating my way through every service like it’s a gym workout to make sure my kids are there but not too distracting, that we are a part of it all, and the absolute last thing I need is to be made to feel like I am somehow failing. Because trust me, it’s easy enough to think that on my own.

So, please: mad props and big love only, OK? I’m doing my best to extend grace, to others and myself, and if you are one of the mamas melting and trying to tame meltdowns every week at church, I see you. No jokes about it. You are enough and your efforts are of value.

 

Minivan Moments

It is no secret to parents that you can sometimes have the best conversations with your kids when you are driving. There is something about the road or the slightly averted eyes that makes it a safe and comfortable place to chat.

Many days when I pick my biggest two up after school, they are talking shouting over each other to tell me stories as we make the all-too-short-to-fit-it-all-in drive back home. And then, just to be helpful, Truman starts chiming in, “Me turn! ME! TURN!” as if I haven’t been around him all day and already heard all his stories. 3yos, man. What a hoot.

This year, though, because my kids are in a two-year temporary building for school, our drive TO school in the mornings has gotten longer. Originally they were riding the bus but the schedule changed (insert eye roll here) and it became far more convenient just to drive them the extra distance instead of heading to the bus stop earlier. And what I have found on these mornings (besides the fact that I need to drink my coffee BEFORE the 7:30-9:00 drop-off craziness of every day) is that my kids and I have some pretty cool chats during those extra early minutes together in the car.

It is during these drives that I get to hear about what is going on at school that day or how things are going with so-and-so and this-and-that in their classrooms. This is when we get to quick review what we have going on later in the day so everyone is (sort of, mostly, kind of) on the same page after school. And this is when they get to just ask me whatever or tell me whatever is floating around their (pretty darn awesome) brains.

I really dig it.

And, because this one cracked me up, I have to share one of our conversations from last week….

As some of you know, HD decided to apply for Student Council this year. The day the applications came home, he told me he wanted to do it and he already had in mind his platform proposal (my words, not the school’s). He wanted to assign student helpers, student janitors, if you will) to help so the custodian wouldn’t have to do as much to keep the bathrooms clean.

“You know, Mom, like I do? They could push down the paper towels in the trash and stuff?”

Love him.

So. We talked about his answers to the application questions and he filled it out, took it back on time, and was told that yes, he could indeed run for StuCo. Yay!

Then, last Thursday morning, when we had approximately 20 minutes before we had to head out the door and I still had lunches to throw together, he tells me that he needs a speech to present to his peers. That day.

Oof.

My Mama heart freaked. I wanted to help him but I didn’t want to do it for him and he was right that he did not have enough time to write it all out himself.

So. We compromised. While I made lunches, he told me his ideas and I wrote out an outline on a half sheet of paper. I then handed it to him, told him to give me his speech, and lo and behold a future debator was born – he did it. He used that outline and elaborated and it was just cool to watch him do that so easily. He practiced a couple times  (“Mom, time me to make sure I’m under the time limit!”) and then we were out the door and in the van.

On this particular morning drive, after we had just done the mad-dash outline save, after a week of applications and conversations, is when Harrison decided to ask me, “Mom? What’s Student Council?”

Friends, it took everything in my being not to burst out laughing that he waited until that moment to make that inquiry, but instead I did my best to answer and away we went across town to school where he did share his ideas with his classmates and he was in fact elected to that mysterious entity otherwise known as Student Council.

Bless his heart. So proud of him. So entertained by him in that moment. So glad to have a few extra minutes with them all in the morning, even though the in-out-load-and-go of it all is a damn circus every day. To be a witness to their development and their personalities is worth it. And, thanks to the change up in my coffee routine, I’m coherent enough to remember the funnies that pop up along the way.

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Staying Put

Last weekend, on a total, uncharacteristic for me, whim, I concocted a plan for us to travel to Kansas City this weekend to take the kids to their first Royal’s game. Cool, right?

In theory, yes. But then the week came (LT’s first one of preschool which went really well but left all of us a little worn out from all the extra running around and him in general simply for the fact that it was his first week of school) and by Thursday/Friday both the weather forecast (super hot + chances of rain and thunderstorms) and Wilson (diaper rash from hell and clingyness on Stage Five Alert levels) were not looking great/road worthy.

Then our sleepless Friday night happened thanks to the aforementioned diaper rash resulting in a 2-hr-awake window in the middle of the night and the most dic-er-us (TJ’s version of the word) thunder storm we’ve had in ages that woke our entire family from 1:30-2:30A. We had actually made the call prior not to go to KC, but that sealed the deal from last minute heading down there Saturday because Ben and I, not to mention the kids, were sooooo tired yesterday. Minus the ability to teleport or hire a chauffeur, it just couldn’t have happened.

So instead we’ve spent the weekend making the most of our family time and letting a few rules fly out the window to make up for the disappointing change in plans. The kids stayed up late Friday night for a movie and picnic dinner in the basement. Yesterday we did a family walk to the park, and did not reschedule piano lessons, and they got to go bowling and to Cherry Berry, and we started our first kid audiobook listen (The Boxcar Children), AND they went to bed EARLY to counter the previous night’s thunderstorm shenanigans. Today it has been board games, book listening, show watching, slime making (am I the only parent who hates making slime?), and watching the Royal’s on TV because, of course it’s not actually storming there yet (*face palm*). There has also been time for me to do some grading, Ben to work on budget, not watching the Huskers play, and even some reading.

Honestly? Even though we couldn’t resell the tickets, I don’t really care that our plans changed. Had I been thinking about it being the end of Lincoln’s first week I never would have hatched this plan in the first place because I know better. These first few weeks of school have to have sacred weekends which sometimes means not even going to church because down time is a MUST. Doing some active, some quiet, some food, some free, some cost activities just as a family unit? Also a MUST.

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If I’m also being totally honest, I’ll admit that my main motivator for wanting to go to the game this weekend (besides cheap tickets because, let’s face it – not a great season for the Royals) was to give my kids one fun trip that was not also grief-tinged. Every other major trip we’ve done this year has been and I wanted one start-to-finish excursion that was not, but then we (re)discovered that going was far less valuable to us, at this time, than staying put.

So put we are. Doing our things. Taking it easy*. I’ll take it.

*I repeat: Slime sucks.

Dear Wilson

The thought went through my head today at Wilson’s 9 Month well check, and not for the first time, that I am afraid that I am going to be old pile of hot mess come her first birthday. I mean, wouldn’t the first birthday of the last baby be enough to reduce anyone to mush status pretty easily? As it is, with our Wonder girl, I find myself of course celebrating her each passing month, but even now, at 3/4 of the way to 1, there’s still a bit of lamenting happening, too. It’s like I haven’t escaped the trauma of the unexpected, life-saving surgery and NICU stay yet.

Actually, I know I haven’t.

One way I know? When I hear or smell anything that reminds me of the hospital, I get panicky. We’re not talking PTSD here, but still. The smell of hospital brand/grade sanitizer? Yep, that does it. The beeping of a vitals machine as it attempts to take blood pressure and pulse? Oh, wow. That REALLY does it. I flat out wanted to drop kick the little roll-y vitals cart thing at the doctor’s office today because it instantly threw me back into all those times I was trying to hold Wilson in the NICU and the machines kept going off (thankfully not because she was in actual distress but because the little pads don’t stick worth a darn), making it next to impossible to snuggle and feed my baby the way I wanted, longed, wished so badly to do.

Here’s the other way I know I haven’t moved past the trauma of it all: I haven’t mourned the loss of my brand new newborn expectations that I had for her and I, for all of us. And clearly I need to do exactly that. So, here goes…

Dear Wilson,

Sweet, sweet, surprise Baby Girl. When I think back to your birth, it is hands down one of the happiest moments of my life. I had experience under my belt, your daddy at my side, and all the nurses and I were smiling and laughing; and even though of course labor is intense, I cannot think of any other way to describe your labor and birth than joyFULL. In hindsight, I am so glad we did not know what was coming next because I think it would have changed your birth dramatically, and my love, you came into this world in the happiest way possible. What I’m still trying to wrap my head and heart around nine months later is how we had to fight in the days and weeks to come to get back not just to happy but to home.

You were, of course, amazing. Strong, blowing through doctor’s expectations that first week, charming everyone with your sweet face and incredible story (and WONDERful nickname). Everyone surrounding you – doctors, nurses, family, friends, prayer warriors – they were amazing, too. Your dad and I? We flew by the seat of our pants and did our best to rock a previously unimaginable situation that ultimately was so short, so swift, but at the time felt like trying to cross a canyon five miles wide and ten miles deep on foot. That being said, I have never been, for one second, frustrated with you over your first three weeks of life. And perhaps that is why I haven’t found a way to direct my feelings or move past them yet because there is literally no one and no thing that can take the blame for what happened. It just did. And thank the heavens above, we still got to keep you anyway.

What I do feel sad about, mad about, down right cheated about, is not getting to have a typical newborn experience with you. By Baby No. 5 you kind of have a sense for how these things go, but Sweetness, you showed us we knew very little beyond how to love you and hold on for the ride of our lives. I wanted to be at home, curled up in my own bed, nursing you and napping next to your bassinet, and having your siblings loving on us all the time, and your dad home from school for a handful of days, and not too many visitors, and just time to do our thing and start the work of figuring out Life as Seven. Instead we got none of that and my every comfort level and heart string was pushed and stretched tight enough to physically hurt. It still hurts now, sometimes, to the point that I have watched other women welcome babies in the time since your birth and been pissed and judgmental about everything they are out and about doing, only to realize I don’t give a flying flip what they are doing – it’s just that I didn’t get to choose what you and I got to do for 22 days.

22 days.

Doesn’t seem so long when I look at that number now. As you grow, I’m sure it will get even smaller. And of course I know that others have faced far worse, far longer, far less happy in the end. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have yet to meet a mama who would trade to have our birth experience, either. I can’t make it a comparison game, but I can mourn for the 22 days that we didn’t get to call ours alone, that went so far off the plan, they rewrote all the rules. Wilson Ann, you will always be worth it. Never ever doubt that. I am sorry I couldn’t make your first 22 days smoother and less scary (for all of us). But you’ve had my heart from the start. You’ll have it forever.

With All the Love,

Mama

P.S. This is you at 9 months. Total, pure sweetness. img_1297