I’m Ready for the End… no Wait.. I’m Not.

My OB called today. I’ve been expecting this call; we’ve verified your insurance, here are your pre-op instructions, this is the date you show up at the hospital for your tubal. The day I went in for my consult, just a week ago, I was confident, I was assured. I had done the research and read the reports and looked at all the websites I could find. I told the doctor it was the end of an era, no more Pregnant Jennifer.

The office called while we were out shopping, and I didn’t get to calling them back until later on in the day. One of the doctor’s extremely nice nurses gave me all the information, and I dutifully wrote it done, asked a few questions, said thank you (Mama raised me right), even though I was completely befuddled by the entire thing. From the moment she asked if the 6thwas a good day for surgery, my brain split into two parts.

One part… take notes, pay attention, ask a question. Write everything down. Be smart and in control. Be a grown up.

The other part, the part of my brain in sync with my heart. The part of my brain known as Mama Central. That part just sat there, trying to process what was going on. And then the resistance began.

With tears in my eyes and that burning, pre-cry sensation in the back of my throat, I asked Hubs if we were really done. After that, I shook the moment off, and got busy re-arranging the girl’s room. Set up a new toy box, moved the old one to the living room, picked up toys, did some laundry.

When I walked into the living room at last, Dumbo was playing on tv. And of course, it’s that scene. The Baby Mine scene. With a song of a mother’s unending love for a baby, her always baby, in my ears, I looked over at Sprout, asleep on the couch, a tangle of curly hair and long legs. And Pudge, rocking gently back and forth in her swing, smelling of milk and baby shampoo.

It was possibly the best moment; the now of my life, the this very instant of my life, crystallized to perfection, with the sweetest lullaby, one I have sung to my girls since the moment they were each born, playing in the background.

It was possibly the worst moment; with the news of my impending un-babyness hanging in the air as well. Against the perfection of that moment, of sleepy sweet girls, of rest your head, close to my heart, never to part; sat the realization that there will not be any more babies. (I just tried to type out the S-word, and couldn’t bring myself to do it.)

I cried. Before I could curl up on the couch and use an entire box of Kleenex ugly crying over a song, the girls woke up, and I had to get dinner, and then do baths, and put little ones to bed.

Later on, Sprout went into my Mom’s room, and we watched Brave. When the end came, when Elinor and Merida were racing each other, I wasn’t teary eyed. I wasn’t sniffly. I was just flat out crying. I see so much of Sprout and myself in that movie, doing battle with each other, fighting for oftentimes the same goal, and just as often the opposite goal.

I am not ready for the end. I need more positive lines, I need more plus signs on plastic tests in the bathroom. I need more weird food cravings, I need to hear a heartbeat through a Doppler more, I need more feet and elbows in my ribs. I need to lay in the night and feel my child kick and squirm while I wish for sleep. I need years of milky sweet baby in the middle of the night, of giggling little girl in the afternoon. I need a lifetime of first smiles, first giggles, first steps, first days of school, first time I tied my shoe lace, first time I rode a horse. I need babywearing and cloth diapers and baby food making in the kitchen, and playing princesses and bandaging a dolly’s “hurt” leg. I need little feet and arms jammed into my ribs in the middle of the night, “Mama can I come sleep with you?” and a baby’s head on my shoulder at 3 am, when the world shrinks down to my bedroom and the sleeping babies in it.

I am so ready for the end. Motherhood is all consuming. It has completely subsumed me. I miss sleep. I miss having time to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I miss spending the entire day in my pajamas. I miss painting my toes for no good reason, by myself, with no one asking for their own polish. I miss not having to cook. I miss taking a walk for the hell of it. I miss reading a book in a matter of days, not a matter of months. I miss Jennifer.

But regardless of the civil war raging in my heart and head, the end is coming. Financially, we can easily handle two children, but more than that would put us back where we were. I knew this was it the moment that plus sign popped up on the test window the second time. Every kick and squirm, every doctor’s visit, got me closer to last. My body cannot take another pregnancy. This is the end.

Long ago, in the dark hours of a long deployment, I swore that once Hubs was home, I would be thankful for what I had. I would learn to be content, to be grateful, for the blessings I had, and not wish for more. I would enjoy the golden days to come, and be happy with what I had in the here and now. The dreams I dreamed for Sprout, the dreams that came with Pudge; I cannot be in the moment for those dreams, if I am mourning the loss of what could have been.  And I will be in the moment for my girls, as much as I possibly can.

We will run and scream
You will dance with me
We’ll fulfill our dreams and we’ll be free
We will be who we are
And they’ll heal our scars
Sadness will be far away*

~Jennifer

*Lyrics from Learn Me Right, by Birdy and Mumford and Sons

Love Story

When I was little, I would watch movies, Disney, the old black and white classics, and I always thought love was what I saw on tv. The sweeping grand gesture by the hero, to save his one true love.

It took me months to accept that my love story wasn’t going to be that way. I had married a soldier, and his world was not what I expected. Oftentimes, it wasn’t what I wanted either. I had to give up the idea in my head of what our love story should be, and accept it for what it really was.

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Getting his AAM after Iraq 2010.

Ours is not the traditional love story. It’s not roses and romance, with sweeping gestures that would make movie audiences cry.

Ours is love story of battles. Of wars fought, of distances between. Of schooling and training and time apart. Ours is a love story defined by the balance between love and honor, duty and family.

Ours is not a love story of tuxedos and high heels, but rather combat boots and flip flops.

Ours is a story of meeting on a rainy parade field, in the middle of the night, the first contact we’d had in months. Ours is a story of pinning rank badges on his chest, of staring at the phone at 3 am, willing it to ring.

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Promotion!!! Sprout’s job was to pull the rank off.

More than half of my marriage, Hubs has been gone. The Army called, he was needed, and he would leave. The good times, when he was home, when his presence was calm to my high-strung soul, are few and far between.

So much of what you expect your spouse to be there for, he was not. And when he was home, we struggled to put ourselves back together again. The times I sat across the table and looked at a complete stranger, who looked like my husband, talked like my husband, but just wasn’t my husband, in some weird sense, are more numerous than I care to remember.

Ours is a love story of personal battles. Of the times we fought through a deployment, towards each other. He fought the wars; I fought to keep everything together. (I failed at this quite a bit.) Of the times we fought to put us back together, after being apart for so long. Of the times we mended the cracks in our relationship, only to discover new ones. Of the times we fought each other, doing battle until exhaustion took hold, and we had to make peace with each other.

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Re-enlistment. I spent most of his Army career with a baby on my hip.

Ours is a love story of golden days. Brief moments where everything came together, and we had perfection. Of the times we strung those good days together as often as we could, trying to pack as much good into each day. We clung to those days to get us through the bad days.

Ours is a love story of Army Brats, of bringing up children in a world that seemed determined to keep him away.

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Just before his last deployment, 2013.

Ours is a love story of finally being in the place, and the time, to come back together. To knit us back together, to bond, to tell old secrets, and heal old wounds. Ours is a love story of peace, on the far, far, side of war. Ours is a love story of our own to write now, the demands of the Army given to someone else, the boots tucked into the closet, the tags in the jewelry box.

Our love story is not the traditional love story. But it is a love story of fighting back the odds, holding on for one more day, and digging in for the long haul. I realize now, the love stories I grew up watching, weren’t real, they were ephemeral, thin, see-through loves tories. But the love you have to fight for, that you give up everything for, that is the real love story.

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Taken during his last deployment, 2013. The name that means that most to me.

~Jennifer

Sleep

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How to tell you need a bigger bed.

The advice you get as a first-time parent is mind boggling. When to feed, how to feed, diapers to use, wipes to use, how to hold baby, swaddle baby, what to do with baby when baby is upset, how to handle colic, burping, what laundry soap is the best for sensitive baby skin, it goes on and on. But the advice on how to sleep, how to get baby to sleep, came in like an avalanche. I was buried under the sheer amount of thoughts and opinions on sleep.

In the end, when Sprout was tiny, and hubs was back in Iraq, she slept with me. I know that’s breaking one of the rules of deployment, and many parenting rules. But there was something comforting about sleeping next to her, my hand resting on her tummy, feeling it move up and down with each breath she took. She was the only tangible, physical reminder of Hubs. The weight of her head on my shoulder, the feel of her tiny fingers curled around mine, that was all I had left; until he came back home.  We repeated this ritual, sleeping curled up tightly together, her head on my shoulder, during his second deployment.

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One of the first pictures I got of them together was this one. Early in the morning, sleeping snuggled together.

He came back, and we set about putting us back together. It seemed natural, as we learned to be a family, for her to sleep with us. We had a routine, put her in her own bed at night, and typically in the early morning, when she needed to be changed and fed, she would come to bed with us. Some nights she was in bed with us the entire night, some nights she was in her own bed the entire night, and some nights, half-asleep I would nestle her into our bed, and we would sleep.

Once I openly admitted that yes, she slept with us, the advice really started to pile on. She’ll never sleep by herself, you’ll put a strain on you and Hubs, you need some alone time, she has to learn how to self-soothe and put herself back to sleep, on and on. Some days I felt my friends and family had all turned into broken records. I had my doubts, when Sprout was up for the umpteenth-thousandth time, when I was tired beyond all measure, I wondered if they might be right. Maybe I was screwing up my child.

But in the early morning hours, when the smell of baby shampoo and conditioner drifts to me, and a pair of over-large feet are propped on my stomach, I believe, I know… We got this right.

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Sometimes we don’t sleep though.

Night time is our time to bond, to come together as a family, to spend a few hours just with each other, not arguing, not talking, not teaching or playing. Just being around each other. Sprout is what the professionals call a strong-willed child. I have many terms for it, stubborn, fierce, independent, GIANT PAIN IN MY ASS; and the end of the day, when we need to rest and recharge, there is no better way to make peace than sharing a bed. The nights where I run my fingers through her curly hair until she relaxes and falls asleep, are the nights where we make peace, after a day of battles and negotiations.  Almost always, after a particularly trying day, when she ends up sleeping with me, she whispers she’s sorry, and drops a kiss on my cheek when she climbs into bed with me. And I whisper the same back.

When Pudge came along, for a few nights I slept on the couch, giving up the bed to Sprout and Hubs. Sprout inevitably found her way to the couch, and one night I said to hell with it. I slept for a few hours with a newborn on my chest, and my oldest snuggled beside me. And in that hazy time of no-sleep and cracked, bleeding nipples, and post-partum crazy hormones, I relaxed.  I tried, after that, to keep Sprout in her bed, and Pudge in hers, and it just didn’t work. I’m too tired to tuck one child into bed, only to do the same for the other an hour later.

More often than not, Sprout sleeps next to Hubs, Pudge sleeps snuggled with me, and I dream of a king sized bed. All to myself. The times I get the bed to myself though, I cannot sleep. If Hubs is working nights and the girls are both in their own beds, my bed is too empty, too cold, and I am restless. I find myself snuggling first Pudge into bed with me, enjoying time with my chubby baby, and then lifting the covers when Sprout stumbles in, making more room for her. In that moment, the world shrinks down to my room, to the warm bodies that snuggle against me, and the smell of baby shampoo, and milk breath.

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But when they do both sleep, it is glorious.

The time of diapers and bottles, reading books before beds, stuffed lovies and “Mama I need you” is small. The season of small children is the fastest season of life I have known. It’s passing by so quickly it makes my heart hurt. I find myself sniffling back tears as I realize Sprout’s face is free of baby fat, that Pudge no longer has that newborn look, but has filled out and is a chubby baby. The best time of this season right now, is for me, night time, when the world is quiet, the bed is warm, and my babies are sleeping beside me.

~Jennifer

Reap the Whirlwind

I’ve always liked that saying. I know it doesn’t have positive connotations, I’ve always taken it to mean do stupid things, and stupid things will come back to you. But for me, lover of storms and lighting, wind, and rain, it’s always meant something more. The whirlwind will come, and you have to be strong enough to withstand it.

The past few months, I have paid increasing attention to the parenting, child-raising blogs. And I have been inundated with advice for little girls. Mostly talking about raising proper little princesses, young ladies who know when to say the right thing, and when to do the right thing. I’ve found myself sneering at more than one link posted by someone on my friends list, rolling my eyes when someone comments on Sprout’s mouthiness and attitude.

Make no mistake, Sprout is growing a smart-mouth on her, and she has a fierce attitude. She gets both of those from me. That is perfectly ok though, it is what I wanted. I wanted to raise her, and now Pudge, strong enough to march into the world, bust the glass ceiling, raise a little Hell. So from the beginning, Sprout has had a voice, I have enjoyed her to talk to me, even when all the talking she could do was an ear-piercing cry. I’m doing the same with Pudge.

The end result, a few years down the road, is a little girl whose hard-headedness, determination, and sheer attitude is outmatched only by my own. Her grandmother gives, bending like a field of wheat in the storm. Her father uses pure force of will to keep her somewhat civil. But there is only one person who can throw a fit like she does in this household, raising Hell clear the Heavens. And that would be me.

I know, from my own childhood, that to curb Sprout’s attitude will mean breaking her. It took me years to unravel Me from the Jennifer I’m Supposed to Be, that perfect imitation of what it means to be a girl, a woman, a wife. I still have moments, where I fear that the real me, wild and carefree, will be too much for the Hubs. My fondest wish for my girls is that they do not have that fear; that they believe, from the top of their curly heads to the bottoms of their pink painted toes, that they are, wild and untamed, exactly as they are supposed to be.

When I posted on facebook about this, that raising an independent woman meant living with an independent little girl, I got one message that caught my attention. That I am reaping the whirlwind. It was meant to be a reminder, to school Sprout in the ways of proper ladyhood, to teach her to say the right things on command, do the right things on command. That I need to teach her to be the painted porcelain doll I was raised to be. At least, that was how I took it.

And to that notion, that I must raise a girl who waits for her prince I say.. Fuck That Nonsense.

I am not raising proper young ladies. I am raising strong, independent, fierce women; who can weather whatever storm comes their way, who can handle what life throws their way. I am not raising little hot-house orchids, incapable of surviving the storm. I am raising thorny roses, beautiful but strong, and capable of defending themselves. If that means I have to deal with a little attitude and backtalk along the way, so be it.

When my girls leave my house, they will be prepared for anything, a man that does them wrong, a man that treats them right, they will be able to run a house, change the oil in their vehicles. They will be able to open their own doors, pay for their own meals, lead their own lives. It will take a special kind of man to be with them, to walk in the storm as Hubs does. But if he cannot accept them as they are, love them as they are, for all their fierceness and attitude and strength, then he does not deserve either of them.

So world… go find your proper young ladies elsewhere.

We are dancing in the storm. And I am happily reaping the whirlwind.

~Jennifer