Motherhood is….

Every so often, I get asked about motherhood. Right around the time the lines turn positive on a test for a woman I know, I start to get questions. What kind of diapers are the best, which baby carrier is the most comfortable, who sells the best maternity clothes, what car seat do I have for the girls, the list goes on and on. But I get asked what motherhood is like the most often. I have tried, really, really tried, to answer the eternal question “What is it like?” as honestly as I can. And really, only one word describes motherhood.

Relentless.

It is relentless. The work is relentless, the lack of sleep is relentless, the mental exhaustion is relentless. The physical exhaustion is relentless. From the morning my feet hit the floor, life, the girl’s life, my life, the house-life, comes at me. Gone are the day where I could ease into the morning with a cup of coffee and the news on the tv. Now I’m lucky to get to pee in peace before answering questions, feeding a baby, turning a tablet on, helping a little body into clothes, changing a dirty diaper for a fresh one.

The onslaught of motherhood slams into me before I’m fully awake.

There is an ongoing mountain of laundry, a long list of housework I never seem able to get through. A list of chores that grows rather than shrinks. A list of things I need to do, errands I need to run, all of it, that demands attention, generally while my attention is being demanded from two small little girls.

Every decision I make during the day, down to something as simple as getting dressed, is dominated by the girls. How hard will it be to get this shirt off when it’s covered in spit-up and baby drool? Can I wear these shoes and keep up during a walk? Are these leggings even clean? I can no longer go the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, I have to get both girls loaded, check to see if my ergo is in the truck or on the couch, herd Sprout through the store, hope Pudge doesn’t pee through a diaper because it just dawned on me that the diaper bag is sitting on the kitchen counter, and get home. I can’t let the tv just mindlessly drone on, there is too much on tv that is way too big for Sprout; so certain channels are on the no-no list. Some channels are on the no-no list at certain times of day, some all the time. (I’d like to take a moment to thank Science Channel for running How It’s Made during the day, it’s always a safe bet.)

Sleep is non-existent. The nights the girls sleep in their beds all night long I can’t sleep. The nights they end up with me, I end up used for a pillow, a security blanket, and a drink holder all night long. I spend most of my days hovering between shades of exhaustion, and Quiet Time in the afternoon is probably my favorite time of day. Yes, we all snuggle on the couch and it’s very sweet. But more importantly, I get a much needed nap. Sleep deprivation is relentless.

Even on days where I’m not teaching, I have activities planned out. Leaving Sprout to her own devices means fixing something she has broken, cleaning something she has spilled, and playing get the glitter off the cat/out of the carpet. Keeping her occupied with tea parties and dress-up and projects to do on the patio means we’re saner. I spend 20 hours a day, some days, in Mom-mode, and the mental toll is relentless.

There’s laundry to sort, diapers to wash, dinners to cook, lessons to plan (looking forward to taking the summer off), there’s work to be done. The sheer amount of work is relentless. For every job done, there are more lining up. It is utterly relentless.

But…..

So is the love.

The hugs and kisses from Sprout are relentless. She’s independent, and cops an attitude, but she is almost always up for a snuggle. A day never passes when she tells me I’m the best Mom ever, or that I’m better at breakfast than Daddy is, or that I’m her favorite Mom in the whole wide world. The love I have poured into that child comes back now, in great big relentless moments.

The love that I’ve poured into Pudge is coming back. I am rewarded with a toothless, gummy grin every time I stumble into her room at 4 in the morning, to change her diaper and feed her. Like her sister, she is always up for a snuggle, and wants nothing more than for someone to hold her. Those moments where she lays her head on my shoulder and is content to sit there, watching the world go by, are filled with relentless amounts of joy and love.

So is the happiness.

These are, hands down, the best times of my life. I have two healthy, imperfectly perfect, little girls. The sun shines, the hummingbirds visit the feeder, the smell of crayons and play-do dominates my house. Little feet run across the carpet, toes are painted, songs are sung, movies are watched. We laugh all the time, at silly knock-knock jokes, during tickle fights, we giggle over a science experiment gone wrong, we laugh at a bubble fight in the tub.

When I was pregnant with Sprout, I bought a crystal sun catcher. It’s 3 big crystals, held in a spiral wire, attached to a small motor. In the window, at just the right time, it scatters the light into the girls room in spinning rainbows. Sprout bounces on the bed and shrieks and giggles every time, Pudge coos and gurgles at the light. That room becomes the focal point of life for me. The happiness is relentless.

So is the peace.

For years, I lived like a gypsy. (Pardon the un-PC term). I moved on a moments notice, changed jobs, dropped in and out of college. It was a carefree, un-moored existence. I swore, at the tender age of knows it all 20-something, that I could never be happy tied to one place. I needed to explore and travel and roam.

And I can’t now. Moving is a huge undertaking. Just going an hour down the highway is a huge undertaking. I am moored here, digging in and growing new roots on my family tree. I thought I would die of boredom, all those years ago.

But this is a peaceful time. Having a place, one singular place, to call home. Having somewhere to fill with laughter and music and good food and movies, and all the books we can fit in here, is the most peaceful I’ve ever been. The peace comes to me in a relentless sort of way, like sitting on the beach, up far enough that the waves don’t crash, but flow up around you. They still come, they don’t stop, in their own relentless, calm sort of way.

Some day, relentless will be gone. The girls will gone, the swing will be empty, there won’t be toys to be picked up, I won’t be tying shoes and wiping noses and changing diapers and clothes. I will have a big bed with room to stretch out in. I will have time to go shopping and get my nails done. The relentlessness of motherhood will be gone, my girls will be on their own, the nest will be empty. I try to remember that, when the relentless tide of motherhood isn’t all good.

Motherhood is completely and utterly unabating, in so many ways, the good, the bad, the in between. It comes at you all at once, the giggles and the tears, the dirty clothes and the perfectly clean living room. It never stops, never pauses, never lets up. It is an unending ride through childhood.

It is completely and utterly relentless.

~Jennifer

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Redefining

I am the black sheep of the family. It’s really a toss-up between me and one of my brothers, who keeps himself in exile from the family most of the time. Both of us are outspoken, opinionated, and we both refuse to kiss anyone’s ass. Ask for an opinion, and you’ll get it, honest, unvarnished, and sparing little feelings in the process. (For the record, I can take it as well as I can dish it out.)

I am the unabashed hippie liberal, an agonistic, in a family of Bible-believing, card-carrying, in church every time the doors are open Christians. My views on life, God, religion, and just about everything, make my family uncomfortable. But we’re family, more opinions are better right? There is room for every soul at the proverbial family dinner table.

I have not expected to find myself ignored, blocked, and cut-off from my family.

If I am completely honest, it stings.

More for the girls than for me. I get how complicated the politics of my family are. I’ve never been the favored grandchild, or niece, or cousin. I am too much my father’s daughter, a reminder of the Grade A bastard my mom married.

My Dad tries, in his overbearing, commanding, demanding way; he tries. He calls to check on the girls, asks for pictures, wants to know that we’re all healthy and doing fine. I have never been able to go to him with my deepest agonies, he is a man who has locked his emotions away, and we’ve never been able to truly connect. But he tries, with everything he has. I’ve long accepted that I got Daddy’s eyes, and his temper, and his mouth. I’ve long accepted my last name, and the weight that comes with it. Because he gives as much of a damn as he possibly can.

But Sprout especially, has no understanding, can’t even begin to fathom it. And now, cut off from my family, she questions. She wants to know where family members she has met and grown to love are. I fall back on the response of how far away they physically are, which is true, half a country now stands between me and the majority of my Mama’s kin.

But there is a day coming when I will have to explain to her the whys of it, and how the gulf that exists between my family and I came to be. I find myself grasping at straws even now, explaining to her. At 4 she points out the phones in the house, and asks why no one calls to talk to her. She’s asked me repeatedly why the people she loves don’t love her back, and the response sticks in my throat. That it’s not her they don’t love, it’s me.

I have accepted my place in the family, and I own it. I am the black sheep, and I make black sheep look good. At least I’m honest about my life, and my good points, and my failings. I am who I am, and I cannot change that, will not change that. But I’m having a hard time reconciling that my place in the family, is the place now shared by my daughters.

Logically I know it’s my family who is missing out. I have two fantastic children, an older daughter who is fierce and tough, who is a fearless leader, who colors outside the lines because it looks better that way, who wears purple and yellow together and proclaims she looks good, who marches to the beat of her own drum in every way possible. And a baby who is laidback and good natured, who smiles when you talk to her, and lays her head on your shoulder when she’s tired, a baby who is always up for a snuggle and a late-night chat.

My family is missing that. They are missing the wild and crazy times of my girls’ start in life, they’re missing all the fun things they do, muddy puddle walks, bath paints, Candy Land until we’re giggling too hard to play, reading books until everyone is sleepy, late night popcorn and movies and sleeping bags on the floor. When, or if, my relationship with my family is ever repaired, they will not get these times back, once they come and go they’re gone.

And there is a peace in being on the outside. I am not brought into the gossip and whispering that consumes whole parts of my family. I don’t know who is mad at whom; I don’t know who pitched a fit over what and when, or who owes who an apology for a perceived slight. There is peace being out in the desert, literally and metaphorically.

When I look at the big picture, when I leave the trees alone and see the forest, I see that my blood family is just a piece of the bigger picture. The girls are surrounded by family, the one I married into, and the one Hubs and I made; some friendships grow beyond that term. If family is defined not by who you share DNA with, but by who is there for you during the bad times and the good, who calls you just to say hi and chat, who checks in and cheers you up, who offers a shoulder to cry on, then the girls are surrounded by a patchwork of family and friends, who have grown into Family.

In my Family, we are all accepted as we are, and there is room for everyone. We fight, we fuss, we make up and keep going, we love unconditionally, and we’re supportive and understanding. We have redefined family. This is the Family I want for my girls, and I am so thankful they have it.

~Jennifer

Why I Painted My Toes Before Surgery

Two days before I had my tubes tied, I painted my toes pink.

I did the whole at home pedicure thing, sitting with my feet in scalding hot water until it was cool. And used all manner of contraptions to smooth calluses, buff rough spots, trim cuticles, the works.

When I stood in my bathroom, surveying my small polish collection, I picked the pink one. Not red with sparkles, I bought that on a whim. But baby pink.

And when I was laying polish on my toes, I was thinking about my surgery. Not about Easter, which was the next day, but the day after that, when my surgery was scheduled. And I was painting my toes in defiance of it.

We are so many things when we are fertile and having babies. We’re called fecund and fruitful (I’m a tree now??), the width of our hips, how much milk small or large breasts might make, how good of mother we will make, that’s all talked about. A woman’s identity is tied, especially during her baby years, to her fertility.

I willingly surrendered that. The two events that have changed my life the most, pregnancy, will not happen again. I gave it up. While I soaked my toes, and watched tv, I realized I wasn’t really dreading the loss of pregnancy. I hate being pregnant, it wasn’t fun for me with either girl. I was really dreading the change in me.

Who am I if not a mother? Who am I if not capable of carrying a baby to term, and birthing that baby? Never mind the struggles and health challenges. I am, as a woman, defined by my ability to carry a baby. It’s what we’re supposed to do, on some primal, primeval level. And who will I be when that is no longer an option for me?

The answer is the same. I haven’t changed.

I’m still the girl who prefers pale pink over red nails, who keeps her hair short, who lacks the patience to try on false eyelashes. I’m still the girl who would play video games all night long, who hates doing laundry, who loves a clean bathroom. I am the girl who uses up all the hot water taking a shower. I’m still a bookworm, I am still most at peace with a camera in my hand. I’m still the girl that loves taking pictures, but hates sitting still long enough to edit them.

I. Haven’t. Changed.

My identity is not, or shouldn’t be, tied to my childbirthing abilities. Don’t get me wrong, I make some amazingly beautiful, smart, funny babies. Healthy girls, one of whom has grown into a strong, obstinate child with coltish long legs and freakishly long eye lashes, the other of whom sports round chubby fat cheeks and her Mama’s toes. But that’s not the sum total of me.

I haven’t changed. And I remembered that, once the cramping stopped, once I could take the bandages off, and shower, once I made a decent dinner, and filled the hummingbird feeder, and played fetch with Sam.

I have been stuck, unsure of what this change in my life would mean. And it means… nothing really. I am sterile. There are no more babies on my horizon.

But there are more photographs, more clothes to buy for little girls, more sleepless nights, more hot showers with the sun rising in the bathroom window, more books to read, more lessons to teach, more diapers to wash, more shopping trips to buy books and candy. There is more life to lead.

I am leading my lion cubs on this fantastic adventure called life, and sometimes being led by them on it. There is more to do, more to see, more to eat and feel and touch and laugh at it.

I have closed the final page on one chapter in my life. But the book is not done. And I am not any different.

~Jennifer

Looking back.

Confession Time.

The role that has defined me, as an adult, more than any other, I was the most uncomfortable with.

I was an Army Wife for 4 years. I was one of the few to marry a soldier, to withstand deployments, field exercises, schooling, FRG meetings, navigating the Tricare system, and all the other stuff that comes with being a military spouse.

I backed Hubs and his career with everything I had. I stressed over everything from the clothes I wore to a meeting, to how well I kept my little house, in that not-so-perfect neighborhood, to how well I addressed envelopes for a party. I sacrificed a career, and my own life, for the betterment of his career.

And I never truly felt comfortable doing it.

I was not the perfect, pearl-wearing wife. I questioned things, I openly criticized things. I treated everyone with respect, but I kissed no one’s ass. I was opinionated; about everything I read and saw. And I read voraciously. I was a hippie, a left-leaning hippie, in a field of conservatives. I never said the right thing, at the right time, wearing the right clothes.

In the end, I never felt like I fit into the mold of military spouse.

I made few friends, I’ve kept fewer since Hubs got out. I found out, the hard way, that there is no one that starts drama and gossips like a military wife. While the whispers and innuendos were flying, I kept my head up, tried to do the right thing, and carried on. I grieved for the loss of friendships in private, and I started to keep my distance from other wives. My time as an Army Wife is darkened by the memories of gossip and hateful things, aimed not only at me, but at my oldest child.

I’m not sure who breathed a heavier sigh of relief the day he was done, me or Hubs.

This is not saying that every military spouse is bad, I knew so many who were doing what I was doing, just living their life. And this is not to say I am not proud of my husband’s service record, or that I am not a patriot. But I felt like I did not fit in. I still feel that way, when I find myself surrounded by military spouses. Just not where I am supposed to be.

After throwing myself into Army life, helping out and volunteering and hauling friends around, and watching kids and picking up other people’s prescriptions, only to have to deal with such a hateful, vile lie, I never fully recovered from it. It was easier to be a hermit, to spend time with the few wives I had truly connected with.

But it was painful to see so many doing so many fun things, spending so much time together. And while I desperately wanted that connection, I also desperately wanted to avoid the drama.

I just never truly found my niche.

It is such a strange place, to find myself remembering the times we had, overlaid with how uncomfortable I was at times.

The pressure is off now. I am no longer weighed, measured and judged every time I set foot out of the house. There is no one critiquing what I say and how I say it when I speak. Well, there are people who do that, but none of them directly affect my husband’s job.

I realized, several nights ago, that this is the reason why I am so much more at ease. On top of all the other stuff that comes with life married to a soldier, stuff that is gone now, I can just simply be me. And I can finally be comfortable in that.

~Jennifer