In Praise of the Older Mom

In March of 2011, I become a Mom for the first time. In July of that year, I turned 31. If you’re doing the math, I will be 37 the end of this week.

I remember my midwife, remarking on what an odd case I was. An Army Wife who hadn’t had babies until her 30s. It was the first, but not the last time someone has remarked on my age.

Many, most of my friends have older children. They are past the diapers and potty training, sippy cups, footed pajama stage. Some of the friends I went to high school with have kids graduating high school soon.

Among the many things people questioned, was whether we had fertility problems. Let me answer that, no. Neither of the girls needed much more planning that tossing the condoms in the trash, and maybe a few games of beer pong.

I didn’t have children in my 30s because I didn’t want to. In fact, I swore for years that I wasn’t going to have kids. I didn’t want them at all. At 25 I seriously considered tying my tubes and just not having kids. I didn’t grow up with the idea of being a mother, rather I grew up running from the idea of it.

And I just had stuff to do.

Sometime before I graduated high school I wrote down what I wanted to do with my life before I turned 30. Some of it was typical teenager fare, get a tattoo, stay out all night long, go to a bonfire at the lake; and some of it was deeper, I wanted to travel, to see the sunrise off the coast of Texas, down by my uncle’s place, go to South by Southwest, take pictures of all the flowers I could find in Texas, read all the historical markers between my house and Austin. I wanted to trace my family’s roots back to Europe, I wanted to rescue animals and rehabilitate them. I wanted to shop, and shop, and shop some more.

Just before my 30th birthday, I checked the last one off my list. I got a tattoo. I still live for a good shopping trip.

I was famous, or rather infamous, for the volatility of my relationships. If it wasn’t passionate, I didn’t want to be in the relationship. But there was never any stability with that passion. It took me until the last years of my 20s to find the right alchemical mix of passion and stability and strength, in a man, to keep me interested.

And Hubs may piss me off. May infuriate me. May send me into fits of anger so bad I send long, ranty messages to my friends and drink too much coffee. But I am never bored.

We are stable. Bills are paid, house is cleaned, laundry done, all that domestic stuff. Last night we cruised around town looking at houses and talking about grass versus gravel, plants to put in flower beds. We are not lacking for stability. I’m not bored though. I’ve discovered that a stable relationship is more encouraging for creativity, gives me more opportunities to create and play music, than the wild affairs I found myself in.

I am a better person than I was. I was not in the right place to have babies in my 20s. I was struggling from the pain of an unhappy childhood, cutting myself free of a toxic extended family that has poisoned me for most of my life. I would not have been able to dedicate myself to my kids the way I needed to. Motherhood is one sacrifice after another, and in my 20s, I was too selfish to do that.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a little selfish. It gave me the freedom to chase my dreams.

I had a second adolescence in my mid-20s. It was less about my body changing, and more about my brain changing. I was settling into life as a grown up, and realizing I had responsibilities. I was learning how to balance a checkbook, pay my bills on time, do my own laundry, and cook my own meals. It would have been so hard to have a baby in that time of my life, before everything settled into place.

I’ve heard the phrase “I grew up with my children.” And while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it wasn’t what I wanted for myself. The first time I held each of my girls, and looked them in the eyes, I met them not as a half-formed girl, unsure of herself. But as a grown up, as a woman. Confident in herself, in her abilities to raise a child, secure in a stable relationship, sure of herself as a person.

I am a better mother for having waited. And my children deserve the best of me.

 

~Jennifer

 

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Here’s to Us

It’s been a long, sweaty, uncomfortable few days at Casa de Brown.

Last week the AC went out. After a long series of screw-ups that will be funny in a few months, when we look back on this, the repair guy told us it would be until the middle of this week before the parts are here and it can be fixed.

For reference, it’s been 100 or higher for weeks.

Hubs and I were walking through the store, on the hunt for a portable ac unit, grumbling about inept repair guys, and the house being too hot, and why did this have to happen July 4th weekend; when I mentioned that we have lived through worse times before.

Our first place, the first that was ours with no roommates; back when he was in the Army, was a trailer. A painted bright green, trimmed in yellow, so garish you could see it from orbit, trailer. It had bay windows that faced the east, and during the summer, even with the ac going full blast, it was outrageously hot.

The next place was a trailer in the same park, this time painted aqua and trimmed in purple. (This was a theme in the park.) Across the street from our driveway was a hundred or so acres of swamp. We had gators. We had carnivorous bugs that hunted fish and flew. THEY FLEW. We had snakes. We had mosquitoes so large they would carry you off.

The summer Hubs was in Afghanistan, it rained every day for 6 weeks. The grass grew water-logged and died, and I am here to tell you that rotting grass stinks. Bad.

Once we had feral cats get up under the trailer, fighting, and one of them tried to crawl up the dryer vent.

One day, during the Summer of Rain, I went outside to get the mail. There was a nearly 5 foot long gator sunning himself in my driveway. He hissed at me, and I nearly broke my ankle getting back up the steps to the front door.

A hurricane came through, just the outer bands of rain and wind made it in-land to us. The trailer rocked in the wind, we sweltered through a day without power.

We drove nearly 3,000 miles in the summer, across the Deep South, to move to California. I was 20 weeks pregnant, we had a 3 year old, my Mom and our dog in my truck, Hubs had both cats in his car. Someone needed to pee all the time. There were stretches of time where the only stations on the radio were Christian music, NPR, and Tejano music.

After we made it here, we scrambled to find a place and get settled before I had Pudge.

We have fought, and fought, and fought some more.

He has deployed twice, leaving me behind.

I lost two siblings to cancer, and then an aunt. Hubs had to stand by, pretty much helpless, as I struggled through layers of grief. He still has to deal with it, when it comes back to me.

We have faced the prospect of life after the Army, and put ourselves back together. The time apart took its toll, and there have been incredibly rough times, where we fought each other, and fought towards each other, slogging through the bullshit that was between us.

So this? This is uncomfortable. This has been stressful, and hot and sweaty.

But we have been through worse. Here’s to us.

On Father’s Day

I said I needed a man who was tough enough to take on my problems.

I said I needed a man who would let me hide behind him.

I said I needed a man who knew how to cook, knew how to fix cars, and could iron his own clothes.

I said I needed a man who did not mind that my email address was in latin, that I read medieval history books for fun, and that I know some of the weirdest trivia facts.

I said I needed a man who would be a good father.

I said all that, in a note. I tucked the note into my journal, almost 10 years ago, and forgot about it. I got busy with school and work, and life.

And then -he- wandered into my life.

I had 1,001 reasons why it wouldn’t work. The age gap (I’m older), he was in the Army, I didn’t want to leave Texas, I didn’t like to cook, I had baggage from a string of failed relationships. He was nothing if not persistent.

I found myself, somewhere around 2 years after writing that note, sitting in a bathroom in a rental house in Georgia, south of Savannah, a few minutes from the gates of Fort Stewart. My pants were around my ankles, a Route 44 Strawberry Limeade was on the bathroom counter, half-empty. And 3 pregnancy tests were sitting on the counter.

Every single one was positive.

He became a father while on an airplane coming in from Iraq. He didn’t hold his first born until the next day. He smelled like dirt and sand and airplane, and his ACUs desperately needed to be washed when he dropped into the chair next to my hospital bed, and held his little girl for the first time.

And that was all she wrote.

Family life has heaped a heavy burden on his shoulders. He took it.

He held on as I cried through the loss of a sibling, and then another. I lost an aunt, then grandparents that never really liked me, and still I cried. He has endured countless mood swings; both girls inherited my temperament. He carried first one baby, and then another, on his shoulder, propped in the crook of his elbow, changed diapers, changed their clothes, brushed their hair. He’s learned how to give breathing treatments, allergy medicine, how to put on cortisone on itchy skin, where to put a humidifier to get the maximum effect.

He has gone to work on little sleep, after spending the night up with a sick baby and a wife too stressed out to remember how to measure out baby Tylenol. And slept with a sick baby in a recliner. And slept with a sick wife propped on his shoulder.

That note, with my list of things I wanted in a man is long gone. But I remember the last line, he has to be a good father.

He is the best father.

~Jennifer

Here We Are

I wasn’t planning on writing this post anytime soon. I have a couple I’ve been working on, writing and saving as I come up with ideas. But like most of my life, plans changed.

On June 6, 2017, I washed the last load of cloth diapers for my kids. A little over a month before my 37th birthday, and we are done.

Tonight, the 11th, Pudge fell asleep without her milkies. She asked, but this time when I told her that bottles were gone and I would be happy to get her a cup of milk, she whined, and then fell asleep. It probably helps that she was up almost 2 hours past bedtime.

I am sitting here, drowning my sorrows in hummus, tortilla chips and Dr. Pepper.

The long, sleep-deprived trek of my life that has involved babies is over. My youngest is 2. My oldest is 6. And the days of rocking a sweet-smelling infant to sleep have slipped through my fingers.

I am at turns unsettled and comfortable with this.

On one hand, both girls are sleeping better lately.

On the other hand… footed pajamas. Neither girl liked them much past when they started walking. So they have come to symbolize babyhood for me.

The Jennifer of Before Kids is not back. And honestly, she may never back as she was, so much has changed. But the Jennifer as I Am, the who I am beneath Mom, I can see her now. There is still so much I want to do, things I want to accomplish. I finished up my Bucket List, the one I wrote a week before high school graduation, before 30. In between 30 and 37, I have been Mom. And The Mrs. There hasn’t been much time for a new Bucket List, I’ve been too busy washing bottles and diapers, wiping faces and butts, rocking babies, folding clothes, pumping gas, carrying children.

To go back to those times of babies will be to give up what little Me I have rewritten. There is so much story still left to write, so many pictures to take and songs to learn, and tattoos to get. There is so much to do still.

But…

They were my babies. Long before they started claiming their independence, long before they started snipping apron strings, they were babies. They were my fiercely guarded lion cubs. They were mine. And I will have to give them up, to their own lives, far sooner than I realized.

I would stay longer in the Land of Babies, if I could. I would linger here, with tiny clothes, tiny fingers to curl around mine, and a tiny head propped on my shoulder. But the girls will not let me. They didn’t linger here any longer than they needed to, and now they are pulling me through their childhood.

We have tea parties to play, and dolls to dress up, sidewalk chalk to color with, and bubbles to blow. We have toes to paint, and lip gloss to use up. We have childhood to get to.

While I will throw myself into their childhood, just like I did their baby years… I may stop to look back. A few times.

~Jennifer

Redefining, Two Years Later.

It has been two years since I wrote Redefining.

I broke one of the cardinal rules in my family. I spoke openly about them, and not in glowing terms. I knew as I was writing it that it would not be well-received amongst my Mom’s family, but I wrote it anyway.

You see, I wrote it, like I do everything on this blog, for me. I shared it with the world, but I put those words to paper for me. I knew in publishing it that it would shred the last bonds that held me to the people that have done so much damage to me.

Their response was everything I expected it to be. And some even shocked me. But it was typical for them, gaslighting and meanness and the toxic attitudes I grew up in.

Those responses proved me right, that I had to, at all costs, protect my girls. There was no one to stand up for me growing up, but I will not let my children share that same fate.  I have been driven, since I held Sprout for the first time, to give them a better life than the one I had.

In taking stock of things, I’ve realized how far I’ve come.

My excommunication from the family no longer stings. I don’t find myself staring at the phone, or wondering why no one calls. This is simply how things are, and after I burned every bridge back to my family down, I built a new Family. I have this hodge podge collection of friends and some blood family, who are amazing, supportive, caring people. The definition of what family is supposed to be is found there, not with my Mom’s family.

The girls have grown, and changed. Sprout no longer asks for the family she knew, but instead plays with her friends, and shares a bond so tight with her baby sister that you cannot get a piece of paper between them. There came a morning when I realized the girls had forgotten the pain of the past, and I took my cues from them. Go play in the sunshine and pick flowers; and let the memories of the past fade away like a bad dream. Pudge is 2 now, with blessedly no memory of anyone in the family that has caused any pain, or drama. They are true California girls now, growing tan and golden in the sun, with an entire mountain chain standing between them and my family.

I have built a small bridge with my Dad. I find myself calling him more, sending him pictures and letters more. I can see him now, not as the monster my Mother’s family cast him as, but as he is. Flawed, struggling with his own demons, but human, and someone who loves me very much. I see myself in the girls, and that means I see plenty of my Dad. There was a time when I would have hated that. But now? It’s a gift.

I am the better for all of this. Several times in the past two years, I have doubted my choices. I have considered writing letters, emails, making phone calls, and starting to repair some of the damage done. I still haven’t, and I’m the better for it. I’ve learned who to rely on, and who to consider fair-weather, and who to just let slip through my fingers and keep going. I’ve finally, at closer to 40 than I am to 30, learned to see toxic relationships for what they are, and walk away. If I had paid attention, and been willing to stand up for myself earlier, it wouldn’t have taken this long. But at least I learned it.

There is no one to explain myself to. I parent differently than I was raised, I educate my girls differently, I’ve made a 180 in many aspects of my life. And I don’t have to explain any of those choices. By putting so much distance, literal and metaphorical, between me and them, I have freed myself of the expectations, and freed my children of the same expectations. We can simply be who we are supposed to be, without having to explain ourselves to anyone.

It brought Hubs and I closer together. We spent so much time apart, those first years, that I had no idea how to be with him. He was always away, when the going got tough, and I always turned to my family, even as the family used what they learned during those hard times against me. I still had not learned to come to him, when I wrote Redefining, and for a few months, I was a little off-center. But now, I’ve learned his shoulders are strong enough to carry my problems, that he is brave enough to face off against my family, that he never backs down. The qualities that made him so attractive, when he was a soldier, are still there. He is oftentimes my shield, my hiding place, my safe harbor. He is the best father I could ask for, the best husband I could want.

Let me pause here, and say that I am sorry for any pain I have caused. I did not mean to then, and do not mean to now, cause intentional harm. But I also will not just play along with everything, and pretend that things are fine, when they are not. I do not lie to my girls, and I will not lie here. No one has made any effort to see what prompted Redefining, nor have they made any attempt to reach out to me (save one person); so I do not feel too bad about the uproar the post caused. But I am sorry for causing anyone pain.

There is peace being on the outside. Out here in the desert, it is calm, and quiet; I can raise my girls and live my life, and be happy. I think I’ll stay out here a little longer.

~Jennifer