This morning I came downstairs to find my husband and my daughter sitting in the living room by our Christmas tree playing. Astrud turned to greet me and said, ” Look mom, we’re having a tea party! Want some?” Of course I did. So I sat down with them while she took a tiny tea pot and poured it into a tiny cup and handed it to me. I sipped the tea loudly and proclaimed it yummy. It was a picture perfect moment of family, childhood, and the holidays.
Inside, I was choking back tears, and I fought – hard – to keep a happy face. This morning twenty small children are gone. Just gone in a flash and the devastation their parents must feel is incomprehensible to me. This is, after all, “the most wonderful time of the year.”
By now, most of us are well entrenched in our holiday celebrations. Trees are up, toys are stashed, menorahs are lit, songs have been sung. And for these families, the joy that is felt world wide has been forever taken away.
I cried yesterday. Hard. Several times. Years ago, before becoming a mom, I would have felt passing sorrow for the families, but more of a tongue-clucking, oh-what-a-shame-now-pass-me-my-cocktail kind of sorrow.
To become a parent is to have your chest fileted open, your heart taken out, and stitched back on the outside, where it hurts, it aches, weeps, bruises, and is constantly subjected to all the hurt the world offers. I wished several times yesterday that I could go back to that callousness, that unfeeling indifference for families I don’t know.
But I can’t. My anatomy has been forever changed by a little girl who is right now sleeping on my lap.
We’re all looking for answers. A good many of us are trying to make sense of this so we can explain it to our children. But how can you explain what you can’t understand? People are looking to God, and sadly because of that, some are saying extremely hateful and hurtful things, only adding to the misery felt. Of course some are finding solace within their faith, and I envy their peace.
I am thankful Astrud isn’t old enough to know what is happening, but at some point, she will be. This will happen again, maybe not with such young children, but tragedy seems to know no limits. And truly she was right when she said there were monsters out there.
I don’t know how those families will get through this. I don’t know how they can get through each minute today, let alone this glorious season of celebration.
I would be lost without my family.
There are no answers. I can’t make sense. I’m grasping. I don’t know that I even have a point, only that I need to put down the thoughts bouncing around in my head.
For the rest of us, our lives will go back to normal. The headlines will fade away, replaced by fiscal cliffs, celebrity divorces, social network rights, and the like. We’re lucky to get lost in the trivia of the day-to-day.
Prayers, thoughts, peace, love to the families who have lost so much.
My two-year old is perched naked on a tray on top of the ottoman in our living room. The tray is meant to hold cocktails and appetizers. Usually it holds Dr. Seuss and coloring books. Sometimes a cooking magazine. Right now it holds Astrud and her ravioli dinner, and a cup of milk. As I look at her, I am filled with horror. “Astrud, did you just pee?”
Her answer is a good one. “No, it’s milk.” Ahhhh, she only spilled milk. I call her into the kitchen, where she steps over a giant plastic crayon, random fluffy pompoms, oven mitts, and my boots. I give her a wet cloth, and she runs back to the living room, excited to help clean up her mess.
It is the night before Thanksgiving. Our house is a disaster. There is a pile of unfolded sheets by the front door. Toddler socks, shoes, shirts, and underpants are strewn throughout the living room. The dining room table is covered in construction paper, plastic bags, more pompoms. It is absolute chaos.
And that’s okay. This year, I’ve decided I’m not cleaning. Our house is home to a toddler, a family. We have toys everywhere, art projects litter every surface. Sure, I’ll straighten up a little bit, but I’m not sweating it.
Because perfection doesn’t lay in a clean home, or perfect pies, or holidays that go off without a hitch. Perfection lays in moments caught in the chaos. The laughter of a little girl eager to help. The messiness of a home filled with play and creativity. A kitchen dusted with flour because everyone is cooking together.
It is easy to lose sight of the importance of the small moments. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the opportunity to have this cluttered house, filled with fun times, tense times, calm times, and family times. I am ever thankful for my daughter, my husband, my family, my friends, and all that we have.
When she strokes my face and says, “I love you, mom,” that’s all I need, right there. The aches of the day disappear. We melt together, nursing, cradling each other. Imperfections forgotten, tears dry. She is my salvation.
“Monsters out there.” Her little voice husky and worried, this is what she said to me as I opened the bedroom curtain to look out onto the dark street in front of our house. The dogs were barking, and I wanted to see why.
Monsters out there. I stopped in my tracks. Jason and I do nothing to scare her. No scary stories, no tales of monsters under the bed, or in closets. Even all the storybooks we read have been sanitized and scrubbed clean of threatening references, the stories filled with happy endings where Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother share the picnic basket with the previously ill-fated wolf.
I tell her, no, of course there are no monsters out there. She says it again, emphatically, and puts her arms out to be held. When we go into her bedroom to put pajamas on, she points to her curtains, and repeats herself. She is starting to get upset, so I sit her down and tell her, no monsters, just houses, trees, birds, the sky, the moon. I list everything we can see from her window. I try to show her, but she won’t look. Monsters, she says. I say no monsters, I promise. She looks serious, and repeats my words, no monsters, I promise.
And with that, my heart sinks. Because yes, the reality is, there are monsters out there. Monsters that will hurt her, break her heart. Monsters that do terrible things in this world. And I cannot bear the idea of how her little heart will feel when she realizes the meaness that lays outside our windows.
We move into the bathroom, finishing our bedtime routine. By now she is listing the things I told her that are outside. Trees, birds, the sun, people, cars. No monsters. She says it, sounding more convinced, but not completely sure. I have to turn away from her, I need to convince myself before I can look back.
I feel like a liar. I tell her that monsters aren’t scary. They have parties. They make pies. They go on picnics. This line of reasoning works. She smiles at this.
At least for tonight.
Today is the second anniversary of the day you were born.
This morning you woke up and said Happy Birthday! So much excitement. Balloons, gifts, grandparents, cake. An overwhelming day, for sure.
Two years and whenever I try to search for the words to express the profound difference you have made in our lives, I come up short.
How do you express love like you’ve never known before? Love like you could never imagine?
We have our good days and bad days, our challenging times, and easy times. But through it all is a love so sharp, so severe, it still knocks me off my feet and out of breath. I’m only beginning to realize that feeling is here to stay.
You are amazing to us. Your gift of charm is so foreign to me, but I see your daddy in your easy smile and outgoing manner. You like to entertain. I’m so proud of how you jump so quickly to be first at everything. Please, don’t ever settle for second. I am in awe of your energy.
You’re now showing your opinions, your style. You want things the way you want them. There’s a little bit of me in that. I respect your opinions. I respect your style. It’s who you are.
Your affection melts my heart. When you tell me you love me… words can’t do it justice. Just please know, I love you back. A million times around the Sun, and a million times again.
Happy Birthday, Happy Two, Happy Days Ahead. Daddy and I love this adventure and we love you.
Our hearts, our love,
- Mommy & Daddy
There are three women in our Gymboree class currently pregnant. Astrud has been in classes with their children since they were all just a few months old. They’ve gone from little babies, unable to do anything beyond squirming, to able-bodied toddlers, full of enviable energy and enthusiasm. Following the natural course of life, some are now expanding their families.
But not me. Not ours.
My body doesn’t work the way it should. I don’t know why. I don’t understand how women just decide to get pregnant and do it like it’s something so easy.
We want another baby. One more in our family. We’d like to invite the complete chaos into our house with open arms. Because we’ve learned that with absolute chaos comes absolute love.
I am up against the clock. Next month I will be 43. I don’t have much in the way of time.
I’ve had people tell me I should be happy with what I have. As if I’m somehow not. It’s a ridiculous, and insulting, notion. And since when did achieving half of a dream ever become enough?
I think about how amazing it is that I have Astrud Every. Single. Day. Even the hard ones. Especially the hard ones. I know how lucky I am, and truly, what a miracle she is. She has transformed everything in my life, most of all me. Some women never even get this. Their efforts never pay off.
But it’s because of Astrud that we want to go through this all over again. And for the second time in my life, I’m reminded of the complete heartbreak it means to try for something, that seemingly do many people can do without even thinking, only to fail. Month after month.
I can’t explain the sadness that settles in on the day when I realize that once again, it didn’t happen.
So now what? Where does this leave us? I don’t have any kind of answer. Just… I don’t know. Just nothing, I guess.
I have Astrud sleeping beside me. Her hair is getting longer, her curls wind around her ears, hair brushing her eyes. I touch her foot as it wiggles in her sleep, but I still cry.
This goes out to all the mamas, not just my friends, but all of you.
You function on less sleep than you ever thought possible.
You faced your breastfeeding challenges and are going strong.
You cried alone in the dark with those babies and felt isolated, but you’re not.
We’re all with you. We’re all doing the best we can. Sometimes we have all the support in the world and sometimes we have absolutely none. But we’re all here together.
You rock, mama. You do what’s best for your baby, and your baby knows it.
Keep going, dig deep. You can do this, even on the days when you think you can’t. You’re strong. See yourself the way your babies see you, beautiful, capable, loving.
Keep it up, mama. I believe in you.
Astrud loves to be first. At her Gymboree classes, she’s first in line to try a new activity, barely able to wait even one second. She’s first in line for snacks, first for musical instruments, first for playdough. At the playground, she can hardly contain herself if there is a line. Her excitement is verbalized with words like, “OH! LOOK!” It’s thrilling to watch.
Why, then, am I discouraging her? The teacher announces a new activity and Astrud rushes over, eager to do it, and I hold her back, telling her “Wait your turn, let Jamison go first.” “Let’s let Paul go first.” “Just wait your turn, let’s let someone else do it first.”
Why? Because it’s polite? Because it seems like the right thing to do? I feel the stares of the other mothers, as Astrud goes first yet again, I can feel their disapproval, their judgements. As if somehow I’m doing a bad job of raising a polite little girl. Where are my manners? Astrud is the most vocal in class, she cannot hold everything in. She bursts out in laughter, she echos the teacher, she throws in thoughts of her own. Why can’t she be still like the others? Why can’t she wait? Why must she always be such an attention hog???
I think about myself. I always let others go first. I always apologize. I try my best to stay out of the center. Head down, eyes to the side, I let others go first, I always have. Is this what I want for her? Do I want her to learn that others are more important? That she should push aside her own excitement, that being first is somehow wrong?
No. Next time I’ll laugh with her as she runs to the teacher. I’ll be proud, not frightened. I’ll tell her how proud I am, how smart she is, how strong she is. And maybe she’ll teach me how to be strong, too.
I used to weigh about 115, on average. That may surprise some people who know me. I’m about 60 – 80 lbs overweight, depending on who you ask. But after much reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m happier with it now than I’ve ever been.
I’m taking Astrud to the beach today. I get in the shower, glance down at my ever present scars and take stock. A poochy belly. Scars from my gallbladder removal. My belly button, which used to garner compliments from complete strangers, now a mangled mess of nobby tissue from the gallbladder removal, and a laparoscopy years earlier.
We’re told as women that we’re never good enough. If we’re the slightest bit overweight, we’re too fat. If we’re thin, other women hiss at each other that we must be anorexic, or bulemic. Eight year olds diet, because they’re worried about their weight. The media does this to us, we do it to each other, and we do it to ourselves. How many of us begin our day by looking in the mirror, and turning away with disappointment?
When I was in my 20s, I sat on the beach in my size small bikini, my size 2 shorts, refusing to go in the water because I didn’t want to have to get undressed and bare my less-than-perfect flesh to strangers. I sat in my beach chair, only daring to remove my shorts if I was convinced that no one was looking, twisting around so I wouldn’t have to stand up. I wanted to play in the water, but I didn’t want anyone to see how “fat” I was.
Today I’m taking Astrud to the beach. I am showered and ready, my bathing suit on, mismatched pieces that include the bottom from my maternity suit, and a top I bought last year to accomodate my larger breasts, due to breastfeeding.
I take stock in the shower. My poochy belly, that allowed me to carry a baby (my baby! The one I’d never have!). My flap, which was created by my c-section scar (giving birth to my baby!). My gallbladder scars, battle wounds from surviving what was a very difficult time in the hospital where I was told by nurses and doctors who knew nothing about pediatrics to stop breastfeeding my 16-month old, and even grew angry with me when I asked for a breast pump so I could relieve the pressure (“work it out yourself,” one nurse spit at me, as she turned on her heels and left the room). My mangled belly button, punctuating my soft stomach. All parts of me, and the parts that have led me on this journey to motherhood, through life.
I’m taking Astrud to the beach today. I’m wearing my bathing suit, and we’re going to play in the water.