Sub Plans, Swedish Design, and S#!*

Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows that taking a day off is almost not worth it.  Preparing the lessons and materials to ensure for an actual day of education in your absence – instead of slapping a DVD in the player – is often more work than if you were teaching the class yourself.

Yet again, another lesson that transfers to motherhood.

Craving adult time and a long-overdue visit to IKEA, I jumped on the opportunity for both when a friend told me she had the day off yesterday.  The plan was to head to her house directly after the last school-bound child was on the bus.  Barring the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the non-school-bound one because I wouldn’t let her out of her car seat at the bus stop, we were good to go.  She even stayed in her stroller through the entire showroom, only asking to play once we reached the toy section.  The carrot of mac and cheese dangling in front of her face delayed that meltdown.

Things got slightly hairy when I took her into the family bathroom.  While it was a wide-open space with a changing station and comfy chair for nursing, there was a separate stall with the toilet.  So I didn’t lock the outer door.  First mistake.  Another mom did come in to change her baby so I herded my toddler into the stall with me.  Apparently, the last inch or two she’s gained recently are the magic amount to bring her just within reach of most anything I don’t want her to touch.  My cheeks barely hit the seat before she’d unlocked the door.  She headed straight to our stroller which was right outside the stall so I finished my business while also trying to twist my upper half in such a way to watch for the two little snow boots she’d insisted on wearing this sunny day.  I found her just about to slip out the outer door when I’d pulled up my pants and exited the stall.  I mumbled to the other mom, looking over her shoulder from her cooing infant on the changing table, how awesome it was that she can reach doorknobs now.  ‘Love when they reach that age,’ she said; she’d sent her toddler out with auntie.

After lunch, my friend wrangled my toddler into a shopping cart as only a loving friend who is not said child’s mother can.  Feeling like I’d sicced my child onto her, I offered her the empty stroller to push.  I’m glad she declined because the ensuing conversations between the two were gold: toddler logic and made-up language with a sense of humor.  Plus, my toddler was much more enamored by a different face in front of her, keeping her in the carriage.  We made it through the marketplace without incident, even through an email-accessing exchange at the register (apparently, you do need the physical card for your IKEA family account).

It was only when we went back into the bathroom that things got hairy again.  This family bathroom had no stall and a better lock so I thought we were good.  Next mistake.  Right to the door, her little fingers expertly twisted the dead-bolt style lock – and swung the door wide to the lobby – as I sat on the toilet.  Mid-business, I launched from the toilet in a modified crouch-walk, trying to scoop her up with one arm and slam the door shut as quickly as possible.  My friend lifted her eyes from her phone in surprise.  Child escapism, public nudity – I was trying to address both at once.  Unsuccessfully.  I ended up slamming the little fingers of one of her hands in the door.  She buried her sobs in my shoulder while I finished some one-handed toileting, then ran her fingers under the cold, cold water of the sink.

Apart from almost driving out of the garage with the trunk open, we headed home without any other disasters.  Then my phone chirped.  My older two, who were walking home from the bus stop and then retrieving their sister off the elementary bus a little later, were holed up in a neighbor’s house because a freaky man on a bike had gone past them on the street.  They video-chatted me once they ventured home, refusing to go out again for their younger sister.  I finally convinced them to get her – stating safety in numbers, other parents at bus stop – but arrived home to angry children who felt I hadn’t validated their concerns.

They came at me as soon as I unlocked the door.  We said a few words.  I liberated their baby sister from the car.  We said a few more.  I grabbed the water bottles and travel mugs from the car.  I apologized and reassured them.  I made two more trips with my actual purchases.  I barely had my coat off when my husband, who had arrived home in the midst of all this, called from the upstairs bathroom, “Why is there feces in the sink?”

After an entire evolution that included drain disassembly, toothbrushes, and disinfecting products, I was finally able to show off my IKEA haul, which seemed incredibly underwhelming at this point.  This was an awful lot of work for some Swedish design therapy.  Maybe my expectations were too high for a marathon shopping trip with a toddler.  More likely, I waited far too long for a ‘day off’ and got a little more frantic with each little incident.

My kids were safe, only two of my toddler’s fingers were slightly bruised, my friend assured me my little escapee had blocked the lobby’s view of me from the waist down (she was the perfect height for that), and she and I had a lot of laughs.  At the end of day, all was good.  Still, I wonder whether it would’ve been a whole lot easier if I invited her over for coffee and we slapped a DVD in the player.

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At least I’m not the poor soul who left this on the ground of the IKEA garage.  I can’t imagine the familial discord this caused when they got home and got to assembling. (Jennifer Butler Basile)

Junk in the Trunk

There is a whole lot more junk in my trunk lately.

And, no, this isn’t that type of post.

I mean, literally.  A ton of junk in my trunk.

It all started one Friday almost two weeks ago.  In a scheduling feat only I would engineer, I had three days to prep for an outdoor overnight with one daughter’s Girl Scout troop and clean the house and menu-plan and shop for a dinner party for fourteen upon my sleep-deprived return.  So, of course, a health question that needed office-visit answering arose and the one opening my doctor had was smack dab in the middle of my harried day of reckoning.

Re-engineering the day to fit everything in, I hit the discount store first.  The two-year old squawked when I put her in the shopping cart, but soon entertained herself by holding the various items I plucked off the shelves.  I, of course, chose judiciously which ones she could hold without causing herself bodily harm or a ‘clean-up on aisle five’ effect.  The dish detergent did give me pause, but as long as she didn’t undo the cap on the plastic bottle . . . I’d watch her closely.  A few minutes later, she lost interest and hucked it over her shoulder into the larger part of the carriage anyway.  That was the end of that.

Until the citrusy aroma of Ajax niggled at the back of my nose as we drove a few towns over to my appointment.  I made a mental note to check the cap, thinking maybe it hadn’t survived the huck.  But when we pulled into the doctor’s parking lot, early, and having already checked one task off my list, I was too busy patting myself on the back and herding the two-year old inside to check for a citrus spill.  I was owning this harried day.

 

Turns out we were super early, since the doctor was running late.  We managed to make a bathroom visit, grind bright orange cracker crumbs into the carpet, crinkle every sticker in the good behavior basket, do a diaper change, and make some friends while we waited.  Luckily, the health issue seemed to be a non-issue so we headed back to the car.

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Good thing the extra 20% was free . . . 

Closed up for some time, the citrus smell was super concentrated in the car now.  Popping open the trunk, I found a soupy mess under the sea of plastic shopping bags.  Apparently my decision to buy the bottle with 20% more free was a moot point now.  Using an old towel left in the trunk, I sopped up the slimy mess, which would turn sudsy every time I thought I’d swiped the last of it. As I stood in the cavernous open mouth of my trunk, scrunching up slippery plastic bags and reorganizing their contents, cars zoomed by behind me, pulling the minutes of my early lead on the day with them.   And I still had to hit the grocery store for perishable items for the dinner.

 

Somehow, I made it to camp on time, but as we closed out dinner on the fire, our wood supply dwindled as well.  Camp wasn’t too far from home so my husband met me at the main entrance to the park and loaded firewood into the trunk, mixing the earthy smell of logs with artificial citrus.  The dirt and splinters didn’t bother me as much as they would have since the whole trunk needed a thorough cleaning already.

I felt like a real-life advertisement for removable trunk liners with raised lips to contain spills.  Soap suds, even on a low-pile rug, would have been a nightmare.  And neither my husband nor I would have loaded wood onto anything but the ruggedized surface.  Yet, neither of us pulled it out to wash it off after its workout that Friday.  The soap had dried, the splinters would still be waiting, and maybe we sensed there was more to come.

When another daughter’s Girl Scout troop painted pumpkins for Halloween, of course they hadn’t dried when it was time to load them into the trunk.  The other leader gave me a large plastic bag to lay out on the bottom; I lay the ripped off half of a legal-size file folder over it, the pumpkin resting on top.  I crawled out of the parking lot at a snail’s pace – and the pumpkin rolled over on the first turn.  Flipping on the four-way flashers and righting the pumpkin, I edged up the hill, over the main road and turned onto the side street across the way.  I made it but one more turn before it rolled again.  This time, I hedged my bets, hoping it would stay put in its corner until we arrived home.  My little Scout, meanwhile, was peering over the backseat the entire time, giving me a running commentary of its travels and the patches of pumpkin now showing through the paint.  When we finally extracted the pumpkin from the trunk in our driveway, sure enough, the trunk was more purple than the pumpkin.  She, of course, was more distraught about the pumpkin.  A blob of purple paint on the corner of the file folder, her makeshift palette, remained so I instructed her to go inside, get a paintbrush, and set to fixing her pumpkin on the porch.  I donned a headlamp, a handful of wet paper towel, and package of baby wipes and set to scrubbing down the inside of the trunk.

Turns out the spill of dish detergent at the outset of this trunk evolution was fortuitous when it came to scrubbing down purple paint.  That wet paper towel activated it like a dream.  And suds scrubbed out any dirt the wood chips had left behind.  The rubber-stamped letters of Subaru raised in purple relief against the black backdrop as the absurdity of this phase in my life came to bear.  Would I ever have imagined that I’d be standing in the pitch black of my driveway following the bobbing beam of a headlamp as I scrubbed poster paint out of the back of my car?  While my nine-year-old finished her squash masterpiece by porch light?  While my pajama-clad eleven-year-old peered out the window, drawn by the random shards of light sluiced across the dining room?  While my thirteen-year-old busied the two-year-old, who started this all, upstairs?  While my husband placed the packet of fundraising materials on the dining room table without realizing it was also covered in splatters of purple paint that got all over his hands and anything he touched within the next few minutes?

All because I thought I could fit it all in, in a short window of time; do it all at top speed and not make any mistakes.  Or because life with four children in a family of six people is always lived at breakneck speed with absurd missteps and stuff you just can’t make up.  If my eleven-year-old looked out the window in disbelief, I could just imagine what my neighbors thought if they saw the shifting beams of light through the trees.

The junk in the trunk wasn’t there long enough to become baggage, but old habits like over-scheduling and unrealistic expectations of what I can actually accomplish always travel with me.  Luckily, so do smart purchases like the ruggedized trunk liner and a sense of humor.  And the crazy few days leading up to the dinner party made me enjoy my glass of wine with friends even more.  And the bemused look on my eleven-year-old’s face as she took in her crazed cyclops mother makes my heart sing.  There are small moments of authenticity amidst the chaos – and never a dull moment.

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The offending pumpkin

Summer Rules

When one’s life is taken up with caring for others, there constantly seems to be a waiting period.  Once they finish school, things will relax.  Once we get through these end of the year activities, summer can begin.  And then you get through those things and life is neither relaxed nor does quintessential summer seem to have begun.

Our first day was glorious.  Bodies still primed to wake up fairly early, we – all but one sleepyhead – rose and readied for the beach.  There was also the excitement of sleepyhead’s birthday, complete with a special outing in the evening.

Then reality set in.

My idea of a relaxing morning is very different from theirs.  An unhurried cup of hot tea vs unfettered screen time to the tune of annoying sound bites run on repeat.

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thirtyhandmadedays.com

I reinstituted the regimen of last summer – to their chagrin.  The Summer Rules.  Their list of required tasks before electronic devices can be had.

The first day, they attacked the list with gusto, feeling accomplished as well as determined for the end goal.  That did not last.  By Day Three, it had become a fight.  With them doing the work-around of school computers to practice math and then access Pinterest or music.  Or doing the bare minimum or doubling up on chores.

It had become something else for me to do – policing them – instead of a way to occupy their bodies and minds other than electronically.  And once they earned their screen time, they seemed to devour it like addicts for the rest of the day, which to me, defeated the very purpose of keeping them away.  However, they’d probably be like that all day if not for the list.

Our rules need some tweaks, some personalization for our family.  ‘Helping others’ doesn’t speak to the actual chores they’re responsible for each day.  ‘Clean up one room’ is pretty vague, though they actually vacuumed their room one morning.  But having a list at all is a lot less vague than me walking around angry because all they do is stare at their screens.

Without structure, all life would be a waiting period – waiting for something to happen.  So our Summer Rules provide some structure to our days – even if they infuriate all of us to a certain degree.

Saving Grace

Well into the afternoon, I felt the warm sun on my face, the air on my arms, the pull of muscles in my legs.  For the first time all day.

It took all day to get up, get moving, get dressed, fed.  And I only did it because the bus would be arriving at the end of our street, depositing two of mine I’d sent out into the world.  The littlest had been my only saving grace all day, tucked under my arm on the couch, smiling up at me.

Holding her hand, toddling down the street in the sunshine, I wondered if perhaps God sent me children to save me.

From myself.  From getting lost in the bottomless pit.

They haven’t made it easy.  Sometimes annoying and painful.  But they got me out into the sunshine yesterday – even if it was late in the afternoon.

Sleep Training for the Old and Infirm

Is it possible to simultaneously feel as if your heart has been ripped out and you’re being played?

By a lover – yes, I suppose.

By a baby?  Definitely.

The baby is question is baby number four.  This is not our first rodeo, people.  We’ve fed, bathed, and put babies to sleep countless times.  But this one?  This number four of four has broken the good sleeper trend.

There are a number of circumstances that fuel this insomniac insanity.  She sleeps in our room; as in, crib in corner of our room because we’ve yet to blow the roof out over our garage so we can reconfigure sleeping arrangements.  Then, she sleeps in our room; as in, she wakes and can sense our presence and won’t let us lay until she’s with us.  Again, she sleeps in our room; as in, she cries in the middle of the night and my husband and I – who are not as young and energetic as we were with baby number one – grab her and bring her into bed so we can collapse back into sleep as soon as possible because neither one of us has the will to walk her or soothe her to sleep in her own crib.

And, apparently, the kid just doesn’t like sleep.

Well, she does when she is glommed onto my or my husband’s physical self.

Yes, we created the monster.  Well, sort of.  She’s a tactile kid.  She could not be soothed as an infant unless she was close – tightly swaddled, firmly held, bounced.  She couldn’t put herself to sleep in the vast wide-open of her crib.  I got that early on.  But that paired with my exhaustion-thin resolve did not help me help her.

Bringing her to bed was fine when she quieted right down and settled into the crook of one of our bodies.  But recently, she’s begun thrashing, rolling, sleeping horizontally.  Ask my husband about skull-on-skull contact around 4 AM the other day.  We all obviously need our own bed.

Which led me to attempting to sleep train an almost two-year-old last night.

Which is awesome when they’re that much more stubborn.  And set in their ways.  And can scream your name.

I remember the heartbreak when my first wailed from her crib as an infant.  I remember standing in the downstairs hallway staring at the calendar where I marked down the minutes.  Now, there was only a comforter over my head separating me from the wails – and they carried my name.  She could voice the cause of her heartbreak.  It was Momma, Mommy, Mommmmmmmmmmm.

My husband had abandoned ship, opting for the couch and somewhat muffled screams, maybe sleep.  I didn’t have to go to work in the morning and I’d had a late-in-the-day mocha so I rode the train.  I prayed a manic mental rosary, pleading with God and the Virgin Mother to just let her sleep.  I heard William Sears and every other attachment expert tell me I was breaking her spirit, crushing her soul.  I heard Ferber telling me I was buckling and needed to stay strong.

I tried the initial cuddle, which sent her to sleep almost instantaneously.  Popped awake as soon as her head hit the crib.  I let her cry for ten minutes, then comforted.  More screams.  I let her cry for twenty minutes, then comforted.  More screams.  I let her cry for thirty minutes.  More.  Screams.  There were two instances of a minute or two where I thought perhaps she’d stopped, when the silence was so deafening in its abject oppositeness; where my breathing began to slow, my body able to unclench – and then it began again.

I gave up after an hour and a half.

I know I’ve probably created a worse situation than if I’d not tried at all.  I’ve probably taught her that she just needs to keep up the crying – for longer and longer intervals if necessary – to bring Mom to her.

As much as I dreaded I was breaking her little heart, her almost instant silence when I lifted her made me feel the rube.

She was sprawled across my bed surrounded by pillows when I snuck away this morning to write this.  She sweetly said, “Hi Momma” when her sister brought her to me a little later.  Instead of being glad she didn’t harbor any resentment against me for last night, I couldn’t help but think she was turning on the charm and rubbing it in that she’d won.

How many more Café Mocha nights will it take?

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Keeping It Neat

I was a slob as a kid.  There, I said it.

I mean, I went to school washed and neat in appearance, but my room?  I could not keep a clean room to save my life.

I remember pulling up the lid of the old-school seat-and-writing-surface-all-connected student desk my parents refurbished for me, sweeping out the pencil shavings, stacking and organizing, placing everything just so; the pride that came from having a clean space – and then getting to the pile of stuff that still sat on the floor.  Where am I going to put that?  That won’t fit in a nice, neat pile.  That will mess everything up.  But I can’t get rid of it. I might use that Hello Kitty notepad someday.  That half-used activity book still has some good pages.  And, thus, my neat little pocket of organization burst at the seams.

My adult life is much the same.  Hellen Buttigieg of the now defunct home organization series, Neat, helped me realize my inner ‘pile-r’ (as opposed to file-r), but that doesn’t mean I’ve applied any sort of order to it.  Well, that’s not true.  I know the order of it.  But it looks atrocious and the system only works if no one touches it.  Being married with four little sets of hands roaming around does not help the system.  The dining room table is repeatedly the epicenter of all conflict surrounding this organizational system.

As in, clear the table for dinner.  Kids throw school papers and mail off the table.  Husband does final sweep of things they’ve missed (75% of original table matter), shoving it onto the hutch, the sideboard, the overflowing desk, a pile on the floor next to the recycling basket where it will taunt me for several days while I wonder if it fell out of the recycling, never made it in, or actually needs to be kept.  In the last five minutes before bus stop departure the next morning, three of the four awake parties sift through these piles agitatedly looking for the paper that I can still see in my mind’s eye in the third layer of stationery detritus I created, but which now quite possibly could be 53rd thanks to others’ piling. 

 Again, not ideal.

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image via Pinterest

Ever the optimist, I pile things thinking I’ll get to them.  I’ll read them, process them, do something with them – other than leave them in a pile to rot.  And then the next layer comes in.  Ever the perfectionist, I leave them until I find a system that works, until I can sort through them properly, give each task the attention it deserves.  And then it’s time for dinner and another backpack full of school forms comes home.

I’m not recounting my organizational failures this morning to depress us all.  My question now is: how does this transmit to my children?  When I went to wake my eight year-old in the second wave of morning preparations today, I had to follow a booby-trapped path to her bed.  She and her sister share a room that is too small for the two of them.  They both have too much stuff.  And they both tend toward slobbishness.  BUT did they learn their organization – or lack thereof – from me?  Is inability to organize – or at least maintain – a genetic trait?  It has to be learned.  I know they must see the desk and subconsciously or not think that’s an okay way to handle printed matter.  Am I subconsciously teaching my children to be slobs?

I don’t want the habit of holding onto things and putting off dealing with them till later to become part of their life-long regimen at the ages of eight and ten.  Right now, it’s probably still about the stuff for them.  The special rocks.  The twisted bit of glittery pipe cleaner.  The free reflecting flashlights.  But at what point does it become about the psychological burden that comes with?  When they think about who gave them that, or what they were doing when they collected it, or how someone asked them to read this and get back to them.  I want to break their attachments to things before their sentimentality and expectation suffocate them.  Am I fighting a battle that isn’t mine?  Am I fighting a losing battle?  Am I projecting my own psychological hang-ups on them?

Yes.

I just know it would’ve been a whole lot easier for me if I’d started years ago.  But then, when I pulled up the lid to that old-school desk, I was already excited by the idea of perfect little piles, containing things in a neat, little box.  And I was already overwhelmed by the stuff I couldn’t fit into it.

Some Similar Sunday

Just when you think you’re trudging this road of life and parenting alone, you come across a gem like this.  I’m brought back to the Sunday evenings of my childhood, where we ate not popcorn, but scrambled eggs or a solitary bowl of cereal.  I’m mise-en-placed to any meal with my own children where we rush to throw a paper towel on the spilled pool of milk before it cascades down the cracks between the leaves of the table.  And I’m gleefully reminded how this all must be done with laughter.

It must have been a sight: eight to twelve of us packed around the dinner table, heads bowed over books splayed flat (somewhere a librarian cringes), the pages held open with one hand while the other dipped in and out of the corn, back and forth from bowl to mouth, the rhythm interrupted only when someone refilled a bowl or took a pull at their Kool-Aid.  When your eyes are fixed on text, you tend to fish around with your free hand, and nearly every week someone upended their Kool-Aid.  The minute the glass hit, Dad jumped up to make a dam with his hands in an attempt to keep the spill from leaking through the low spot in the table where the leaves met.  For her part, Mom grabbed a spoon and scraped madly at the spreading slick, ladling the juice back in the glass one flat teaspoon at a time so it could be drunk.  The same thing happened if someone spilled their milk.  Sometimes when I wonder how my parents managed financially, I think of Mom going after those spoonfuls of Kool-Aid like an environmentalist trailing the Exxon Valdez with a soup ladle, and there’s your answer.

from Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

‘Tis the night before Christmas Vacation

‘Tis the night before Christmas vacation
and all through the land
not a parent is sleeping
for teacher gifts await – to be made by hand

There are crayon wreaths
and cookies
Ornaments galore
I might’ve lost the baby
in the mess of ribbons on the floor

Such care is taken
Special attention to detail
There is no room for error
No such thing as a Pinterest fail

For our beloved children,
teachers go the extra mile.
It’s really the least we can do –
to burn off our fingerprints
with an overflow of hot glue

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If we’re being real . . .

At daybreak, the kiddies
to the bus they will go
your precious cargo – the gifts –
into their throes
But you’ll hear the bus driver exclaim as she drives out of sight:
What, was your mom up making that all night?

In the Market for a Mother

My pace was slow as we approached the store. Partly because I’d just filled my belly and bladder and couldn’t walk without a hitch, but also because I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to crossing the threshold.

My mother and I were headed to the baby superstore. She had kindly offered to supply our new little one with bed linens, mattress pads, etc. It would be fun to pick at least the patterns on the sheets, and it made sense to come to such a store with a ridiculous variety of options; still, I hesitated – and not just when I realized the restrooms were in the far rear corner of the store. (Seriously, people? Preggos and newborns? Damn the marketing man.)

The fact that this store had such a ridiculous variety of options was part of the problem. If I’ve learned anything after three babies, it’s that simpler is usually better. The addition and care of a little person complicates life enough. Why does a parent need a proprietary gizmo for each and every function? They only suck up money and space.

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Have you ever googled ‘baby gear image’?  Don’t.  (pearlsonastring.com)

One of the liberating aspects of this older, wiser, and unexpected pregnancy (ie gave away all our stuff) was that it would be bare bones. All that stuff I’d registered for and thought I needed and accumulated now was non sequitur. I could pick and choose what was truly needed to care for my baby. And really, that was not much of anything besides my hands and heart. (though, disposable diapers would be nice).

Especially after the rough ride with #3, I was looking forward to a pared down experience focused on the mother-child bond rather than the circus that can sometimes surround newborns and new motherhood.

So after my mother graciously offered to walk back to the front of the store to acquire a shopping cart, she found me staring glassy-eyed at the crib sheet display.

You’re overwhelmed, aren’t you?” she asked.

More than anything, I felt like I was in an alternate universe, never having expected to find myself in this aisle again. It had been years. I felt older. A little self-righteous in a been there-done that sort of way. Appalled – and again older – to see how much the prices had gone up since I’d last bought this stuff. Amused by the upper tier options people who didn’t have any frame of reference would actually spring for.

After choosing a good foundation of necessities, we wandered into other departments, which was probably a mistake. Bedding I could do. The child couldn’t sleep itself into a sweaty, sticky mess on a bare mattress. But cradles, and cups and spoons, and bottles, and little padded strap cushions. Mom and I decided to get a few nursing supplies since I’d need those right off and call it a day.

Don’t get me wrong, Mom and I swooned when we saw the adorable itty bitty sheep on a crib sheet. I picked up a little fox and she nearly hugged a fuzzy penguin. Humans love fresh starts, soft little fingers and toes, and the fragility of life we often forget otherwise.

But I feel like the culture of modern motherhood and merchandising drowns all that. Sure, it shines through in a precious petite bodysuit. But the rows of cribs, reclining chairs, canvas art work, and countless accessories? No mother needs all that. If she wants it, fine. But I think the first insidious brainwashing of the perfect mother myth is that she must have it. The material, the physical accoutrements must be perfectly laid for her to perfectly welcome and care for her baby.

For those times when the maternal bond is muddled, all that material just masks the root problem – and ultimate solution – further.

It’s time to get back to basics.

I picture myself holding my baby, swaddling her* close, and facing the world together – without the marketing man anywhere in sight.

 

*And no, this is not a veiled announcement of the sex of our child; female pronouns just roll off the tongue after three girls

Not in Vain

Before my third child, I never dropped the JC.

I was no pure linguist, but I did not take the name of the Lord in vain.

In the months and years following her birth, it became a regular part of my vocabulary, satisfyingly venting my rage and frustration at things gone wrong. Stupid things. Teeth not being brushed. Butts not being wiped. Nothing that should unleash rage, but they were the proverbial straws.

I knew its use signaled a loss of center, of control.

Perhaps it was a desperate plea. But it came out sounding like a kid forced to say please and thank you. Totally inappropriate in tone and timbre.

Finally, one Lent, I decided to make a focused effort to stop saying it improperly. Keeping track of my missteps, I counted eight uses during those forty days. A significant reduction. I never did decide what would be an appropriate penance for each of those eight uses, but my non-JC oath habit stuck.

So here I am 32 weeks into pregnancy #4 and I’m being pelted with more stupid little straws.

My six year old has decided this is a fabulous time to assert her independence. Not in a dig-your-heels-in toddler sort of way, but in a snotty teenage you-can’t-make-me sort of way. Holding a stuffie I’d told her to put away at least three times, I stood over her as she sat on the bathroom floor fully dressed and not making any attempts to prepare for bed. I had to fight the urge to bean her over the head with it. After numerous non-oath reminders, I unleashed a torrent of reprimands peppered with choice words (though no JC – does that earn me some credit?).

Having to remove myself from the situation, I stalked in our bedroom, where my husband stood.

“This kid isn’t even born yet and I’m already swearing!”

He laughed. I think he appreciates seeing me get as frustrated as he does sometimes.

But his laughter also signaled to me that perhaps my reaction, while a bit overblown, was natural. I may be hyper-vigilant to signs of rage due to my postpartum experience last time, but that doesn’t mean that every freak-out is a bad sign. It could just be a bad day. Or a bad moment.

Just as uttering Jesus Christ in a proper context is not a bad thing, expressing anger or frustration in an appropriate way is not either. I need to watch the tone of my words and actions to see whether I’m struggling. It may not be a spiral, but a slight dip in the mood of the day.

I know many postpartum women – or anyone who’s suffered a mental health crisis – who see a bad day, a down period, a low point as a relapse. But even if it is, having been where we have and coming back from that place, we are equipped to do so faster, better, and with the proper supports.

We also are entitled to the same bad days our “normal” counterparts have all the time. Not every infraction is a sign of our condition, a harbinger of more to come.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Ironically, the organ we must rely on most strongly to convince us of our strength and resiliency is also the one most affected by our illness.

In that case, perhaps a call to the Lord would not be in vain.

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