The Cinderella Mom

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Hey, Mom. I see you, up late.

The kids are in bed, the husband is snoring, and the place is all yours: it’s go time on mom time.

The time has come for you to be who you were long before the kids were there – the writer, the reader, the artist, the seamstress. We spend our days as servants, ragged, worn. But when night falls and the clock strikes, our transformation takes place. Bippity, boppity, boo! The responsibilities of the day and the plans for tomorrow fall away, and for just the slightest of time we’re alone to be us, to follow our dreams, to play among our passions.

Not every night. Some nights all we can manage is a little Pinterest, maybe some Netflix. Some nights end in tears, some end in guilt over how you wish the day had gone, some end on the couch before you mean them to. Heck, some nights don’t seem to end at all because the kids keep coming out of their rooms and asking questions and wanting more water and complaining and tattling and remembering details about a YouTube video from 7 months ago and being the thirstiest person to EVER LIVE. But some nights are magical. Some nights the stars align, the alarm doesn’t taunt you, and the silence is golden. You don’t have a pumpkin carriage, but you have a couch, a desk, a favorite chair, or even just the whole living room floor awaiting you, ready to take you where you’ve been itching to go. There isn’t much time – there never is – but what you have is the stuff of fairy tales, the stuff that holds you over, energizes you, reminds you that you are more than Mom, that you can do more than laundry and shuttling and meal prepping and breaking up fights. You can produce more than milk and fruit snacks. Maybe you work magic with a pair of needles, maybe you paint, maybe you read… maybe you rest. Whatever it is that you do, it is of the utmost importance that you keep doing it.

Whatever it is that you miss about the time before becoming a mom, do that. Did you meet friends for movies? Do that. Did you write short stories? Do that.  Did you sculpt, garden, give yourself pedicures? Do those things. There may never be time to do them every night, or even every week. But there may also be no other time than the magical midnight hour to do them at all. You cannot afford to invest all of yourself into motherhood. You will never see a return on it if you do. Huge parts of you, yes. More than you knew you could give, sure. But you cannot give every part of yourself to raising your children or you will have nothing left when you’re done. And you will be done, at some point. Not tonight, obviously, but someday.

Beyond what is left of you then, the world needs what’s inside of you NOW. You, your perspective, your gifts, your words… they don’t just disappear once you become a mother. You still matter. You have not become a bookmark in someone else’s story, holding the place and marking pauses. Your name may have been changed to Mom, but who you are was not modified, what you are capable of remains.

There’s a quote that makes the rounds, I see it about once a week and the person accredited to it changes as frequently. It says, “Children are not a distraction from the more important work. They are the most important work.” I don’t know that a quote has ever filled me with so many conflicting feelings at once. Yes, this privilege we have in child rearing is great. The weight of our decisions hangs heavily over us every night, the words we speak, the job we do, can ripple outwards who knows how far. We get one shot at raising these people, and it’s a really big deal. But we also only get one shot at being us, and we have more to offer and are more impactful that motherhood alone. Do not misunderstand me, I’m not discounting motherhood and all its glories. I’m saying we’re mighty moms BECAUSE that’s not all there is to us. We were not given talents and gifts and callings and likes and preferences simply to let them waste away once we started changing diapers. You are made up of so much more than mom genes. You have ideas, passions, abilities, and the world needs them. You need to exercise them. And, just as important, your children need to see them. What better way to raise strong young women than to show them what all a woman is capable of? What better way to raise appreciative young men than to show them all the facets of you? Let your kids be in awe of you. Let them see you create, let them know what’s important to you. They see every day how human you are, so give them a glimpse of how superhuman you can be. My kids’ mom takes photographs that hang in peoples’ homes. They sit on chairs their mom painted and sometimes even wear clothes she made (though just washing the store-bought stuff is equally miraculous most days). Show them the stories you wrote that impacted people they’ve never met. Make sure they know about the baby blankets you made that will become heirlooms, or the recipes you shared that feed countless families. Tell them about the job you work at, the kids you teach, the patients you help, the companies you help run, the services you provide. Let them see the stack of books you’ve devoured, show them your art, your hobbies, your contributions, your gifts. Show them YOU.

In my experience, kids don’t appreciate the meals or the cleaning or the folding or the pick up line. They expect it, it becomes mundane. It can do the same to us. And it’s hard, pulling yourself up out of the mundane, the rut. It can be difficult to feel inspired when you’re surrounded by the same mess and chaos and laundry piles that you were in all day. But just wait. Wait for the clock to strike and allow the magic to work. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to work all day, to feel the press and the rush to get home and get everything done for the day, then everything prepped for the next, in a span of a few hours. The temptation to fall fast asleep and rest your brain must be overwhelming most nights. But sometimes, just sometimes, don’t give in. Stay up and do something for you. Transform. Be YOU. Not the employee, not the mom, but YOU. The unique you who existed long before the babies and the meetings and the appointments. Allow yourself to indulge in what brings you joy and dare to feel no guilt for it.

I admit to losing myself when I first became a mother. I won’t go into too much detail now, mostly because I’ve already gone on for so long, but also because I’m saving it for another blog, wink wink. But whatever the details, I was lost. Me, Jen, the goofy, movie-quoting, fashion-magazine-devouring, creative person had become a shell, a robot, someone only capable of carrying out tasks necessary for my baby. I didn’t recognize it at first. I didn’t know I wasn’t fulfilled, and if I had, I wouldn’t dare have voiced it for fear of being judged. But I remember the moment I realized something other than caring for my son was making me happy. I had taken photos of a family friend and was skipping through the house as they transferred onto the computer. Me. Skipping. I don’t do that NOW, and I’m sure it was just as ridiculous to see then, but something was awakening me, something had stirred a part of me I didn’t realize had gone stagnant. I was doing something creative, and I was loving it. Over the years, as with any relationship, my dance with motherhood has had highs and lows. Some days I crush it and some days it crushes me. Some days the monotony so consumes me that I forget what I’d want to do with free time, should I scrounge any up. On those days, on the really hard ones, when you’re so completely overwhelmed that you can’t see past the moment to come up with a hobby, just sit. You don’t have to create anything. You don’t have to cure cancer. You don’t have to have hoardes of fans or followers, customers, influence. But you DO have to take care of you, and just sitting can do it. Maybe that leads to reading a book you’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe that leads to getting an idea. Maybe that leads to you singing a song. Or maybe you just get to be with yourself for a little bit and catch your breath with no one to touch you, to ask of you. Your relationship with you began long before the one you have with your children, and it’s just as important to maintain it.

It can be really hard, having to wait to do what you want, to do what you’re passionate about. It can make you feel unimportant to have to put yourself on the back burner. It can make you feel guilty, to use precious and finite time doing something only for yourself. Find the time. Make the time. Heck, trade, barter, or steal the time. Cinderella had only one night and it was enough to change her. She had a pretty rough day the next day, too, and still it was worth it. You’ve spent so long being the unappreciated attendant and all you want is the chance to have a night of magic… or maybe to get your hands covered in Mod Podge or sculpting clay. You don’t have a fairy godmother or glass slippers, but an adult coloring book could be just as transformative. Make your passions and hobbies a priority, make YOU a priority. Fight for who you are, not what you do. Wait for your moment, enjoy the quiet, and have a wonderful night with yourself. Don’t be a stranger. Be Cinderella. Isn’t that what we wanted to grow up to be, anyway?

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Reasonable Expectation of Dignity

I don’t want to share this.

My hands are shaking. My heartbeat is visible through the skin over my collarbone. I’m so nervous and humiliated that I feel lightheaded. I do not want to share this.

But I have to. For a week I’ve been fighting this, and for a week I’ve tossed and turned and been awakened by my brain that seems to want to write this on its own. So while I don’t want to share this, I need to.

I love fashion. I hang out in sweatpants and Backstreet Boys t-shirts and revel in the no-makeup days, but I love fashion. I also love to laugh. It seemed a given that I would enjoy a marriage of the two, Fashion Police on E!. I DVR’ed the heck out of it, I wanted Joan Rivers’ job (and wardrobe!), I laughed, I looked forward to it. Until a few months ago when I read an interview with a random celebrity that I can’t even remember, but their words stuck with me. She said that she did not watch Fashion Police, because it was hurtful. The women they tore apart on that show left their house feeling beautiful, and those “judges” thought it was their place to say otherwise. Boom. I haven’t watched since.

Many of you know that I struggle with my weight. Yes, I say “struggle”. I’m still battling the irrational anxiety that has popped up in the last year. I went from fat and happy to fat and terrified. Terrified of what people thought, terrified of what people saw. Leaving the house means winning an internal battle some days. As much as I love to encourage others, I cannot seem to rally myself to hold my head up as often. Yes, my husband loves me and tells me how beautiful he thinks I am. Yes, I am HEALTHY. No, I never share this struggle with my children. Because this weight is beyond my control, I feel like I am grasping at nothing, drowning, falling down a well. I want to wear a sign that says “Yes, I know I’m overweight, but NO, I did not do this to myself.” I feel like I need to explain myself to the perceived disgusted public. It’s a truly overwhelming feeling to not have control over your body. Enter the hot tears. I can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But the outside? The part that people see? All I can do is shave my legs, do my hair, and put on some makeup. Well, it’s winter, so the legs can wait. I have literally had panic attacks in the middle of stores because I was so ashamed of how I looked and what I thought people were thinking. Again, I know it’s irrational. But again, grasping at nothing.

Last week, my worst fear happened: I caught someone taking a cell phone picture of me. This is where my hands shake and my heart races again. This person was trying to go unnoticed, pretending to check emails or Facebook, until the flash accidentally went off. I was sitting alone, just a bare wall next to me. When I climbed far enough out of my shame cloud to tell my best friends and husband what had happened, they all tried their obligatory encouraging alternatives: “Maybe it was your beautiful hair! Maybe they liked something you were wearing! Maybe this, maybe that…” Nope. Momma was having a ROUGH day that day. Ponytail, my black flats with the holes in them, glasses. Also, we had been chatting, so a compliment could have been offered up at any time. I also know that this person is a member of a very trendy gym, one that prides itself so much on fitness that the various branches host competitions for members to prove themselves. I’m not calling this gym out, I’m just saying that given this person’s trained way of thinking with regard to fitness, and my appearance that day, it is not hard to conclude why that person took a sneaky picture of me.

I’m fat.

As a fat person, I’m allowed to say that. It’s not the worst thing someone can be, so I’m okay with saying it. It’s just a descriptor, it’s not my identity. But when that’s all someone bothers to notice about you, especially as a woman, it hurts. You can’t tell by the picture that person took that I love my family and friends, that I’m a beast with a glue gun, that I can quote every episode of Friends, that I’m freaking funny and flippin’ awesome. That picture doesn’t show my dedication, my creativity, my desire to help other people. It doesn’t show the rivers of tears I’ve cried over pants that stop fitting, the number of doctors I’ve met with to find a cure, or at least a STOP. It doesn’t show the fear I have when I approach a folding chair, an amusement park ride, or when I pass someone leaving a restaurant. It doesn’t show the internal battle being waged by my hormones, how my body is turning against me, how I have no control and no end in sight to this horrible, horrible disease. But you know what it does show, that image of my outsides? It shows the insides of the person who took it.   

As a photographer, I can assure you that this person was within their legal rights to take my picture. Once you attend a public event, you lose what is called a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a human, I want to shout that they had NO right. I am a mother, a wife, a friend… not a punchline. I may not meet that person’s standards of beauty, but then again, I’m not trying to. I can call that person rude, judgemental, callous, a butthead… I can say whatever I want, but it doesn’t take away the shame. Again, I wanted to scream, “I didn’t do this to myself!” I don’t owe that person an explanation, but I was so humiliated that I felt the need to justify my measurements. Instead, I just hung my head. My worst fear, that a stranger was internally laughing at my appearance, had just played out in front of me. Me, the strong-willed, opinionated, loud, energetic force of nature, had been reduced to a lump of indignity. My friends and husband also gave me the obligatory accolades, but the facts that I’m caring, sweet, thoughtful, funny, or made of concentrated awesomesauce don’t show up in sneaky, malicious cell phone pictures. It hurt. Bad. It still hurts. Writing this has helped some, given me a sense of control over how I will react to it. Like I said, it says as much about the person who took that photo as it does about the way I look. But beyond a personal victory, I needed to share this so to offer my perspective, the person on the other side, the person who is likely in someone’s newsfeed with a crude caption.

Please consider this side the next time you do the same. People of Walmart can be hilarious and mind-boggling, and you KNOW there are people who dress that way intentionally in the hopes of a POW appearance (or the $50 gift card), but what about the innocent ones? The people who don’t have any fashion sense, the people who say “Screw it, it’s Walmart and I need toilet paper!”, the people who don’t have the money for nice clothes, or even a home to hang them in? What about the people who don’t have the mental capacity to arrange a Milan-worthy look, the people you see wearing holey clothes, too-tight clothes, too-short clothes, too-dirty clothes, too-ugly clothes, too-old clothes… what if those are all the clothes they have? Can you imagine how they would feel to see their photo on a website devoted to judging peoples’ appearance, to read the comments of strangers about how they look, when no one knows their circumstances? I myself am guilty of taking a sneaky photo of a cashier who was dressed exactly like Blanche from Golden Girls. But now I ask myself, “Why?” Why did I need the picture? Why was it my place to secretly tease this woman? And what pain and embarrassment might she have felt, what insecurities might I have unearthed if she’d noticed? When did our desire to judge and tease become greater than someone else’s right to dignity? If I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), if I was knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), if I am God’s MASTERPIECE (Ephesians 2:10), then so are you, so is Blanche, so are we all. Taking pictures and laughing isn’t going to change that person’s life for the better. And it certainly won’t make you a better person. So please, stop.

Soggy Granola

In between welcoming our first and third children, a lot changed. Car seat recommendations changed. (Seriously, people! Rear-facing until at LEAST two!) The colors of Dr. Brown’s bottles changed. Hyland’s teething tablets changed, then changed again. (And by the way, they’re perfectly safe.) New research is forever coming to light, making what was once commonplace, taboo. Opinions and styles are changing, approaches, gear, trends… But mostly, we changed. In the 5+ years between our oldest boy and our only girl, we matured. Learned to become well-versed ourselves, rather than just trust what commercials or the free issues of Parents magazines say. Having a baby with dozens of unanticipated allergies has made us researchers, made us flexible, made us healthier. I, personally, have reached a place as a parent where I trust myself, my judgement, my abilities, even my body to produce what my baby needs. So many new moms that I speak with are terrified to trust their bodies… but that’s another topic for another time.
Anyways, along this journey I have met countless other parents. Our ideals, opinions, and methods all differ as wildly as the stars in the sky – from far away you really can’t tell a difference, but up close, they’re light years apart. For the last several months, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. Since we do some “granola” (read: hippie) things in raising our children, I get funny looks from most parents I meet. Most of my friends don’t understand, but several are very supportive. In learning more about these granola “hippie” practices, I’ve met a whole new world of parents: the crunchy moms. Some of these women have become my closest friends. But some are pretty intense. They howl at the moon and don’t brush their teeth… stuff you’d see on Wife Swap. The problem is, I’m somewhere in the middle, what my friend dubbed “the soggy end of crunchy”. In anything there are extremes. Hot-cold, tall-short, rich-poor, Backstreet Boys-N*Sync. I’m the lukewarm hippie, the soggy granola. MAN I wish I’d named my blog that now… I’ve been feeling a little isolated. I feel the stares of the mainstream parents who don’t know what the heck I’m doing, why my baby is on my back, or why I don’t eat Taco Bell. I feel the wrath of the hardcore crunchy parents when I say I’m looking to start weaning my baby (toddler). It’s been pretty lonely out here in the middle, dodging bullets from both sides. I’ve kept the fact that I’m still nursing my nearly-18-month-old largely a secret because of the comments and looks. I’ve kept the stress of immunization day to myself because of the judgements of the hippies.

I even created a little visual to show how I fall in between the two camps:

granola

 

Now, of COURSE there are plenty of delightful parents out there. Not every crunchy mom will judge you and not every mainstream parent is scared of you.

When I say I’ve felt isolated, I really mean it. For God knows what reason, I lost several friends when we found out that our third baby was a girl. Most of my crunchy granola friends don’t live nearby, and most of the moms nearby look at me funny. So here I’ve sat, petting my pretty cloth diapers and going about my psuedo-natural living, feeling ashamed and embarassed and lonesome.

But no more.

Because you know what? Every choice my husband and I have made for our family was made with love, with thought, with intention and research. I’m PROUD of the family we have. I’m PROUD of the way we raise our kids. Is it the way you raise yours? Probably not. Do I expect you to raise yours the same way? Of COURSE not! Parents can be such bullies once they make up their mind on an issue and make parents who don’t agree feel pretty small. But we’re raising individuals, PEOPLE. There is no one right way to do it. There are plenty of ways to screw it up, but we, as parents, stumble upon those nearly daily. We don’t need “help” from others who would make us feel like we’re running head- first into disaster. (Exception: CAR SEAT SAFETY)

Advice is healthy. Far too many parents get offended by advice. If someone points out that the chest clip on your child’s car seat should be at armpit level (NOT at their belly button), they are not suggesting you’re a terrible parent. They’re saying something because they care enough not to keep it to themselves. Unsolicited advice is uncomfortable. Judgements are just bad. You know the type. You ask for advice on where to get the best pizza, and That Person comments “We don’t eat pizza – it has far too many chemicals and additives and uses child slavery to stretch the dough.” That’s one of those extreme-ends-of-the-spectrum people. Rather than saying “You’re doing it wrong”, why can’t we all say “Hey, great job! Have you looked at doing it this way?” Or, better yet, “Hey, great job!” When did parenting become so bipartisan? When did ANYONE discover the one single key to parenting that opens the ONLY door to healthy, well-adjusted kids?

So here I am, announcing once and for all, that I like the way we raise our kids. I am not so egotistical or narrow-minded that I think it’s the only way to raise children, but it’s the best way to raise OUR kids. The best ways to raise yours differ WILDLY, and that’s awesome.

We all vote differently, eat differently, enjoy different kinds of tv shows, if any. We attend different churches, schools, enjoy different kinds of foods, have our favorite soft drinks (or “Devil Juice”, to the hippies), our favorite sports, our favorite colors, scents, times of day. Our names and birthdays and sizes and shapes and colors all vary. So who on EARTH told us we couldn’t hang out because I vaccinate and you don’t? Where did the idea that my cloth diapers make me unwelcome take root? When did your kale bedding make you a better parent than me? We’re adults, by golly! Let’s sit together at the park and talk about the Kardashians! Let’s celebrate these little people we’re given the extreme privilege to raise and the fact that they are breathing and thriving. Let’s celebrate the miraculous ways they came to us, be it pregnancy, science, or adoption. Let’s encourage each other, learn from one another, be NICE to each other.

Breastfeeding is hard work, good job! Formula is expensive and there are SO many kinds to work through, great job! Your baby’s poop is being caught somehow, great job! We’re all after the same end result, so let’s link arms and get there together. Don’t play dirty and push other moms off the path. Don’t give the stink eye to the mom who is on a completely different path. Own your choices as a parent, I’ll own mine, and we will have some rockstar kids.

And I DARE you to say something else to me about my C-sections.