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an honest mom

A mom divided

I wrote this 2 weeks ago, and tossed it aside. Not for the blog, I thought. Too fragmented and emotional. When I read it again this morning, I  recanted. I should post this. Because it’s fragmented and emotional, and I’m sure some of you will relate.

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I love my new job. And it’s making it harder and easier to be a mom.

I get a break from the incessant demands of home and children. I ride my bike up the hill and sit at a desk and order lunch and walk about freely, where I’d like when I’d like. I’m making money, which feels blissfully good. Being at home has a new sweetness to it.

And

I have so little time to spend with Jo, just the two of us. I’m coming to terms with just how many hits our time together has taken in the last year: baby Cal joining the menagerie, Jo starting pre-school and me starting this job. This time last year, I spent all but 12 hours a week with Jo, traipsing to parks, wrestling him into rest time, gardening and navigating his physical outbursts sometimes with patience and other times by screaming in his face and then being racked with tears and guilt.

Ah yes, there was that. It’s easy to forget from this place, where unlimited time with Jo is the greener pasture. That damned greener pasture—always re-locating to somewhere other than where I am.

It’s such a radical shift to suddenly need to schedule time to hang out with Jo. So much so that I haven’t really done it at all. And I miss him. I miss the team that we used to be—sure, it wasn’t all roses, but he was my sidekick.

I worry that he may be suffering as a result. His crazy dips into extreme hyper-ness, run-by pinching of Cal.

And here’s the truth of it. It’s harder for me to connect with him these days not just because I have less time, but because I just don’t understand him as well.

Somehow, in the past couple of years, he’s slowly morphed from a soft innocent into a hard, fast trickster. And it’s harder for me to like him.

Right around that same time, I gave birth to blonde Cal. Sweet blonde Cal, into whose sweet, chubby softness I can dive for hours and feel an easy bliss.

I’ve been avoiding one child and seeking refuge in the other.

And the less I connect with Jo, the harder it gets. And the stranger he seems to me.

This division of myself between my two sons, this is what I worried about when thinking of having another baby—having to shift my attention between 2.

This gorgeous image was generously shared by Barbara Butkus. Talk about an honest photo. It captures that challenge of toggling attention between multiple kids, no?

Is this just the inevitable course of our relationship? This slowly widening distance over which it feels too hard to bridge?

In having a second child, was I unknowingly signing myself up to lose my closeness with the first?

Small victories and a recipe request

Things are coming along around here.

We have a dining room that is reasonably apportioned.

Image

Our towels and sheets have their own shelves in a linen closet!

Various things like tea and lentils and potato peelers are starting to be organized, and sometimes I open the right drawer or cabinet on the first try.

These are the victories of moving.

The pregnancy rolls along. This baby is a thumper. And for the first time in the past couple of weeks, strangers are asking when I’m due. I love that. Really. It’s so affirming to get outside recognition for the fact that I really am, all day every day, growing and carrying another person.

I’ve had an inspiring freelance video project to work on. Have I mentioned that I’m a video director and editor and that I love it? Well, I am. And I do. Especially when, as happened this morning, I open my email to see if my client received the revised cut of the video I sent, and see these replies:

Oh my god!!, it’s soooooo gooood!
O my gosh, it made me cry!
You’re wonderful!

What a gift it was to get these notes. The uplift of that affirmation is stunning, as I wade through the daily overwhelm of being J’s mother, moving into the first house we’ve ever owned, trying to find renters for our back house, (Did I mention we bought a duplex? Well, we did. And 2 weeks ago our renters gave notice.) and then try to carve out 15 hours of work a week towards a video deadline. There are times in the last week when I’ve wondered if it’s worth it–when there’s no food ready or even prepped for dinner at 7 pm, when I have to field renters stopping by and husbands staying home sick in the midst of my “focussed work time,” that blessed 4 hour window of paid childcare.

Sometimes, the demands of my life press in so close and heavy that even the smallest movement requires a huge grunt of strength and motivation.

So it’s particularly rejuvenating under those conditions to be able to accomplish something, from start to finish, to have it be valued and to get paid for it. Chalk one up in the victory column.

And now, I need some help. In the midst of this home-owning, landlording, pre-natal, part-time work blur, I’ve been lamenting how challenging it is to buy and make enough food for 3 people every day. Apparently, I need to start buying those industrial size tubs of yogurt and 2 dozen eggs at a time. And I could also start thinking about dinner before its 6pm. Perhaps I could even talk with A about some sort of dinner or shopping schedule in which he reliably participates. These are all reasonable ideas.

Today, I took some time to go through a decades worth of crumpled, food-stained recipes I’ve torn out of magazines. I methodically reviewed, cut out, taped them onto recipe cards and filed them away. Part of me wondered if I’d be better off taking pictures and making a file on my computer. But there is something romantic and simple about having a recipe card on the counter, collecting dribbles of sauce and flour over the course of an evening in the kitchen.

As I looked through my newly fluffed collection of recipes just now, I realize that I want more options for things that I can make heaps of and have stashed away in the fridge so I’m not just eating granola all day long.

This is where you come in: what are the recipes you go back to, again and again, when you know its a crazy week ahead and you need to whip up a whole bunch of something and eat off of it happily all week?

Thank you in advance!

Big Announcement Number Two

Maybe you thought this was going to be about the whole escrow, buying a house thing. But it’s not. (That is happening by the way, but at this point, it has dragged on for so terribly long, I’m boycotting the whole thing and demoting it from announcement status. And if this piqued your curiosity about the first big announcement, here you go.)

What is the second big announcement about?

Felicity Huffman.

My main experience with Felicity Huffman until recently was through a radical independent movie called Transamerica. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s some astonishing acting, when you think about a woman playing a man becoming a woman. And it’s a beautiful, complicated, funny, simple story. The more mainstream way that people tend to know Felicity is through the whole Desperate Housewives thing, which never appealed to me.

A month ago, I got an email in my inbox from Felicity Huffman. She’d been reading THIS VERY blog and liked it. And she had recently started her own website, for moms and women. She wrote:

I started it because I found mothering so fucking hard it blew my mind – and no one was talking about it. When I did speak out – people looked at me as if my hobby was kicking baby birds. So I wanted to create a place where women could share their experiences – the good the bad and the ugly.

She had me right there. What a woman. Not only can she act like there’s no tomorrow, but she can also break it down about motherhood. And then she hit it over the ballpark and told me that she has chickens.

Done and done.

I’m now a contributor at What the Flicka. Go forth, check it out. Enjoy some of the other great writers and honest moms over there. I’m thrilled to join them.

Photos by: Stephen Busken / WhatTheFlicka.com

The revolution continues: more of your honest photos

Well, fabulous readers, you definitely stepped up to my recent photographic challenge. Here are more regular, everyday, un-gussied-up moments from your lives. Thank you, thank you for sharing them.

can’t decide if i love the pose or the soft vignette more…
“What is the torture we’re applying to the young lady? We’re washing her hair – oh no!!!”

Laura Turbow shared these next three photos. She’s an honest mom who happens to also be an awesome photographer.

“For just a second, i wish you could press a button and hear the sound of this photo, but maybe it is not necessary.”
“This photo is part of a series that i took of my champion vomit child.”
“Here is one more ‘grab the camera before I grab a towel shot'”
“Too tired from two jobs to even move the belt off the bed. i just had to lay down and stare into space for awhile.”
Life is so hard for redheads.

If you’d like to see more revolutionary photos like these, here’s the first batch I posted. And if you’re inspired, I would be tickled pink if you’d share your photo with me and my fabulous readers at my facebook page.

I become a three-year-old mom today

Three years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The marking of this day feels more significant than any other, which has surprised me. It looms over my own birthday or wedding anniversary. I anticipate its arrival as the walnuts ripen and with the little showers of shell crunching down from the squirrels that frequent our tree. I can smell its approach in the dry autumn air. And then, starting on September 8, the day I went into labor, I follow my birth log that our doula wrote for us.

10:25am Contractions every 2-3 minutes.
11:00am Long lull in contractions, perhaps 25 minutes without one, contractions resume ever 5-10 minutes apart when laying flat on side.
11:45am Nurse changes to Jacki, the “radical natural birth nurse.”
12:00pm Vaginal exam, 7cms, 0 station
12:40pm Walk on roof garden

I love marking the time, reading these facts and remembering what it felt like in my body that day. The quality of the sunlight, the anger that possessed me when we had to wait and wait in triage at the hospital, the sound of our yoga ball squelching around and around on our hardwood floor in the middle of the night. I’ve never *sensed* an experience more than this one. And I savor the details that my body remembers.

I live in such a brainiac world that there are few experiences that require me to be deeply feeling inside my body. That is why I love birth so much. It eventually demands everything–every pre-historic moan, every trickling bead of sweat, every deepest-darkest thing you didn’t even know you had. And there’s a joy in that animal darkness. And there’s fear in the joy. It just tunnels in like that to the place where everything is all mixed in with everything else.

I often tell people that having a child has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are moments of quiet happiness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother. And that bigness and depth and expansion all crescendo-ed at birth.

No wonder I make so much room in my life to remember it.

Leading ladies in children's picture books: Mrs. Armitage

Way back when, I posed this lament and request for good children’s picture books with girl and women main characters. Thanks to all of your amazing comments, I’ve had a hold-list a mile long at our library. We’ve been reading like fiends in these parts and have found some real stand-outs. Three books that stick in my mind and that we have gone back to the library for again and again are the Mrs. Armitage books by Quentin Blake.

It all started with Mrs. Armitage on Wheels.

Don’t you love her already?

It’s basically a children’s book version of ‘pimp my ride,’ only the ride is a bike and the detail crew is Mrs. Armitage and her faithful dog Breakspear. And if you feel like Blake’s illustrations remind you of something, you’re right! Quentin Blake drew all of the pictures for Roald Dahl’s books. Blake is also a wonderful storyteller–these are books that you will genuinely enjoy reading out loud.

Then there’s Mrs. Armitage and the Big Wave.

Similar storyline–only this time, it’s a surfboard.

And Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road.

In this one, she un-pimps her ride and then winds up playing billiards and drinking cans of banana fizz with her Uncle Cosmo and his friends at the Crazy Duck Cafe.

Go forth. Read. Enjoy. And relax knowing that you’re reading a story to your kiddo that shows off a rad leading lady.

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

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If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Why I wish I had been born in West Africa

I’ve been thinking about purpose lately. As in, “What is my purpose in this lifetime?” I’m pretty big on existential questions, so even if I weren’t reading Of Water and The Spirit by Malidoma Somé, I’d be mulling them over. But I have been reading it. And it’s knocked my existential socks off.

Somé writes about his experience growing up through the rites and rituals of his people, the Dagara, in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Check this out:

A few months before birth…a ritual called a ‘hearing’ is held. The pregnant mother, her brothers, the grandfather and the officiating priest are the participants. During the ritual, the incoming soul takes the voice of the mother (some say the soul takes the whole body of the mother, which is why the mother falls into trance and does not remember anything afterward) and answers every question the priest asks.

The living must know who is being reborn, where the soul is from, why it chose to come here, and what gender it has chosen. Some souls ask that specific things be made ready before their arrival–talismanic power objects, medicine bags, metal objects in the form of rings for the ankle or wrist. They do not want to forget who they are and what they have come here to do. It is hard not to forget, because life in this world is filled with many alluring distractions. The name of the newborn is based upon the results of these communications. A name is the life program of its bearer.

My initial thoughts after reading this? Crap. No one ever asked me about my purpose in utero. I’m so screwed.

My name means “A crown or garland,” which hasn’t given me much of a life program. Malidoma, on the other hand, means “friend of the enemy.” And at just about every turn, this man’s life has landed him there–his kidnapping at age 4 by Jesuits and subsequent rearing in a seminary until he was 20, his return and initiation back into his tribe, his extensive education in the West (3 master’s degrees and a PhD) and then writing books like this one, that introduce open-minded WASP-y chicks like me to whole other ways of understanding existence.

I’m just so jealous of the societal focus on purpose that Somé talks about:

For the Dagara, every person is an incarnation, that is a spirit who has taken on a body. So our true nature is spiritual. This world is where one comes to carry out specific projects.

I wish that just as a function of being part of my community, that I was encouraged to find my purpose, that there was some over-arching social fabric that kept us all knit together in that common pursuit. Instead, I feel pretty untethered and on my own, collecting little tidbits along the way.

Not so for Somé, who describes one of his tribal elders explaining the purpose of initiation into adulthood.

What he said was this…Each one of us possessed a center that he had grown away from after birth. To be born was to lose contact with our center, and to grow from childhood to adulthood was to walk away from it.

The center is both within and without. It is everywhere. But we must realize it exists, find it, and be with it, for without the center we cannot tell who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.

Once again, all I’m cripplingly jealous. I desperately want to know those things. And I have to believe that I don’t have to go to Burkina Faso to try and figure it out. I do feel like I have some clues. Creativity, connection and women are all themes that rise to the surface in things that I love, and that draw me in again and again.  But where do I go from those hazy concepts? If I just keep on living as I have, will my purpose become more apparent? Or do I need to go all Malidoma Somé to figure it out?

What do you think your purpose is? And what has helped you feel closer to it?

The Second Time Around

I started interviewing new moms for my “Becoming a Mother” video series back in December. Getting to know them and editing the footage of our conversations (albeit slowly! I’m aiming to post another video soon, of T and her baby at 3 and 7 weeks postpartum) has reminded me of the joy and power of sharing our stories. It connects us to each other and reminds us we’re not alone. And I can think of no better way to steward new families than to share the specific taste and texture of the joys and sorrows of this experience. In that vein, I asked a writer that I met through the kick ass Get Born community if she would write some guest posts on my blog about her experience of becoming a mother the second time. And she said yes! So allow me to introduce you to the unflinching writing of Lesley L. McKinley. She’s 17 (ish) weeks pregnant right now. And we get to hear what she’s thinking and feeling about this baby #2 business every month! Thank you, Lesley.

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I can’t get a read on this baby at all. Who the hell is this kid? I mean, with my first, her whole identity was mapped before the end of my first trimester. Her name, our secret codes, handshakes, and a seed of feminism so deeply imbedded in her soul that it would sprout a giant, magical beanstalk and she would be able to climb as high as she liked. She would be my daughter, a reflection of all that I have come to learn about this twisted world. She would see the beauty, yes, but she’d be wise and wary, too. Then, just when I was about to pick out her clothes (not pink ruffled crap but onesies with Rosie the Riveter) they told me my future daughter was actually my future son. It nearly stopped my heart. So invested was I in this fantasyland, that I actually wept as if I was grieving her loss.

Now, I have my son here with me in the flesh. He’s mercurial. He’s whip smart. He’s dirty constantly. He’s sweet. He’s my marauder. He would ride the dog to Tijuana if left unsupervised. He’s my boy.

And I only know boys. And I want another. But if I invest in another fantasy, I will miss out on the mystery of imaging both sides. And in the end, let’s be honest. I’ve already been to this show. Pregnancy is now more of an inconvenience getting in the way of caring for my two year old. I puked like a drunken sailor for six weeks, as just one example. It’s not a “magical” time for me right now. It’s exhausting. I feel fat, not radiant. I want to eat everything that was ever made and just completely give in to my gluttonous desires, and use this baby as the excuse. Sometimes I forget about the baby altogether.

The dirty marauder himself

For now, I have bigger things to worry about. Like the fact that my marauder can open doors…to the outside world. He ran out the other day and streaked past the mail lady and our landlord coming up the walk. Lucky for us both the front and back yards are fully fenced. I’m attempting to work again, for money, not shells. And I am beginning to think a social life might once again be possible, as the crushing isolation of motherhood has driven me to the eccentric and beyond.

Perhaps when I can feel this baby moving, rearranging my innards, and the heartburn kicks in, I’ll be better able to decide if this baby is Country or Rock n Roll. Right now this baby just is.

So this time around, I am not going to fall in love with an idea. Like I did so many times with crappy college boyfriends. This time, I want to fall in love. Full stop. Not with this whole pregnancy which I find to be a ginormous bummer, but with this kid, this being, this person. And frankly, I am happy to wait until I have this babe in my arms.

Lesley L. McKinley is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer who dreams of changing the world. Raised by wolves and pirates, her irreverent approach to most everything gets her in a lot of trouble, but she wouldn’t trade her battle scars or her sarcasm for all the trophies in the world. A mother, a wife, an artist, and a champion of the underdog, she can often be found outside, barefoot and muddy with her marauding toddler, hatching plots and running wild. She is currently crafting songs for a new album and thinking of ways to meet your pirate needs. Her website is being created as we speak. She also writes on the 10th of every month for get born, an online magazine. Find her there at www.getborn.com. Email her at llmckinley44@yahoo.com.