Safeguarding my children’s stories

Joy, Lovely Joy

Before they came into this world I had plot lines and narratives scaffolding in my mind, outlines and blueprints of their stories sketched in pencil. But like any story that’s given room to grow and roam and veer off the plotted points from A to B to C, they began to wander into their own exposition, their own conflict and rising action, and it’s only now that I’m beginning to fold my own plans and tuck them away. It’s only now that I’m truly seeing them as protagonists in their own stories. Stories that aren’t mine to tell.

Joy, Lovely Joy

And so here I am wondering where this leaves the state of this blog, which was founded as a way to preserve moments of their childhood. A blog that was founded alongside an industry that capitalizes off of stories that expose our children no matter how well intended, so lately I’ve been asking: Where do I draw the line? What is considered “over sharing” in a medium where such a definition is nearly impossible to define? And if I continue down this road will my children come to identify themselves by their online presence? Am I still trying to lay a framework from those blueprints even as I stuff them away?

Joy, Lovely Joy

I’ve been silent for a while because I’m not sure where this leaves me, mired in motherhood and feeling drawn to write about it, to process it, to share it, yet an overwhelming desire to protect them and safeguard their stories has kept me from doing so as of late. I have no doubt that I’ll continue to write about motherhood–it’s my greatest source of joy, frustration, and doubt–but I don’t want to unintentionally force identities on my children or publicly speculate about who they are becoming. This discovery should be theirs.

Joy, Lovely Joy

I’m still trying to figure out a way to navigate this terrain of writing about motherhood on a more macro level. With that said, I will continue to take photos (though I’m becoming ever more wary of featuring their faces online) because I know that someday they’ll be grateful for these snapshots of their childhoods.

P.S. You can find me on Instagram here.

Joy, Lovely Joy

28 Days of Play

Play and the Generation Gap

What I remember about my mother is this: she was there. She was there for band-aids and kisses and snacks. She would help us build tents in the backyard where we would hoard stacks of books, and she would pull down the trunk of old baby clothes from a high shelf so I could dress my dolls. She would unstick zippers and tie scarves in my hair and search for a beaded necklace to add to my dress-up ensemble. She made sure to foster an environment where play was encouraged, and when I needed her, she was there, but I don’t remember ever playing Barbie or baby doll with her.

I’m honored to be featured at You Plus 2 Parenting as part of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play series, and you can read the rest of this essay here. I’d love to hear your thoughts over there and keep the dialogue going on why it is we sometimes struggle with engaging in play with our children.

28 Days of Play

Boys and girls in Toyland

Wyatt

We were in the toy aisle around lunch time. The boys were in the stroller, each one holding a stuffed dog, one of which donned a purple bow around its neck. We were searching for a birthday present for a boy and thus surrounded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and super heroes and Legos and battery operated vehicles. We were in the company of another mom with two boys and a man who appeared to be alone. I was trying to decide which combination of TMNJs to buy when a boy who looked to be about five years old rounded the corner.

“Hey, Dad, can I get this?” he asked.

The man who I thought was alone said, and loudly, “You’re not getting that. That’s a girl toy.”

“But Dad…”

“No way is my son playing with girls toys.”

“But Dad…”

“Put. It. Back.”

The boy surrendered. He walked away, deflated and dejected.

I stood there pretending to be engrossed in the task at hand. I never looked up. I still don’t know what this man looked like. It wasn’t my place to say anything, yet I can’t get that little boy out of my head.

I wonder if that man considered the two women in his company, how his comment outright revealed him to believe our sex “less than”, for we too were once girls playing with “girl toys”. I wonder if he considered the four other little boys in his presence, one of whom held tightly to an accessorized stuffed animal. He certainly didn’t consider his own son, which irritates me most. Not that he didn’t acknowledge a (perhaps extraneous) want, but that he failed to acknowledge what that want revealed about his son.

I never looked up to see what the boy carried in his hands but I can only imagine that it was pink. Maybe it was a doll or a wand or a My Little Pony. Maybe it was something as ambiguous as play food or a stuffed dog with a bow around its neck. Whatever it was, it obviously screamed GIRL and GIRL is obviously not okay with this man, so I wonder: What does GIRL signify? Weakness? Sensitivity? Tenderness? Affection? Inferiority?

girls and swords

Mia plays with water guns and toy bow and arrows. She likes Star Wars and Angry Birds. Of all the toys my mom kept from when my brother and I were little, her favorites include a pirate ship and an old fire engine. At the completion of day camp last summer, I asked what her favorite activity was, expecting her to say crafts or swimming or horseback riding, but much to my surprise it was archery.

My boys will rock a baby doll in their arms as they giggle and groove to Taylor Swift. They find discarded stuffed animals in a closet and smother them with kisses as though they’ve rescued an abandoned baby on someone’s doorstep.

Boys and baby dolls

My children share toys. They trade and take turns and squabble over them. We’ve never tried to impose contrived codes and guidelines, nor do we want to. As long as they’re safe, they’re free to explore and imagine and create. I know we’re not alone in this approach. In fact, we’re probably a part of the majority.

Caring for baby dolls teaches children compassion and empathy. A superhero cape has the power to command invincibility. A wand lets them harness magic. A blank canvas and a set of paints can unlock the vast imaginative realm inside their minds. A book (any book) can provide an escape or a different perspective or a fantastical world to get lost in. This is what we want for our children, part of what we try to instill in them, isn’t it? Compassion and empathy and creativity and the space and freedom to be anything or anyone they want to be.

The world is yours.

The sky is the limit.

You can do anything you set your mind to.

But…

Pink is for girls.

Boys don’t cry.

Be tough. Shake it off.

Girls can be mild and boys can be wild, and we accept this as a general rule. Let us also accept that girls can be mighty and tenacious and boys can be merciful and tender — in play and in life.

So let me ask: If we don’t ever teach them that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, would they come to this conclusion on their own? If we don’t push fairy wands into the hands of girls and swords into the hands of boys, would they still gravitate to what society has deemed gender appropriate? Do we realize that when we dismiss the wants and interests of our kids, we are also dismissing hidden potential, inhibiting imaginative play and hindering creativity?

boys and cupcakes

Did that little boy in the toy aisle leave with the conclusion that he is “less than” for coveting a “girl toy”? Did his father implant a seed that will burrow into his psyche and help shape the way he sees the world and girls? His emotions? Himself?

It was only an errand. It was only a comment that wasn’t directed at me by a man I don’t know. And yet I can’t shake the feeling that I was witness to a pivotal moment on the path of this little boy’s life.

Deja vu — romanticizing the newborn days

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m blogging. I know enough about blogging by now to know that posting on a Sunday afternoon is blogger stats death by careless timing. I should probably wait until tomorrow. But still, here I sit – my fingers unable to stop the rhythm of the click-clacking of keys, even though they don’t have anything special to write, anywhere important to be. But there’s a reason why I’m here. Something I need to work out the only way I know how.

I’m having déjà vu.

Last night was the sixth consecutive night that I’ve fed, bathed, and put to bed three children by myself; the sixth consecutive night of foregoing my dinner in order to get meals (or something resembling a meal) into three separate mouths; the sixth consecutive night of wrestling two-year-olds into clean diapers and pajamas; the sixth consecutive night of negotiating, intervening, mediating, and sometimes threatening* in order to keep this train moving on track to the intended goal – bedtime.

*Threatening? You ask. Yes, threatening. It’s come to that.

Me: Mia, brush your teeth.

Mia: But it’s so boring.

Me: It’s not supposed to be fun.

Mia: Do I have to?

Me: If you don’t, sugar bugs will invade your mouth and eat holes in your teeth and they’ll fall out. All of them. Every single one.

(Insert a shocked/confused Mia here)

So there. Ha. Score one for me. Oh, but wait. She has that look in her eyes.

Me: I know what you’re thinking and you can forget it. The tooth fairy doesn’t visit kids who neglect their teeth.

But back to the déjà vu. I don’t mean I’m having déjà vu in a Groundhog Day sort of way, though I am getting a routine down to the minute, which feels a little Groundhog Day-ish. What I mean is that these evenings are tinged with all the same hues as when Mia was an infant and Zach worked well into the night. There’s a sense of loneliness and exhaustion but also a bit of freedom and empowerment.  I got this. (By the way, single moms, I bow down to you.)

Last night, however, I was not feeling free or empowered. I did not have this.

It was just before bedtime. The first floor of our house had been aimlessly ransacked by tiny terrors, and rather than stage a Clean Up Party I decided to avoid the mess, pretend it didn’t exist and move the party upstairs. Where they proceeded to ransack that level as well. I didn’t have the energy to stop them, so I let them go at it.

Toy baskets were dumped, play food was catapulted through the air, books were moved by stacks from one room to another, clothes were shed (not for the preemptive pajama quiet-down time but just because), blankets were strewn across chairs and couch to build a fort. It was mayhem. Happy mayhem, but still mayhem (with the ever-present knowledge that I would be the one to put it all back together again). There was one point during all of this – I was about one puzzle piece to the face from curling up in a ball and surrendering completely – when I began to reminisce of my nights with Mia as an infant.  The nuances and textures of these nights were different, but the theme was the same as last night: survival.

Mia had acid reflux. She seemed to be in pain when she ate, spit-up constantly, and took out all her frustrations at night. On me. I’m sure if I think hard enough, I would remember being frustrated as well – at her stomach, at the medicine that was supposed to help, at the incessant crying, at Zach for not being home, at Mia for spitting up EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, and at me for being helpless to comfort her. There were nights that I took her out on the front porch in her stroller and walked back and forth. The fresh air usually did little to calm Mia but they helped to calm me, which put me in the right frame of mind – a positive frame of mind – to do what would inevitably come next. I would take her back inside, turn on some music, and dance with her in my arms. And it worked. Sometimes we danced for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour. Her song of choice, my golden ticket as I eventually referred to it, was Glamorous by Fergie (don’t judge), and to this day when I hear “G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S…” I’m transported right back to that living room whose carpet bears the ghost footprints of a new mom’s dancing feet.

I’m sure if you had looked in the windows, you would have seen a frazzled, bare-faced girl with dark circles under her eyes, greasy hair slicked back in a ponytail, spit-up crusted on a faded t-shirt, bouncing another tiny girl in her arms. Both of them dancing to the intended goal – bedtime.

I’m sure if I think about it long enough I will conclude that this was indeed a time of survival, but that’s not the first thought that comes to me now. I look back on those nights as one looks back on the blooming of their first love, THE love, the one that would stick. I’m aware that I tend to romanticize life with a newborn, but last night I envied that new mom. Because Life with a Newborn felt like cakewalk compared to Life with Three Small Kids. It wasn’t, I know, but I still couldn’t shake the nostalgia. I wanted to go back to a time when all I had to do was dance.

infant home from hospital

the day we brought Mia home from the hospital

And then it struck me: the idea of dancing. I corralled my two Tasmanian devils and my colicky infant girl who’s now a vocal 6 year old, and turned on the music. I cranked it. And we danced. We moved our feet to this song, and put our hands in the air. We were four spinning tops whirling around the room.  We danced until breathless, until the sun sank over the horizon and we collapsed on the floor. When  I announced that it was time for bed, I was met with some whines and a couple of firm NOs from the 2 year olds, but I ignored them and danced down the hall, and they all followed like little chicks in a line.

I wanted to go back to a time when all I had to do was dance, and so I did. And we did. And I got this.

What about you? Do you sometimes romanticize the newborn days, rendering them more sublime than they actually were?

About a boy (or two)

depression in pregnancy

I’ve never tried to put this into words, this story my heart knows and my gut feels and my mind won’t let me smother every time I look at their faces. It will forever be the pin that punctures the yellow balloon of sunshine, slowly releasing the air that fills it.

depresison in pregnancy

There are so many entry points for this story. How we tried for a year and a half to get pregnant the second time around. How I took a pregnancy test at six o’clock in the morning because I had been tracking my cycles so I knew the exact day that a positive pregnancy test was a possibility. How Mia was the only one home at the time and the second she woke up I told her I had a baby in my tummy because I couldn’t hold it in. I had to tell someone. I had to speak the words out loud. How we went to a friend’s house that night and my stomach protruded a little more with each passing hour. I called the OB-GYN’s office on Monday to set up an appointment. They were skeptical seeing as how early it was, but I knew. I got sick within a few days — feverish chills and dizzying nausea and insomnia and exhaustion. Maybe it was all of these things combined but all along there was a low hum inside of me, a frequency that my soul felt even as my mind chased it away.

I was having twins.

depression in pregnancy

So I was not shocked during the ultrasound when two little beans showed up inside a space reserved for one. I was shocked, however, that my gut instinct about something so HUGE was spot on. And yet it didn’t feel real to me. Everything I felt when I was pregnant with Mia was intensified. I was more nauseous, more exhausted, more emotional, just more. Literally. I gained exactly double what I had gained with Mia. So logically all signs pointed to twins but I couldn’t absorb it. I knew all along but even in the face of evidence I chased it away.

The day I went in to find out the sex of the babies my mom and Mia came with me. I wanted Mia to see the babies on the screen, to connect with them and feel her big sisterness. I was not expecting what happened next.

The ultrasound tech navigated the wand over my belly until she found what she was looking for.

“Baby A is a boy,” she said. I looked over at Mia to see her reaction. At my baby girl who was not such a baby anymore. At that moment I felt something I hadn’t before.

Please, God, let baby B be a girl. I’m begging you.

For reasons I can’t explain, I felt this shift inside of me. I clung to the hope of another baby girl as though it were a life preserve. I wanted desperately to take back our decision to find out the sex of the babies. I wanted to be able to deny the second instinct I had about this pregnancy.

“Baby B is also a boy.”

I wanted to crumble. This all feels so silly now, two plus years after the fact, after they’re here and woven into our lives so intricately that I can’t imagine the fabric of our family without them. Now that they’re here and they’re THEM.

All that time, if I only knew it was YOU. Not some faceless, nameless boys, but YOU.

depression in pregnancy

But it wasn’t silly then. Far from it.

My mom and Mia went back out into the waiting room while I went into an examination room and waited for the doctor. I don’t remember what he talked about during the appointment. I don’t remember the drive home. I do remember setting Mia up with a movie and closing myself in the bathroom so I could finally cry. I was grieving for the little girl I suddenly wanted so desperately. At that time, Mia was three (soon to be four) and her babyhood was something oily slipping through my fingers. Keenly aware of the impossibility to hold on tight enough, I thought another baby girl would take away this feeling of “losing” my first baby girl. If only I could do it all over again.

depression in pregnancy

the day after we found out the babies would be boys

I think I’ve never tried to put this into words because as someone who has had two healthy pregnancies resulting in three healthy babies, I’m aware of how it might come off as trite but here it goes.

The following weeks were filled with desperation and paralysis. I went through the motions of my days, covering the basics as best I could, but I wasn’t really there. I felt as though I were walking through a glass tunnel. I could see everything, hear everyone, but I couldn’t touch anything. I could never get close enough to life outside to feel it. I hid what I could during the day but cried at night. I cried so much that blood clots formed in my nose and I watched the blood and tears mix as I bent over the toilet at midnight, 2am, 4am, 6am. I started resenting the babies that invaded my body and seemed to grow at warp speed. I may or may not have fantasized about falling down the stairs. I prayed that I would go on bed rest to just rest. I just needed to rest. Physically, emotionally, mentally. I wanted to sleep for a long, long time.

And then something happened. I went for an ultrasound and as the tech switched to 3D this appeared:

twin ultrasound

“But they have their own placentas. How are they touching?”

“The membrane that separates them is thinner than a string.”

Those are my babies looking peaceful and serene despite the torment I was going through. Despite the torment I was putting them through.

This is when I started saying that though I couldn’t give them all of me, I was able to give them each other. And in the weeks when I felt that I didn’t want them, when I prayed that God would take them from me and give them to someone who did want them, who could love them better than I could, I know they drew strength from each other.

Where I failed in nurturing them through projections of warm and cozy thoughts or the sound of my voice humming soft lullabies, they had each other.

And so this is what I began to tell myself to eradicate the guilt that consumed me:

Though my laughter was scarce, my heartbeat was strong and steady. Though I was wracked with nausea and exhaustion and depression, my womb was hushed and still. Though I stood at the top of my stairs and thought, What if…, my body endured and protected them from my mind.

During the ultrasound above it was discovered that Baby B had too much amniotic fluid and preterm labor became a possibility, but there was nothing I could do to prevent it. So we just kept on keeping on and they held on.

They held on because they knew what I didn’t — that I needed them in a way I couldn’t understand until I saw them for the first time. Until I held them in my arms and looked into their faces and thought, So all along it’s been you. Of course it’s been you.

depression in pregnancy

For more information on depression during pregnancy:

http://www.babycenter.com/0_depression-during-pregnancy_9179.bc

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/depressionduringpregnancy.html

http://www.psyweb.com/articles/bipolar/antepartum-depression