Sunday, May 14, 2017

To my mama on Mother's Day - Thank You

My mom was always the quintessential mama. When my sister and I were young, she was a stay-at-home mom. Family dinners every night. Baked goods always on the counter. My sister and I painting on our easels, construction paper crafts, homemade play dough and cookie cutters. Friday nights were 'movie nights', which meant pop and chips and picking out a movie from the library. We'd get into our pj's (my mom would often dress the dog up too), get cozy, and watch Disney.  

We had a wonderful childhood, and I always knew that my mom was a great mom. It wasn't until I had a little girl of my own, though, that I realized just how amazing she was.

When my mom died, I was 15 - years and years away from thinking about having kids. When I got engaged, picked out a wedding dress, got married, it was difficult, but the longing for my mom was never so strong as when I found out I was pregnant. The sadness was palpable - I remember thinking "how am I going to do this without her?" There were so many questions I wanted to ask. When the morning sickness turned into all-day sickness and lasted my entire pregnancy, I wondered if she, too, had struggled with the feeling of being perpetually hungover for nine months. As I slathered oil on my expanding belly, I wondered if she too worried about stretch marks. Did she have to keep a bottle of tums beside her bed to chew in the middle of the night? Did it take her breath away the first time she felt her baby kick? (I remember the moment so clearly - I was in a meeting at work, and let out a little yelp, followed by a giggle under my breath.) So many questions were unanswered as I navigated through my pregnancy. I, of course, had amazing friends, my mom's sisters and my grandmother who remembered a lot and were able to answer questions for me, my amazing mother-in-law. But, it wasn't the same. As I got ready to deliver my first baby, I thought of my mom almost constantly.  

Then, little Aurora Gillian arrived, and I felt completely and utterly clueless. Those first few weeks were difficult, as we got to know our new daughter and she got to know us. There was so much I felt I didn't know. So much advice I felt I'd missed, having my mom taken away as a teenager.  

As time has gone on, though, most of that sadness has been replaced by a quiet peacefulness. I've settled into my role as a mom. And, in those moments when Rory falls asleep on my chest, her breathing rhythmic and calming, I realize that even though my mom's not here, she has prepared me for motherhood.  

The memories of my mom come through in small moments with my daughter. The other night, rubbing Vicks Vapo-Rub on my her chest to give her some relief from a cold, I thought of my own mom, my head in her lap, as she did exactly the same thing to me. Preparing for Rory's first birthday party, people told me I was crazy to go to so much trouble for a one year-old. Again, I thought of my mom, getting ready for our birthday parties, making sure everything fit the theme - the cake had to match the pinata and the treat bags, and the games (turns out, she was a little bit insane too). When I'm having a silly moment with Rory, I think of my mom, and how my sister and I used to tell her she was a 'weird mom.' Her silly voices, her wild laugh, the way she would get so excited about her own practical jokes that she would ruin them way before the punchline. Trying to learn my sister's dance moves and taking four steps before ending up on her ass on the floor. 

The other day, I was walking around the kitchen with Rory in my arms, getting her dinner ready, explaining everything to her in my best Julia Child voice. "You're weird," said Damien with a laugh as he walked through the kitchen. I don't think he quite realized how much his passing comment meant to me. 

Although my mom left us far too early to give me any concrete parenting advice, she taught me something far more important. She taught me to work hard. She taught me to go all in, to feel things deep down in my bones, to trust my gut, to be patient, to be gentle, but also to be wild and silly and out of control sometimes too. She taught me about passion, she taught me about the importance of family. Most of all, she taught me about the deep, unconditional love that our kids bring us.

Through her wonderful ways, through the memories that surface when I least expect them, and even though she's been gone for almost 20 years, my mom continues to teach me how to be a mother.   

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dear Aurora: You're 10.5 months old

Dear Aurora,

Ok, I have to admit, when I started writing these 'Dear Aurora' letters, I didn't have a 10.5 month old post in mind. To be honest, they were to be monthly posts throughout your first year of life but that was before you came screaming into the world and took all of mama's free time so here were are. Ten and a half months it is!  

These past few months have been so precious to me. While the days, weeks, and months felt so long in the beginning, they're now whizzing by like road signs on the side of the highway. Here comes 8 it comes...whoops, there it goes, growing smaller in the rear view mirror. Nine months, coming, coming, whoops, gone. I don't know if time is speeding up because you're crawling now and our days are like, 208973498 times busier, or because I'll be going back to work soon and I'm trying to savour every single moment (even the moments I find you playing in the dog's water bowl or smearing peanut butter in your hair). Next month you'll be one year old and when people say "I just can't believe it's been a year!" I respond with a wholehearted "I KNOW!" because I really, truly can't believe it either.  

Yet, every day, you show me that you're more than ready to enter toddler-hood. I guess I under-estimate your abilities sometimes, because you still surprise me with your mad learning skills. I'll say "Do you want to read a book," and you'll say "book", so clearly that it can't possibly be any other word. You see Daddy's truck pull into the driveway and head for the front hall to greet him, whispering "Dada....dada....dada..." the entire way. I will say, "Rory, that's not yours, give Gus back his bone," and you hold it out for him until he (reluctantly) comes over and retrieves it.  

Your relationship with Gus is still pretty one-sided. You adore him, you scream, laugh, and say "Gus Gus!" whenever he comes near you. Gus, on the other hand, is still a pretty big pansy when it comes to you. He spends most of his days avoiding you - lying down, then getting up when he sees you crawling toward him, lying down in a different spot, repeat. In the past couple of days though, I've seen a slight improvement in Gus' attitude toward you. He's been letting you get a little closer, sit near him a little longer, and yesterday he even let you touch him on the head. That was a great moment for mama. Our patience and watchful eye seems to be paying off and although we have a long way to go, for the first time I really believe that you guys will turn out to be the best of friends.  

You are still such an easy going and happy baby. This past month, mama and daddy left for a weekend away together and left you with Nona. This was the first time we had ever left you on your own, and you rocked it girl! You and Nona had a great time, although I had no doubt that you would. I used to worry (selfishly, I'll admit) that you didn't really need me, that you would be happy with just about anyone. I now realize what a true gift that is - to be able to leave you, and know that you'll be content while I'm gone.  

Next month, I'll go back to work full time. This is something I've been struggling with - the thought of someone else having all of your sweet little moments throughout the day. Again, I realize that this is a selfish worry, and deep down, I know you'll be just fine. I'll be ok too, and once we're in the swing of things I'm sure everything will run like clockwork (delusion or wishful thinking?). On the plus side, you will make some new friends and I will get to speak to adults again on a daily basis! 

Aurora, my love, as you learn, you also continue to teach me and your Daddy. As you follow Gus around the house relentlessly, hoping to get just a quick pet, you teach us about patience (Gus also teaches patience too as I can almost see him roll his eyes with every approach). As you explore every nook and cranny around the house, pausing to examine every crumb and tumbleweed of dog hair on the floor, you teach us about the importance of curiosity. You teach us determination as you try (still unsuccessfully) to climb up on the couch, your little leg lifting just a couple of inches off the floor. And, you remind us how important it is to be silly, as your squeals echo through the house during what we've come to call your 'silly time' (just before bedtime, FYI). You've taught your dad and I to appreciate each other, as we find ourselves genuinely thanking each other for the most mundane tasks that seem so big ("Thanks for making dinner!" "Thanks for emptying the dishwasher!" "Thanks for taking out the diaper pail bag!" "Thanks for acting like it's normal when we're both in bed at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night!").  
There are lots of kids in the world, Aurora. Our journey is something that many, many people have done before. I'm no different than a million other moms out there, struggling with the reality of going back to work, wondering what the heck I'm going to make for supper tonight, wondering how this Cheerio got tangled in my hair, and just soaking in every adorable minute with my sweet girl.

But, there's only one you, my love. Only one happy, sweet, smiling Aurora Gillian, who has turned Mama and Daddy's world inside out while simultaneously making us the happiest we've ever been. You're truly our little ray of sunshine.  

Shine on, my lovely little Rory-girl.  


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Things I thought (and said out loud) before I had a kid

When I think back to what I thought life would be like with kids, before I had kids, I laugh. And laugh. But not too hard because one of the things I actually didn't think about before I had a kid was postpartum incontinence.  

I remember some of the looks I used to get when I would say things about having kids. Most people were pretty polite and would just smile. Now that Rory is here and we're almost 10 months in (still rookies, I know), I realize how insane 90% of my assumptions were. Here are some of the wildest ones, the ones that make we want to go back in time and slap the crazy talk right out of my mouth.  

"We just got a puppy, so I feel like we're pretty much ready for a baby. I feel like it's pretty close to being the same thing." 
I said this to colleagues at work who all had kids. They laughed. A lot. And said things like "oh ya, how many times a night does your puppy get up? How many diapers do you change in a day? How many bottles does he drink? Does he ever just cry and cry and you have no idea why?" Here's a tip for those of you without kids: never, ever, compare having a puppy to having a baby to people who have babies. When our baby was born and we were in the thick of it, it was actually NOTHING like having a puppy.  

"Night feedings are going to be so cozy, so calm, such a great bonding experience with baby."  
I pictured me, on a rocking chair, lovingly feeding (breast, of course) my new baby while she stared up at me. The house would be quiet, the only light coming from the dim lamp beside me. Baby would eat, coo, and fall back to sleep, as would I, with a lovely warm feeling inside. What I didn't picture was feeling completely clueless when our 45 minute feeds were be followed by 45 minute crying sprees. I didn't picture waking up with a start and thinking "did I just feed her or was that a dream?" Didn't picture the vomit-fests that followed almost every feed. Didn't picture struggling with breastfeeding, supplementing with formula, and the intense guilt that went along with it. Nowadays, I have to admit I kinda like those rare occasions when Rory wakes up fussy and I have to rock her back to sleep. Back then though - nope, nope, nopeity, nope.

"I know I'll be tired, but it really won't matter, because it's not like I'll have to get up and go to work in the morning!"  
I guess I didn't realize I'd still have to get up and TAKE CARE OF A HUMAN, and not only in the morning, but at all hours of the day. Plus visit with people, feed said human, feed myself and my husband, and do about 3980234723 loads of laundry a day. The level of exhaustion was something I'd heard about but I feel like you don't really understand until you're in it. Falling asleep for five minutes and it feels like two hours. Falling asleep for two hours and it feels like five minutes. Waking up with crusted drool and bright red pillow marks on your face in a panic because the baby's been sleeping for two hours and that can't possibly be normal and there has to be something wrong but nope baby's fine and you just woke her up in your panic-induced frenzy. I also remember being heavily pregnant, suffering from insomnia and thinking (not sure if I said this out loud) "I can't wait until the baby comes and I can finally get some sleep!" Completely. Freaking. Delusional.

"Oh my gym has a daycare so that'll be great for getting back into shape."  
How many times have I packed up the baby, and myself, and brought her to the gym with me? HA HA HA HA! Let's just leave it at that.  

"I'm totally going to rock the whole breastfeeding thing."  
I've always been a pretty healthy person. I don't get sick that often, I don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol or smoke, my body's always done pretty much what it should when it should. Which is why I always pictured myself breastfeeding my baby. I felt like it was such a natural thing, I would just put her on my breast and away we'd go. When she was born and they placed her on my chest and I was so ready for that amazing beautiful moment when she would latch and we'd be forever bonded. Except that moment didn't happen. We struggled from the beginning and, for my husband and I, it was our biggest challenge and stress as new parents. Damien desperately wanted the baby to stop crying, wanted me to stop crying, wanted to fix everything. "Babe, let's just give her some formula," he would say gently, during one of our feeding sessions. "NO!" I would say, tears streaming down my face. "I don't want to give her chemicals!" Luckily, my family doctor is an amazing, smart, very practical woman who told me that there was nothing wrong with formula, in fact, urged me to start supplementing for not only my baby's health but for my mental health. "There are many other ways to love your baby than breastfeeding," she said as I sat in her office with tears in my eyes. My doctor truly saved me in that moment, and after giving Rory a couple of ounces of formula, I couldn't believe how content she was. How bright eyed. I think that was the first time she fully opened her eyes and we looked at each other. Turns out that I totally didn't rock the whole breastfeeding thing, but also? Turns out that's ok. 

"Your kids are ALWAYS sick! Maybe you should give them less sugar." 
Ok, so turns out the part about kids getting sick...totally true. Rory's only 10 months, but already we've learned what all parents already know...if your kid is around other kids who are sick, they will get sick, and they will likely pass it on to you (one of Rory's fave things to do is stick her hands inside the mouths of whoever is holding her.) The fact that I 1) judged my friends and their kids for 'always being sick' and 2) thought 'less sugar' would prevent cold and flu viruses is the part that I'm ashamed of. Let's just go ahead and put this in the "what was I thinking?" file. 

To everyone who listened to my crazy ideas about what having a baby was like: thanks in advance for not saying "I told you so."