IVFML Podcast: Sharing my single mother by choice story

Earlier this fall I received an email requesting to be interviewed by another blogger, a podcaster couple actually, who created and hosted the podcast IVFML through Huffington Post. I was honored to be asked and excited to be featured on their site and share my story with their listeners, so of course I agreed. (It didn’t occur to me until later that a podcast meant I’d have to be recorded live and would eventually have to listen to my own voice when the podcast was released, or I might have wimped out, lol!)

Answering Anna’s questions about my journey made me realize how far I had come from first making the decision to become a single mom by choice. It was interesting to reflect on decisions like choosing a donor, that seemed monumental in the moment but now seems fairly unimportant in the day-to-day of raising my son (aside from the amazing connections with his donor sibling families). In fact, in the day-to-day, a lot of things that felt hugely important or unbelievably difficult seem inconsequential now. Chatting with Anna and her husband made me realize just how hard this single parenting gig has been at times, but also how I wouldn’t change a thing.

To hear the whole conversation check out the episode on iTunes here: IVFML Season 2, Episode 9: All By Myself. My part of the episode starts around 16:30, but the beginning with Molly Hawkey, a single woman and comedian just starting her journey to single motherhood, is both hilarious and poignant.

Also, as a side note, I recently started an Instagram account for the blog @minus_prince_charming I’d love to have you following along!

Image credit: ID 118203431 © Oleg Dudko | Dreamstime.com

Holiday Book Advent Calendar, Year Two

Last year I wrote a post about trying out a holiday book advent calendar with my son, who at the time was 20 months. It was an idea that I hadn’t seen or paid attention to prior to having kids, but fell in love with after little man arrived. It was a huge hit with both of us—he loved opening a present every night, and I loved reading different holiday-themed stories each night. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer to do it again this year—although I did add a bit of a twist.

I started with the bin of books I put away from last year. I weaned out the true baby books and some I just didn’t particularly like. To replace those, I went a little nuts on Amazon creating a list of potential new books for this year. Under Christmas stories for toddlers I searched for his interests…er, obsessions: dinosaurs, anything Disney Junior, Paw Patrol, Give a Mouse a Cookie, lift-the-flap, and scratch and sniff books. Then I added a few classics like Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas. We had been gifted The Polar Express this summer to cover the train obsession, as well as the books-to-make-mom-cry category. (Seriously, I sobbed during my first reading of that one!)

A few flash sales later (and one email to his grandmother with a link my wish list) and bingo, I had more than the 25 books needed to fill out the month. This weekend I wrapped them all, combining a few sets, and leaving the Gaga (his name for gramma) books at her house to be opened and read with her on Fridays when they’re together all day.

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Last year I stacked the books and let him choose a book randomly from the pile. This year I put them in a plastic bin loosely ordered to assure the newer books will be opened early, so we can enjoy them all month.

December 1st falling on a Saturday this year, I also chose a special book to be opened first, Christmas Cookie Day, and along with it a small present I found on sale, the Melissa and Doug Christmas Cookie set. If all goes well, I’ll let him open both after nap and we can bake a batch of real cookies together to eat while we read the first of many holiday books!

The only other change I’m making to our holiday book advent calendar this year is adding an element to try to teach my little guy about giving, not just receiving. Our thankful turkey and focus on gratitude this month left me looking for ways to continue teaching and modeling positive qualities. I made a “Give, Make, Help” list of 25 things to do, with the idea that before we open a gift from the book pile each night, he’d first do something nice for someone else. I kept everything pretty simple, age-appropriate, and, with only a few exceptions, mostly things we can do right at home, such as help feed the cat or clean up toys, make a card or picture for someone, or give hugs or kisses. I’m sure it won’t be flawless, but it’s a small way of beginning to teach him that the holidays are about caring for others, and gifts are only one way we show that.

Frankly, I’d prefer snuggles and books with my boy to any present.

Happy Holidays and happy reading!

For those looking to add some new stories to their own holiday list this year, here are some affiliate links to some of the books in my little guy’s advent book calendar this year.

Thankful Momma, Thankful Toddler

One of my besties recently bought me a daily journal inspired by an author, podcaster, and overall kickass lady we both like, Rachel Hollis. Its purpose: to inspire us to become equally kickass by achieving our dreams through visualization and affirmations. Sounds powerful, right? It’s also pretty damn difficult. However, while the transformation to totally kickass is still a work in progress, the other part of the journal was more an immediate success.

Before writing your goals, journal asks users to write down five things for which they are thankful each and every day. I felt I was grateful for so much in my life, but I really liked the idea of focusing on it more purposefully for a few minutes each morning. A couple weeks in I am finding I am not bored with the repetition, but rather using it to stretch my thinking about all I have to be thankful for—this time of year and always.

I could sit in bed each morning and repeat the same five things: family, friends, a good job, a nice place to live, and coffee, of course. Writing these five things over and over would certainly be a good way to start my day because I can’t say enough how much these mean to me and how grateful I am that my family and friends have made possible my greatest joy, becoming a mother. However, I’ve tried instead to write my list differently each morning to go deeper into what it means to be grateful.

A couple days I chose to just write three things, but added specific details that stood out to me as special about each on that morning. Other days I tried to pick less obvious things that I appreciate, like the afternoon light this time of year, the smell of leaves as we run through them kicking them into the air, or the way Ian sings Disney Junior theme songs to his toys at 4:30am, which might be the one thing that keeps me from screaming at him to go back to sleep. And on some days my grateful list is more of a find-good-in-the-hard-parts list, a needed reminder that while I may be feeling stressed or sleep deprived, my life is truly good and full, I am unbelievably lucky, and people are better than the news would have me believe. It’s those days, the not so easy days, that I truly appreciate the push to complete my thankful list.

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Little man, at two and a half, is far too young to read or appreciate momma’s self-help and empowerment books, but he’s at the perfect age to soak things up like a sponge and mimic any and all behaviors. So while my morning musings are sometimes personal and usually done alone (when he stays asleep or at least plays quietly until 5am), I decided to start a family tradition this November to introduce him to the idea of gratitude. Since he’s a toddler, and I had a burning desire to try out my at-home laminator, it came in the form of a thankful turkey.

Each night before bed, we ‘do our feathers’ by writing down one thing we are thankful for from the day. At his age, he still needs lots of prompting. The best way to elicit a genuine response has been to ask “What made you happy today?” or “What was the best part of today?” His answers have ranged from pretty silly, “Momma’s water bottle,” the one he’s not supposed to drink from; to genuine, “the restaurant,” after a dinner out with my parents where he got to have chocolate milk and sit at a booth; to melt your heart, “having pizza with Papa here,” with Papa said in a way that made it obvious he was the real prize.

I always share my answer, too, so he hears what I am grateful for that day, and we’ve even gotten his grandparents involved on nights they are over for dinner. Each feather is then labeled with the person’s name and the date, so I can save a few gems to laugh at in years to come!

By the time we reach Thanksgiving, my journal will be a regular routine, our paper turkey will be pretty plump, and we’ll both have probably memorized (and be tired of) the three books I’ve been reading him about being thankful. Most importantly, I will have planted the seed of gratitude so we will both recognize just how much we have to be thankful for—most especially each other.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Affiliate Links:

The books we’ve been reading – 

For anyone else crazy enough to want their own at-home laminator, this simple Amazon one works fine!

And for anyone who likes the idea, but isn’t into cutting out dozens of paper feathers, lol!

Motherhood Murdered My Creative Mojo

While most mothers, myself included, love our children and cherish our role as parents, many will also tell anyone who’ll listen how merciless motherhood can be. Some mothers will TMI you to death about the various body parts that will never return to their original size, shape, or functionality. Plenty will admit that nearly three years after giving birth, the hormonal and emotional changes still leave them bawling like a newborn with colic at the mere mention of a Hallmark movie. Nearly all can espouse to the damage years of sleep deprivation can do to one’s memory, patience, and sanity.

Me? I’m here mourning the loss of my creative mojo.

Prior to getting pregnant I wrote. I wrote. A. Lot. Four novels and a novella in about six years, in addition to nearly weekly blogs. I would come home from work, run (or slowly plod) the same four miles of sidewalk every day, surrendering my thoughts to my characters and the fictional world in which they lived, then crash on my couch for marathon writing sessions that could last until two in the morning. Writing didn’t pay the bills, but it was more than a hobby or something I did. Writing was who I was.

Just after announcing on my blog that I had become pregnant, I was honored to be accepted into a writing conference for authors of children’s and young adult novels. I sat down with a real New York agent to conference about my newest book, and while she gave me feedback on my novel, what she was really interested in was my blog and my real-life situation of becoming a single mother by choice. I was encouraged by her excitement and interest. I thought maybe this was my ticket to breaking into the world of paid authorship. So after a few more rejection letters regarding my novel, I decided to focus my writing efforts on blogging about my experiences.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up the blogging with some regularity. It wasn’t too hard. Blogs are usually short, and the time it took to write and post them was about as long as I wanted to spend on anything other than nesting and napping.

When my son arrived, even the blogging trickled down to nearly non-existent. If I wrote, it was heartfelt and impassioned, because I didn’t have the time or energy to write anything I didn’t feel needed to be shared with the world. But I didn’t write much. And I never wrote fiction, not just because I didn’t have time, I also never had ideas. It was as if the daily tasks of motherhood had sapped my ability to create.

I thought it would pass, this muddling of my creative mojo. I figured it was just a form of mommy brain, which turns out is more than a catchy excuse for forgetting your pump parts on the counter half a dozen times, and is actually scientifically proven changes to a woman’s brain during and after pregnancy. There’s no such proof that motherhood specifically kills creativity, but I suppose it makes sense that if certain parts of my brain changed and expanded, others had to make room.

About a year and a half into this single motherhood gig, I actually had a spark of creativity. A new idea for a novel began to burn in my writing soul, and for a few days, maybe even a week, I was convinced I could nourish it into a full-blown return of my creative self. I couldn’t. I don’t remember what suffocated that spark to keep it from becoming a flame. Perhaps one of us got sick, or my son had a few nights of interrupted sleep, or laundry piled up to the point I considered wearing underwear my post-pregnancy body had no business wearing. In other words, motherhood happened. And motherhood always trumps creative mojo.

But should it? Always? At what point does an artist or writer’s sense of self, their creative soul, need to not be ignored for fear of losing it altogether? If there is a point of no return, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of it. If I wait until my son is older, my job is easier, my finances are more secure, my brain and body have recovered from these early years (or at least settled into a new normal), I’m not sure I’ll still have the writing skills or publishing knowledge I have now.

Most importantly, I worry my creativity will be so diminished there will be no hope in reviving it. I love being a mother, but I’m not ready to allow motherhood to murder my creative mojo.

To keep my creativity alive, I know I need to prioritize. I need to let go of my need for a clean, picked up house. Despite the mental escape of mindlessly skimming through social media at night, I also need to put away my phone and pick up my pen and notebook. More than any of these, though, I need to find a way to mentally reset, to learn to daydream again, to allow my mind to wander—and not to all the worries, tasks, and responsibilities of parenthood. That’s not easy anymore. What used to come naturally, will now take work. But I’m willing to put in that work.

So I will continue to read articles about my craft and to inspire myself by reading novels written by fiction writers who made motherhood, even single motherhood, and writing mesh. (J.K. Rowling, you are, as always, my hero.) I will keep plugging at the draft of my newest novel, even if the pages I write after an exhausting day of teaching and parenting are mostly crap. I will retrain my brain to let go, to wander, to create again.

Because while the pulse of my creativity is weak, it remains—a soft, steady reminder of that part of my soul whose voice will not be silenced—even if it is covered in snot and sleep deprived.

 

Photo credit: © Viktoriia Hnatiuk | Dreamstime.com

Learning to Trust My Mom Gut

Last weekend my family was having a party for my grandmother’s 95th birthday, obviously a very special occasion, one I truly wanted to attend and wanted my son to attend. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to start at noon, the time my son is usually drifting off to sleep for his nap. It was also being held in one of my grandmother’s favorite places, Purgatory Chasm. For those of you outside central Massachusetts, think picturesque wooded picnic area surrounded by potentially deadly (and therefore seriously toddler-tempting) rocks and rock chasms.

So was it an ideal event for us to go to? No. In fact my first mom gut reaction was HELL NO.

But then other influences started creeping in. Out of state relatives whom I would have loved catching up with were attending. My niece and nephew were coming, and my son adores his older cousin. There would be chocolate cake (hey, that lure is real). And probably most importantly, the loss of my other grandmother this spring weighed on my heart, and the ‘what if this is the last birthday?’ thought popped up and wouldn’t easily be swatted away.

So I squashed my mom gut instinct that told me a tired toddler overstimulated with family and food and tempted with his favorite activity, rock climbing, would be a disastrous combination. And we went anyways.

Do I need to tell how this ended? Do I need to describe the epic meltdown that ensued shortly after his usual nap time when I had to tell him no he couldn’t climb the chasm that our picnic table was placed directly in front of? Do I need to explain why I ended up holding him for his entire three hour nap on the couch when we got home and he still couldn’t settle? It wasn’t pretty. But it also wasn’t his fault. This wasn’t a case of a two year old being a brat when he didn’t get his way. (We’ve had those meltdowns too, so I’m well versed in what they look like.)

This was my fault. I know what my son needs (sleep, regular mealtimes, minimal stimulation near nap), and I ignored it because I had a case of family fomo. I’d like to tell you it was the first time I’d ignored my mom gut, but the truth is I’ve already done it too many times to recall. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. Even when it does, it’s a pretty crappy parenting technique to play Russian roulette with my kid’s emotions.

Little man isn’t the easy-going, adjust-to-any-environment kid. He never has been and maybe never will be. I thought I’d accepted that before now, but the truth is I’m always looking for signs he’s ‘grown out of it’ or is getting better in crowds or stimulating situations. Sometimes it’s because as a single mom I really want, maybe even need, to get out and attend these events. Other times I’ve felt guilty missing out on important family gatherings. Either way it’s often led me to do something my mom gut told me was not a good idea with my fingers crossed and breath held.

I hope after this last incident that I’m finally done with ignoring my mom gut. I can’t shelter my son from every possible difficult situation, but while he’s still little, he needs an advocate to look out for what’s best for him. He needs me to trust my mom gut.

Learning to Walk Again

 

Maybe it’s a New England thing (it’s freakin’ cold here in winter). Maybe it’s a short girl thing (little legs just trying to keep up). Or maybe it’s a busy woman thing (endless to-do lists on the mind). But I like to walk fast (as fast as someone just over 5 feet can walk). I like to walk with purpose—to get somewhere, for exercise, because I’m late for class and I’m the teacher, darn it. The only time I slow my stride is for clothes shopping, and that really is more deal stalking than walking, so I don’t count it.

This summer, though, I had to relearn how to walk. Not the physical action of placing one foot in front of the other. That, thankfully, was not my problem. The reason I had to learn to walk again was because of who was at my side: my two year old son. It wasn’t that he was even shorter than I am. He keeps ups just fine when he wants to; he has super cat speed after all. Nope, the reason for my reeducation was that Little Man’s purposes for walking were so far removed from my own.

Toddlers don’t walk in straight lines. Their pace slows or quickens erratically. Sometimes they don’t walk at all—they crawl, roll, hop, or gallop.

When you have a destination in mind, and god forbid a timeline to stick to, this can be frustrating, even infuriating. But one of the beauties of being a teacher-mom in summer is that there was time spend with my little guy when there was no set destination and no deadline.

So we wandered a lot this summer. I allowed myself, sometimes forced myself to just let him lead. Walking his way, we squashed a lot of mushrooms, crawled through bushes momma barely fit through, stopped to chase bunnies, pick up worms, or splash in puddles. It was slow. It was often messy. It was  almost always without purpose or direction.

And it was wonderful.

I think one of the greatest gifts children offer us is the chance to see the world anew. Little man doesn’t walk straight toward his destination because every little thing along the way is equally exciting. Bees enchant him. Sticks cry out to be picked up (lately with his mouth like a Puppy Dog Pal). Puddles are absolutely irresistible. After days on end of trailing by his side, I realized his walking does have purpose—it’s to explore and examine and learn about his world, a world that as an adult I had begun to take for granted. Not anymore.

Yes, I will still power-walk to the nearest heated building come the dead of January. And I will still speed-walk to class after staying too late at lunch chatting with coworkers. But when I’m with my son, and hopefully even when I’m not, I will make the most of his gift to me. I will try to walk as he walks—seeing, hearing, experiencing the world more fully, more intensely, and with the awe it deserves.

Mother’s Day as a Single Mom

When you’re a single mom, Mother’s Day looks a little different.

There isn’t any sleeping in. When little man wakes up at 4:10, then again at 5:25, there isn’t anyone else to push out of bed to go get him.

But then when you pick him up and give him a good morning hug and he tells you, “So happy!” you’re pretty damn glad it was you who went in to get him, and you could care less what time it is.

Breakfast in bed is out, too. So you have some fun and make yourself a gourmet version of the frozen Spiderman waffles your toddler son likes. And, hey, they’re not so bad.

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Despite the cold and damp, it’s you who takes your kid to toddler soccer, which is basically equivalent to herding baby cheetahs who’d rather run away and pick dandelions on the muddy field than actually touch the ball with his feet. But when your future florist gets freaked out by another little dino roaring at him (something he was doing to you all through that spiderific breakfast), it’s you who gets the hugs and the request to “go home now.

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And since it’s Mother’s Day and you’re cold and wet and just not into pushing a two-year-old to play team sports quite yet, you go with the flow. And go in search of smiles—his and yours.

His comes easy. Find a swing and wag your tongue back at him as he wags his at you.

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Yours might cost a bit more but it is worth every penny and every calorie—even if it wasn’t eaten in bed at a decent hour.

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The rest of the day is about the same as any other Sunday. Busy. Exhausting. Too short to even dent the to-do list.

But it is also overflowing with gratitude and laughter and love.

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Mother’s Day as a single mom, as any mom, is more than being pampered or having time to take an uninterrupted shower (though those are nice perks if you can get ’em). It’s about being appreciated, and the best part of being a single parent is getting all the hugs, “thank you, mom”s, “ugga mugga”s, and sloppy wet kisses. I am loved by the little person I love more than anything else. That’s all this mom really needs.

Well, that and the donuts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!