Reclaiming Self

My usual Saturday morning-nap ritual (if I’m lucky enough to get little man down for a morning nap) is to take a longer than normal shower, shave my legs, and maybe even moisturize after. Non-moms may call this basic hygiene; I’ve come to think of it as a little luxury. And I cherish it.

Last Saturday I had plans to go out late afternoon with my girlfriends, a much more significant and even more beloved luxury. So in my mind I needed to compensate for the ‘lost’ hours of housework that I’d be skipping out on in order to see friends by cramming more work into my son’s morning nap time. Yet, once I got him to sleep, I found myself still lingering in the steamy shower, still smoothing my skin with scented lotion after, and even rummaging through my vanity drawer and pulling out some long forgotten makeup (that was well past its expiration and will likely lead to some hideous eye infection). Part of me felt guilty. Part of me worried about the risk of permanent blindness. But most of me just felt empowered.

I’ve always been a minimalist when it came to makeup and felt good about the fact I was confident enough—or lazy enough—to bare my face to the world. But after even just the lightest touch of mascara this weekend, I felt pretty, womanly, confident—and not in my ability to keep a little person alive, but in myself. And I realized, to my surprise, this was something I missed a little over the last year. Or, correction, it wasn’t something I missed over the last year, but rather something I was starting to miss now. And reclaiming it felt good.

Being single, I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to be a mom. Even when I made the decision to try, I went through six cycles and five IUIs before becoming pregnant. So when I got there, I was thrilled, and grateful, and I loved being a mom more than anything else, certainly more than poking myself in the eye with mascara. And after years of weight struggles and body image issues, for the first time I was so damn proud and amazed at what my body was doing that I didn’t need anything else to make me feel confident.

A year later I still am amazed at my body. I’m still nursing, despite plenty of struggles early on. I’m keeping up with an active little boy despite having little to no time to workout. Oh, and that little boy, yeah, he’s the most amazing thing my body ever created.

I am also still thankful everyday for my chance at motherhood. I love my son and love watching him grow, but I also love the chance to grow myself as I adapt to caring for and loving another person so intensely.

But being thankful for and amazed at my body and cherishing my chance at motherhood isn’t enough anymore. Now that little man isn’t so little, fragile, or dependent and he’s (too) quickly becoming his own little person, I’m beginning to realize I need to reclaim my own person, too.

Of course being a mother is now a part of my selfhood—the most precious, and important, and amazing part. But there are other parts, parts I pushed aside for a while after becoming pregnant, parts I’m ready to reclaim and rekindle.

Before becoming a mom I was a writer, a wanna-be athlete, an involved teacher, and a more attentive friend. I wore make-up on occasion, liked changing my hair color and/or style on a monthly basis, and was beginning to accumulate a fantastic collection of Doc Martins to match my every outfit and mood.

Starting when I got pregnant, I became less interested and less oriented on these other parts of myself in order to learn about, embrace, and struggle through my newest role. My body and my baby needed the bulk of my attention, and I was not only fine with giving both what they needed, I wanted to give my all to my son. And I have no regrets.

But now that we’ve survived that crucial and trying first year, the best thing I can do for my son and myself is to strike a better balance. I need to reexamine what it means to be me—because I’m not the same person I was before my son arrived, but I’m not entirely different either. Then I need to make room in my chaotic life for all the parts of myself I still deem important. First and foremost the mom. But also the writer. The athlete. And, yes, the woman who still likes to live dangerously and throw on a little (questionable) eye makeup now and again.

Even if it means leaving the laundry unfolded a few more nights.

On Turning One

To my little man on turning one,

You probably won’t remember anything of your first year. Your knowledge of it will come from photos, videos, and stories told to you by family and friends. In other words, you’ll get the highlight reel.

Honestly, I’m not sure my memory will be much different. Already those early hours, days, and weeks have begun to blur into that foggy place we call the past. My clearest memories are those too special—or too scary—to forget.

Waking up from surgery and wanting to meet you so badly it hurt.

Seeing you for the first time, so small, so fragile, so mine.

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Watching you find my breast and begin to feed, and feeling overcome with amazement that our bodies worked together so innately to give you just what you needed.

Snuggling skin to skin with you that first night. Secretly enjoying the fact I had no one there to share you with.

The overwhelming fear of hearing you had two holes in your tiny heart. The comfort of your uncle’s words, when he reminded me worrying about the future was futile and told me to focus on loving you in the moment. He was so right. You healed in record time, amazing the doctors and relieving your worried mom and grandparents in just six short months.

The struggles with nursing, every other day weight checks, reflux and dairy intolerances that left you screaming in pain and me willing and wanting to do anything to make you feel better. Then finally the chub, those cheeks, that little crease in your thighs that made all the struggle worth it—and made the whole world want to squeeze you!

Your firsts. First smile. First giggle (which was for your cousin, not for me, by the way). The first time you rolled. The first real injury, a faceplant into the cabinet. Your first word (out, not momma; I’m starting to see a pattern here).

But that’s not to say I won’t remember little moments, too. The snuggles in my bed (when co-sleeping became my first never-say-never parenting realization). The way you smile at me every morning when I walk in your room (because you eventually did learn to sleep there). The magic you seem to have to make your grandparents melt when you enter a room. The softness of your hair and the sound of your breathing as you drift off to sleep each night. And so many more everyday things that won’t necessarily make the baby book, but are etched into my memory for being as unforgettable as they are unremarkable.

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You may read this years from now and think it silly I got so sappy and sentimental at what is really just the start of our adventures. And maybe you’ll be right to laugh at me. But for now, I’m going to allow myself to reminisce, because, while our bigger adventure together has indeed just begun, this one part, this year of newness and need, is over. And already I miss it.

But that doesn’t lessen my excitement for the year to come. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that just when I think I can’t love you more, I do. So bring on year two. The good, the rough, and the love that shines through it all.

I’m so lucky to be your mommy, Little Man!

Love,

Mom…mommy, momma, mum-mum—any version will do. Keep working on that, ok?

Needed: Honest Mom Friends

Me, making polite small talk with a friend and fellow baby boy mom: So how’s your little guy?

Her, replying in an equally sweet tone: Oh, good, thanks. And yours?

Me: Great… (pause, wondering how this will be received, then not caring, because I really needed to spew) …but he’s kind of driving me nuts wanting to ‘walk’ all the time and not letting me put him down even to pee without freaking out. Weekends alone with him are exhausting right now. I live for naptimes.

Now she could have laughed and tried to convince me it was just a stage, or nodded and said, “Yeah, that must be tough,” leaving me feeling even more guilty about not loving and cherishing every moment I’m home with Little Man.

Instead she shared her own honest feelings about the loveliness that occurs as babies develop their own personalities and opinions (i.e. temper tantrums), and the beauty of increased mobility (otherwise known the as danger-seeking-missile stage). We shared stories, sympathized, and promised to meet up to drink wine in the very near future.

We all can be guilty of being that social media mom whose Facebook page is more accurately a Fakebook page. Some parents might do it mindfully, but most of us just don’t think to stop in the middle of an epic meltdown over sitting vs. standing to snap a photo and upload it. Not to mention, we’ve all been schooled about being careful about what kind of online footprint we’re leaving for our children while they’re still too young to consent to those less-than-perfect pictures. Unfortunately, that sometimes leaves moms wondering, “Am I the only one ok with leaving the baby to go back to work some Monday mornings?” or “Is my kid the only one who does or doesn’t do x, y, or z?”

That’s where the honest mom friends save the day.

I’ve always been a big believer in the need for women to have a strong group of other female friends. Women need other women—to build them up, to have their back, to slap some sense into them, to bitch and rage with, and, of course, to shop for shoes with. But never have I appreciated honesty and openness in my friends, especially my other mom friends, more than since I’ve become a parent.

Motherhood, especially single motherhood, can at times be isolating. Even as a working mom, there often isn’t enough time in the work day to talk with other moms openly about parenting. There’s quick inquiries passing in the hall or lunchroom small talk (and for a nursing mom, there’s not even that). But what moms really need is a few minutes (or more) of straightforward mom-fessions.

I need to hear other moms tell me they threw out ‘the rules’ or that, like me, they didn’t even know some ‘rules’ existed. I need to know my anxiety is normal, my impatience or dislike of a stage is not a sign I’m a horrible mother, and that one day teething, too, shall end. I need to not be judged, but simultaneously to be told when there’s spit up down my pants. I need someone to please tell me the picture of my living room above looks completely familiar. In short, I need honest mom friends. We all need honest mom friends.

I am so blessed to have friends who were honest with me about motherhood before I even stepped foot in a fertility clinic, and even more lucky to have met new ones since becoming a mom. If I thought motherhood, real nitty-gritty motherhood, looked like it does on Instagram or in a Dr. Sear’s book, I’d be pretty down on myself and my parenting skills. Thanks to my honest mom friends, though, I can be confident that sitting here at 9pm without having (yet) cracked a beer or been peed on makes today, at least, a total mom win.

Twisting the Tale

An alternative to the old (and outdated) ‘Once upon a time…’

I never had much interest in princesses, preferring jeans and sneakers to ball gowns and glass slippers even as a young girl. But that’s not to say that I didn’t grow up thinking someday I’d experience my own fairytale romance. When I reached 35 and was still single, though, I started to think that fantasy would never morph into my reality.

In the two years since, my ‘Once upon a time’ has taken some drastic turns. Tired of waiting for my prince to arrive and fed up with unsuccessfully scouring the suburban realms for him, I decided to skip the being-swept-off-my-feet stage, at least for now. Instead I chose to jump right to the chapter of the story entitled Motherhood. As any writer does, I made a few edits and a few errors. And life threw in some plot twists of its own to spice things up. The result, after a couple months of researching, half a year of fertility treatments, and a wonderful (but at times trying) pregnancy, is a beautiful baby boy.

I know I’m just beginning my adventures in motherhood, but I can’t help look in my son’s face every morning and feel like I’ve been given my happily ever after—minus Prince Charming.

While I don’t miss my prince (you can’t miss what you never had), it’s not always easy being a single mom by choice. Yes, I’m queen of my own castle, ruler of my own kingdom, and my own knight in shining armor all in one. But I’m also responsible for paying all the bills, changing all the diapers, and assuring my own little prince grows up to be the kind of man who both holds the door and appreciates a princess who can hold her own.

But hey, no one ever said happily ever after wasn’t a lot of work. It is worth it, though. So worth it.

Motherhood Loves Company; The Magic of Mothers Groups

Originally posted on April 12, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Shortly after announcing my intention to become a single mother, a friend of mine lent me a DVD of The Backup Plan, a far-fetched romantic comedy about a woman who made the same decision to go it alone, only to meet Mr. Right an hour after getting knocked up. Some of the best scenes in the movie take place at a single mothers support group. To maximize the comedic aspect, the film depicts its members as an eclectic, tight-knit group of hippies and man-haters. It was stereotypical but hysterical. It was also the night before my first Single Mothers By Choice (SMC) group meeting, so it was a tad terrifying.

Coming from a family where emotions and serious topics are preferably left unspoken or at least only used as fodder for jokes, the idea of a support group was new and uncomfortable. So walking into the church where the SMC meeting was held and taking in the circle of more than forty women required a little more nerve than expected, even for someone as loquacious as I am. I was tempted to join the half-dozen toddlers corralled in the center in their attempts to flee, but something drove me to an empty chair.

That something was the need to belong. The need to know I wasn’t alone in my desire to do something a little unconventional, a little crazy. Those toddlers and pre-schoolers were more than just loud and adorable. They were proof that what I want is possible. Their moms were not only surviving the early years of single motherhood, they were finding time to go to group meetings to support and encourage other single mothers on a Sunday afternoon.

We claim to be a society that admires individuality and self-reliance. But to attempt to do something challenging, which thousands of people have already done, without reaching out for advice, support, and encouragement isn’t self-sufficient, it’s needlessly stressful and arguably stupid. Living alone for so long I’ve become independent to a fault, but I’m not foolish. I know I can’t parent alone. I also know things will go wrong, probably quite often. I’m going to need support of all kinds, including the kind of emotional support that can only come from women who’ve walked this path a few steps ahead of me.

And those women, those moms? Well, they certainly weren’t the man-hating hippies Hollywood created. They were funny, educated, diverse women who just happened to find themselves single yet still wanting to be a mom. In other words, they were just like me. I looked around and realized I wasn’t sailing into the Bermuda triangle of parenting minus a first mate and a life-vest. I was on a well-stocked, able-crewed cruiser to motherhood. Suddenly the large number of attendees wasn’t daunting; it was empowering.

My mother never understood my interest in team sports. Or perhaps she just couldn’t see past the risk of her only daughter sustaining a life-long neck injury to see the benefits. I did—sustain the injury and reap the benefits. There’s something about doing something physically and mentally challenging with a group of like-minded women that allows you to appreciate the beauty and power of yourself, your body, and your gender. That might seem awfully deep coming from a hooker. (It’s a rugby position. Honestly.) But it’s an absolute truth and a feeling I wasn’t sure I’d ever truly experience again. Walking out of that meeting of other single mothers or single mothers-to-be, I felt a flicker of that feeling resurface.

Just like with my teammates on the rugby field, getting filthy and being unabashedly aggressive, those single moms and I are doing something a little edgy, and a little risky, and a little wonderful. We are pushing boundaries set by society and ourselves. And as scary as that can be, we push on, mostly because we know the rewards will be worth it. But also because we realize we are in good company.

Photo credit: DSC_4807 via photopin (license)