My Promise

From the moment the very faint positive line appeared on the pregnancy test, I knew in my heart that I wanted this baby to be a girl. Mostly, this was for selfish reasons. I am the lone female in our home and I love the idea of raising a girl. But, I am also terrified of having a girl. The world will be much kinder and more accepting of my son – he has the privilege of being born a white male in America. My daughter will have half of this privilege, but will often be told she can’t do simply because she is female. How do I raise a daughter to be strong in a world that commands she be weak and mild? How do I teach her to trust and love others while also teaching her to guard her heart and trust from those with bad intentions?

When I first found out Baby AJ 2.0 was going to be Baby Girl, I text my brother (among a million others) to share the news. His response almost made me cry (had I not been sitting in a car with my company’s CEO, I likely would have) – “Outstanding. I cannot think of a better momma for a baby girl than you sister.”

Wow. Talk about a heavy compliment and a lot to live up to.

Since that day I’ve thought a lot about Baby Girl and how I can be the mama to her that my twin brother believes I can be. So, far these are the promises I hope to keep and the lessons I hope she learns …

Your big brother is pretty awesome and he amazes us every single day and I have no doubt that you will do the same. I promise to never compare him to you and vice versa, but know that anything he can do, you can do (except pee standing up, please don’t try this). But, know that you can do anything you want to and know that we are always in your corner cheering you on. Sometimes you may have to work harder than he does, but that work will be worth it in the end. Some things may come easier. Sometimes, you may not want to do what he does and that is okay too. You are your own person and you are capable of anything you put your mind to.

One day, someone will tell you that you are not good enough (or pretty enough or smart enough or thin enough or whatever enough), but know that you are more than enough. This world can be an asshole and people suck. Society will make unreasonable demands that will make you want to change who you are to fit it. I always tried to rise above this, but sometimes I failed. You will too and that is okay. Some jerk will say something mean and you’ll cry yourself to sleep or punch a wall or break your favorite music box (sorry Dad) because the pain and emotions are so strong and raw you don’t know how to channel them. This too is okay. And I know you won’t always want to talk to me or hear what I have to say, but I promise that no matter the question or circumstance, I am here when you need me and when you are ready.

You will find yourself in situations that are out of your comfort zone – for the good and for the bad – more times that you’ll be able to count or remember. People who call themselves your friends will pressure you into things you may not be ready for. Always, always trust your gut because I guarantee you another friend is watching and is just as scared to speak up or say no as you are. Never be afraid to use your voice and never be ashamed if you aren’t able to find it. My job as your mom is to help you find that voice and that voice can only come with experience and mistakes. You will make mistakes and that is okay. It never gets easier, but you learn and get stronger with every one.

I promise that no matter how many mistakes you make or how many times you fail that I am still going to be there cheering you on. I know people take issue with the whole participation trophy culture, but for me, participating is half the battle and trying and working hard are the rest. Sure, winning is great, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the hard work we put in even if we don’t win. And, Baby Girl, you won’t win them all and that is okay. It’s okay to finish second and it’s okay to come in last. It’s better to walk away with a lesson learned and the knowledge that you busted your ass than to walk away with a first place prize that came easy. As a girl, you will have to fight harder, study harder and prove yourself a million times over just to have a chance to play the game. But, that makes us stronger.

More than anything. I want you to know and feel the love I did when I was growing up. I want you to experience the things I did not get to (among them, being Daddy’s little girl) and I want you to be unafraid of change and rejection. Those fears prevented me from trying new things or getting to know people. It’s hard to push aside fear, but it’s my job to push you past that and I will try my best to not let my own fears get in your way. You will get hurt. You will cry. You will push me away someday. But, I’ll kiss all the ouchies I can. I’ll dry your tears. And I will welcome you home with open arms.

In about 14-16 years, you will start to hate me, mostly for brief periods of time and for really dumb reasons (sorry, I know they are dumb because I had those same reasons a long, long time ago). I am going to mentally prepare myself for that now … yeah, not ready. We’ll talk about that in a few more years.

This growing up shit is hard, but we all go through it and most of us survive with a few stories to tell. I promise to help make those stories as interesting as possible.

Then There Were Four

One boy. One girl. Or so the song goes. And, I guess come March, so our life will go. Our little family is growing by one and I am finally going to have a little female balance in our male dominated house (between my husband and son and our three pets, I am sorely outnumbered).

We finally convinced him that Mama is not in fact having a Baby Star-Lord, but a baby sister. I think he’s slowly coming around to the idea. And, though, I cannot guarantee it, I am fairly certain Baby Girl will be just as (if not more) fascinating to him than Star-Lord. At least that is my hope.

Just One Strong Heartbeat

178 beats per minute. 178 tiny reassurances that the human your body is growing is healthy and viable.

The swoosh beating sound filled the tiny, but comfortable, ultrasound room and I breathed a sigh of relief. Just one baby with one strong heartbeat. The two confirmations I was looking for that day.

But as I watched the tiny heart fluttering on the screen, I felt the relief slip into sadness. Just this week, two women I’d just met via social media had been in a similar room and watched as their dreams and hearts broke. One had just learned she was expecting twins and the other had gotten pregnant just after marrying her soul mate. Both filled with the typical excitement and fear as their bodies began showing the symptoms they’d read about. Both clinging to hope. But when their time came, their ears weren’t filled with the sweet swoosh beating sounds. The screen didn’t flicker with the heartbeat. Three tiny balls of cells that just the day before had been filled with the promise of life and happiness were now gone and these mothers were robbed of the very thing that had just weeks before been confirmed. In those few short weeks, they had each grown to love the little raspberries or sweet peas growing in their bellies. They thought of names and wondered if they’d have mom’s eyes or dad’s nose. They laid awake at night wondering what kind of mother they would be. Now, their dreams would have to wait.

I thought of another friend. One who’s been trying for years just to get that pink line and a confirmation that she’d finally get to be a mother. She’d just completed her first unsuccessful round of fertility treatment and was about to start her second. Though miles and years separate us, I keep waiting for the day her announcement takes over my news feed and we can celebrate her impending motherhood, the dream she holds so closely and yet seems so far away. I thought of her as I watched the life we’d barely struggled to create flickering away. Why had it been so easy for me? She deserved to love a child just as much as I did and I know without a doubt that she will be an amazing mother.

Another face flashed as I blinked and stared numbly at the screen. Her face now filled with joy as she is expecting another baby girl, her third but her first with her new husband. She’d been pregnant at the same time I was with my first, but lost that baby a few weeks later. Another pregnancy, a boy, progressed much further a few months later. Sadly, he made his entrance too soon and did not make it. Now, the joy of a third chance and a third daughter filled me with hope that her and her husband would finally experience the joy she’d been longing for and so rightfully deserves. I don’t know the heartache of carrying and then losing a child, but it is a pain no mother or father should ever feel. I doubt the ache ever fully goes away, even after a rainbow is born.

Happiness is often a moving target and even in those moments when joy should overcome me, I find myself longing for the happiness of others. I so desperately want these women to see their own flickering hearts and to hear that comforting sound. Selfishly, I’ve also spent many nights thankful to not be in their shoes and to not know the pain and emptiness of the loss of a child. But, my heart aches for them and if I could, I’d carry a child for all of them.

These women represent so many that I know and many of them I only know because of social media, through mom groups or fitness groups. But, our lives are all connected in a way that I can’t explain and I often find myself thinking of them and wishing I could do more than feel pain at their loss or mourn their babies as I watch mine growing.

Like almost every other pregnant woman I know, those first 12 weeks are a daily game of walking on eggshells. You obsesses over every tiny symptom. You examine the toilet paper at every single bathroom trip, terrified of seeing the bright red blood of doom. Every single day that passes is a victory – one day closer to a healthy pregnancy and a baby in your arms. You Google everything and then regret it the moment the results of your search appear on the screen. You consult the experts in your mom groups and you eagerly await that first ultrasound that will either confirm your fears or your dreams.

I am lucky. Our time spent trying for both our first and now our second was less than six months and I am fairly certain my Starbucks obsession slowed both (caffeine, I love and loathe you). My pregnancy with my son was fairly uneventful aside from my water breaking 4 weeks early. His delivery went well and he was tiny but mighty. My second pregnancy, though only nine weeks in as I write this, appears to be following a similar path (let’s hope for a full-term this round). My symptoms are mild with only a hint of nausea and I’ve been able to manage them all well.

When the fear of loss and the sadness of others’ losses begins to consume me, I close my eyes and try to picture my son’s face or hear the sound of the brand new heartbeat again. I am grateful I have those images to ground me and I don’t take them for granted. When in the thick of being pregnant and chasing a toddler who refuses to nap begin to overwhelm me, it is easy to fall into self pity, but I try my best not to. I know how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to have these things to complain about. So many would kill to feel the exhaustion of pregnancy or the inability to wear pants due to a growing belly. They would lose a thousand night’s sleep just to cradle and rock a screaming newborn to sleep.

Adventures in Toddler Parenting

“Star Lord!” my son asked for the 15th time in about seven days. I suppose on one hand I could be stoked that my child is obsessed with a movie I actually enjoy rather than, say, Barney. But there are only so many times one can watch the same movie before wondering when sanity ends and insanity begins. I am guessing it is somewhere around the 100th viewing, which we passed a little over a week into his obsession with Groot and Star Lord.

When I was younger, my obsession was La Bamba, though I wasn’t two. For movie obsessions prior to La Bamba, you’ll have to consult with my mother. But, I have fond memories of watching that movie and singing along to “Oh Donna” many, many, many times.

Aside from his recent indoctrination into the nerdom, my son has also begun forming strong opinions. Such as:
“I like pizza, that yucky pizza,” referring to my Mexican Pizza.
“Gross. EWWW Mama!” in response to my drinking a LaCroix.
“Sit Mama! Eat Mama,” him every morning as he himself refuses to sit and eat.
“Mustard! Honey mustard! Yucky mustard,” in response to learning that all mustard is not in fact honey mustard. (I feel you on this one buddy)
“I pooped,” anytime he did not in fact poop.
“I’m wet,” anytime he pooped.
“I go home,” anytime we are out to eat and the food arrives.
“More fruit snacks!” after his fifth bag of fruit snacks (at what point does a child actually turn into a fruit snack?).
“I go to Target,” every time he isn’t quite ready for bed … this kid knows my weaknesses.
“Mama!” pointing to any Starbucks cup or logo he sees.

It’s been amazing and awe-inspiring to watch his personality grow over the past two years. He has a strong confidence that is bold and courageous. It’s almost as if he knows exactly who he is and what his purpose is and he’s just patiently waiting for the rest of us to figure it out.

We’re working on it buddy, be patient with us.

Finding Confidence

Like many girls and women, I often struggle to find confidence and comfort in my own skin. There’s always something to hate – the back fat, that annoying under arm chicken wings, uneven eyebrows (long lost cousins, not sisters), a far too wide nose that contouring doesn’t even help, one too many chins, hair that’s too thin or flat – this list goes on and on and it changes daily.

But the one consistent thing I have found that brings me closer to finding that confidence? It’s not something I ever expected would work for me. It’s not makeup, though, I thoroughly love makeup, or a great hair day. It’s not fancy shoes or clothes, though I love those too.

It’s simple. Working out.

I think there are many reasons fitness has helped me consistently find confidence – I feel healthier, I have more energy and more endorphins and my clothes fit better. Those are all crucial bits, but the one thing I love that fitness brings me that little else can? I have 30-45 minutes of daily, guilt-free alone time that is actually good for me and those around me. My morning workouts set the tone for my entire day and when I miss it I feel it. My energy is lower, I am crankier and I tend to gravitate more towards the foods that drag me down even more.

I used to workout to get “skinny” thinking that is what would be the magic trick to making me feel comfortable in my own skin and actually like myself. Now, I workout to feel better and be stronger. You know what’s funny? Those are far better motivators than trying to be skinny or to fit  into someone else’s standard of beauty. I won’t lose 20 pounds overnight, but I can improve my mood and attitude with one 30 minute workout – those immediate results are fantastic motivators.

Every single day there are pressures to be more and do more. To try harder to fit into a mold that may or may not fit into who I am or who I want to be. The days I don’t feel confident, those little things bother me more than they should and I tend to give into the frustrations even more. Those days also typically line up with the days I miss my morning workout and thankfully, working in a downtown setting means I can spend my lunch hour taking a brisk walk through the city. And, nor matter how I felt before or during that walk, I always feel better when I get back.

As a working mom, it is easy to feel guilty for taking time for yourself. But, don’t. Our families need us healthy and happy.

To Be That Woman

Growing up, my mom was my idol. She’s strong, confident and pretty much everything I wanted to be. She sang at the top of her lungs when everyone was listening. She danced like no one was watching when literally everybody was watching – much to my red-cheeked embarrassment. She is unashamed in her love and affections. She always gives and rarely takes (unless we force her to).

My mother is the embodiment of the woman I hope to one day be. She is the mother I strive to be.

As a single, working mom, she never missed the important moments. She never let the sacrifices she made be known … and she made many. Most of which I didn’t see until I was grown and it was too late to thank her. When our father died, her role as a single mother amplified, though she really played the role of dual parent long before his death. She filled her role and the hole left by my father’s death and she made sure we felt enough love to make up for what we might have missed.

She raised me to be a strong, independent, opinionated and vocal woman – and she dealt with the burden of a strong, independent, opinionated and vocal daughter with more grace than even I could muster.

As the years have passed and the lines on her face have deepened, the realities of time and mortality are becoming more apparent. Some days, I find myself wishing time would slow down or begging to go back just a few years to make a few more memories, or at least to soak up the ones already made.

And, as my roles as an adult, wife and working mother have become all consuming, my calls to her have lessened. Our conversations are shorter and further apart. Rather than picking up the phone to share the updates of my life, I let Facebook do that these days.

I watch her on her hands and knees playing with my son, fully in the moment and unaware of her surroundings and I find myself longing to be that woman – strong, loving, confident, present, giving, passionate, caring, intelligent.

Sorry Ivanka

Ivanka Trump’s new book attempts to detail the life and struggle of working moms and, not surprisingly, she completely misses the mark.

She laments the importance of sharing anecdotes about being covered in pureed avocado in the morning or sharing photos of her with a messy pony tail playing in the dirt with her kids. For many working moms, these “anecdotes” are luxuries they can’t afford – food for their children or time to play in garden with their children.

But, the one thing she misses the most? The real struggles of working moms.

“During extremely high-capacity times, like during the campaign, I went into survival mode: I worked and I was with my family; I didn’t do much else. Honestly, I wasn’t treating myself to a massage or making much time for self-care. I wish I could have awoken early to meditate for twenty minutes …”

Sorry, Ivanka, this is not survival mode. Not even close.

For a working mom, “survival mode” is not skipping a massage or meditation.

Survival Mode is …

Choosing between putting food on the table and being able to afford life saving medicine.

Going back to work at 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. weeks postpartum because you cannot afford leave.

Living every day terrified of a call from daycare that your child is sick because you may lose your job if you miss one more day.

Getting to the end of the month and not making ends meet.

Skipping meals so your child can get the uniform, shoes, etc. they need (thank you Stephanie).

Crying yourself to sleep every night because you live in fear that you are not enough for your child.

Shielding hate, judgment and criticism from those on the outside looking in.

Watching your child cry in pain because the life saving medicine is wrecking their body. Or, watching this knowing your worry is split between your child’s pain and the bills you know are coming.

So, sorry, Ivanka Trump, you may be a working mom, but you don’t know the first thing about being a working mom in survival mode.

In the Blink of an Eye

My son is going through his 18-24 month sleep regression, which means we’ve been doing a lot of rocking before bed lately. The boy who used to let us know it was bedtime and would climb into bed, lay his head down and close his eyes without a fight now refuses to do anything of the sort.

Last night as I rocked him, I rubbed my cheek over the top of his head like I did so many times during the first year or so of his life. When he was born he had the softest peach fuzz atop his (cone) head. I can still remember the softness and comfort it brought as I’d gently move my hand or cheek across it. I spent many a nights with my face gently resting against that tiny, fuzzy head. It became a part of our routine – nurse, rock, head rub. I think it soothed me as much as it did him.

I don’t remember the last time I did this. Instead, those moments are combined into a single memory. A memory that comes complete with the familiar sensation of his tiny baby hair against my skin and his tiny body wrapped up completely in my arms. His entire world existed inside our arms, now he can run and explore a world he couldn’t have dreamt of before.

His hair has grown out and isn’t so baby soft anymore. It’s usually an unruly mess that neither my husband nor I can tame. We are well past due on his second haircut. But last night as I rocked him into his new dream world, I laid my cheek on top of his head and smiled as the long hairs tickled my skin.

We have a lot of firsts to look forward to and to look back on. But, what I’ve taken for granted are all the lasts we have ahead of us as well. There will come a day when he won’t clamor to sit on Mama’s lap or have Dada tickle his toes. He won’t want us to be in the room with him and he won’t cry when we leave. He’ll sulk in the back seat instead of giggle and talk as we drive home from school. He won’t wake up babbling and asking for Mama, he’ll shove us off and roll over to fall back asleep. He won’t reach for us and beg us to lift up or hold him. His “peas” and “tank ous
” will become fully enunciated “pleases” and “thank yous,” if we are lucky enough to get them. Mama reading Mama Llama to him before bed won’t be the highlight of his day and bath time with Dada will become fights over the need to shower and use deodorant. One day, his world won’t revolve around Mama and Dada. I’ve known these moments were coming, but I wasn’t prepared for the weight of the realization.

Those hairs brushing my cheek reminded me that these moments are fleeting and they will be long gone in the blink of an eye.

Dada Home?

Thanks to my job, I travel once every month or two. Most of the time, the trips are short, but sometimes I am gone for a few days. Those trips are hard – being away from my son and husband isn’t easy. Plus, I don’t always have time to call or video chat.

Thankfully, I have a partner that is just that – a true partner. He doesn’t consider caring for our son “women’s work” and is an active and engaged parent. This is something I try very hard to not take for granted. Our family only works because he works. There are times, many times, where I feel like he carries far more of the home responsibilities than I do. Likely because I will let the dishes build to mountain climbing levels before I touch them and he refuses to let them pile up.

This week my husband had to travel to a conference and was gone four nights. For most moms this wouldn’t be a big deal. But for me, it was. I’ve never had to do the morning and night routine solo. My husband typically does the morning and breakfast routine with our son while I get ready. At bedtime, I read him a book and give him kisses while my husband tucks him in. If I am in the room, he will fight sleep and not stay in bed.

When I travel, I always ask my husband if our son asks for me. Usually, the answer is “nope.” I hate this answer. I know it is completely selfish, but I want my son to miss me when I am gone. I want him to want his mama. At first this question and answer would leave me in tears, but then I found comfort in knowing that my husband and my son have an amazing bond … although, it still hurts sometimes.

The first night my husband was gone, he asked about Dada as soon as we got home. He normally does this because he knows Dada always gets home before we do. So, I wasn’t surprised there. At bedtime, he fought sleep a little and even got back out of bed after I left the room. But, a few verses of Hakuna Matata (thank you Lion Guard for the refresher) and a few back rubs later, he fell asleep like a champ.

Until three in the morning when I was awoken by one of his toys singing, “I’m a silly little penguin. Waddling here. Waddling there.” Ugh. I knew that toy was on the opposite end of the room and didn’t just randomly turn on. I threw myself out of bed and walk to his room.

“Hi Mama!” He shouted and waved as I walk in. This energy did not reflect that of a child who just happened out of bed. He was wide awake. I was not.

After a failed attempt to get him back into bed, I brought him into our room. As we lay in the dark, he started talking.

“Dada home? Dada home?” he repeated over and over. I tell him Dada will be home later. He keeps asking. My eyes swelled with tears as I got him back up and tried to rock him to sleep. “Dada home? Dada home?”

He kept asking. His voice small and quiet.

“Just Mama, buddy,” I whispered back to him. “Dada will be home in a few days.”

We played this game for another hour before I gave up and got the day started.

Just Mama. God it killed me to hear him asking for Dada when I knew he rarely asked for me. At three in the morning your brain likes to travel down dark paths that are neither productive or vetted in reality. I wondered if I’d failed him as a mother. I thought all my work travel had made him not miss me when I was gone – oh, Mama? She’s always gone. I again wondered if I was really good enough for him or even just enough. I sobbed as I tried to rub his back to get him to fall asleep again. I hated myself.

But, as the sun came up, my thoughts shifted. Of course he wanted to know where Dada was and why he wasn’t home. He knows when Mama leaves she always comes back. He knows the routine of my travel. For his dada, this was new territory. His routine was thrown off. Dada didn’t read him a story and tuck him in. Dada wasn’t there for breakfast. For over a year and a half, Dada has been there almost every single night at bedtime and then the next morning at breakfast.

This is something that makes me happy and makes me love my husband more every single day. It is also something I far too often just take for granted and do not appreciate as I should.

As soon as we had a video chat with Dada, all was right with his world. He knew Dada, like Mama, was there even when he was not home. The smile on his face when he heard Dada’s voice was worth every insecurity I’d felt the night before.

I’ve shared this before, but it’s worth repeating, Mom Guilt is hard. It infiltrates our brains and makes us think crazy thoughts. It makes the smallest slight feel like world war.

He Runs and Hides

My son has been visiting the Two Year Old room at school lately. Every afternoon his class spends the last part of the day in this new magical room full of new toys and big kids. My son loves it in there. In fact, he loves it so much that he runs and hides from me when I pick him up.

Yup.

My child runs and hides from me when I come to pick him up.

The same child that would act as though the world were ending if Mom even considered walking into another room. The child who used to run to me when I picked him up – he’d practically tackle me and beg me to hold him. The child who used to refuse everyone but me.

He runs and hides from me.

Sure I know he loves the new room – so many new toys to play with, new faces to interact with, but it stings. It stings a lot.

Every single day I sit in my office and I wonder if the work I am doing is truly worth missing out on my son’s day. Every minute I sit in my car begging traffic to move I wish I were at daycare already. Every waking minute, and sometimes sleeping ones, I wonder if I can be a good mom while also having a career.

So, seeing my son look up at me, make eye contact and run the other direction so he can play with one more toy before coming home absolutely guts me. If I listened to all the delightful people on Twitter who tell me that women like me are the reason this generation is so screwed up or listen to the woman who not so subtly asks me how I could let another person raise my son, this would hurt even more.

But, I do listen to them. Their words hurt even though I know my son is thriving. He’s smart. He’s happy. He adores his father and me (sometimes, I think he might favor Dada over Mama), and I am sure that given the choice, he’d much rather spend his days and nights with us than at school. It does make me happy that he loves his school, but that happiness is overshadowed by my jealousy. I want him to be that excited to see me, not his toys or classmates. He loves coming “ome” once we are in the car. On the short ride home, we talk about the snacks we’ll make, the pets he’ll torment, the books we’ll read and the cuddles we’ll have.

I wish I could erase the doubt filled thoughts and anxiety that plague working mothers. I wish society could accept that women can lead in the home and out of it and stop making us feel guilty for choosing both careers and motherhood.

Most of all, I wish my son wouldn’t run and hide at the end of the day.