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.

Saying Goodbye

Nearly twenty-six years ago I lost my father to cancer. I was ten at the time and barely understood the meaning of a forever goodbye. In the decades that followed I was tormented by dreams of him. In many, I’d discover that he’d never really died and that it had all been a horrible joke. I often woke up from those drenched in sweat and my heart racing. I hated those dreams.

Aside from these nightmares, the one thing that always plagued me was never knowing where his final resting place was and missing my chance for a final goodbye and closure. Through a newspaper article, I knew he’d been placed there around 1994, though he passed in 1991. We learned later the reason for the delay, aside from donating his body to medical research at UMKC, was that when he was shipped back to his sister-in-law, they didn’t have a place for him in the family plot. So, he sat on a bookshelf in their home for a while.

Since learning this, I’d been to Kansas City a few times, but had never been able to confirm where he was. My mom and I drove around a cemetery for over an hour while she tried to remember the place he’d once taken her to where his family had a lot. We were unsuccessful. Likely because we were at the wrong cemetery.

A few years later, my brother visited and drove around for a bit, this time the right cemetery, but he never found him. So, before my latest trip, I did some research and confirmed that he was in fact at the cemetery my brother had visited. This time. I called ahead and they confirmed his placement and offered to leave me a map.

When I arrived, it was dreary and early. The rain was light, but the chill in the air brought a familiar comfort. As soon as I parked my car in front of the mausoleum, the comfort dissipated. Half of me was missing. I shouldn’t be here alone. I called my twin brother and asked if he wanted to stay on the phone with me while I walked to our father’s crypt.

I opened the heavy iron gate and was greeted by a pitch black tomb … hell to the no. I hung up with my brother and immediately called the front desk. They sent up a maintenance man to get the lights on (thank you to the very understanding receptionist and the kind maintenance man who both kindly indulged my fears).

Finally down in the crypt, I once again had to wait for lighting. As I stood outside my father’s final resting place, I felt calm and peace. Any other time, standing alone in the basement of a grave yard surrounded by crypts would have sent me running. But, here, I felt safe. I felt welcome. I felt as though I were surrounded by love.

Because I was.

After the maintenance man came and went, I walked into the crypt. His stone was just above my reach, so I looked up to him – just as I had done so many times as a child. My last memories of my father were of him frail and sick in a hospital bed. In those moments, I was the tall one looking down at him. But, as I finally said my goodbyes to him 26 years later, I was once again standing in his shadow.  I told him I missed him and that he’d missed so much. I whispered one last “I love you” and went on my way.

I miss the man I used to dream my father was. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. But, in my eyes, he was and will always be this mountain of a man with a beard and a Harley.

 

 

Where Does This Leave Me?

I’ve never been one to surround myself with a gaggle of girlfriends.

I’ve never been good at making friends or keeping in touch.

I’ve always been better on my own.

I’ve always found peace in my own inner chaos.

These are the side effects of being an overly sensitive introvert. I thrive in the silence of a good book and feed my soul through music. I get lost in characters and, usually, my own thoughts. The time I spend in my car driving to and from work is more often than not the most relaxing part of my day. In those 45-60 minutes I am no one to no one. I am not an employee or a co-worker. I am not a wife or a mother. I am not a friend or a foe. I am just me. I can get lost in the road or a song or an audiobook. It’s the only time I am truly unplugged and able to recharge.

Since November 8 I feel as though I’ve slipped further and further into the introverted habits I find comfort in and am finding that they are providing less and less comfort as the world around me falls apart. I have found myself desperate for conversation with like-minded people – I crave it some days. There are days I don’t speak to anyone other than my husband and my toddler (this is partially a side effect of working in a small office with few employees and a total of zero that ever leave their caves). Those are the days I crave outside conversation the most.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I have lost contact with the handful of friends I did have – some by choice, some by accident. Fortunate because many of these friends cast their vote for the POTUS causing the world around me to crumble and unfortunate because I’ve lost the few people I felt comfortable talking to, even if we didn’t agree. Some days, like today, I miss them and I miss having a safety net to share my thought with. Other days go by in a blur and I don’t notice their absence.

Lately I’ve found some solace in a few groups of like-minded people – the women of the Nasty Women Project and the voices of The Resistance on Twitter. But these conversations are typically limited to 140 characters or the other constraints of social media. They also tend to care a little less about my personal experience and they rarely know my backstory, nor do they care to.

Where does this leave little introverted me?

When Intelligence Fails Them

Since November, I’ve become far more vocal and outspoken on social media. I’ve joined the millions of voices in The Resistance and I’ve not been shy about sharing my thoughts and opinions. With this newfound voice, I’ve also found myself on the receiving end of countless trolls and incessant personal attacks and insults.

As you can see from the screenshot, their favorite target for their insults: my eyebrows. Seriously. My eyebrows.  I’ll admit that at first it bothered me. Why the heck are these people who hide behind Twitter eggs and avatars so offended by my eyebrows? Then I realized why their first instinct is to insult. Well, one of two reasons – 1.) They’re own insecurities cause them to pick apart others, or, 2.) They don’t like what I have to say but have nothing intelligent to add.

Their second favorite “insult” is to call me a man in drag. Why? I am guessing it is because I wear makeup. But, here’s the problem with their insult – Drag Queens are phenomenal at makeup application and are typically flawless. As a makeup geek, this is more of a compliment than an insult.

Why do I share this?

Mainly to communicate that it’s not okay to personally attack others when you don’t agree with them. I do my best to not stoop to this level and, for the most part, I am don’t. When I get comments like this, I typically respond with a cute GIF and a “Thank you!” I do this for two reasons – to let them know their insults don’t bother me and to discourage negativity. If I can take their mean spirited comments and turn them into something positive, perhaps I can better spread the message I am trying to spread.

But, I also share this to show the world just how much shit women put up with. Our opinions, thoughts, ideas and value are often reduced to our appearance. As if we can’t have anything of value to add if the audience doesn’t appreciate our looks. Further, it is also assumed that any woman speaking her mind is fair game for attacks on her appearance or comments on what she is wearing. This is simply not true.

Under the platinum blonde hair (yes, it’s dyed and no, I don’t really care whether you like it or not), behind the makeup and contouring,  underneath the eyebrows and beyond the layer or two of fat lies a human being with a brain, an education, a career and a family. Those last things are what I’d rather be judged on … not the physical.

Dear Son

The first thing I said to my son this morning? “I’m sorry, we let you down yesterday.”

The tears in my eyes are not those of a sore loser, but those of a scared mother. Those of you that wish to downplay that, feel free. But, I’ll be holding my likely only child much closer these next four years. I’ll be screaming my message of love and acceptance from the top of my lungs and I will never apologize for making my voice heard.It’s time to rebuild and heal. They want us to forget the rhetoric and move past it, but let’s use it to become stronger. Let’s empower those who’ve been silenced and marginalized. Let’s teach the world who America really is, because the America I leave my son will not be one full of hate.