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Getting My Mama Playwright On

28 Jul

2018 Twitter Image_Work of ChildrenI didn’t exactly kickline into my role as a stay-at-home mom of two. I’d always dreamed of being a mom in the same way other little kids exclaim they want to be a MOVIE STAR!!! or a FIREFIGHTER!!! when they grow up, but where a career or self-fulfillment fell in all this, I never daydreamed about; I just knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a mother. Still, when my first daughter was born, I was very fortunate to work largely from home with fairly flexible hours thanks to an exorbitant amount of help from my mother who babysat when I needed to be in the office or at a client meeting. But with my second — it was dark days at home, less my income.

It was a total slap in the face and I felt completely blindsided.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, with my lists upon lists of projects I wanted to pursue, do, photograph, explore and write. As soon as I started to freelance from home during the daylight hours instead of being confined to a desk working my 9-5, I had a baby. And then bam, a second.

I careened into a dark place.

Married With Style

Any mother of two knows what I’m talking about. When you bring the first one home, you walk on eggshells and read everything. SO MUCH HELP is offered, almost forced. There are meal trains, visitors, babysitters, and check-ins. With two? Shortly after Caroline arrived, I overheard some family talking and one older, very experienced mom quipped: Well, they knew what they were getting themselves into. They know what happens when you have sex!

After Caroline, when people asked how life with two was going, I would joke that it was touch and go for a while, but that eventually they break you. And then suddenly, once you’ve stop fighting it, you can almost, just barely function again. Ta dah: you’ve figured out life with two. Barely functional. That is your new normal. That’s your operational “Go” zone.

I mean… it’s no wonder people stopped visiting.

[In all of this, I do want to be very clear — I LOVE being a mother and I love MOST of the time I get to be home with my children. I feel beyond blessed and grateful that my husband and I have prioritized giving our children at least one parent home, recognizing the monetary sacrifices we make as a family in order to make it possible. But that’s not to say that even that works out “equally.” Enter: the rage.]

It was more than just Postpartum Depression. It was more than “the mental load,” although that was certainly a huge part. It was even more than just the utter shock of how much more work just one more kid is and the indignation and betrayal of other mothers not going around waving their arms at the singleton moms, screaming: LISTEN!! YOU NEED TO KNOW!!! YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE IN FOR. NO, YOU REALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND.

If I had to put my finger on it, my mental state is where it is today because of the huge injustice of this unpaid, undervalued, highly invisible yet “oh so important” WORK of raising children. 

The monotonous exhaustion of bathing, feeding, teaching, entertaining, dressing and just keeping alive, two little human beings, paired with all the pressure that US MOMS (my fellow women at arms! my ladies!) are all putting on one another, jabbing at each other to be acknowledged that we are, in fact, getting it right; that we’re succeeding in our efforts to guide these little beings, be it with breast milk or formula or soy or nut free, or whatever the fuck we are using because we must; all this heroic effort and warring is absolutely blasted apart when asked “So are you working?” shortly after the birth of my second.

EVERY GODDAMN SECOND OF EVERY DAY, lady.

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I’ve felt a lot of rage since about January, but it wasn’t until the spring when I finally pinpointed where it was coming from and began to devise an outlet. I’d put it in a play.

I’ve always loved film and music, but specifically, musicals. The Les Mis original Broadway cast recording left such an impression on me as a kid, that even today, I gravitate toward soundtracks in most of my music collection. [Also, strong female vocalists.] So when I said play, what I really meant was a musical. Are you still reading? OK good.

I’m envisioning a Rent-type ensemble vibe with multiple storylines. I want to cover ALL of the experiences moms are having. Or as many as possible. The guilt if you’re working. The pressure if you’re not. The obnoxious comments at the playground about attachment parenting or babywearing, or sleep training and co-sleeping. I’ll never forget being told that “breastfeeding past four months is for the mother” by a more senior mother who’d bottle-fed back in her day, just after mentioning I was still exclusively nursing my barely five month old. But I also want to talk about how lauded we are for all this important work we’re doing (oh hang on, not really!) and how rewarded we are with leave time and support (again, nope! just kidding). It’s not right and it’s not OK.

Really, what I want is to shine a big, fat, spectacular Broadway spotlight on what is going on RIGHT NOW in the mothering world, because Tina Fey may have covered the Mean Girls of high school, but sometimes I feel like some of my mom friends and I are just the mean girls who grew up and had babies. And what about the wanna-be-mothers out there who don’t have babies (or even boyfriends — or girlfriends!) — yet. My neighbor Alyce was as much a mother as anyone who carried her own babies, but she was never blessed with her own children. Or who lost babies. Or those trying to conceive. Or the happily childless, sick of being asked when they’re having kids. What about “mothers” who are actually fathers?

An infusion of Mr. Roger’s humanity and kindness and love is missing among all of us and I feel like a hard look at what we all go through to shepherd our babies through infancy and into childhood, and hopefully, adulthood, through the lens of a play, with hilarious music and lyrics is something that will speak to a lot of us. Because it takes a village.

To start, I’m just compiling as many of the “mom” stories I can, so if you have one you’d like to share, please email me!

To start, I’m starting toward my beginning, with my first real lactation consultant visit.

My First Lactation Consultant Experience

Me: [broken down, exhausted, dejected, feeling like I’m failing as a mother because nursing isn’t coming easily; nipples are raw and bloody. Worn out from battling at the hospital where they were pushing formula which I had been persuaded was more or less poison]

Me: “Lactation consultant” is a very medicalized-sounding term for someone who is a mix between a fairy godmother, Mary Poppins, and a lifelong dairy farm hand.

I remember when I met mine for the first time in my home, one day after we brought Emilia home. She radiated wisdom and calm. The LC, not the baby. As if it was a prerequisite of the job, she was buxom and busty, with ruddy cheeks and milk maid coloring. She was the great aunt everyone has who could bake the prizewinning pie and birth a baby in the barn in the same day.

Everything I’d read and thought I knew was wrong, because she knew everything. She was only just a little holier than thou about it. More indignant that the poor baby had to suffer because she wasn’t there yet. But we would all be OK.

My baby was NOT a “lazy nurser with a lazy tongue” as the hospital lactation consultant had declared. She was a BABY.

Oh wise Lactation Consultant, TEACH ME, [I silently begged].

[I’m topless, with a nursing pillow or boppy or whatever the fuck it’s called, strapped around my waist. Oh that’s right, the “My Breast Friend.” Sending a silent fuck you to whoever came up with that product name. May you silently choke to death on the buckle of that wretched product. And it was great, don’t get me wrong, I LOVED that thing. But along with my nursing tops, that was happily tossed into the fire to burn the day my daughter finally weaned at 1 year, 11 months.]

Lactation Consultant: OK, why don’t we start by having you show me where you nurse.

ME: [Settles onto the couch and prop my daughter into the “football hold” as taught in the hospital.] This is the only position I can bear the pain in. [My daugher latches and I wince.]

More to come — would love to hear what you think so far about any of this. 

Also, an older post I wrote about my my impression of Life With Two Kids.

And finally, I just want to send out a special THANK YOU to my friends Staci and Grace who immediately got behind me when I ventured to tell them about this entire endeavor. No snarky laughing or tongue biting; just unabashed enthusiasm and support. It means more to me than you know. I know this is crazy. MWAH! Love you guys.

And finally, to my friend Shawna, for pointing my attention to the original “Mental Load” cartoon and article which was really the impetus for turning the tide of my rage. Without that, which helped me slowly uncover part of what was at the heart of my indignation and frustration, and our texts throughout the winter and spring about a lot of stupidity that surrounds us in our daily “Mom” lives, I would probably have driven my car into a tree by now. Love you!

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Digging Lately: Big Dreams, Small Spaces

20 Jun

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Once upon a time, when I was still renting, the extent of the “projects” in my home-owner fantasies were limited to choosing paint colors and plants. Maaaybe what food I’d serve at my fabulous parties. You know, since I’d host tons of them now that I had the house I longed for throughout my twenties when no one had a place cool enough to want to share with people. But now that I’m a REAL home owner? My baseboards are still off-white to the rest of our trim’s blinding white, the undertone of our daughters’ bedroom is totally green, and I don’t have it in me to care. The weather is finally beautiful in New England and until the first December frost, the last place you’ll find me is inside painting.

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Snapped at the Dallas Botanical Garden, May ’18

These days, my attire is usually dirt-stained and muddied. I’m actually embarrassed to wear flip flops because I’m so in need of a pedicure, but I am really digging the early season farmer’s tan I have. Maybe I’m alone here and others aren’t as obsessed with shaping up their yards and gardens, but from the moment we were handed the keys to our place, there has been an ever-growing list of projects that shows no sign of letting up. Moreover, no matter how sleep-deprived or child weary I am at the end of the day, I always make time for some dirt. It’s just relaxing.

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Ep. 6, Big Dreams, Small Spaces

Recently though, I really was exhausted — mentally and physically drained — so in a fit of obsession, I turned to Netflix hoping to get some kind of gardening fix which inspired this week’s “Digging, Lately” post. Shock of all shocks, I was completely thrilled to discover a reality show called  Big Dreams, Small Spaces.

It’s a British show in which amateur gardeners all over the UK are gently but firmly guided to create their own little bit of paradise with the help of Britain’s greatest (gardening) treasure: Monty Don. When I mentioned his name to my mom who I recently started teasingly referring to as “Green Garden Goddess” because she is a bit of a know-it-all (said LOVINGLY) when it comes to all things garden, I was shocked she didn’t know of him. One writer very aptly described it as, like Queer Eye, but with plants. Another great comparison I’d actually already thought of before I also read it in the same article is that it’s like Property Brothers meets The Great British Baking Show, both of which I love. Monty Don is to plants, what Mary Berry is to baked goods! Anyways, new obsession and I really recommend.

In case you’re jonesing for more garden stuff:

updated Garden Projects 2018 page

this post about last summer’s new perennials

Or this post about our garden veggie troubles

Another Great Day

4 May

IMG_6150Some days, everything just jives and I feel like Super Mom. Emilia plays independently. Caroline is engrossed in whatever I’ve set out for her for 15 to 20 minutes straight. I can sip a cup of coffee in relative peace. Everyone is happy with whatever foods I offer and no one spills on me. Or the floor. Somehow, I also don’t make poor “mom” decisions like letting C self-feed herself oatmeal. I somehow manage to coordinate both girls’ naps (in the same room) simultaneously. We might even successfully enjoy lunch out just the three of us, in a restaurant, without me needing to hold anyone in my lap, like we did yesterday. These are GREAT days.

IMG_6153And then there are days like today. Naps were a disaster so I quickly pivoted and decided that we all needed to just get out of the house. We’ll visit a local farm to see the baby animals after a quick run to Trader Joe’s and hopefully, Miss I-Won’t-Nap will doze in the car on the way.

I masterfully pack an array of snacks and “lunch” options for my opinionated toddler and remember C’s puffs and purees. I have the most caffeinated, Iced Vanilla Starbucks coffee I could manage to create and I had the coordinated foresight to order it with the Starbucks app so it’s ready and waiting as I pull up. And I was as patient as Mother Teresa while letting E dawdle putting her shoes on. And then again with buckling herself into her carseat before doing the usual song + dance WE DO EVERY SINGLE CAR TRIP which entails me asking her, theatrically: “Do you feel safe??!

::: E enthusiastically wriggles her body and punches her arms and kicks her feet and shakes her head back and forth. :::

Then replies: “Safe!:::

[This is my sneaky mom hack for empowering my toddler while simultaneously ensuring her 5-point harness is tight enough.]

I feel invincible.

Then, as we park at our first destination, I realize I don’t have my wallet. Despite packing the car with supplies for an entire morning of errands, I’ve neglected to switch over my wallet to today’s sexy tote bag.

We have to scrap plans to see the bunnies and baby chicks and definitely won’t be going to the playground at the farm because it’s so out of the way and in such blisteringly hot sun that not being able to pick-up the herbs that were secretly the whole purpose of this entire expedition renders the effort and energy just to carry it all out with an overtired baby an energetic toddler just not worth it.

On these days, all I want to hear from anyone — a stranger, a friend, my husband… is: you’re doing so well. You’re a rock star. Great job. I couldn’t have done that. I appreciate you. What you’re doing is SO important, and most of all, tomorrow is a new day.

Maybe give me a long, long hug. Maybe (for said husband) rub my shoulders, unasked, which are clenched up from the permanent tension all moms probably suffer from, from constantly scooping their toddlers up all day, every day, and schlepping heavy carseat carriers in and out of the house along with all the packhorse supplies necessary for traveling anywhere with children: snacks, drinks, toys, wipes, changes of clothes, jackets, sun protection, etc.

And that nursing moms develop from rocking and nursing and rocking and nursing until the end of time which is exactly what it feels like when you exclusively nurse 8-9 times a day, and that’s 10-months out. And maybe try your damn hardest to not fall asleep while doing this because YOU think you have had an exhausting day.

And just keep reminding me that tomorrow could very well be another great day.