The Second Time

Hello in there, little one. By now you may or may not have figured out that I’m your mom. You know me. I’m the one that’s been sending down all the spicy food and middling renditions of the Hairspray soundtrack. If that doesn’t ring any bells, I’m the one who set you up that sweet-ass punching bag, though once you’re on the outside you have to call it a bladder like everyone else.

I really am glad you’re in there. I hope you can sense that. What I hope you can’t sense is the absolute pants-shitting terror I feel about your impending arrival.

It must be confessed that I didn’t feel this with your sister, or at least not in the same way. Most of my fears were nameless, shapeless things that lurked in the 4 AM shadows of my mind. With your first baby, you have no idea what you’re getting into. When they arrive, the shock of it is like being pushed into ice cold water. What I didn’t know was that postpartum depression would hold my head underneath. It still keeps me up at night how close I came to drowning.

I was not the mother that I wanted to be, that my baby deserved. I hope I can do better for you. But I have to remember what you are and what you are not. You are wanted, wished for, loved beyond measure, my very last baby arriving on your own terms with your own story to tell.

You are not a do-over or a second chance. I saw your precious face on that ultrasound and whatever name we decide fits you, I promise that Mulligan isn’t it.

Here’s what else I can promise you. Songs. Stories. Cuddles. The certainty that your rugby hooligan sister will probably put you in a headlock at some point. The equal certainty that she will do the same to anyone who tries to mess with you. A dad who will be the best example of a man that you will ever need. A mom who will do her level best to keep her head above water and give you the start in life that you deserve. Your diaper being put on the right way around at least 90% of the time. A family that loves you and can’t wait to meet you.

I’m up for it if you are, sweet baby. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting. Ten weeks to go.

board3d2

Dear New Mom

Dear New Mom,

Look at you! You did it! You survived the birth process! Or the adoption process, in which case holy crap, look at you. Just as painful, more drawn out, and they don’t give you any drugs. Go you.

In any case, you did the thing and now you have a child. I could tell you this time with a new baby will be the most exquisite and rewarding time in your life. But you did not come here for me to straight up lie to your beautiful, tired face.

The shit is about to get real and I am about to tell you all the things I wish someone had told me. Or, quite frankly, the things they DID tell me and I didn’t listen.

  • You have to eat food. More than once a day. Actual food, not just whatever was within reach when the baby latched on or finally fell asleep on you. You might think this is the most obvious thing in the world. In a normal universe, this would be true. This, however, is Sparta, and when you are twelve hours deep into your day and your vision starts to swim because the last thing you ate was a handful of Ritz crackers yesterday, you will wish you had taken this advice. If you can’t remember to eat, designate someone to remind you.
  • You’re probably going to bonk the baby’s head on a doorframe at least once. You’re probably going to cut them with the nailclippers at least twice. Everyone’s done it, even if they won’t admit to it. They’ll be fine. There’s a reason they don’t remember the first year. It’s either nature or head injury but in either case, it works in your favour.
  • I don’t care how much you adore your partner, there will come a point in time where you look at them and truly, madly, deeply loathe them with every fibre of your being. It will probably go away. Don’t make any permanent decisions in the first year. Divorce is expensive and you are too tired to cover up a murder without getting caught. If you find it’s not going away, there is no shame in talking it out, either with your partner or a counselor. It will get easier. You will even have sex again! (Caution: this occasionally leads to more babies.)
  • Memorize the phrase “This is what works for us.” A new parent draws more unwanted and shitty opinions than the average internet comments section. No matter how well-meant, you are about to be faced with a barrage of advice that may or may not have merit. It is okay to shut it down. “Thanks, but this is what works for us.” End of conversation. Done. You can figure this out yourself, just like people have been doing since the dawn of time. That said…
  • Accept the help. Oh my god, I cannot stress this enough. If someone you trust offers to watch the baby for an hour so you can sleep or shower or go scream into the void for a bit, do it. It will probably save your sanity. You are going to need your sanity.
  • Post-partum anxiety and depression are no fucking joke. I mean it. If you even start to think you are heading to the bad place, seek help. You are not alone.
  • Breastfeeding is amazing. Formula is amazing. Any combination of the two is amazing. Feed that kid. Anyone who tells you that you’re doing it wrong can go choke.
  • You may have held your baby for the first time and felt that incredible rush of maternal love everyone talks about. And… you may not have. For a while, it might feel like your home has been invaded by a tiny stranger. You might even look at this squalling loaf of infant and resent it for disrupting every single bloody thing in your life. You might feel this and then feel impossibly guilty. Don’t. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a human being who is in the depths of the kind of change you can’t comprehend until you’re in it. Eventually, you will love that child more than you ever thought possible.
  • You are perfectly within your legal rights to punch anyone who asks you if your baby is sleeping through the night yet. (Okay, you are within your rights to imagine it in vivid detail.)

You’re gonna do just great. You really are. You can stop reading and go take a deep breath now.

Love,
A mom who survived to toddlerhood

********

Dear Moms of Older Children,

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING HEEEEEEEEEEEELP

 

 

 

Grace

When I was a little girl, I spent most Sundays in a hard wooden pew near the front of the Bethel Pentecostal Church. The sermons always ran long and I was always short on patience. I still remember the taste of the Certs my grandmother would feed me to keep me from squirming and talking. After I got a little older, I was content to flip through the hymn book and the Bible. Even a child can be awed by beautiful language.

Religion was not a comfort to me in those times. What the Bible told me and what the congregation told me were two entirely different things. My parents did not attend church. They smoked. They drank. They had me out of wedlock. My father had the absolute temerity to be a rock and roll musician, which seems like a laughably quaint term now but at that time, to those people, it was deadly serious. Imagine being so young that you still believe in Santa and someone tells you that your parents, the people who cannot yet do wrong in your eyes, will burn forever in a lake of fire. It didn’t matter how good they were. They would be lost to me for all eternity once the Judgment came, and it was coming soon.

I prayed to God, but my prayers were fearful. They were mostly just begging.

Hell followed me as a spectre into my teen years, when out of a misguided sense of wanting to be part of something I dove headfirst into being born again. I attended youth group once a week and services three times on Sundays. This was the time of the ever-present WWJD bracelets and t-shirts and I asked myself that question a lot. I wondered what Jesus would tell me, a teenager beginning to question why there were a million ways into the pit in this cosmic game of Snakes and Ladders but I could only be saved by a grace I never felt. I wondered how he would explain why God was everywhere but he felt so much further away than the people looking at me to make sure my skirt fell below the knee and my modest blouse didn’t show any hint of the body I hadn’t asked for. I wanted to ask why he thought the people who shouted at the top of their lungs about how they’d been washed in the blood of the lamb spent the rest of their time stage whispering about people who weren’t there.

At thirteen, with what felt like all the seven deadly sins upon me at once, the flames of hellfire were licking at my heels every time I went through those doors. So I closed them and didn’t look back for many years. But when I moved away, and I brought that well-worn Bible with me. It has followed me to different towns and provinces. It’s often been dusty, but it’s always on my bookshelf. In times of hopelessness and despair, I open it and it comforts me.

There is no dust on it these days.

I stood at the front of a church two years ago and held my baby daughter tight as I promised to show her what the promise of God’s love meant. It’s a promise I should never have made, because I can’t presume to know what it means. But I have tried to show her the things that have always made me feel close to the idea of God. Never in my life has that meant church. Not once have I ever sat in my safe, sheltered bubble of people just like me and felt like I was living out whatever purpose I have been given. Just like I don’t believe, never have believed that the circumstances of my birth meant I deserved hell, I can’t allow myself to become complacent with the idea that my privilege means I deserve paradise. As the old parable says, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”

We have been asked to welcome the stranger, to comfort the grieving, to feed and clothe the hungry. We have been asked to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. And we have been asked to fear not, even in the valley of the shadow of death. I cannot ask to be granted grace. I can only go out and try to find it.

A Marriage as Told Through Text Messages, Part II

They didn’t have kosher salt
No worries, I’ll use the regular if it comes down to it
I remember reading something about different kinds of salt and when to use them
I remember watching a video once about how to fold napkins into swans but I don’t fuck around with that either
there’s a specific task for each kind of salt!
as opposed to swan napkins, which have but one thankless, unappreciated task
You ate ramen last night, don’t step to me talking about how you a salt connoisseur all of a sudden
Not ramen! Noodles!
What’s the difference?
Like 60 cents
Oh WELL THEN

Supper plans?
I am mostly just planning to hide in the bathroom until death comes
Has death given you an ETA?
Like, do we have a big enough window to order a pizza?

Man, watching the World Series
Can you imagine being in a sports bar in either city right now?
It’s a good day to own a sports bar in either city! Nobody’s going home early tonight!
Somewhere a waitress just steeled herself to bring another pitcher of shitty beer to drunkards
Hope they get tipped well
“Guys, we’ve been out of beer since the 7th. This is just Cleveland tap water.”
Probably a higher alcohol content than Budweiser tbh
Probably more flammable, at least
OH MAN
Almost had a home run …. juuuuuuuuuuust foul.
CALL ME BASIC AND HAND ME A FUCKING LATTE BECAUSE I JUST CAN’T EVEN
I will never be happy in this life until you start a sports podcast

I may have made a big mistake
I told your mom there was such a thing as the Hallmark Channel
So whoever answers the phone tomorrow from their cable company is probably going to wind up having a strong drink if that’s not something they can offer her
Oh dear
Apparently they have Christmas movies every day leading up to December 25
So now she has a mission in life
I’m so sorry
As though the same dozen off-brand direct-to-dvd Christmas movies wasn’t bad enough
Lori Loughlin can only be in so many places at once

I’m stress eating my way through these election results
We have food?
“food”
Drinking all the soy sauce and eating all the cornstarch?
Glenn Beck has a shit ton to answer for, as far as I’m concerned
I hope he’s having a lot of dark nights of the soul.
I will give him credit for doing so, but in the same way as the heathen prostrates himself in the church when it’s pretty clear the four horsemen are rollin’ up

We’re out of toothpaste
Do you know how Osama Bin Laden brushed his teeth?
Water and a wicker stick
I have been staring at this for the better part of five minutes wondering exactly what I am supposed to take away from that

I’m sorry to become those people who text when we’re face to face but the girl behind you is INSUFFERABLE
RIGHT?!
No wonder he broke up with her
Her voice is like the auditory version of burnt hair
Oh shit she’s looking at us

What do you call children born in a whorehouse?
Brothel sprouts
You know, when I was a child I wanted nothing more than to meet Fozzie Bear
Sometimes our marriage feels like a genie heard me but didn’t really HEAR me, you know

(Part I)

The Worst Thing

The Worst Thing

One morning last week, I took Zee to the park. She set off at a dead run towards the swings, running through that uneven playground gravel that makes me feel like I’m tromping around on terraformed Mars. On the rare mornings we get to spend together, we usually get the park to ourselves. This day we were met by a small herd of kids and a pair of moms who were obviously old pals. I smiled politely at them and the toddlers they were pushing in the swings and urged Zee to say hello in that singsong voice you use with your kids when you’re acting as their publicist. They nodded at me and returned to their animated conversation.

“Yes, you knows her. Her boy is the age of yours.”
“Oh, yes, her! He’s the oldest one, is he?”
“He’s the only one she got.”

A significant look passed between them. A sigh. A tsk-tsk-tsk.

“Sin, isn’t it? My dear, that’s the worst thing you can do is only have one youngster.”

I froze, hand outstretched toward my one and only baby as she reached up to catch clouds.

They didn’t notice, since they weren’t talking to me or about me. I didn’t respond. Part of adulthood (the largest part, I’d argue) is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Still, it rankled.

I can still see the faces of some of the children I met during my short student internship working in foster care. When I close my eyes I can remember babies, babies, with blue dotted arms and eyes as blank as a new sheet of paper. I wonder where the ones with fetal alcohol syndrome and attachment disorders wound up. It’s been ten years and I am still waiting for my mouth to form an answer to the plaintive wail of “But WHY can’t I see my mommy?”

I have listened to women cry as they lament another month’s failure in trying to conceive. I have heard the pain in the voices of friends who, when asked how many children they have, waver as they picture the ones they buried or never held. Truthfully, I have been the woman with a dull ache in her chest as she puts away yet another size of not-so-little clothing, wondering if it’s another baby she wants or just another chance to do it right instead of all the ways she messed it up the first time, and wondering if that’s a good enough reason to bring another life into the world.

There are worse things.

It’s unclear as to whether Zee will be an only child. If that comes to pass, whether it’s by chance or by choice, I hope she will always know how very enough she is for us. My god, this incredible blue-eyed girl, my only sunshine. She could never make us feel like we are lacking anything. She is not part of an incomplete set. Anyone else who comes along would only enrich something that’s already so wonderful. If this is the worst thing, we will be okay.

What a Deal!

Have you been looking to expand your family? No? Well, let’s say you want to expand your army of tiny people for garden gnomes or Civil War reenactment or world domination or whatever. I don’t know your life or hobbies. Look no further! I have just the thing for you.

I will grant you, she’s not mint condition. She’s been out of the box almost two years. She runs like a dream, though, if your dreams involve cheetahs on methamphetamines. Appearance is mostly good, aside from a few dings here and there (which will probably buff right out) and a haircut that took place over the course of a week and forty episodes of Bubble Guppies.

Aside: What the fuck is wrong with that show? Don’t give me that “guppies” bullshit. I know what a guppy looks like and I know what a mermaid looks like and I will not be hoodwinked just because mermaids are apparently copyrighted or no one at Nickelodeon could be bothered to Google basic marine life. Also, they have water balloons and campfires so are they or are they not underwater? I lie awake at night wondering about this.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Care and feeding. This is not at all difficult. Basically her favourite food is whatever you had the previous night and she fed to the dog. You might be fooled into thinking that her asking for a particular food means she will eat that food, but you really can just save yourself the time and squish it between your own fingers before throwing it in the trash. Of course this does not hold true for fresh fruits and berries. The more expensive and out of season, the faster they will disappear into her tiny gullet. “No matter,” you think. “We have an orchard in sunny California.” Well, I hope you also have a cat because now cat hair is her favourite food, unless of course it’s on tonight’s menu.

She comes with all her own clothes and toys and books, so you don’t need to worry about that. I hope you like Dr. Seuss, because you’ll be reading Green Eggs and Ham fifteen times a night! Hahahaha, I’m only kidding. I don’t give a shit if you like Dr. Seuss or not.

I am happy to say that she is super smart. You might think this means she is exceptionally trainable, but people think all sorts of wrongheaded things, don’t they? Anyway, she knows all about trapezoids and the alphabet so if that’s useful to you when you’re figuring out how to reset your phone’s language to English, have at it. If you can figure out the context of her whole monologue about birds and ghosts in her room, let me know because I am thisclose to posting a separate ad for an exorcist.

If you have some level of hearing loss or, failing that, are used to the piercing shrieks of birds of prey, this could be just the kid you’re looking for. Don’t contact me tonight, because she is currently a sleeping cherub surrounded by golden light and the laughs of fairies. Wait until her inevitable transformation into a demon ferret by lunchtime tomorrow.

Call me!