In Case You Needed to Hear It Today

“You are already doing a fucking amazing job.”

After Zee’s birth, I received so many congratulations and kind messages, but the one that I held closest to my heart was this one. I held it like a life preserver when I thought I was drowning. The wonderful woman who sent it may not have realized until this moment that it saved me on some of my darkest days.

The early years of motherhood have had their unique challenges in every era of humanity, I’m sure. When I try to cajole my toddler into eating chicken, I imagine some Paleolithic-era mom shrieking something that roughly translates to “I don’t give a shit if you don’t want woolly mammoth again, your choices are eat it or literally die.” My maternal grandmother went through over half of her twelve pregnancies without the aid of indoor plumbing. The part of my brain that remembers five months of morning (hahahaha jokes) sickness wants to curl up and die at the thought. By just about every metric you can come up with, this should be the easiest time in history in which to have a baby. Just about every piece of information you could want, right at your fingertips!

The thing is, for new moms, most of that information is telling you all the many, many ways in which you are doing it all wrong. Sushi when you’re pregnant? Poison. Formula? Basically just corn syrup. Breastfeeding? Have fun with little Norman Bates! Cribs? Jail cells without ceilings! Co-sleeping? OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO SMOTHER LITTLE NORMAN BATES HOW CAN YOU DO SUCH A THING. Wait, are you using a stroller? Are you babywearing? Did you pick up the baby? Did you put down the baby? Have you looked at the baby today? You’re not supposed to look them in the eye. They’re like gorillas. Unless you circumcised, in which case you need to look them in the eye at all times so you understand what you’ve done to them. You look anxious. You shouldn’t be anxious. Babies can sense anxiety. Here, rub some coconut oil on yourself and say nine Hail Hydrasenses.

Can I just grab this bullhorn for a second for those in the back? Thanks.

*crackling noise*

FUUUUUUUUUUCK THAAAAAAAAAT.

“But the books said–”
“But my mother-in-law said–“
“But the mom group said–“

Nope. Seriously, fuck that. Fuck everyone who thinks they know your life and your baby better than you do. Is your baby fed? Are they clothed or, failing that, quite happy to be naked? Are they safe from whatever wild animals are native to your area? Are they loved? You are doing a great job. Are you making mistakes? You sure as shit are, and if you haven’t then you have some doozies waiting for you. There’s no way to be handed a squalling football without the capacity for speech and raise it to functional adulthood without a few screw-ups on the way. Just give yourself permission to start fresh every day, or every hour if you need to. Give yourself the kind of compassion you would give a friend dealing with the same thing. Give yourself a break. There is no one right way to do this.

Ever since my friend said that to me almost two years ago, I say it to all my new mom friends. Sometimes I even say it to myself.

In case you needed to hear it today, you are doing a fucking amazing job.

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I Hate Pants and Everything Else

At twenty pounds into this weight loss thing, new clothes are a necessity. This is not just me looking for an excuse to buy new things. This is my supervisor telling me that a relaxed dress code is not an excuse to hold my pants up with bungee cord suspenders. When the drawstring on my scrubs is as tight as it goes and the pale glow of my ass still threatens to illuminate the room before my sparkling personality even has a chance to do so, it is time to bite the bullet and go shopping.

The thing about the post-pregnancy body is that even when you go back to the weight you were before your beloved dumpling of a firstborn turned your torso into a beach ball, things aren’t necessarily where you left them. Kind of like subletting your apartment for nine months and coming back to find your furniture has not only been rearranged but nailed down. This is where the couch is now and you better learn to like it, which is all well and good until you need to redecorate and holy SHIT does your old artwork not look good anymore.

I love my body. I love clothes. Unfortunately, they are in an arranged marriage that is polite at best and calamitous at worst. This has not been improved by the move to plus size clothing, the manufacturers of which I can only assume either hate women or have only heard vague and mumbled rumours about what they actually look like. I haven’t designed clothing since my Fashion Plates days but maybe making a shirt for someone over size 14 should involve more consideration than “I dunno, like a regular shirt but wider and with cap sleeves that flatter exactly no one ever.”

Seriously, you guys. Is this difficult? The idea that even larger women come in different shapes? Why is the front made to accommodate large breasts but the back is sheer to showcase the entire (probably beige) bra? Why are these 2X leggings not built to withstand leg friction because literally what shape would I have to be to have a thigh gap at my size? What is this fabric that holds in every last bit of body heat and why are we not insulating our homes with it? What the fuck is the obsession with horizontal stripes and that weird Magic Eye print? Am I supposed to invite people to stare until they find the hidden image?

sailboatguy.jpg
Spoiler alert: It’s a sailboat.

It’s not entirely grim. If you’re willing to invest the time in searching around, you can build a decent wardrobe of flattering to semi-flattering pieces. If you are more evolved than I am (and I say this without a hint of irony, bless you and never change), you can buy whatever you want without worrying if it looks good. If you just want to say fuck it and become a nudist, I am about three dressing room experiences behind you so save me a seat at the hopefully splinter-free picnic table.

Wait, am I still allowed to wear earrings there? ‘Cause I have like 80 pairs and those still fit fine.

 

 

 

Memoriam

My first real clear memory is of being four years old and sick. I remember how close the ceiling seemed to the bed, the chalky taste of a chewable Children’s Tylenol, the sour smell of fever. I have no idea if this really happened. But I remember.

Many times during Zee’s first year I took comfort from the fact that she would have no memory of my seemingly endless array of mistakes, not least of which was my rousing version of The Skeets on the Bus. (One day she will learn that they say “eff yer mudder” all through the town, but it will not be from me.) As my baby grows into a little girl, I can see her becoming the person she will be, and I wonder what she will remember.

A couple of nights ago I walked up a staircase I hadn’t ascended in years and felt my throat go thick with emotion at the scent; popcorn and spilled beer, salt and dampness, familiar and not. I hugged people I knew in another lifetime and raised a glass to a friend I will never again see in this one. We became a choir of voices as we went over all the old stories of remember when and what about the time and I can’t believe I never heard and yes, I remember. 

It’s just snapshots, all of it. A Mickey Mouse shirt and a boyish grin behind a shot glass full of mystery liquor, a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders reaching up to a sky of pooling blue, the pebbled texture of a yellow bedspread that has been washed a hundred times. Memories are just the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, going over them again and again until they have the smoothness of polished stone. Something not real and yet the only real things we have.

 

 

 

A Marriage as Told Through Text Messages

Is that set to record later?
It is! You want me to record it in HD? I know it has that guy you like
No, that’s okay
He’s cute but he’s not like high def cute

I’m watching Away From Her and it’s so sad and OH MY GOD JUST COME HOME
What’s that movie about?
Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie have been married for over 40 years and he has to put her in a nursing home because of worsening dementia, and then she forgets him
WHY WOULD YOU WATCH THIS
IT’S REALLY GOOD THOUGH
THAT’S BASICALLY THE SAD DENOUEMENT OF BABAR
CLOSE YOUR EYES AND THAT’S WHAT IT IS
FUCK YOU DON’T BRING THAT FUCKING ELEPHANT INTO THIS

Someone at work wants your fudge recipe
My fudge recipe?!
My closely guarded fudge recipe?!
That’s an old family secret
You got that off the internet
Well
Someone’s family

I’ll call you later or tell you about it when you get home. It defies what I can do with this tiny keyboard
What’s the gist of it?
Damn, there’s no tire fire emoji
But imagine a tire fire

What did the pirate say on his 80th birthday?
I don’t want to do this with you today
“AYE MATEY!”
I want a divorce and I want it now

I love you 🙂 ❤
Did you know that Ace of Base started as a neo-Nazi band?
I love you too, also

I cannot believe that there have been this many incidents since April 3rd
We still have stuff in our fridge from April 3rd
That’s worrying
On both counts

DO YOU THINK I DON’T HEAR YOU LISTENING TO RICHARD MARX DOWN THERE
DO YOU KNOW HOW THAT HURTS ME
It wasn’t Richard Marx, I swear!
(It was Dan Hill)
Not better
In fact, worse
It beggars belief that I married someone with your taste in music
The honesty’s too much 😥

It finally happened
She pooped in the tub
It was like time slowed down, as though a car accident were about to happen
And suddenly it was over
I am not the same man you saw before you left for work
I have gazed into the abyss
And it has gazed back
new number who this

I have to head to a meeting but in case you needed to hear it today, I am very glad I met you
Are you? Still? That’s sweet 🙂 
Is this a lead-in to a “…but stop making those horrible dad jokes?”
No, actually
I’m hoping the shock collar is going to take care of the worst of it
The what?
Meeting’s starting! Love you!

Why I’m Done Saying “Sorry For the Mess”

Why I’m Done Saying “Sorry For the Mess”

No, actually. I’m not sorry for the mess.

Yes, I know. It’s the polite thing to say whenever anyone comes to your house and finds it in a state any less immaculate than a surgical theatre as furnished by Pottery Barn. For lo, look at the abomination that is dust on the mantle. Lay your eyes on the smudges on the table legs. Are those dishes in the sink? Actual dishes that have touched food? Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Let me just go commit ritual suicide in the backyard as soon as I can find a tarp. It’s the done thing. I get it. But I am over it.

I mean, okay. We make the effort to see that the place is relatively tidy and that nine times out of ten there are no surfaces that are sticky. We don’t live in squalor, but we have two adults who work full-time and an eighteen-month-old whose understanding of what constitutes a finger food is tenuous at best. (We also have a dog, but he might actually be the tidiest member of the household. Which is kind of worrying now that I see it written down.) It does not look like a catalogue. It looks like people live here because people live here. Why am I apologizing for toys on the floor just because you dropped in unannounced, and by the way who does that in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen because cell phones are a thing you know and some people get very anxious when they hear the doorbell unexpectedly because some people don’t always wear a bra at home and they can’t always pretend they aren’t home because they’ve already been spotted through the window and anyway you can step over the Duplo because I’m trying to think of a way to offer you coffee that doesn’t sound like “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE” but maybe does, a little bit?

What really galls me is that even though we share pretty equal responsibility in our housekeeping efforts, my husband would never feel any pressure to tell someone he’s sorry about the dust on the baseboards. Even if he had realized it was there, it would literally never occur to him to feel bad about it. What’s worse is that no one would ever blame him if they saw it. Somehow it’s become my responsibility as a woman to feel bad if the house is anything less than a showpiece, and all the Lysol in the world would not cover the smell of that amount of festering bullshit.

I’m done with the guilt. Why on earth should I feel guilty for taking ten minutes that could be spent on vacuuming and instead using them to throw my daughter onto the couch again and again until she’s laughing so hard she can’t breathe? Why should I feel at all bad for tangling up the sheets with my husband instead of washing and folding them? I’m not an ornament in a showroom. I am living this beautiful, delicious, messy life and this is where I live it.

Today I came home from work and the house was a complete disaster. So I did the only sensible thing I could think of. We went outside and played in the dirt.

 

Marks

It took me by surprise when I saw it.

It was almost two years ago. I was getting ready for work and trying to button my jeans, to no avail. I leaned over to try and somehow magic some more fabric into the thighs and there it was. A little stripe, faint as crayon on the white of my belly. My first stretch mark.

I cried right then and there in the bathroom. Not out of sadness, but of sheer joy and relief. This baby was growing enough that no matter what happened, I could point to this tangible proof that it existed. It wrote the first line in a story of hope.

Now, I can look at myself in the mirror and see all the places where nine short months marked me forever. My body is written all over in silver and white and seashell pink. It’s a map of joy, of pain, of the kind of love that threatens each day to break my whole self open.

Motherhood has challenged me in so many ways. In those early days of post-partum depression, I sometimes wondered if I’d made a mistake. I pressed tearful kisses and apologies to her tiny face and priced plane tickets in the middle of the night. Even now that time has mercifully blurred that period into something like the dim memory of a nightmare, I still sometimes cannot shake the feeling that I am letting her down. Doing my best falls far short of what she deserves.

There was one awful night that I had to put her in the crib to wail because, for the briefest flash, I understood all those warnings to walk away before you did something you would regret. I have never been so terrified before or since. As I sobbed outside her room door, I called my mother and asked how she did it. How was she so much better at this than I was?

The answer to that, she said, was that she wasn’t. Not at first. She had nights just like mine where she sobbed along with me. I didn’t remember them. But she did.

We are so hard on ourselves. We see all our mistakes, all the things we should have done instead, all the ways in which we could have been better. Every mother in the world has ten stories she can tell you about how she messed up, and at least one that she will never talk about because it’s too painful. These children, though? They’re okay. They’re growing and thriving and learning. They’re creating art. They’re inventing things. They’re putting out fires and helping each other in times of need. They love us. We must be doing something right.

My mother told me once that mothers are born with their children, but it’s so far beyond the delivery room. It swells up in the silence of waiting for the ultrasound tech. It’s drawn tight as a bowstring in a social worker’s office. It bursts forth the minute you lay eyes on the person you’ve waited for for months or years or just this side of forever. What she meant was that you grow and learn with your child each and every day you’re with them. You may never have held them in your body or in your arms, but once you have held them in your heart, you are not the same person you were before. The real stretch marks cannot be seen.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Dog Days

On the evenings I work late, I come home to find the routine of the day is winding down. Sippy cups and ducky bath towels are drying while my husband wipes the counters and listens for the sound of any movement from the nursery. I get no acknowledgement from Zee (though it’s almost certain she’ll wake later with a plaintive “MAAAAAMA!”) and a quick kiss from my husband, but the most enthusiastic welcome comes from the dog.

Walking Morgan is my last task of the day and it’s one of my favourites. All I have to do is look at him and his tail starts to tentatively wag. Just the first syllable of his name and he jumps up looking for his leash. He knows what’s about to happen. He is the one who is allowed to hear all the gory details of my day when confidentiality clauses prevent me from venting to anyone else. We’ve covered miles, the two of us, trails and hills and sidewalks and bridges in rain and shine and blowing snow.

When I got him as a curly, squirming puppy, I imagined a lot of things. I imagined backyards and laughing children and endless evening walks. It seemed like the first logical step on the path I was on. We had the house and the future all planned out. A dog fit perfectly in the space before the wedding and babies. Then all of a sudden life took a hard left and we became I, and I had no room in my life for anything but a small pile of boxes and a bruise where my heart used to be. I said a lot of goodbyes in that time, but listening to him whine as I put him in the truck with my parents was the one that made me feel most like a failure.

He thrived with my parents, of course. He got his evening walks while I got my life back together. Whenever I visited him, he thrashed around on my lap in a fit of glee. I missed him, but he was happy where he was. I couldn’t take him back. Then, four months after my wedding and just days into my pregnancy, my parents told me that they were moving to another province, and Morgan needed to be rehomed. Of course, he fit right into the place in my life he was supposed to be, his head pillowed on my growing belly as small feet kicked him from the inside. Watching him sniff my newborn daughter’s downy head on the day I brought her home from the hospital, I knew he was home.
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Lately, though, he hesitates when he jumps up on the couch. He doesn’t react to car doors. The flat out run that used to bring him to my knees when I got home is more of a brisk trot, and even that sometimes looks stiff. He is not a puppy anymore. For the first time since he came home, it’s sinking in that he cannot stay forever.

Everyone tells you that getting a dog is a huge time commitment. What they don’t tell you is that it’s really no time at all. When I watch him play with my little girl, so achingly gentle in the way he takes the ball from her hands and makes her giggle like no one else can, I see how he’s come with me on the journey I imagined. He has chased so many sticks and tennis balls, burrowed under so many blankets and snoozed on more lazy afternoons than I can count. He has been family. Now more and more I realize that the day is coming that our journeys diverge. I will have to walk alone and watch him cross a bridge where I can’t follow.