#17

Dear Zoey,

Yesterday was a rough day. A rougher day than what I’ve had with you in a long time. I’ll remind you of the story. You started gymnastics almost a year ago. You’ve loved it, but this session, you’ve switched to a small class with a coach that really challenges you. And man, you work hard. You listen, you fight to learn stuff, you are an active participant. It’s fantastic to watch, seriously. But last week, you hurt your foot. And by hurt, I mean you bent it back a bit, so it was a bit sore, but nothing to worry about. And suddenly, you want to quit. You say it’s too hard. You say you can’t do it. You say you don’t want to “get hurt again.” I’ve always made it very clear that if you start something, you finish it. And after it’s done, if you don’t want to do it again, you don’t have to.

You continued to whine about it (and lawd knows how much I hate whining). So, I gave you an option…you either go to gymnastics (last night) or you go to bed for the night (at 6:30pm). You chose to go to bed…and you cried and screamed and cried and cried some more. And I stuck to my guns. You went to bed.

Here’s the thing, it broke my heart. I hate hearing you cry. I hate making you sad or angry. I love our relationship and that majority of the time, I get to be the cool mommy because you behave in a way that makes it possible. However, I refuse to succumb to your every whim. My entire job as a parent is to make sure you are safe and that you grow up to be a conscientious human being. Anything else is icing on the cake. And I am a firm believer that when parents continually succumb to their kids, those kids end up being privileged assholes. Let me tell you, you may grow up to be a lot of things. But privileged will not be one of them.

You will know what hard work is. That life rarely hands you anything for free, and usually, what’s free is rarely worth it. You will know that the more you fight for something, the better you will eventually become. You will know the importance of graciousness. You will know what resilience is. I’m a fighter, and I raise fighters.

And this isn’t to say that I don’t succumb to you. I do. Every parent does. But the important thing is to pick and choose your battles. Life is all about balance, and last night, I had to choose the life lesson over being the “fun” mom. And funny enough, you woke up this morning in a great mood, gave me a million hugs and kisses, and talked my ear off like you normally do on our morning walks to school.

Keep being a little fighter. It’s worth it.

Love you,
Mama

#16

Dear Zoey,

Today is your first day of 1st grade. And I know it’s cliche to say, but I really have no idea where the time went. These years are flying past me, and I feel like I’m constantly grasping at moments and locking them away, so I don’t forget anything. Today, I don’t have any advice, at least none that I haven’t already written about. Today is more about you, and what I see in you.

You are so bright. And I don’t just mean in the traditional way, I mean it in every way. You radiate. You have such a deep enthusiasm for people and life and knowledge. You also have an incredibly soft and kind heart. It’s one of my favorite things about you, but also one of those things that scares me. I know what it’s like to grow up with that same heart. The one that bleeds for people that hurt or struggle. The heart that wants to fix and help. The heart that wants to open wide for anyone and everyone. These are good things, but they are also things that require boundaries.

I’ve struggled with my boundaries my entire life. Always searching for a balance between give and take. And it’s tough. So, I have one big hope for you this year. I hope you learn how to speak for yourself. I hope you learn that you can (and should) be kind to everyone, but that kindness is not weakness.

You are kind and brave and strong. I am so proud of you and all that you are!

Love you,
Mama

When You’re a Mom That Doesn’t Fit…

I wear Batman t-shirts.

I curse (sometimes too much).

I’m a weird mixture of both type-B and type-A personalities.

I’m a veteran.

I’m a student.

I’m a girlfriend.

And I’ve been a mom for 6 incredible, eventful, agonizing years. The ways parenting has changed my life can’t possibly be cut down to one blog post, but there’s been a recurring theme in my life of parenthood.

Never quite fitting.

MomFit

This used to weigh heavily on me. I felt like I needed to rush my life. Hurry up and get married, buy a house, get a career because every other parent around me seemed to have it so much more together than me. I was a single mom, living with my parents, and struggling to figure out how to finish my degree (and what to finish it in) while trying to support a growing girl. Then, I met E, and I had one more piece of the puzzle, but again…I wanted to hurry up and be a “normal” family. It put a lot of pressure on me, and a lot of pressure on him.

When Z started attending preschool, it was a whole new world for me too. Figuring out how to fit in with mom’s that were mostly older than me, with a history I didn’t know how to explain or what I should (or shouldn’t) explain, and the constant struggle of never feeling like I could afford everything I wanted for Z. I saw mom’s planning play dates, driving minivans (not jealous of the minivans, let’s make that clear), taking their kiddos to dance and gymnastics and swimming and this and that. All while I’m driving an on-it’s-last-leg ’03 Ford Taurus, with no house, no ring, no money, no degree.

Plus, as a side note, my degree (that I’m still working toward–only 2 more semesters!) is in Creative Writing with a minor in Theatre. Not exactly a money making machine of a degree, let’s be honest.

But I survived. I survived those pre-school years, but didn’t gain any more confidence from before.

Then, it was time for kindergarten. The summer leading up to it, I struggled with these same demons in the back of my head, but I tried a different technique. I’d compare myself to other moms but would say to myself, “They have no edge.” or “Those mom’s are so typical.” Or the best one, “I’ll be the cool mom.” But all of those supposed reasons of why I was a better mom got me nowhere either. Comparison, whether inflating or deflating yourself, is truly the thief of joy.

But a couple of months into kindergarten, and suddenly tides started changing for me. I watched how Z interacted with the adults and other kids at her school, I watched how enthusiastic she was, I watched how strong and brave she was. I saw myself step up and defend her when she had an issue with another kid in her class, after exhausting her other options. I saw myself succeeding in school (for myself), finding more financial independence, and enjoying other moms instead of competing with them. And I suddenly found my worth. I was no better or worse than these other moms. We were just different. They lived a life that was the best for them and their families, and I lived one that was best for me and mine.

And that seems simple, but these were issues I agonized over for years.

It can be easy to define ourselves by those around us. It can be easy to offer ourselves harsh judgment (and even easier to offer others that sort of judgment), but it leads nowhere. And I’m realizing more and more that no one fits. We’re all just out there, trying to figure it out along the way.

So, for all you moms who feel like you don’t fit, you do. You fit in this wonderful spectrum of love and growing up and the unknown. You fit perfectly for that kid (or those kiddos) that look to you for comfort and guidance and fun. You fit in this crazy life because it’s yours and you define it.

#15

Dear Zoey,

Several months ago, a dear friend of mine texted me out of the blue with a question (I’ll be majorly paraphrasing) that hit me deeply,”If Zoey came to you and told you she felt like she was born in a body that wasn’t her own, what would you tell her?” I immediately assumed, based on the personal story of this friend, she was asking me about gender identity (she might have stated something about it, I can’t really remember). And this was the first time that I came face to face with the gut-wrenching question–if you’re child chose to be honest about his/herself (let me be clear that I don’t believe anyone chooses their sexuality, but there is a choice in living who you really are), and it meant possibly facing a world that didn’t understand him/her and could, quite possibly, be very cruel…what would you do? Would you join in the ridicule? Would you try to convince her otherwise? Would you love her less? Would you abandon her?

The answer actually came really easy for me. I told my friend that I would be there for her and love her. That I would find a therapist that would help guide her in whatever transition she needed to make. If my little girl found that her body was not a place where she felt safe or truthful, I would want her to find the truth. I would love her without any condition or disapproval. I think my friend asked me this because she knew I would show only love and acceptance. At least I hope she did. A few weeks later, my friend made the decision to be truthful and is now a transgendered man. And to see the freedom he now experiences is a really beautiful, incredible thing. Another friend of mine just shared how her beautiful daughter is now her transgendered son. To see a mother embrace, support, and love her beautifully brave child is inspiring, to say the least.

Zo, there will be a lot of things in coming years that you learn and see that might make you uncomfortable. Let me tell you this: they make you uncomfortable because you don’t understand it. I think there’s some sort of instinct that people have which ignorance into fear. Or maybe people create it, I’m not sure. Either way, I will fight every day to show you a world in which acceptance  and love fuels our actions. (Here comes a cliche) Knowledge really has power. Educating yourself on people and their stories is absolutely one of the best things you can do with your life.

While we may not face the same circumstances, it doesn’t mean they are not real for someone else. I will never know what it feels like to walk in the shoes of a transgendered boy or girl and I’m pretty positive I’ll never know what it is to raise one (as long as you’re my one and only), but I do know what it feels like to try and hide pieces of who you are…I think everyone does to a certain degree, and let me tell you this, I never want you to hide or shy away from the incredible human you are. I know what it feeling alone is like. I know what being judged feels like. And that is where I can find common ground. I can say, “This feeling of loneliness or emptiness or condemnation or need to hide feels awful…I would never want someone else to feel this way.” And in one sentence, compassion develops and we break down all the identifying features of a person, able to see that we are all more similar than we know.

It goes back to the basic sentiment…treat people the way you want to be treated. Value and love people for how wonderfully different and similar they are.

Love you cuddlebug,
Mama

The Case for the Only Child

I recently saw a post on Facebook titled, “Reasons to Have a Second Child” or something like that. And I get it. I get how great it is to have another kid around, and that siblings can form bonds that last through the ins and outs and ups and downs. As of right now, Zoey is an only child, and she might end up being that for good. I’m not really sure what the future holds, but what I do know is that only children get a bad wrap a lot. Here’s the top 10 list of reasons to have a second child, and my response…to each of them:

ONLYCHILD

1. They learn to be selfless. Sorry, I wasn’t aware that I needed another child around to teach my kid not to be a selfish asshole. I understand the whole “I feel protective of this little being now,” however, I’m not sure that’s an innate sense of selflessness, I think it’s interest and curiosity (depending on how old the eldest kiddo is). It may develop into selflessness, but I certainly don’t think having a sibling is what forms that. I think it’s being surrounded by family and friends that promote that sense of compassion and loyalty to people who matter.

2. They learn how to share. Very few things irritate me more than the stigma that an only child doesn’t learn how to share. Z is 6 now, and I remember very few (actually I don’t remember any) instances where I had to remind her to share. This is, again, something you teach as a parent. You teach them by example, by showing what sharing looks like. You don’t need another kid to somehow cement that idea in their head. Also, do people just keep their only children in isolation so they never interact with other kids or something? I certainly didn’t, and I would venture to say that most parents of only children don’t either.

3. They learn how to resolve problems. Again, up to the parents.

4. They learn about teamwork. Hello, organized sports, preschool, and school?! And I actually find it quite fun to “work as a team” with Z.

5. They will have a built-in playmate. Okay, I can’t argue with this one. Not sure if this is a necessary reason to give your kid a sibling though.

6. They have someone to learn from or teach.  I will say, Z has older cousins that she spends a lot of time with, and that aspect of their relationship helps a lot. Again, this is also something that parents can (and should) do.

7. They have someone to talk to. Sure, but again, are they in isolation if they don’t have a sibling? Can they not talk to their parents or friends from school/playdates or other family members or neighbors? It seems like there’s a lot of “all or nothing” when it comes to teaching social skills to only children, according to this list.

8. They have someone to celebrate with when things go great. I love celebrating with Z. Nothing is better than celebrating occasions, milestones, and accomplishments with her. And sure, it could be fun with another, but there is something to be said for being able to fully invest all my energy and excitement into one kiddo.

9. And lean on when times get tough. See #7.

10. They have someone to grow old with. The article also says, “Friends come and go, but family is forever.” It’s nice in sentiment, but in reality, you never know is going to come and who is going to go. Friends can become your family, crazy things can happen.

Don’t misinterpret me, I think having more than one kiddo is more than okay. It’s just not right for every family, and frankly, I’m a bit jaded with these “10 Reasons You Should…blah, blah, blah…” Part of me really loves that these lists can be succinct and specific, however…life isn’t always that way. And it’s time to break the silly stigmas attached to people who decide to go against the norm. I could write a million reasons why I like my one-child family, however, those are reasons that work for me and aren’t necessarily someone else’s ideal. It’s time to stop judging and labeling the choices individual families make for themselves.

Why We Shame Online and How to Stop It

I recently read this article on Huff Post. She wrote about two separate instances of online “mom-shaming” via posting a photo online. And I was driven to a whole new level of anger. I haven’t had either of the two stories she mentions run across my newsfeed,  but in recent years I’ve thought about how voyeuristic we’ve become, as a society. I’ve thought about the rights we’ve taken over someone else’s life and how empathy seems to continue to fall. We feel as if we have some right to be able to document whatever we want of whomever (who? or whom? I’m an English major and I still get confused) we want. And then we can create a small gang of people through our various social media outlets to become self-righteous with us as we laugh at someone else’s unknowing expense.

shameonline

I’m as guilty as the next person…wanting to snap a picture of something I find absurd and posting it on Facebook or Twitter, however, usually (99% of the time) I talk myself out of it based on this one simple question I ask myself, “Would I want someone to take a picture of me if I were in that position?” And sure, I could go the self-righteous route and say, “Oh, well I would never do that.” But the thing about life is that shit happens, and as a passerby, you are never getting the full story. Don’t get me wrong, I still get self-righteous (how many more times do you think I can fit “self-righteous” into this post?) I can judge to my heart’s content, in my own head, and I might even share it with a friend or two. However, the thing that I should probably remember is this wonderful thing called empathy. How many times have I looked like hell or been in a compromising position or had a kiddo not behaving? And the thing about this online mom-shaming, neither of the mom’s mentioned in these stories were doing anything really compromising. One was a mother child-wearing her 5 year old and the other was a mom breastfeeding in public. Sure, had I seen a 5 year old being “worn” I might have questioned it in my head, but reading the story, the mother was a mom to a 5 and 1 year old and her 5 year old was under the weather. She needed to run into a store real quick and with her daughter not feeling great, she decided to wear her on her back. The other mom was breastfeeding. And let me be honest, public breastfeeding makes me really uncomfortable. I know it’s natural, I know it shouldn’t make me uncomfortable. However, just because it makes me uncomfortable, doesn’t mean the woman shouldn’t feed her child. A parent should never feel wrong about doing what he/she needs to in order to take care of his/her kids. And I know my discomfort is my own bullshit, not theirs, so don’t starve your child for my sake, that’s ridiculous. Just like some passerby taking your picture while nourishing your child and then shaming you for it online should be ridiculous.

But this epidemic isn’t just for moms, it is everywhere. How often do we see the word, “shaming” nowadays? We are all plugged in more than we ever have been before, and for some reason, we’ve taken license with other people’s lives. Judging first and thinking later. Even news organizations post news stories before knowing all the facts. How often do we see corrections at the end of news stories, or see a news anchor making assumptions before having any real evidence to back themselves up? We all have a platform now to spew whatever we want, whenever we want (coming from a blogger, I know this might seem trite and a bit contradicting, but hear me out), but what I think would be lovely is to cultivate a community of empathy. To not judge or jump to conclusions, to not join in mockery behind a computer screen, but to offer just a little understanding. If you’ve never been in the person you are judging’s shoes, maybe just remember that we are all humans, making our way through this life the best we can. And if we all posted photos of each other in our hard moments, our “life” moments, our f-up’s, we’d all look like a big bunch of losers, frankly.

So, what I’m asking for, I guess, is don’t be an asshole.

Mindfulness…from a chaotic mind.

mindful

I was going to write about my journey in seeking a more mindful lifestyle today. I was going to talk about how this past year I’ve really adopted a sense of mindfulness into my every day life. Being present in the moment. Relinquishing control of the things I can’t change. I was going to sound brilliant and interesting and show off my expertise. I was going to create a series “Mindful Mondays,” (and then I struggle with the thought of that…mindful mondays? That sounds ridiculous…)

And then I woke up to dog shit. Literal diarrhea. And I cleaned up…nothing like the nauseating smell of poop from a dog that will eat just about anything at 7am to really start your day off right. But I had my coffee and all was right in my world.

Well, except for the fact that my head was pounding so hard, it felt like my brain was trying to escape my skull. But then I made an early trip to the store, by myself, which are always so nice. I get home and Z and I shuck some corn (it’s called shucking, right? I live in Kansas…I should know this by now). And it’s refreshing and sweet and I’m grateful for this life.

And then I workout, and I feel crappy about my body, and I’m struggling through it. And then I start getting bombarded with a million texts from a million different people, and I don’t have a chance to take a shower before I have to run an errand, and the house is hot, and I’m feeling gross. And then Z (politely) refuses to get dressed and I lose it. I turn into a complete and utter lunatic who is screaming and crying and throwing things. And all of a sudden, I find myself outside sobbing.

So much for Mindful Mondays.

Or maybe that’s the point. Because adopting mindful living is about finding gratitude in the chaos. A mindful living does not equal a a simple, clean, fresh life…Sure, it can get you there. But the whole purpose of mindfulness, at least in my experience is about letting go of the control, and trusting that life will happen. It will not happen in the way we always want or at the time we always want, but it will happen. And in these moments, when life all of sudden gets overwhelming, whether for silly reasons or not, it’s time to get back to basics. To focus on your breath. To approach this moment with gratitude. To stop trying to control the uncontrollable ebb and flow of life.

So, I take a breath, gain some composure and face the two people I love most in the world…and say sorry. And with how embarrassed I am with my behavior, it’s hard to face it. But the thing about life…and living a mindful life…it will repeatedly humble you, when you least expect it. My mantra that gets me through the day: It’s a bad day, not a bad life. It’s a bad day, not a bad life. It’s a bad day, not a bad life…

Needless to say, I’ll take you through my mindfulness journey, but it certainly won’t always be a pretty sight….

#14

Dear Zoey,

It’s the last day of twenties, so along with my letters to my former child and teenage self, I figured I’d end this era with a letter to my “20s” self, and a bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

In a matter of 10 years, I have managed to get married, divorced, birth two babies, raise one as a (mostly) single mother, join the military, discharge from the military, and am on the cusp of getting my degree (FINALLY!) Talk about a whirlwind. Zo, so much happens in your 20s, regardless of what you choose to do with those 10 years. Who I am at 29 is so incredibly different from who I was at 20, but in so many ways, so much the same. If I could talk to my “early 20s” self (this is pre-Zoey, we’re talking). I’d tell her to stop planning everything! Yes, it is good to have goals. It’s good to have clear visions of where you want to be, but don’t get so wrapped up in trying to make life happen that you forget that life is right now. I would tell her to stop spending money on stuff and spend it on traveling or experiences instead. Life is meant to be experienced, not just merely observed. I would tell her to stop being so damn regretful about everything. I lived so much of my early 20s in shame and fear, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that regrets are bullshit. You can’t change the past, so stop beating yourself up about it. Holding onto shame only stunts your growth. Inhale all the pain and bitterness, and exhale all the goodness and positivity.

Around 26, I started to feel like a failure. I didn’t have a husband or a degree. I wasn’t a homeowner, and money was a constant struggle. I kept thinking, “I have nothing to show for success.” And then around 28, I realized what my definition of success was…and it was different from other people. From that point on, I’ve become more and more comfortable in my own skin, comfortable with my choices. I still have self-doubt sometimes, but it doesn’t seem to invade me like it used to. I’ve learned that like everything else, it will come and go. You get to choose what your success is — that is powerful.

Which leads me to one of the best lessons I’ve learned. It’s from a simple quote that a former technical director at JCCC had posted on his door, “No excuses, only choices.” It seems like a simple idea, but it really was revolutionary for me. The minute that you can hold yourself accountable for your own actions, you are unstoppable. By not allowing yourself to make excuses, you are suddenly in control of your life. Sure, you won’t always make the best choice, but when you own your choices, and stop blaming outside people or circumstances, you find a whole version of yourself. You are no longer a victim to your circumstances, and that is so incredibly pivotal.

Your 20s will be some of your hardest, most rewarding, weirdest, most fun years of your life…no matter what you choose to do. Don’t pressure yourself to have everything figured out….because love, you will never have it all figured out. I think that’s one of the biggest indicators of “growing up.” You will never get all the answers, but keep striving to learn and grow. Invest in people that invest in you. Love and friendship involve a great amount of choice — You choose who to give your energy to, so believe in those choices. Don’t allow people to influence your decision making, if they won’t be affected by the outcome. Trust that life is a constant ebb and flow. Bad things will happen. Life will blind side you, just live it. Don’t be a spectator of your life. Engage in it with no regrets. Breathe in this moment because it’s gone before you know it.

Love you,
Mama

#13

Dear Zoey,

So, I talked last time about what I would tell my former child self, and today, I’m gonna talk about what I would tell my former adolescent self.

Adolescence is hard. For anyone. The obvious changes physically and emotionally make you feel like a walking moron half the time. You feel like no one understands you, and it can get really lonely. You never feel pretty or valuable or interesting. And I would tell my former self: you are beautiful and vibrant and enthusiastic. You are valuable and interesting. Don’t doubt the impression you can make on the world because you may be young, but you are fierce and you can change the world. I would tell her that you should never settle for friends that treat you poorly or belittle you. I would tell her to slow down, life goes fast enough, stop trying to speed it up.  I would tell her that kindness is not weakness. You can be bold and strong, but also be compassionate and kind. In fact, true kindness comes out of a deep strength of character. I would tell her that her body is beautiful, not awkward. I would tell her that karma will always work its magic. Keep giving out positive energy, and it will be returned to you.

I would never want to relive my pre-teen or teenage years. Ever. And I have some great memories, and some great friendships were born out of that time, but those years were tough. So, when you come home from your first real heartbreak, I will let you cry on my shoulder, or lock yourself in your room while you listen to sad songs. When you feel chubbier than all of your friends, or hate your new haircut, I will look you in your eyes and tell you that you are the most beautiful thing in my world. I will recite one of my favorite slam poems from Kate Makkai,

“This is about my own someday daughter.
When you approach me, already stung stained with insecurity begging,
‘Mom, will I be pretty?’
‘Will I be pretty?’
I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, ‘No!
…The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be!
And no child of mine will be contained in five letters.
You will be pretty intelligent.
You will be pretty creative.
Pretty amazing.
But you…will never be merely pretty.”

When you can’t figure out your emotions, and end up angry…all the time. I will try to be understanding. I’ll snap too. I’ll be reminded of all the times I felt misunderstood and realize that I now must step back and allow you to grow. I mean it when I say…I will be here for you no matter what.

Love you baby girl,
Mama

#12

Dear Zoey,

Around birthdays, I tend to reflect a lot. I’m an insanely nostalgic person, and I think as long as you don’t live in the past, it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would tell my former self. So, I thought it’d be fun to break it down into different “eras” of my life. If I could talk to my child self…the one right before puberty, the one who played hockey with the boys, but desperately tried to be girly enough for the friends around me. I would say this…

Don’t spend so much of your childhood trying to grow up. I know it’s natural to think about how much greater it is as an adult, and in some ways, it is. I mean, I get to eat chocolate almond ice cream any damn time I want (which usually means, I’m sneaking away in a room away from you, so you don’t steal any of it…sorry, I know…I’m cruel). Anyway, I was always obsessed with being older, trying to be more mature, pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be a kid. And if I could talk to that girl right now, I would tell her, “Slow down. You have plenty of time to grow up. Breathe in the summer air, run with your shoes off, get dirty, play until it’s dark outside.” Because those moments of childhood, are the ones you’ll remember. If I could talk to my 6th grade self, I would tell her…you are not as awkward as you feel. You are kind and interesting and valuable. I would tell her that she was smart for enjoying time with her parents, that those Barnes & Noble dates with your mom and dad would be something she would cherish forever.

In fact, I think I would tell my former self, in just about every era…to slow down. Life goes by quickly. I see it every day in the ways you change and grow. I mean, you are READING entire BOOKS now. It astonishes me daily what you have learned and how you have grown in a matter of 9-10 months. So, enjoy being a kid. And enjoy having a designated bed time. Trust me, you’ll regret all the hours you fought (I just wrote “fighted” by the way…phew, it’s been a long day) sleep.

I love you, baby girl…

Love,
Mama