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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

We Are the Working Mothers

The light is dim.

You can barely make out the shape of his blue saucer eyes. It's five a.m. and your eyes beg for sleep, beg for "not yet," for a moment to lay your head back against the bed rest.

But this is your time, so you cradle him close. Determined not to let a minute drip by that you're not fully aware. Fully present.

After all, he could be asleep when you return tonight. So, you make the most. You make it matter by the dim blue hue of your cellphone flashlight.

We are the working mothers.

We're the mothers with master's degrees. With business meetings set on our Google calendar. Who wriggle into nursing bras beneath our blazers or uniforms every morning. Who listen to podcasts on our commutes - or revel in a few moments of silence before the emails ping! and the phones ring!

We kiss their cheeks and stroke their hair. We whisper "I love you," before grabbing our purses swelled with bills, trash, maybe a rogue lipstick tube that's lost its top.

We spend much more time hooked up to a pump than one ever should, balancing the humility with the necessity of it all.

We're nothing like the stereotype and yet, everything like it. Plunging head-first into scheduling and emails, because if we're not going to be with our child, we may as well commit.

We're told we can have it all. We just can't have all of it right now.

But right now is all we have.

So we spin, we fret, we plan, we huddle over salads - balsamic dripping from our chins -  and we work through it. We work through it all.

The feeling that we're doing a lot, but getting nothing done. The dreams. The plans. The guilt for having the dreams and the plans.

The fitness goals (because somehow, cruelly, even getting dressed becomes . The twenty emails we need to respond to.

And it all melds together in a Ramen soup of worry, doubt, fear, mess and yet, empowerment.

Because this tiny shape, these blue saucer eyes are a gift. And we are his mother.

We're his mother.

And somehow by grace, by coffee and by persistence, the work doesn't make us. We make it work.


Monday, October 9, 2017

For When Parenthood Feels Like Fall

The trees are turning in Norfolk.

It's subtle at first: the once leafy, deep greens turn to a mojito-lime in the sky. Then sprigs of yellow. Then orange to red.

It happens somehow, somehow, somehow. Over time and all at once. 

I first noticed it on our walk to church yesterday morning. I pushed my son in his stroller across a small collection of leaves on the crooked sidewalk. I told him about the seasons changing, how he'll feel cool air soon, and how we'll see other colors on the leaves of our tree-friends.

"They're turning," I said to his little ears, going over the science of it all. He is a brilliant nearly five-month-old, of course, and already understood how it all worked.

I expect his thesis to be complete by the end of the week.

I cooed into his stroller, stroked his cheek and told him about how the chlorophyll lessens in the trees, how that exposes the color that lies beneath.

The color that's been there all along.

I let my mind play to where it normally goes - thinking about the future. What he'll be doing next year.

My foot went a little out of its way to crunch on a leaf, and I prayed that the wonder and delight of the season would spark awake in my boy. Looking forward, always forward, to when his tiny shoes will stomp on a leaf first out of curiosity, then again and again out of delight.

The trees are turning. And something, it seems, is turning within me.

The past few months of my son's precious life, there has been a lessening of something in my soul. Something like a rich-green selfishness; the kind that's born from not knowing any better or really having to.

The green that comes from a moderate life of caring for yourself, your health, your career, your social life: your, your, your.

But then the double pink line appears on the test. You get the sonogram. You tell your friends and family. Your belly swells with pride, joy and water weight.

Then. Bit-by-bit. Step-by-step. A part of you is multiplied and divided in two. And a new person is brought into the world.

And your temperate green leaves turn. To make way, for better, for worse. For what was there all along.

The baby cries for three hour straight. 

A sprig of red.

Your dishes, clothes, your very body and hair go unwashed.

A streak of yellow.

You divide your time, your talents, your gifts, your callings, your friendships and count it all second-place to this new little being.

Full-fire orange.

Parenthood, new parenthood, has a way of stripping us of the ways we keep ourselves together.

But without the unraveling. Without the questions. Without the anxiety, the rearranging schedules, the doctors appointments, the stroller-pushing, the trying-your-hardest and still coming up short... 

Without the grace. Without the needing other people to take the lead on parts of your life you didn't ever have to think twice about... 

There wouldn't be the extraordinary wisps of color and beauty in our world.

Somehow, somehow, somehow. Over time and all at once.

The color that's been there all along.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

29 Lessons for 29 Years

Once again we've come a full year. And what a full year it's been.

A few days ago, I celebrated my 29th birthday. The last year before I cross a decade-threshold our culture deems important and scary, though I don't know why.

Once you get through those swirling years of your early twenties - breaking the habit of treating your job like schoolwork, navigating friendships that are at best distant, dating the wrong people and spending the wrong money - the late-twenties, if you're lucky, can be a season of sophomoric confidence.

Which really is the most fun, isn't it?

This time last year, my child was still just a promise. A bright hope. The thought of him (I didn't even know he was a him at that point) was tethered together with anxieties large and small. Pointless and very, very verified. For the first time in my life I was nervous for the parts of life I didn't know to be nervous for.

Sound loopy? A little scattered? Yes, there's much of that, too.

This time last year I had a different job, we didn't know who our president was going to be, and the hardest part of my day was trying to get through it with one(ish) cup of coffee.

As I watch my child grow, I realize a lot can happen from week-to-week. A tiny human can realize the functionality of his hands (or what a great snack they can be), a properly timed sermon can turn your world upside-down.

For those moments, and the rest that have seemed to fizzle and pop over the last year - like champagne - here are 29 lessons I've learned for 29 years.

1. Gratefulness can repair a multitude of sins: selfishness, worry, fear, doubt, regret, jealousy. The minute we get after grateful in our lives, the minute we can truly start living fully.

2. If you spend more waking hours with your work colleagues than you do with your family, you better get to loving them, too.

3. Maternity leave is a gift. Even if you don't get paid for it, if you can, take the twelve weeks. You will never regret it.

4. If you're planning on returning to work and pumping after you've had a baby, register for all the pump parts. Bottles, flanges, the little yellow thingies (so descriptive, I know). All of it. Otherwise you will spend a small fortune on backup parts, or bottles to give to your caretaker.

5. Just because something -- a diaper change, an email, or a meeting -- isn't done the way you think it should be done doesn't mean that it isn't being done well. Step back. Shut up. And let someone else learn and grow.

6. If you genuinely need something, ask. It's always better to be frustrated with a "no" rather than a "never knew."

7. No matter how tired, how emotionally fatigued, how confused or strung out you are, you can always go one step further. You can make it through to the next day.

8. Having a baby is difficult. And the friends who have patiently made time and listen to struggles in the midst of their own pregnancies, new babies and all the life transitions that entails are the true MVPs.

9. Asking for help is not a sign of defeat or taking a shortcut. No one is keeping score, and no one benefits from making yourself a slave to the way you believe things should be done. It's a sign of maturity and wisdom when you can let go, recognize that someone else may have a better idea. And you should be secure enough in your own worth to step out of the spotlight for the common good.

10. Wear a blazer. It really does make a difference.

11. Stitch Fix is almost always worth the investment.

12. Just because you mute or unfriend someone on social media doesn't mean you're deleting them from your life. It's okay to remove people from your online world. Life outside the digital world goes on - and guess what? They likely won't even notice.

13. At one point or another, what you have is what you wished for. Try to remember that when you're tempted to look ahead or think that the grass is greener.

14. On a similar note, try to remember how badly you wanted the things in your life that you're mostly likely to complain about.

15. If you fall short, pray, breathe, ask for forgiveness if you need it (hint: you always need it), and get back up.

16. It's not a crime to say "I don't know."

17. If you're tired, angry, sad, stressed, annoyed, or hungry, drink a glass of water first.

18. Don't go to bed with makeup still on your face. You're officially too old to neglect your skin.

19. When you're listening to a friend, let a space of silence fall. Let them finish. Allow them the privilege of coming to their own conclusions.

20. Don't wait until you're skinny to chase after your dreams. Seriously. Don't wait for the better, thinner version of yourself to start working on your goals. If you want to be perfect before you begin, you'll never start.

21. Just like "there's room for everyone on the nice list," there's room for everyone to find success. Someone else's success does not equate to your failure.

22. Learn from the successes of others, of course. But more importantly, learn from their failures. And from their failures learn that their successes didn't come consecutively.

23. It helps to see the "nos" in your life: the rejected articles, the missed opportunities, as simply "not nows." Not as debilitating marks on your character, talent or your calling.

24. The same rule (23) applies to your pant size. Your value is not marked by a number on a tag. Sometimes that number might be higher than you're comfortable with inside your own skin. It doesn't make you a second-class human.

25. In a world full of hurt and hatred, don't be the sort of person who argues about how the dishwasher should be loaded.

26. If at all possible, in marriage, in friendships, in motherhood, in work and in your relationship with yourself: be where you said you'd be when you said you'd be there. Keeping your word is a lost art.

27. If you want to receive grace, first give it freely.

28. Operating anything out of anxiety or fear of losing control, in work, creativity or personal relationships, shows.

29. The world seems less hopeless the less time you spend reading Facebook comments.
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