Monday, April 11, 2016

The Life of a Military Kid- The PCS

Just when you think military kids are resilient, something comes their way and they are once again put to the test, up to the challenge without a choice, that society and yes, even military parents, put on them. They go from being comfortable and confident in who they are and where they belong, to feeling lost, afraid and confused. And while being resilient is the thing they are called most, most of them are like a duck in water, like most of their parents, playing it cool on the surface, but scrambling to find ground to stand on.

This year, our military kids are being put to the test once again, and during the Month of the Military Child too. They are going through a PCS or a Permanent Change of Station, and, in our experience, a PCS doesn't mean moving from door to door, it means a month of change, driving and living out of a suitcase. We are open with our kids, they knew when we knew that we were going to move. They knew that it was still far off. They knew that we had to pick up boxes for  DITY move, so when we found boxes from another military family, packed all three kids in two cars and filled them to the brim with boxes, they were excited. They got to help and be part of the move. We discussed how we'd be living in a smaller house so we could sell some of their toys that they were no longer playing with and use the money for their dream trip to LegoLand. They happily sorted out toys, happily discarded toys that were broken and knew that they got something special out of this task. But still, the boxes were empty. 

For a few weeks the boxes stayed empty, but filled the garage leaving only enough room to get their bikes in and out. They hardly noticed them as they climbed towers to get to their tackle boxes, but this week, with just a few weeks left before our move, their rooms started to get empty. Their toys started to get sorted, their walls became bare. Last night I told them that they could take one medium and one small stuffed animal on the trip in the car and the rest would be packed to meet us at our new house, they groaned, but understood. They made their selections, and gave he rest hugs as they got settled into bed. This morning, I told them to give their animals one more kiss and to put them in the box so that they could meet us at our next station. Teddy took it hard. He asked four times if these toys were going to our new house. After assuring him, over and over, he finally started to give each animal a hug, a kiss and some sort of message for the trip. It was adorable. It was something he would do. It was also heartbreaking. To see the struggle in a four year old to try to understand how long they'd have to be in a box, and how long he'd have to be away from his beloved stuffed animals before we actually left the house.  And how long before he could open the box again is almost too much for him to handle. But he did, and did it like a pro who has moved six times and is on his seventh move in four years. 

A few minutes later he went to the basement and grabbed his plastic backpack on wheels. He took it upstairs to his room where I was. He insisted that he pack his things that he wanted in our new house. I told him I'd happily do it with him when it was time to pack a bag for the car, but he, very direct, said, "This is not for the car, this is for my things that I want in our new house". Then he went downstairs. I assumed he went to watch TV with his brother, but when I came down with the trash and the dirty clothes from under their bed, I saw his bag, a lunchbox, two baseball hats, a pair of gloves, and his tackle box waiting by the front door. All perfectly stacked. All in line. All looking like we were leaving in the morning. I called him to the door. 

"Is this what you want in our new house?" I asked calmly and at his eye level. He nodded proudly. "You did a really great job packing your stuff. This isn't for the car though, it's for the truck, right? We'll put it in the moving truck and pack your backpack with toys right before we leave, right?" I asked, trying to get back to our original conversation about how he didn't need to pack his play things right now. 

"This is just stuff I want to have when we get there. It's for the truck," he explained using hand gestures that made me think he was a teenager. "Did you pack some snacks in that lunch box?" I asked, curious if I needed to put things back in the fridge. He nodded again and smiled at me. I smiled back and gave him a hug. He went on his way back to the family room to play cars. 

About an hour later his sister discovered the bag. She, as a curious 17 month old would, took the bag on wheels and stated to move it around the house. Then she noticed the lunch box. She picked it up, and walked around saying, "Open it. Snacks?" Teddy got nervous. He shoved her away from the lunch box. She of course cried. He got yelled at by his dad, because his dad just arrived home and had no information on the importance of the packed items. When Eric told Teddy to give the lunch box back, Teddy started to breathe heavily. He got red in the face. He clenched his fists and let out a grumbling yell. I went over to him and held him, so tight. I had to explain that his sister was just curious about his things and how she wanted to carry a lunch box and a suitcase because she thought they were really cool. He finally calmed down. I wiped the tears from his face. 

Once again I told him we weren't leaving yet, that we had so much left to pack, and that he still have 7 more days of school. He nodded even though I know he didn't understand. Eric took the baby to bed and Teddy perfectly placed his items by the door again. 

It's moments like this, as a parent, especially a military parent, where you have to sit back and wonder if you are doing the right thing. I know that at this point in our career and life, we are. Once I reassure myself of that, I move on to how big this whole concept is and how life changing moves are to anyone, especially a child. Thankfully, we've talked a lot about how California would be an amazing place to live with lots of places to visit. We've talked about how they will attend a new school, get a new room, new friends and how we'll feel like we're on vacation all the time because the weather is so nice. And while they are excited about all of that, I have to imagine that there is so much fear and panic inside them right now. Yes, we've seen Inside Out, lots of times, it has to be one of the best movies for military kids, but maybe we need to watch it again and talk about it while relating it to our new and upcoming  move. 

Teddy was on edge all day. He fought with his sister, and me. And when he saw me take the trash outside he followed, "I WANT THAT BOOK! TAKE THAT BOOK OUT NOW!" He screamed and moved his fists around. I had to pick him up and carry him inside. "Teddy, that book has been ripped for years. You have broken ALL the pieces. It's missing some pieces too! I don't want to move something that we can recycle. If it means that much to you, we can get a new one that has all of the pieces and isn't ripped to shreds!" My answer was apparently a horrible one. He screamed and cried into my shoulder. "But... tha--that's MY BOOOOOKKKK," he sobbed. I sat him on the counter. I rubbed his shoulders, I held him, and just let him cry. I knew it wasn't about that book. I knew that it was because books were being packed, his room was becoming empty, boxes were accumulating in the front room, and he didn't even know where California was on the map even though we've showed him several times. He didn't know how many days we had left in this house and he didn't know what his life looked like, except for vanishing before his eyes. 

When I pulled out the birthday books (just three months late, but thought I'd better do it before we move), to do their annual interview, one of the questions asked what your mom and dad did for a job. Teddy said that Eric, "goes to work, launches airplanes and stuff... and works with the super heroes". I got a smile out of that. When I asked what I did for work, his gaze shifted away from me. He lowered his head and quietly said, "My mom takes my stuff from me." On a normal day, that wouldn't  have hurt, because we all know moms are mean. But today, he came out swinging with his attitude, and anger all because he was confused. But because I took the crying and the whining and the fighting like a champ, he took as big of a swing as possible with this interview question.  I looked at him to see if a stare would change his answer, he didn't even flinch. Usually when he says mean things he cracks a smile. Not this time. 

"Teddy," I said seriously as I grabbed his hands, "I'm not taking your toys. You'll get them back. We have to pack them all up so we can put them on a truck and the truck driver will deliver them all to our new house. Do you understand that?" He just stared at me. "Buddy, do you understand that you will get all of this stuff back? It will just be after we go and visit our grandparents, our friends and drive across the country." With his head lowered he said, "but you threw away my book. It's gone forever and now the garbage man has it and not me, I'll NEVER GET IT BACK!" I had to stop the tantrum before it could start. I picked him up, held him and let him know I was sorry. I told him I hated moving, I told him I hated packing more. And I told him that I was so proud of him for helping me by packing his bag, lunch box, his gloves and hats. I let him know that he was being a huge helper to our family so we could get to Daddy's next job. He kind of smiled. He held on tight for a while. 

While today wasn't a good day, tomorrow might be better, and the next will be better than that. It always gets easier, but there is that panic that we all have before something huge in our life. Moving is scary, whether it's down the street or across the country, making a change in who you know and what you know is one of the most difficult things. I know a lot of adults who have never left their own town or state. And part of me, loves that the military offers us the opportunity to see all that this country has to offer. So we can see the world through different eyes and be exposed to new ideas and new things. But days like this make me want to stay put, in this house, in this neighborhood, for a lifetime. I know when he wakes up in the morning he'll want to help pack. And I'll let him. And I know that maybe tomorrow afternoon, he'll have a melt down because too much of his life is now sitting in boxes in the front room. I also know, that he will be OK. I know that he won't be OK because he's resilient or a military kid. I know he'll be OK because Eric and I work hard every single day to explain this life to them. We make them feel like they are part of the mission, the reason to serve their country. We let them know, that by moving around and maybe leaving something comfortable, they too are helping their dad do his job to keep this country safe and strong. And while a  four year old won't understand that today, tomorrow or even next year, it's the inclusion in the way of life that helps them become stronger and more brave than most of us will be in a lifetime. 

So, to my boys on this Month of the Military Child, I want you to know that each day you amaze me. The fact that you are able to let toys go to children who don't have them, to sell items in a garage sale, and to even pack up toys and your life into boxes for a month at a time is beyond impressive. The fact that you can move from place to place and feel settled and comfortable shows that you are stronger than most adults, and for sure just as strong as Iron Man. I know that this moving around thing is a challenge. I know that you have to say, "see you later" to more people in your short lives than most people say in their whole life shows that you are kind, loving, caring and welcoming to all that you meet. I am proud, honored even, to have you serve this country in a way that can be argued as more difficult than the way your father or I serve. The two of you, and soon, your sister, are the reasons this country should be thankful. You put up with so much on the home front that most people can't even imagine. For now, Dad and I are doing what is right for our family, and one day, we will have to think about moving you one more time. Know that we always have your best interest in our hearts. Know that we appreciate your sacrifices and your efforts. You are truly inspiring.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Untitled- Part Two

NOTE: This is an old post, from five years ago and I wanted to honor every woman and man who have felt pain from a miscarriage. 

We found out today that I did in fact miscarry. 

There aren’t really words to describe how I feel right now: anger, sadness, and exhaustion (both mentally and physically) are just a few of the emotions I’ve gone through these past few hours. 

While I still clung on for hope that everything would be okay, I tried to prepare myself for this moment, but you can never really be prepared for the phrase, “complete miscarriage”. 

This morning, after my shower, I stood for a long time just looking at myself in the fogged up mirror. I had already been in to the doctor for the lab work and was just waiting for results now. I examined my body up and down trying to figure out where we went wrong. I found nothing. I looked at my tired eyes and my long face trying to find that glimpse of hope that I had a few days ago. There was none. I looked at my belly and tried to determine if there was something still in there. In my heart I knew there was not.  

I should have listened to Mother Nature when she placed a two inch blanket of snow all over Minot this morning. I should have curled up in bed and never got out. I should have known that this dreary day was just a pre-cursor to the news we were about to get. I got out of bed anyway and got ready for the lab work. My friend came over to keep an eye on Henrik while I was gone. My friend and I are very close and I love her dearly, but this morning we didn’t really know what to say to one another. She could tell I was sad and she probably picked up on my nervous, scared, walk through of what to do with Henrik if he woke up while I was gone. 

The lab work was uneventful, but I felt like everyone in the room knew why I was there. When I opened the door to my house, Henrik looked up from his book, pointed and yelled, “Ma Ma”. It made my day. Usually I don’t get a greeting like that. Eric does. But Henrik didn’t stop there. He toddled over to the door as fast as he could and climbed into my arms. He buried his head into my shoulder and just laid there for a minute. He knew. He could tell that his mommy was sad. He could tell that I needed a hug. I stood there for a moment, fully embracing his love and holding back my tears. I had to be strong in front of him. When he let go I looked at him. Henrik just smiled at me. It was the nicest warmest thing I had experienced in a while. 

After I got off the phone with the doctor three hours after the blood test, I was numb. I blankly said, “I’m not pregnant anymore” to Eric. As I said it, my mind raced. Seriously? I’m not pregnant? I was just a week ago, how is that possible? I heard her say that my hCG levels had gone from a 62.9 on the 9th to a 2 today. Below 5 is a normal non-pregnant amount. Really? A 2? So, I’m really not pregnant. It’s a completely different experience than having a baby, a live birth. You not only have something to show for all of the pain and blood, but you don’t even think about not being pregnant any more. You are instantly consumed by the look of your baby’s face, the coo of his voice, the smell of his skin.  But today, it’s different. It’s like someone waved a horrible magic wand over me and poof...not pregnant. There’s just an empty feeling. Just a hole in my heart, there’s just nothing. 

As I write this, I’m holding my son. He’s big now, and I can hardly hold him and a laptop at the same time. But I need him. I keep looking down at him, staring at his beautiful face and saying over and over, “I love you”. He lets me lay my cheek against his head. We need each other right now. We’ll need each other for a while.

Eric and I don’t know what to say to one another. Men don’t talk about this stuff. Hell, women don’t talk about this stuff. Of course we don’t know what to say. We just look at each other. We’re hurting. We’re sad and there’s no manual for this. There’s a small chapter in the What to Expect Books but that doesn’t offer much solace. “What do we do now?” He asks. “I don’t know” I reply. “I guess we just sit, talk about our feelings and over time we’ll heal”. I muster after a few minutes. “How long do we grieve?” Eric asks. “As long as it takes” I answer. 

I don’t know how long it takes to heal over something like this. I’ve experienced the loss of grandparents, a friend and pets but, this isn’t the same. I made this thing that didn’t survive. I knew my grandparents, my friend and my pets, but I didn’t know this baby and yet, I still mourn for it. Why is that possible? 

I do know that while I am sad and hurting, I have to continue to talk about what happened. I really don’t believe that we should keep these things quiet. We still talk about loved ones who have passed so why not talk about lost babies? We will never know what went wrong, and the miscarriage is often a mystery, but we’ve learned that life is a miracle. It’s a complicated process and to know that you’re capable of creating a human being is just an amazing experience. While I don’t think that this experience has been amazing, it’s absolutely an experience. I’ve grown stronger. I’ve figured out more of who I am. I’ve learned that I can love another child. I’ve learned that Eric and I are a team. And I’ve learned that you have to cherish what you do have. And, I really believe that there are no bad memories. While this has been pretty much the worst week of my life, I won’t look back on this week as my darkest hour. While it may be right now, I wouldn’t want to give up this experience for anything. 

Thank you for all of your support this past week. I know that some of you have sent messages, some have replied to the blog and others have sent texts. Know that even if I didn’t respond, I am thankful and honored to be surrounded  by such a loving group of people. Also know, that you don’t have to say anything. I know that people don’t know what to say in these situations and it’s okay, Eric, Henrik and I feel all of your thoughts, warm hugs and prayers. We’re having a family hug over here and we’re going to be alright. 

Untitled- Part One

NOTE: This is an old post. In honor of many friends going through this, I felt I should share my story, again, on a more public scale. And so, on the five year anniversary, I share with you the pain of the M word. 

Saturday, April 9th will be a day I never forget. It’s a day that I feel that I must write about so I can truly express my feelings and thoughts. It’s a day that changed my life forever. 

 On Monday, April 4th, Eric and I found out I was pregnant. We had been trying for a while but knew that with irregular periods, ranging from 10 days in between to 58 days in between, that it would be difficult to determine when I would ovulate. 

We loved being parents. And with a wonderful, happy, smart, beautiful child like Henrik, we knew we wanted to give him a brother or a sister.  We wanted them to be close in age like my sisters and I are. We wanted them to be best friends. So when we found out we were going to be second-time parents, we were overjoyed. We Skyped our parents and sent our siblings and a few close friends texts to tell them the good news. 

I had such a horrible pregnancy with Henrik that I wasn’t really thrilled about being pregnant again, but I’d do the bed-rest and the morning, or all day sickness rather, all over again. The end result is absolutely worth it. This pregnancy started out wonderful. I hadn’t felt sick at all, only a few smells were bothering me and I only had an aversion to eggs, but other than being tired (which I could blame on the 11 1/2 month old), and the extreme hormonal changes (sobbing while watching Finding Nemo) I was doing wonderfully. 

After going to the art fair and walking around for a few hours, I felt tired. My body was telling me to sit down and relax, so I did. But there wasn’t any pain or any signs that something was wrong. A few hours later, I went to the bathroom and when I wiped, one dot, literally, one dot of bright red blood was on the toilet paper. I know that it wasn’t a lot but I instantly got concerned. I was about 7 1/2 weeks pregnant at this point and decided that a trip to the ER was necessary since it was late on Saturday night and something didn’t feel right. After six hours of waiting, three outbursts by me at nurses and the doctor for leaving me for so long without water, bathroom breaks and information, four blood tests, two ultra-sounds and a pelvic exam we learned that we were undergoing a "threatened miscarriage". 

 Medically, things weren’t adding up. The blood test showed that I was only 2 1/2 weeks pregnant, the ultra-sound confirmed that I was NOT 7 1/2 weeks pregnant because they didn’t see anything. Nothing. They were able to rule out tubal and etopic pregnancy. If I am only 2 weeks pregnant then it could make sense because even though I didn’t have a period, I felt that my body was getting ready to ovulate. IF this was the case, I could be experiencing implantation bleeding. The pelvic exam revealed that my cervix was closed, a good sign and meant that the baby could still be safe. 

 On the other hand, we could have lost the baby at 2 1/2 weeks, but I had taken a pregnancy test every week since March 24th and it was negative until April 4th. So why would it even show up as a positive test 7 weeks later? I wasn’t experiencing cramping, fever, or any pain whatsoever- also a good sign. But the ER doctor didn’t explain what all of these things meant. He left us saying, “it’s very likely this is a spontanious abortion... a miscarriage”. He then walked out of the room. A spontanious abortion!? WHAT? That's the best name they could come up with?

The M word. The naughtiest word I can think of. A word that has a connotation as strong as rape and murder. This word is worse. It means failure. It means ashamed. It means that you should be embarrassed for yourself because you didn’t wait long enough to tell people. It means that you didn’t take your pre-natal every day, or you drank a glass of wine before you found out you were pregnant. It means you don’t eat right, sleep right, or live right. 

On Sunday, I woke up feeling great, no pain, nothing. But when I went to the bathroom and wiped, I instantly started to cry. Blood was everywhere. I knew that there was no way that the baby could be alive if I was bleeding that badly.  Eric and I had a somber, tearful, scary day. We didn’t want to talk to anyone, we didn’t want to talk about “it”. We didn’t know what to do next except that we had to wait until Monday to talk to the OB about what happened over the weekend. 

After forcing each other to talk about the M word. We decided that we’d take Monday off of work to learn what the doctor thought and just spend some time figuring out how the M word would change our life. Monday came, and we learned that while it absolutely could be a miscarriage, it could be implantation bleeding or something called a subchorionic hemorrhage. Which is not uncommon in pregnancy and doesn’t always result in miscarriage. The OB also was confused about the lack of period, the lack of pain, the lack of fever, and the lack of blood (while I thought there was a lot, I wasn’t bleeding like a miscarriage according to the doctor). 

While this news was a gleam of hope, I desperately tried not to get my hopes up. But I wanted to. I wanted this baby. I didn’t want to be one of those women that had a miscarriage. I wanted my family of four. I wanted Henrik to have a brother or sister. I didn’t want to have to tell my close friends and family that we had lost the baby. I didn’t want my friends to feel sorry for me. I didn’t want people to tell me that they knew how I felt. And I didn’t want people to say, “I’m sorry”. 

The doctor told me that I had to wait until next Monday, the 18th, before they could do more tests and check my blood levels and even do a possible ultra-sound. So here we sit. In a dreary, Tim Burton like nightmare, wondering if I am still pregnant. Do I feel pregnant? Am I ignoring the pain? Or am I really not experiencing any? After countless hours of research I can’t determine whether or not I’m having a miscarriage. I can’t get in touch with my body to find out. I could tell when I was ovulating, but I can’t tell if I’m with child. What kind of woman and mother am I if I can’t tell that I am pregnant? 

Questioning and doubting, I look at my son. I see bright blue eyes and a smile that pierces my heart. He takes away my tears. He takes away my sorrow. And yet, he makes me want this baby inside me to be healthy and just like him. But then, he makes me laugh and I forget about the pain inside my heart. 

As the bleeding comes to an end, I have the courage to talk to Eric. I tell him that I really believe that everything happens for a reason. Whether God has a hand in it or not, I don’t care. I believe that we were meant to go through this. At first, I didn’t know why. I couldn’t imagine why my body hated being pregnant. Wasn’t I a good enough mother to have another child? But then I finally snapped back into reality. Those out of body questions were killing me and I had to stop them. I realized that the M word was destroying my life. It was making me feel sorry for myself instead of being the strong woman that I pride myself on being. 

If I truly believed that everything happens for a reason then I had to accept this scary time as something to learn from. And then, it hit me. While we wanted another child, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to love another baby as much as I love Henrik. I was afraid that I couldn’t have special bonding moments with it. I was afraid I’d have to take some love from Henrik in order to give some to the new baby. But then, I realized that that’s not how it worked.

 In a matter of 5 days, I fell in love with this baby. I had to be in love with it since I was experiencing so much pain over the fear of losing it. I’ve learned that love doesn’t get divided, you just grow more. Just like the Grinch, your heart can grow 10 times the size in a matter of days. 

This baby may not survive. And even though I have figured out the lesson that life has thrown at me, it doesn’t mean that I can’t be sad and grieve for a baby that I didn’t get to feel kick and squirm as it expanded in my belly. I absolutely can. And I am proud of myself because I realized that you can mourn and grow at the same time. 

The naughty M word will not ruin my life. It will not run my life. It will not make me feel ashamed to talk about. The M word has changed my life. It will forever change my life. But it will not define my life. And this has made me realize that family and love are more important than anything in the world. Pregnancy is a scary thing and the looming fear of the M word make it even scarier. But I am not alone. 1 in 4 women experience this. 1 in 4 men experience this. 1 in 4 families experience this. And yet, we don’t talk about it as a society. Why? .

I know that there isn’t anything I can do to change this. I know I didn’t do anything wrong to cause this. And I know that knowing all of these things doesn’t make it easier and less painful. It does however, make me more powerful. I can take this M word and shove all the pain and grief it caused to me and to so many other women back in it’s face and refuse to let it force me into the dark, secret closet. 

This is something Eric and I will overcome. It won’t happen over night, but we are prepared to take a stand against the M word and force it into the light. And as we nervously wait for Monday and those test results we are thankful for what we have. This has only brought us closer. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Letter To My Introvert From your Extrovert Mother

As we reach Spring Break I am baffled by how quickly your first year of school has gone by. It seems like yesterday I was crying when I dropped you off at Pre-school and now, we're approaching our last day of Kindergarten. I promise you, it will be here before you know it.

I am in awe of you as you come home with such an amazing vocabulary, a deep love of your "School Brother," and how you talk about how much you like all your classmates. I love how you refuse to do "Kiss-and-Go" and insist I walk you to the door, give you a hug, a kiss and give each other our little signal that says, "I love you". You walk into school so confidently, so proud, so excited for each day, even though you swear you want to stay home and spend the day with me (and by the way, I'm still flattered to hear that). When you go in that building, you are a different person than you are at home. You are confident, you are free from your brother, you are able to experiment with you you are and who you want to be. I've seen you in the class when I volunteer in your room. Your classmates love you, they all want to engage with you. But you shy away, you don't like being the center of attention. It's so odd to be because each one of your friends light up when they see you, which leads me to believe that you are kind and friendly to them. But you rarely say hello back. You always smile, but hardly show your excitement to see them, when I know you are.

Today we had your conference, your first Student Led Conference. This was torture for you. I had envisioned this one-on-one time with you as something for you to take pride in. But for you, it was a moment for you to be the center of attention. Walking into the classroom you looked six as you excitedly showed me different parts of your school, but as soon as we walked through the threshold to your class, you looked smaller. You were quieter. You were one of two students in the room and were supposed to show me all of the different themes you had learned in school thus far. Instead, you quietly flipped through the binder of your work. The work was impressive, incredible even. It showed me that you have such an amazing understanding of how the world works around you and your role in in it. My heart burst with pride for the work you were showing me, but you didn't want to talk about it. When we got to the science section, I couldn't believe how much pain you were in as I tried to drag the words out of you to find out about the units you've learned. You deferred to your teacher, and claimed you "didn't know" any of the subjects. She too, was surprised. She and I know that you are an incredible student with a brain that won't quit. Your love of language, logical explanations , and reason surprise most adults, and yet, you claimed to not remember what you were learning about in school the day before. We stopped asking. We let you play with the planets, make circuits and just be while I sat there astonished that you couldn't tel me about it in the classroom but could at the dinner table. Your teacher and I knew that you knew the material. We also know, you don't like showing off.

I'll never forget the day you got in trouble in pre-school. You always were the kind of student who did exactly as the teacher asked because you are a pleaser and you like rules, but this day, you called her "Mrs. Big Bottom," a HUGE shock to me because you would never call a name to anyone, but because the kids in your class acted out, you resorted to it as well. That night, when we talked about why you called her a name, you said, "It's because I don't want people to know I'm smart. I want to keep it a secret". I really didn't have an answer. I couldn't believe it. You know why the world turns, all the different dinosaurs and sea creatures and the periods they lived, and you understand some late elementary school ideas, and you'd happily rattle off facts and correct your grandparents on the material, but in school, you didn't want people to know the real you? For me this was troubling and my mind wondered to your future in high school in our current system where you'd fail to turn in "busy work" because it was a waste of of your time, and in turn, would be failing classes because you just weren't doing what as asked of you because you weren't being challenged. I realize that is a big jump, so instead, I said, "Can you be smart at school just like you are at home, and we can keep a different secret from your friends? Like maybe we won't tell them you're on a swim team or a hockey team." You thought about it for a while, and eventually agreed. You haven't gotten in trouble at school since. But your attitude hasn't changed. When I asked you on the way home if you ever raise your hand in class you said, no. When I asked you if you knew the answers to the questions your teacher was asking, you said yes. And when I asked why you didn't want to raise your hand, you just shrugged. It is baffling to me.

Seeing you as such a wallflower is why you and I butt heads. We have the same heart, we have the same care for those around us, and we're likeable because we put people first, but we're so different because you don't like to be around people like I do. You like to be around one good friend, or your family, but you even need a good hour away of alone time each day. I can completely respect that. But I don't understand the lack of pride feeling one gets when accomplishing something, or showing off things you are proud of. I was a State Champion in Public Speaking and Debate. I was a National Qualifier in Forensics in Debate and Forensics in college, I gave the speech at my High School graduation and I'd gladly go in front of a group any day. So having a child, that is so humble and quiet in their accomplishments, like your father, is something I'm going to have to get used to. I could spread the word about your dad's accomplishments and it was OK, but with you, I feel like it's not. You're not ready for that. You don't want to come close to any of those accolades. You're happy sitting in the back of the room answering every question on your test correctly while never letting on that you even knew the material.

Recently, your dad and I took a personality test and we took the test for you and your brother as well. You and I are very similar in the secondary color of the personality traits and that's why we bond over so many things, but you are the exact opposite of your brother, which causes a lot of trouble at home, and you are the exact opposite of me in the main color personality. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just that I'm going to have to learn how to parent a child who would rather play inside and create amazing Lego Robot creations instead of go to a party or go on a bike ride with friends. You're not that kind of social creature. And I'm OK with that, but I do want to ask you a favor.

Please, please don't let your reservations about people or experiences let you pass something by because it's different or just a little out of your comfort zone. You are so cautions, I worry you'll never want to be in a group of people at Lego Land. I worry that you'll be so comfortable in your own room that you'll stay there instead of enjoying that summer day where all the kids in the neighborhood are out playing games. Some risks are good. Some risks help us grow. And while I don't need you to show off at school, raise your hand, or even be a public speaker (though your fishing videos are just amazing), I do need you to challenge yourself each day to make yourself stronger, braver, and more comfortable in your own skin. Fear holds us back. And if you are truly an introvert, stay an introvert! But know that stretching the boundaries in some aspects is OK. And if you are holding back because of fear, know that we all face our fears daily, and sometimes,  we have to ignore the fear to enjoy life.

I love you son, and whatever you turn out to be, you'll always be my pride and joy. I love you for you and I love you for what you think you are. I know that there's more in that five year old version of you than you want to offer the world right now, and I'll just have to be OK with that. One day though, I know, you'll find out who you are and where you want to be in this world, and when you do, I'll be right by your side.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Love Handles

I put her in position, undo my bra and readjust her after her excitement of finally having access to milk. She starts to nurse. She calms down.  She takes big gulps and then finds her rhythm. Her breaths get longer and slower, her sucks become more melodious, her hands start their trace of my body. She bangs on my breast, she slides her hand down my chest, she makes her way across my post baby pooch, and ever so gently, those chubby, soft, warm, hands slide across my belly back and forth, back and forth. I chuckle a bit because if anyone else grabbed my stomach I would freak out about them finding my muffin top hang over my pants. With her other hand, she finds my love handles and grabs on as she moves the first hand back up to my breast. We do this four or five times before her hands slow.  I tickle her under her chin to keep her sucking. When it's finally time to switch sides, we do this all again, only she starts by grabbing my love handles.

My boys always knocked the milk down with their hands, but they never spent the time to caress my body like she does, they were all about business, she's different. Until today, I never realized why they were called "love handles" but I know now, or at least I'd like to believe, that it's because your young child can feel connected to you while they are getting the most intimate and peaceful touch anyone can ask for. Somehow, I think she's pointing out, while she clings to my body, my flaws so I can learn to feel comfortable in my skin, while I understand that I need this extra fat to give the the best gift to my child. And, she's letting me know that she loves me for me and not for what my body looks like. It's like she knows that one day she too will be nursing a child and feeling vulnerable as she sits there with her stretch marks exposed, her breast out,  missing out on whatever is happening downstairs or with her other children. But in that moment, she'll know that what she's doing is the most important. It's like she knows that my body has been through some incredible changes over the last six years and she is the last one to make her mark so she wants me to soak up every second.

Tonight as I nursed her, I started to cry. She's already weened herself to one or two quick sessions a day, mostly for comfort but there's a little milk left. Pretty soon, this little girl will be one and a half and she will continue to ween herself as she makes her mark on this world. And I'll be left only of the memory of nursing and rocking her to sleep. I sat there for a while after she finished. My body was exposed. She was curled up on my other breast, her hand rested gently on my belly and clenched on my side. She was so beautiful. I looked at my belly. It's not perfect even though I can fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I still have a belly, that I anticipate will take hours of exercise I am not able to get. I still have my curves, I will likely hang on to those for as long as I am nursing and have extra hormones. I still have stretch marks, they aren't as bright, but as long as I'm nursing, they will be a reminder of what I've accomplished after three babies. But little by little, those things will fade and the marks of a baby (or three) will disappear from my body.

There's a love hate relationship with a woman and her body after a baby. We are amazed at what it is capable of, and at least I am in awe that I am able to grow and nourish a human being all by myself. But then, there are the challenges of it not looking like we want it to- not being able to wear the clothing we like, and battling hormones that cause zits, hot flashes and remind us we are no longer in our pre-baby life. It lasts for months, years even. But here I am with my daughter, almost a year and a half later and I am conflicted. I am proud of the work I do at the gym. I feel healthy, I look "skinny," and feel strong. Those were my goals. I want the baby fat to go away, I'd love to be able to put on a bikini and rock my belly button ring like my younger days, but at the same time, I know I'm past that. For me, now anyway, I have to use my body to teach two sons and a daughter to respect their own bodies and to love all bodies.

I have a daughter that I have to teach to love her body no matter what it looks like, no matter what the other girls have or how they look. I have to teach my sons that what they see in ads, commercials and on TV are what some people look like, but not all people. They all still see me naked. Our open door policy at our house works well for us, and in a few years I realize that will change as they want their own privacy and I become embarrassing to them, but as long as three kids need me at the exact moment I'm about to shower or use the toilet, they will see my body for what it is. They've asked about my stretch marks. They've pointed out my big belly, or that "It looks like you still have a baby in there", they talk about how they are "skinny minis" and I'm not, they've even suggested that I wear more than a bra and pants around the house and when I suggest that I'd love to put on a shirt but I need them to stop fighting so I can finish getting dressed, they just stare at me like it's my problem. But I think this kind of conversation is important. I think we should talk to our sons and daughters alike, that bodies are different and should all be celebrated. The message in our house is that we need healthy bodies. And for each one of us it means something different.

As a human, and as a woman who has had three babies and has had her body stretch and shift in so many ways, it's hard to say, "my body is what it is, there are some health changes I could make in my life, but I'm comfortable in the skin I'm in". I'm at that point. My Resolution this year was to not lose weight. I don't actually own a scale and I'm not even sure that the gym I attend even has one, at least not one I've noticed. I care that I'm able to run and play, and go on any adventure my kids come up with. I need to be healthy with and for them. If that means, I have love handles and stretch marks for the next 10 years, it means I've earned them. It means I've created three beautiful children who make each and every day a crazy adventure. And it's taken me, until this moment to realize that. My husband finds me sexy, and he found me sexy when I gained 80 pounds with our oldest, 35 with our second and 25 with our last. He's going to love me for me. I only want friends that love me for me. And my kids are going to love me for me, and, and anything extra I have on my body that reminds me of becoming their mother, honestly is the best badge I can wear.

Before I put her in her bed, I lean in, give her a kiss and just breath in that baby smell. Having boys changed me. It made me comfortable with chaos. They made me realize we weren't raising grass and that we didn't need a spotless house, and they taught me that sometimes you just need to wrestle and laugh. My daughter is following in their footsteps in all of those lessons, but she's also teaching me about being a woman, how to support other women, and how to be a confident woman myself. I have had a lot of confidence in myself for several years, but being a confident person and being a confident woman are totally different things and she's giving me the tools to do that.

As I pull down my shirt, fix my nursing bra and carefully lift her to transport her to her crib, she stirs, and grabs on to my love handles extra tight and gives me just one more reminder that I need her as much as she needs me.