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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Letter To My Introvert From your Extrovert Mother

Son,
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.