All the Snuggles in the World

I’m not sure that I can actually capture what has been going on the past couple of days in my relationship with Levi — the moments, “the feels,” all of that.  But this is what writers do: they try to put into words the world that seemingly cannot be framed in terms of language.  This is what makes it so freaking hard.  But still, I try.

Levi “tells” me that his mouth hurts and he has a tooth coming in.  I’m not sure if this is actually true, as I tend to lead him with questions.  (Side note:  Levi doesn’t have words yet, but he communicates clearly through babble with inflection and in nonverbal ways — pointing, sign language, and (adorable) gestures (like the I don’t know shoulder shrug)).  Whether this supposed tooth is the reason or something else, the past two days he has been incredibly cuddly, a little mellow, and on the cusp of being tired all the time.  He’s not sick.  He still plays, and laughs, and runs around, and shrieks, and cries, and asks for “more, more” when I sing (no, I cannot actually sing.  Ah…the love of a child…).  He’s just extra into me.

I am eating this up with bursting heart.  Who knows how long it will last?

Yesterday there was this moment when we were in my room getting ready to head out to an appointment.  He pointed to the bed, which he hasn’t done since we stopped nursing almost three weeks ago.  I asked him if he wanted to get in the bed, to which he responded affirmatively.  I let him in the bed, and he just seemed kind of mellow/tired, cuddling with the pillows, wrapping the sheets around himself, giggling.  I should mention that before he got into the bed, he seemed to be pointing at my breasts, but I was wearing a shirt with a large graphic on the front, so I assumed his was looking at that.  Either way — asking to nurse, and then pointing to the bed was our 5am routine back in the days when we were still breastfeeding.  This was not 5am and it was nearly three weeks later, but there still seemed to be a connection between us,to me, and to our nursing relationship.

I hopped into the bed too and he wrapped his little arms around my neck and snuggled in so close — his breath tickling my neck.  I smothered him with kisses and he let me.  We just laid there, arms wrapped, time ticking.  We were going to be late, but what did that matter in this moment that might not come again?  I was in wonder and awe at his sweet lovingness.  I wanted to know where it was coming from.  Why?  He reached for the neckline of my shirt at one time and gave a little tug.  I reminded him:  all gone, no more milk in there.  He was content.  He went back to hugging me.  And I to him.

(P.S.  To the still present bit of perfectionist in me:  We were late.  The appointment still happened.  The world continues to spin.)

 

Queer Mama’s Review of the Abundant Mama Project

This is an unsolicited review of my experience as a participant in the Abundant Mama Project (AMP).  It is, therefore, part review and part recollection of my own personal journey, reasons for participating, experiences, etc.  Also, it is written from the perspective of being a queer mama in an online subculture where I could find no other queer mamas (that’s not to say there weren’t any or haven’t been in past classes or will be in futures classes).

I first stumbled upon Shawn Fink’s Abundant Mama site early on in mamahood when I was feeling overwhelmed, scattered, disorganized, and desperate for answers on how to curb the waves of craziness I was feeling inside.  I downloaded her free eBook, Ten Habits of Highly Effective Mamas, and read her blog.  I think what really spoke most loudly to me when I first discovered AMP was that Fink wrote about being “effective” and “productive,” yet peaceful.  Just what I had been looking for.  As someone striving for perfection, as someone who gobbles down productivity books, apps, hacks, and blogs like candy, I was tired of the “just don’t worry about cleaning the house and working hard; just focus on your baby – the time flies by” rhetoric that seemed to fill so much of the parenting/mommy advice I was reading.  Shawn seemed more focused on achieving balance — being productive AND peaceful.  This I could get on board with.

Shawn’s eBook, blog posts, and podcast, while not earth shattering in their insights, act as good, gentle reminders of how to be present and mindful while engaged in the difficult task of being a mom.  There is still quite a bit of the “dishes can wait” talk, but through it all I can really sense Shawn (just like me) struggling to achieve balance, knowing things actually have to get done in order for household to run effectively.  That is the other thing about AMP, Shawn is and comes across as a real person.  She’s not a super-styled instagram marketing scheme.  She is a mom.  She gets stressed.  She trips over words sometimes in her live interactions with AMP members.  She is relatable.

I first got interested in participating in the AMP through an Instagram “Rise and Shine Mama Photo Challenge” that Shawn created.  Every morning in the month of November (2015) she would give a prompt via Instagram for moms to respond to.  Shawn is a big believer in rising early (though she acknowledges that this doesn’t work for all mamas, and that it is more about starting the day in a good space regardless of how early the hour actually is).  I really enjoyed the IG challenge.  It served me in many way:  For one, at that point, as a newbie mom, mornings came very early — fast and furious –following on the heels of many hours of middle of the night wakings.  This made mornings feel hard, daunting.  The Instagram challenge gave me something to look forward to in those early morning hours (granted mine were sometimes even earlier than Fink’s, and I would anxiously refresh my IG feed, waiting for my prompt).  It also helped me to feel less alone.  I could click on #30mamamornings or #riseandshinemama and see that other moms were awake too, out there struggling, pausing, reflecting, working hard, and so on.  The idea behind rising early is to actually get some alone/quiet time before attending to the family, but when you’re little one rises at 4:30am, after nursing all night long, getting up any earlier is not a possibility.

Which leads to me my process of finally taking the AMP live course.  Because rising earlier than my son was not a possibility but something I dreamed of and yearned for, I repeatedly told myself that once I was done nursing and my son was sleeping through the night, I would try out the AMP.  Once I found out, however, in April, that Shawn was offering only one more live course for 2016, I felt like I should jump in.  Since embarking on the AMP was also, for me, tied deeply to my need to get back to writing, I knew that there is no “good time” to start and that one should never wait until she feels “ready,” because that day most likely won’t come.  In fact, the timing felt pretty darn awful.  The course took place during the last four weeks of my semester.  Levi still wasn’t weaned and wasn’t sleeping through the night.  I felt certain I couldn’t commit as perfectly as I would like but decided to commit as much as a could at that time.

That being said, on the whole I personally could have put more into the AMP. Commitment is something Shawn addresses right away:  you’re paying for this course; get your money’s worth, ladies!  Show up.  Be there.  Commit.  It’s a commitment to yourself, to your self worth.  I took these instructions (encouragements, more accurately) pretty seriously and tried my best (especially the first three weeks…).

What does showing up for the AMP mean exactly?  The course is held within a site called ruzuku, which I was actually pretty impressed with.  As an educator who specializes in working with digital tools and has a lot of experience with course management software, I found ruzuku (free!) easy to use, easy to navigate, pleasant to look at, and most importantly it contained most everything needed to participate in the course (the only thing that lives outside of ruzuku are the live Q&A webinars, but even those are linked to within the site).  Each day there is a lesson that shows up in your e-mail inbox, but all of the lessons are also mapped out in ruzuku, which shows you what you have completed (and what you haven’t in blue).

amp-lessons

The lesson’s are frequently a journaling prompt.  Shawn suggests keeping two journals for the course:  one is a gratitude journal and one is a journal for writing/responding to the prompts.  Shawn prides herself in providing challenging and thought provoking prompts and she is gentle in reminding us to be open to our own resistance when some prompts feel difficult.  Along with the prompts is guidance — both written and audio — from Shawn.  The course is very well organized.  I loved being able to check off “completed” when I was done with a lesson and having ruzuku keep track of it for me.  As a total type-A, I loved seeing my progress in this very clear visual way.  And as a mama wanting to get back to her writing, as well as wanting to carve out some healthy space for herself, journal prompts were really all I needed to get something out of the course.

Alongside the lessons is perhaps the more important part of the course:  the discussion.  There are discussion boards for each of the lesson topics/prompts.  Here you can post what you wrote (or a general sense of what you wrote) and both receive and give feedback from/to other mamas working through the course.  This community is the thing I needed/was seeking, and yet, it is a part of the course that never quite clicked for me.  For starters, I am fairly certain I was the only queer mama there (out of 140 of us that statistically doesn’t seem quite possible, so there is, of course, a chance that paths just never crossed).  This doesn’t make or break a mama connection for me.  I have plenty of mama friends who are straight and a good number who are lesbians.  In fact, at this point in my life, I would have to say the more connective tissue with others is created by motherhood rather than orientation.  However, in this realm, I did feel a bit like an outsider.  Most of the mamas (who I encountered) seemed to assume everyone had a husband.  And while I know tons of accepting (and even queer themselves) Christians, I tend to feel uncertain and uncomfortable if I don’t know where they stand.  For whatever reason the online mama world is filled with Christians and this course was no exception (and I’d really like to know why this is, but that’s a post for a different day…).  I’m not saying this in a judging way.  I don’t have a problem with any form of religion.  I do sometimes have a problem with the ways in which people choose to follow their religion; however, even with that I would never dismiss anyone based on this.  Just to be clear:  AMP never references religion.  It just isn’t coming from the place.  If your religion is part of your mom life (and for many it clearly is), then certainly bring it along, but AMP itself doesn’t advocate this stance in any way.  (Disclaimer:  I really feel like much of what I’ve said here will be taken the wrong way, but I’m trying to relay my experience, my feelings, and what I encountered in an honest way, and this was a big part of it).

(Side note:  Shawn is currently offering a new course that she has developed called ReKindle to help mamas revive their marriages.  From what I can see, while it doesn’t say same sex couples should not be involved, it appears to be very directly geared toward hetero couples, so I won’t be participating in that).

The other representatives from motherhood that I felt were few and far between in my experience with the AMP community (they were there, certainly, but not in “abundance”) were new/first time moms.  While hearing about the struggles of moms with more than one kid, older kids, etc. were helpful (and, honestly, kind of frightening!), the struggles are very different than how to get your kid not to nap on you for every nap (though I did get kind words of support and advice from those who survived this, and that is always helpful) and how to find time for yourself when your child is still nursing.  So while I went to AMP looking for a tribe and didn’t quite find one (again, this could be more about me than about the project and the other participants), I did enjoy my experience overall.  (And as a side note, I did find other interesting moms on Instagram during that initial #riseandshinemama photo challenge.  I still follow a handful of them, and one is another writing mama with whom I exchange pleasantries and encouragement here and there).

I never did answer the final prompt for the course:  “What did this course teach you? What are you doing differently now than you were before this course? How are you changed?”  And while I might not be able to remember the specifics of how I felt changed within the time period directly following the course, I do know that I am in desperate need of a “tune up.”  I haven’t been writing in my gratitude journal at night, which was a huge help.  I told myself over this past weekend that I would recommit to doing that but it didn’t happen.  I sink too easily into the suck of social media and junk TV these days and know I need to fix that too.  I am short tempered and snappy because I haven’t been able to prioritize working out, which is the thing that helps me be nice.  So ultimately, was the course helpful?  Well, if I feel the need/desire to take it again, then yes, it must have been.  On the other hand, I think if I had felt more comfortable in the community and found more like-minded mamas, then I would have continued those connections (perhaps by joining the Peace Circle) in ways that kept me committed and accountable.  That was the thing I loved about the Instagram photo challenge — even if it was perception only, I felt like showing up and posting my picture mattered and was alway responded to by other abundant mamas.  And this feeling gets me thinking:  Perhaps the AMP community for the live course was just too big for me.  I felt like I “knew” (in that virtual kind of way) most of the participants involved in the IG challenge.  I felt invested in their efforts toward being a peaceful and productive mama in a way that I just couldn’t with the live course because there were 144 women to keep track of — so many posts to read.  I could never follow one person’s particular struggle(s), which is the thing that helps me feel connected.

All in all, I do recommend the AMP if you are feeling harried, alone, and like you’re not living up to your fully mommy potential.  If you love writing and self-reflection, this is a great space for you.  If you are straight, I see no reason why you wouldn’t feel like one of the tribe.  I you’re queer, well, these spaces absent of our voices need them as well!

She Gets It

Tonight as I returned to my desk to get my own words down, I started reading other mommy blogs.  Writers need to read widely.  Moms need to know they are not alone.  I pushed myself to prioritize getting my daily word count completed, but I fell deep into the dreamy writing of Kristen Hedges.  This, I think, helped me as a writer (or perhaps it hindered me there, but that is a story for another day…or post) and as a mom.

I tried to describe to Dawn the conflicted feelings associated with no longer breastfeeding.  Bittersweet, though cliché, is a good word choice.  Conflicted. Contradictory.  It was no longer comfortable.  I was touched out.  We both knew it was time to move on.  But still.  Longing.  Aching.  A sadness that comes with anything so final.  Even something you wanted to end.

This, I said to a friend, is how motherhood feels in general to me.  The highest highs and hardest lows and being caught in between.  The way that some moments I want him to grow up and play a bit more independently and at the same exact time I want him to stay little forever — to put down that book he is “reading” on his own and run to me for a hug.

I could go on and on trying to describe this paradox; however, in reading Kristen’s blog tonight, I found the words.  They are not my words.  But they are the words that capture the conflict, the contradictory nature of motherhood so beautifully:

A murky, in between place. I wake, and I am the victim of my own life. I ache for the old self, the one who was touched only by a husband, rather than by ten kneading, needing, milk-tacky fingers. The one who freely wrote and worked and created and imagined and inhaled and exhaled without interruption. What a luxurious life she led! I parted from her willingly, I know. And I am happy that I chose this new life, for it is far more beautiful. But because I am human, there are days when I miss the ease, and the quiet, and the space.

Without the Safety Net of Breastfeeding

This morning at 3:30 Levi woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep.  He was crying and clearly very upset.  Dawn went into his room first, while I stayed behind and fretted about how I could comfort him now that I don’t have milk.

I went into his room and could tell immediately he was burning up.  I took his temperature and sure enough he had a fever.  Of course, a mere five days after we stop breastfeeding, he gets sick.

At this point Dawn was holding him, trying to comfort him, and the crying continued like a deluge.  I took him.  He asked to nurse, and I gently reminded him — no more milk; I am sorry.  I held him tight, he calmed down and snuggled his little face into the crook of my neck.  He wrapped his arms around me and settled in as I rocked him.  We stayed that way for hours.  I was tired and concerned about what could be wrong, but at the same time my heart was bursting.  I couldn’t believe I had managed to comfort him with snuggles and rocking alone.

Earlier this week I donated what was left of our breastmilk.  As I spoke with the office manager about the experience of ending the nursing relationship, I got all teary.  We talked about how it is also a whole new way of parenting, as the safety net of always being able to make everything better with the breast is gone.  I admit to feeling incredibly daunted by that thought — by knowing that I had to find new ways of making the hurts hurt less and the sadness lessen for my son.

Last night was our first obstacle and our first lesson in parenting without the comfort of the mama’s milk, and it has made me feel much more confident in moving forward with this new era in our mother/son relationship.  Still teary, but more confident.

End of breastfeeding journey

Our breastfeeding journey has ended.  Nineteen months.  Longer than I ever imagined. But I imagined a lot of things that never came to pass.  As I’ve written about many times over — nearly everything that I imagined about motherhood has not come pass (for better and for worse).

The other day I searched online for a La Leche League 19 month breastfeeding badge.  I couldn’t find one, and that’s okay.  I’ve never posted one of the badges before, but it was World Breastfeeding Week, and I thought I would do a celebratory instagram post for that reason.  I don’t necessarily feel proud of myself that I breastfed for 19 months; it just kind of happened that way very naturally.  It was what ended up working for both me and baby.  I am, however, very proud that we survived the first six months, which didn’t feel very natural at all.

I remember watching videos in my birthing class of babies, seconds after being born, sliding their little bodies to their mother’s breast, rooting, and latching.  I chose breastfeeding because it seemed the natural thing to do, and so these videos while wondrous and awe inspiring also made complete sense.  But of course it doesn’t happen like that for all babies and mamas for all kinds of different reasons.  Sometimes c-sections or inductions get blamed for this not happening (which could be true), but I had an unmedicated birth at home, and this instinctual feeding experience did not happen for me.  It was a lot of work, effort, schooling, and vigilant attention to get Levi to develop a decent latch and for me to be able to put away the all purpose nipple ointment.  To be honest, I nursed for over 19 months while experiencing chronic discomfort with my left breast.  It wasn’t painful like it was in the beginning — no bruising or bleeding — but it was never completely comfortable the way it was for my right breast.  It felt a little like sandpaper being rubbed across my left nipple as he nursed.

I don’t think I was actually producing any milk at the very end.  I never felt myself get full, and I never felt a letdown.  I think he was just going through the motions for comfort, and he started to get very aggressive with the breast — I believe this was because he was trying so hard to get milk.  It has been two days.  Over 48 hours.  I’ve redirected him to water, milk, bananas, and toys.  I’ve cried when he isn’t looking, and yesterday I received a bunch of “extra” hugs throughout the day — kind of like he knew.

I want to cry writing this.  Like so many aspects of motherhood, this one is filled with such conflicting, contradictory feelings: immense sadness and the desire to cry alongside the very real and deep knowledge that it was time for both of us to move on.  It’s similar to the chronic feeling of wanting him to grow up and stay a baby all at the same time.  Or the feeling of waiting anxiously for bedtime and then looking at pictures of him because I miss him after he goes to sleep, or of wanting him to play independently but wanting him to need me.

And look what I just found!  #proud

19 mo bf.jpg

Tired – just plain tired

Before becoming a mom I was one of those people who didn’t get tired.  Even late at night I struggled to fall asleep.  People would talk about being tired, and I always wondered what that meant exactly, what it felt like.

Last night I put up this tweet:

Like I just seriously could do nothing more than drag a pint of ice cream out of the freezer (that’s right, I couldn’t even manage to scoop a portion of it into a bowl…) and plant my ass on the couch in front of Jeopardy.  Jeopardy represents all kinds of things for me:  a show I liked to watch with my parents when I was younger; a show that Dawn and I used to watch during our pre-baby winters, while we did things like eat dinner (uninterrupted) and crochet (!?); an escape during the early days of baby being here — I would breastfeed and watch Jeopardy while Dawn rubbed my feet (or at the very least took off my socks for me.  (I had this weird thing when I was first breastfeeding where I couldn’t stand having socks on in the evenings)).  Anyway, the point being that once Levi got a bit older and more active, Jeopardy left my life.  Generally, I am just getting out of his room at 7:30 (the time the show comes on) and have a house to tidy, diapers to clean, and so on.

Okay, so moms are tired.  Moms get tired.  This we know.  I am no exception.  The other thing I bet all moms do is beat themselves up when they’re tired and just cannot keep going.  I know I do.  For example, take the night I watched Jeopardy with a pint of Three Twins Ice Cream in hand.  The two nights before, I had come down the stairs from bedtime, refused to succumb to my phone and social media (as I had been doing the previous week), and stuck to my evening routine of cleaning up, doing yoga, writing, getting to bed at a reasonable time.  Still when I deviate into what I deem more negative evening behaviors (e.g. TV, social media, ice cream) I spend more time panicking and punishing myself than I do actually enjoying the “deviant” behaviors!  The “shoulds” and “should nots” crowd in.  And the big, overarching thought is that this is it, this is who I have become:  a lazy mom who isn’t productive.

I do feel often as though in order to maintain the kind of order and cleanliness in the house that I find tolerable (not even great, just tolerable), I cannot really afford to take any evenings “off.”  Doing so creates a snowball effect where the laundry that didn’t get put away that evening intermingles with laundry coming up from the basement the next evening, and then I have spent so much time on laundry that I never get around to x, y, or z that, and so on….

So here is the thing I need to keep reminding myself:  It will all get done.  (Even though I flat-out do not believe this little mantra, I also know it’s true.  What a paradox there!).  An evening off, or even a week of evenings that don’t adhere strictly to my evening routine, will not ruin me, will not bring the household to screeching halt.  Indeed, the house will one day be clean (enough) again.  Energy will return.  Yes, this one is key:  Energy will return.  The other little bout of panic that I enter into during these “lazy” periods is that I will never again have energy.  I get in such a funk and so frustrated.  I need to remind myself to listen to my body.  If it is tired.  It’s just plain tired.  Nothing wrong with that.  (Even if I don’t believe this; I know it to be true).  It’s something every mama knows.

More on Fear (and being out of the (political) loop)

I feel like the topic of fear is everywhere lately:  in my heart and in the news; in what I read and hear; underlying so much of what I talk about.  This is not surprising, of course given everything I discuss in my last post.  This is, after all, the historical moment of Trump’s candidacy.

Last night in her acceptance speech (tangential and not really all that funny, but wouldn’t it be something if someone didn’t accept that nomination?), Clinton addressed the topic of fear, quoting FDR:

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Though I actually thought she put it well herself (disclaimer:  I was/am an ardent Bernie supporter, not a Hillary fan, but I really did love this line) when she said (regarding Trump whose platform is, essentially, fear):

He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise.

Last night was actually the first day of the DNC that I was able to watch.  Becoming a mother has also meant I’ve become helplessly out of the loop in terms of politics and in terms of the news in general.  I’ve been thinking about this lately (how can I not?  One can only be partially out the loop in an election year, I think, regardless of whether one is a parent) and feeling a bit badly — like a bad citizen.

Before becoming a mother, I would describe myself as slightly more knowledgeable about politics than the average person.  That is to say, I stayed on top of both local and national politics regularly, got my information from an array of sources, was fascinated with the mechanics and spectacle of it all, and also cared deeply about the outcomes.  I felt passionately that being an informed citizen/voter matters (I still do feel this way).

It’s not that I now feel uninformed.  I followed Bernie’s campaign closely.  I read a lot of articles about folks who felt caught between Hillary and Bernie (and both overtly and covertly tried to sway some of them to “my side”).  I guess it is just that, in general, I truly get most of my news coverage in soundbite form these days.  For example, I’ve been wanting to watch a  few of the DNC speeches (Bernie’s, Michelle Obama’s, Joe Biden’s, Corey Booker’s), but I just haven’t had the time prioritized it.  This is where things get messy.

As a mom, my “free time” is after bedtime.  I generally get out of Levi’s room around 7:30 at which point I do a final “sweep” of the house, tidying rooms, taking out trash, cleaning the kitchen, etc.  When I am done with that I have three priorities that I have to choose between:  doing yoga, writing, and working.  Lately, however, I have been succumbing the mind-suck, time-monster of…social media….  And playing text catch-up with friends.  I am just so damn tired at the end of each day:  I don’t want to move anymore.  I don’t want to think anymore.  I just want to escape, go numb, all of that stuff that I know isn’t good for me long term, but feels like what I need in that moment.

And now, now it just sounds like I am making excuses for my careless slide into cluelessness, so here is another side of it all:  having a kid who has to live in this world makes me want to hide from the news.  It’s too sad, too violent, too scary, too upsetting.  For example, I know (from my Facebook scrolling) that Trump said “something” about Khizr Kahn’s speech.  I know people are horrified.  I know it’s being called “a new low” for Trump (if that is even possible), but you know what?  I haven’t opened a single damn article.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I thought Kahn’s speech was one of the (if not the) most powerful DNC moments.  It’s just that I seriously cannot hand over one bit of brainpower, my energy, my anything to this man whose goal is to antagonize the ever-living shit out of people.  (Note:  I purposefully chose to link to an article about Kahn’s speech, rather than one about Trump’s bad-mouthing, because I truly think we just need to start ignoring this sociopath.  Sociopaths feed on attention — good and bad.  So even all the anti-Trump stuff is feeding that man’s over-inflated ego).

All of this is to say that as a mom, my emotional sensibilities are a bit more fragile than they were in my pre-mom life.  And I need to protect them.  This might mean being a bit clueless on certain newsworthy topics that are #trending.  It might also mean being a “bad” citizen.  But to be honest — I don’t need to know anything more this election year.  There is only one way to vote in my opinion.  After all, I have kid that has to grow up in this already very challenging world.

In other news:  I cannot name one single movie out in the theaters right now:(