Silver Linings

Looking back and reflecting over what has happened this past year is absolutely insane. (It has been a while since I wrote anything about my life, so if the writing sounds like crap – lie to me). Lots of great things have happened, which I will get into how they all unfolded, but I also want to give you the picture of the real mess that was, and sometimes still is my life, because I find it encouraging to know that hard things can still happen when you are absolutely crushing life, and great things can happen to the most broken and undeserving of people (both ring true for me).

Last January was rough. I was coming up on a year of single motherhood, sharing a room with Zara, although staying in a house with some great friends. Zara was still not sleeping, I had my last semester of grad school left, I was set to move out in May and I had no signs of being employed anytime soon (aka diaper monies). Most of all, I was lonely. Not because I didn’t have friends or couldn’t handle all of the tasks of raising a kid as one person instead of the traditional two – that was hard and I had my days where I was like “I’m getting a box and I am shipping this kid back to Piedmont Hospital,” but it was doable.

The best way to describe it was when I visited my best friend Amber in Chicago – I had a conference I was presenting on (ethics in STEM, result: there are none! Kidding.. Kind of) and Amber had to watch Zara for me during that half of the day. She took her to Millennium Park and did a Chicago touristy tour for Zara while I was out. We talked after and she was telling me about how Zara was doing all of these funny and cute things and that she really wanted to share it with someone in the moment, like have someone there who could also be laughing with Zara and talk about the cutest things that Zara does, in agreeance that our kid was an incredible tiny human. That’s what it felt like most of the time in the first year. I had my mom to call, for sure, but it’s not the same as having a partner be absolutely stoked to tell you what dumb/hilarious thing Zara did while you were out. Or to tell you that they are here to help in the middle of the night when you’ve been up for a few hours rocking a crying baby. Or to make you a plate of food when you just got home and are hangry, but so is your kid. Or to give your kid a bath – I don’t know about y’all but this is my least favorite task as a mother and anytime anyone offers to give Zara a bath I did not hesitate to say “GO FOR IT!”

This is not to say single motherhood is the worst and there are no signs of light. I could make any decision I wanted without consulting anyone. I was usually her favorite and never had to worry about her not wanting me to help her, but someone else. We were ride-or-dies to the utmost extent of the word.

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For my Mom – a soft blog post

One year later and I still feel like I have no clue what I am doing. It is like that thing you lie about on a resume – like yeah, totally proficient in MATLAB and oh also! I am conversational in Spanish, but now it’s more a human life that I am lying about my moderate (on a good day) proficiency in.

I called my mom the other day and the first thing I said when she picked up was “Mom, can you please help me parent?” She laughs, but I was/am dead serious. I had the schedule down, the naps, the sleeping semi-all-the-way-through-the-night and then it just all went to shit. There was one night about a week ago where Zara woke up at 1AM and I tried my normal rock for a few minutes and put her back and this kid just wouldn’t go back to sleep. So I try giving her a little milk, like food coma this baby – didn’t work. Brought her in bed with me because that’s another move I googled once – it didn’t work. And at this point I am panicking because its 2:30AM and I have done everything that I know how to do. Every night when she wakes up I just cross my fingers and hope the list of solutions I found on google works, and it has up until this week for the most part. Now I am back to having just about as much knowledge about taking care of my kid as when I was also 1 year old.

This blog might be a little random because I really don’t have a general theme, but if you have questions ever about motherhood – the real stuff like you know… what happens to your body the day after you have a kid (that’s some real stuff) to what should I buy for my new baby to what if I actually really don’t like or enjoy the baby phase – I probably have experienced it and am happy to write about it in the most light hearted way possible.

Now that I am writing, this post might be a little soft, but it is for a woman who deserves the softest of posts of all time. So, some context – motherhood can get pretty lonely. I have felt probably the loneliest I have felt in my life in the first year of Zara’s life even after living in Finland by myself for a year. I know, I am not married, but this loneliness hits married moms, too – I will speak from my experience, though. Raising Zara, especially this semester when I am like REALLY by myself has been tougher than I expected.

There are times it feels like I am so alone in my anxiety, my doubts, my fears– that even when I am without Zara, my thoughts can still race back and forth thinking about what am I going to make for dinner, if I have enough time to give her a bath, she has had that weird cough – do I think she needs more ibuprofen or is there a home remedy cough syrup I can make, you know the typical mom stuff. I doubt myself and wonder if I am doing the right things – if I let her sleep in my bed are we going to be sleeping together until she goes to college? If I feed her grilled cheese again because I am too tired to cook is she going to have health problems? (I have googled both) There are times in the middle of the night where I just can’t get her back to sleep and I am wondering if I can actually make it to the morning let alone make it through the next day. Parenting some days feels like a total crapshoot.

There are also really amazing times where Zara will do something like say “ba-bai” or blow a kiss to a stranger or say tweet tweet (but really its more like TUT TUT! – she hasn’t figured out the high pitched voice yet) or she looks at me and talks like she really is saying something important and it just sounds like “bitches, bitches!” and I want to share it with someone so desperately because I am so excited about it, someone who loves Zara as much as I do, which is more than life. In the traditional setting, this is the person who helped you create the kid or who is raising the kid with you. In my situation, my wife is my mom. Our relationship is the real life example of “you are never done parenting” (sorry, mom, I was so close to adult independence!).

If you were to find out you were very unexpectedly pregnant – who would you call first? I called my mom. I didn’t even tell her to sit, I just spat it out because I knew that growing up, if we would mess up or did something we shouldn’t have 1) she was going to find out – she always did and 2) it wouldn’t change how much she loved us one bit. Some people get to raise their kid with their significant other and some days I wish I was too, but damn am I lucky that I get to raise Zara with someone who has 1) done this before (lol – veteran moms are like magical genies – they know it all, they don’t panic, they know if a kid falls off a bed, she’s probably fine) and 2) who loves and cares for my daughter’s well-being just as much as she cares about mine.

Mom – after one year of raising a kid, all three of us owe you tenfold. I hope I get to experience a very similar relationship that you and I have with my own daughter. I want to say – you might think you did a lot wrong, but you did so much more right. They (idk who they are – it just sounds official) say that you want to take what your parents did right and continue doing that and take what they didn’t do well to learn and improve as you parent your own kids. The list of things I want to do differently than you is small. It’s so small.

Thank you for being there for me and there with me through my pregnancy which was filled of fear, uncertainty, and a few hormonal calls asking if it was really ok if I ate Chick-fil-a fries again for lunch. Thank you for even driving through Chick-fil-a on the way to the hospital when I was in labor. I know I didn’t get to eat the fries because the nurses were a little (a lot) mean, but know I wanted to. Thanks for staying the first few days after the birth because I didn’t even know you are supposed to burp a baby after you feed them, I didn’t know about all that sitz bath stuff, and the diapers (not for Zara!) – I would have been lost without you. The heart you have for other people who are not yourself combined with the strength to overcome any challenge is something I hope I get to pass onto Zara.

One deep fear I had, which fueled my lack of desire to have kids ever, and also that came up when I found out I was actually pregnant and going to actually have a kid, was a fear that I would have to give up what I had worked for, my goals for my life, what I wanted to accomplish. My mom has gone out of her way to make sure that I get to graduate – it might not be with the same GPA I had before I had Zara or with the involvement in all the clubs and the networking events that I wish I could be involved in, but I get to finish grad school. She has driven weekends here, taken Zara to stay with her while I work – she is a true ride or die.

Do I have a clue what I am doing still? Absolutely not. I have realized how much my own mom did for me, not just in how she fed me and rocked me, but how she worried about me, protected me, gave me confidence, encouraged me to be exactly who I was supposed to be without having a clue as to what she was doing – I hope you all know a Karen Erwin in your life.

10 months and not crawling – a blog about mom comparison

Before I got pregnant, I swore I wasn’t going to be a mom. Kids are expensive and I wanted a penthouse suite with a nice view and a lot of windows, and a big bed all for myself. Then, when I got pregnant, I swore I wasn’t going to be “that” mom, you know the one who camera roll is filled with pictures of her kids literally just lying there on a blanket with a dead faced expression and you’re like “omg thats amazing Brenda, wow, your kid’s personality shines in these,” meanwhile you’re like “I just looked at 100 of the same exact photo on Brenda’s phone. I think her kid is sleeping with its eyes open.” Yeah, safe to say, don’t look at my camera roll. Brenda was me in this hypothetical story.

I also want to preface this blog, and actually all of my blogs. I don’t get on my blog to just bitch and moan about how hard motherhood is. I actually, surprisingly, enjoy it almost every day. But, after talking with friends who asked questions like “did you just connect instantly and feel motherly when Zara came out?” or “Isn’t motherhood the best and greatest joy in life?” my answers were not yes. And I was confused and felt sort of like an imposter just pretending to be this baby’s mom, wiping a butt and cleaning spit up, but not really 100 percent connected to her. So I wanted to write this mom blog to say that yes motherhood is all that and a bag of chips, and I don’t take it for granted, and I love Zara more than anything in the entire world, but some days I wake up and want to call a substitute teacher but for moms. I think hearing real stories about moms, good and bad, is important when we are constantly hearing things along the lines of: “this is the best job in the world! I had no purpose until I pushed this baby out!” and that is valid nonetheless, but I wanted to write this blog to just give people the real, unfiltered, un-everything-I-post-on-facebook-is-the-highlight-of-my-motherhood-journey, whether these stories are boring, exciting, funny, happy, sad, all of the feels.  

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You Can’t Afford A Kid

When I found out I was pregnant I found myself googling things like: “how much money does a kid cost over time?” (p.s.- don’t google it) or “how much does it cost to birth a child? In a hospital? With an epidural? What about a c-section?” The answers are all pretty much the same: “One million dollars! Turn back now! Forget having kids!” – so question for ya: who in the hell could actually still have a kid? I mean myself, along with many of my friends, would not qualify to be wealthy enough.

The common saying is that there is never a “right” time to have kids. In my opinion, you will never have enough money to feel financially comfortable to have a kid. You could always have a little more cushion or a few more baby accessories, but the truth is, through my experience, I have realized that the financial aspect of having a kid is not the hardest part of being a parent. The financial side of being a parent is NOT the most important part. I will explain how I do it right now with a small budget, but at the end of the day – your kid does not care if they have a mansion or an iPad or a Barbie car or their own room, they want you to love them, they want you to engage with them, they want you to make them laugh so hard they pee their pants. Hell, when Zara is crying in the car seat, I throw back those coffee sleeves and she is in heaven – screw the teethers or the mobiles. Teach a kid how to play with Tupperware, and they will be playing for a lifetime (a Lexi proverb). Maybe I am just an optimist and when Zara goes to school she is going to come back complaining about all the material things she doesn’t have, but I would like to think that if I love her fiercely (and yes – I will mess this up some days) and give her the absolute best of myself that I can, that she will be just fine.

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unpopular

This blog post is something I have been thinking about writing for a while now. Every time I start to write it, it comes out angry, or I start to feel embarrassed to share these thoughts and experiences with the Internet, but after many drafts, I feel like now it can come from a place of love and authenticity.

The topic of the blog will be the beautifully controversial topic that is… welfare. (Disclaimer: these are all based off of my experiences, so I am not speaking for everyone who has been on or is on welfare.)

Growing up, most of the family I grew up around was southern and conservative. Nothing against your political parties, but when you have Fox News playing in the waiting room of your school and are taught abstinence-only sex-ed, you grow up in a one-sided culture (I would say the same about my experience at Michigan, except on the complete opposite side of the spectrum…so I am balanced, right?!). Things I heard growing up from various family members and people I came in contact with include: “oh, just another mom on welfare” or “that lazy woman having a kid so she can get a check from the government.” I have seen all of the Facebook posts stating things like: “This Just Proves that The Majority of Americans have No Intentions of Making a Better Independent Life for Themselves and their Families and are content Living on The Tax Payers Dime for Eternity!” (Here is a snopes link showing the faults in that post, because those “un-employed” people “studied” were, in fact, children (who cannot be employed or else that would be considered child labor): http://www.snopes.com/politics/taxes/deathspiral.asp)

SO long story short, many years later, I get pregnant. I get pregnant while living on a graduate student salary which is very much non-existent. I get pregnant with someone who is not financially supportive. In this situation, I qualify for WIC, which stands for Women, Infants, and Children. (SIDE NOTE: This is not a “woe is me, feel sorry for my situation” post – this is an attempt to help my family understand the welfare system in a different way) Each month you get vouchers for certain foods as well as baby food for your child. Every 6 months, you have to go into the office and bring proof of income in order to get renewed into the program. This program is for low-income women and foster parents to be able to get food for their child(ren) until the child is 5 years old (if you continue to qualify based on your income). It saves parents a decent amount of money on food per month when there are other huge things you have to grapple with like going back to work, but also having to bear the cost of child care which can be around $800-$1,200 per month (for one child.. I know – freaking CRAZINESS!).

There would be times I would be in with my family or friends, and I would just feel embarrassed of my situation. I am working hard, I have a job, I chose to have my baby, but still the looks at the grocery store or the judgmental facebook posts from family members about experiences they have never had before or about groups of people they have never met before really made me feel like I was “less-than.” And honestly, being white and currently getting a high-quality education, the looks I get or the comments made to me are probably nothing compared to what some of the other single parents/welfare recipients out there have to deal with.

I am going to be honest; there are people who take advantage of the system. There are lazy people everywhere, even in corporate offices, even welfare participants. BUT, there are people who really need these programs, and if we condemn them because of the people who take advantage of the system, we take away these opportunities for low-income people to just get back on their feet after a difficult time in their life.

Something I have really thought about, coming from a religious, christian background/family, is how are these anti-welfare posts, comments, and judgments in any way “christian?” I know we have a president who “says it like it is,” but are these tweets and facebook posts coming from a place of Christian love for the other?

There are so many examples in the Bible about loving those less fortunate than you, giving to the poor, being generous, forgiving people infinity times. But I hear, “they aren’t pulling their weight” or “they are being lazy” or “they need to pull themselves up from their bootstraps.” Even if they are being lazy (which, at times, they are not) – you aren’t the judge in this situation, you are not the person who sets the records straight – God is that person. Romans 2:1 says “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Salt-N-Peppa also put it pretty clearly: “there’s only one true judge and that’s God, so chill and let the father do his job.”)

There are countless other examples: Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge and you will not be judged, do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” And John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son to the world to condemn the world, He sent his son to save.” I don’t understand – God had/has/will have every single right to condemn us, and he didn’t/he doesn’t. He shows us some freaking grace.

So, when you find it so easy to post a judgmental comment about a group of people (a group of people you may have never met or heard their story), whether they are in public housing or using welfare, remember that freaking grace you got. That freaking undeserved grace. Chances are, that mom you think is taking advantage of the system – can’t sleep at night because she is worrying about how to pay her rent or how she is going to be able to work when the price of child care is so expensive or where the money is going to come from if an emergency situation happens or becoming unemployed for the month so she can take care of her kids at home instead of pay for child care.

I think it is really important, when you are posting something on facebook, to think about whether you are being judgmental towards ANY group or ANY person, when you weren’t even called to judge them– myself included (because I am extremely far from perfection myself).

I realize, at this point, you probably think I am a looney Christian or a liberal snowflake, so it might be a good stopping point. My next post might be a little funnier and a little less controversial – if you still read my blog after this.

Yep, I’m still winging it.

Half. A. Year. I have raised a baby for half a year. Previous to this, I have had no experience nannying, babysitting, and the last time I held a baby was when I was about 18/19 years old. I think a little bit of the inspiration to write this blog throughout Zara’s first months of her life comes from my complete lack of knowledge surrounding motherhood. We constantly see moms in movies or on TV just completely having their shit together. I think of Rachel from Friends who made having and raising a kid look absolutely sexy (maybe it was just Jennifer Aniston, but I digress). There are no portrayals of walking out of the house with a leaky boob, going a day without brushing your teeth or remembering to put deodorant on, or literally never changing out of your pjs for like 5 (ok 7) days. I am even guilty of posting the great times I have with Zara, so just for that I will make this blog’s picture a picture of Zara crying because her teeth hurt, which pretty much sums up months 4 and half of 5.

Months 4 and 5 ALMOST took me. Milestones that happened in months 4 and 5: major growth spurt, teething, I received my hospital bill, I realized that I might not be able to finish my summer classes, and nobody took naps. They say that babies get cranky/frustrated when they are on the verge of figuring a new skill out. LET ME TELL YOU: months 4 and 5 had a lot of frustration and then the last week of month 5 it was like BAM! I can roll on my belly! BAM! I can walk around in my walker and try to touch the outlets! BAM! I can eat! BAM! I have two teeth! Two months of a cranky baby turns into one week of milestone after milestone after milestone.

It is really hard to describe the rollercoaster of emotions that I have faced over the past months, but I’ll try. As a mom, I feel guilt, worry, anger (yes, at my own child), and loneliness usually all in one day. Am I spending enough time with my baby? But also – am I giving my baby enough time by herself to figure out her own problems (right – what problems do you have as a 4 month old who cries and then gets food??), did I let her cry too much today? Did I coddle her too much today? Did I seem too frustrated with her today? AND the one that gets me the most: Man, I counted down the hours to her bedtime STARTING AT 9AM! I must be a bad mom. Some days I wish I had a counterpart who was equally as invested in successfully raising a kid as I am, and some days I love getting into my bed alone. Some days I look back and say damn I mommed really amazingly today, and some days I look back and realize I spent the whole day stressed and tired and angry.

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Real Life

A lot of my friends who don’t have kids (which is a huge chunk of them) have asked me how motherhood is and what having a kid is really like. I almost wrote this yesterday, which would have been a bad idea because yesterday was one of those rare great days where everything goes as scheduled, crying is at a minimum, and napping is at a maximum. You seriously forget anything bad that has happened ever and it probably would have been the most inaccurate blog post I have ever written. This always happens to me at night too – I look at my sleeping baby and all of the screaming crying for absolutely NO reason, the explosions, the leaky boobs, the nap fights that happened that day (or the naps that DIDN’T happen) completely erase from my brain.

I am going to start this post off by saying I love my kid more than life. Seriously. No regrets at all – I still check on her to see if she is breathing, I freak out when she spits up, I mean, this girl is rad, BUT – this shit is HARD. HARD. I was thinking about it the other day as Zara refused to nap (which causes her to spiral into an overtired death eater mood that really can humble a person). In life, there are things you won’t be good at. For me, I can compare this to sports – if I wasn’t good at a skill, I would just work really hard at it. Over and over again – and progress would be made. Parenting is like practicing that skill over and over and over again having great intentions but also no clue what you are doing, and seeing absolutely no progress being made. I wake up in the morning saying OK, today I am going to get Zara to nap – you follow the routines, you feed at a certain time, you try to wear them out, they yawn, but as soon as you put that tiny human in anything that resembles a bed – they wake up all over again but this time a little less happy and a lot more angry. So some days my parenting advice is: just make it to bedtime and then treat yo self. It sounds horrible, but once you have kids there will be days you wait until those crazy babies finally give up and close those teeny eyeballs. Continue reading