Mothering the Second Time Around

I’m at that part in the newborn phase where I start to simultaneously rejoice because I’m sleeping better…and still wish I was sleeping better.

In the earliest weeks with Zoe, motherhood was truly a joyful free for all.  I mean.  Look at me.

IMG_0247

I was thrilled to be a mom, but I couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.  I was just so tired.  I remember laying on her playmat when she was about five weeks old and sobbing because I just wanted to sleep more than anything.

Riley is a much easier baby than Zoe (there are no pictures of Riley like this…not a one)

IMG_0276

but she still isn’t sleeping through the night (although, PRAISE THE LORD, she is not up for 1–2 hours at a time several times a night, screaming the second you stop rocking her at the preferred rocking pace and altitude like a certain someone).

When we began considering a second child, it wasn’t the finances or daytime difficulties that I had to get over.  It was my fear of being tired.  I literally had nightmares about being that tired again (those nightmares would wake me up, and then my anxiety about this issue would cause insomnia…how meta, right?)

I’m one of those weirdos who loves being at my peak all the time.  When I worked full time, I very rarely drank even a glass of wine on work nights because I didn’t want anything to slow down my performance at work.  I put my all into my workouts and rest in between them to make sure I get maximum results.  I eat for energy.  I pay attention to how I work and live and critique myself to make sure that I constantly improve.

Being tired is my nightmare because it puts the brakes on all that.  Fatigue makes me forgetful.  It makes me want to sit around instead of work.  It makes me feel lazy.  It makes me crankier.  It makes my brain work slower.  I’m not at my peak when I’m tired, and the kicker is that no matter how I critique myself or try to push myself…I’m still tired.

For someone who loves game plans and self discipline and results, this is obnoxious.

But mothering the second time around means that everything I’ve learned about living under grace instead of perfectionism is actually internalized, instead of out there waiting to be learned.  Mothering the second time around means that I know that this is a phase—that it will take time, but eventually I’ll feel like me again (maybe even a a more badass version of me.  I looked for a better non-swear-word descriptor than badass, and there just isn’t one).  Mothering the second time around means that I can admit that yes, the middle of the night feedings are obnoxious, but they also create a bond between me, my baby, and God that nothing else could produce.

The first time around, I despised the weakness and tiredness.  I loved everything else about being a mom, but I just wanted to be BETTER (faster! stronger!) again.

This time, I’m learning to accept the tiredness not as weakness, but as signs that I am working HARD, getting stronger as a mom and wife, and doing my best, which is all you can ask for from yourself.

I’m learning that I have a choice in how I talk to myself—I can praise myself for what I accomplish despite being tired, which is life-giving, or I can chastise myself for what I still won’t have the energy to accomplish, which is pointless.

I can live in this phase, accepting it as it is and trying to enjoy it for what it is—or I can wish it away anticipating the time when my accomplishments feel easier to measure and achieve.

A certain husband says “we’re done” with kids.  I hope I win this debate, but just in case I don’t—I’m going to soak up the weakness and tiredness instead of loathing it.

Because I am mothering the second time around, and so I know:

892091_4587910297329_1406336882_o

someday I will miss this tired.

Advertisements

A Photo Exhibit

Here are some photos that probably shouldn’t make the blog…but in the interest of promoting fine art, they will anyway.  MWAHAHAHAHA.  Crack open that cab sauv.  It’s about to get sophisticated up in here.

I call this one, “Who Woke Who Again?” 

Photo on 10-10-14 at 6.28 AM #3Contrary to appearances, I didn’t rouse myself at 5:15 am, that’s for sure.

This one is titled, “Hey Girl Hey.

hey girl heyJust catching up on the latest gossip.

This photo series is called, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us.  Also, Zoe Dressed Herself.” 

IMG_3232

IMG_3235

This piece is called, “Silence is Suspicious.  Very, Very Suspicious.”  

IMG_3246(Me: “Zoe, are you eating cereal?” Zoe, through a full mouth: “No.”)

The following gem is from our recent professional family photo shoot.  During our session, Zoe went rogue and refused to smile unless David threw her into the air or unless the camera was pointed at Riley (in which case she would throw herself onto the floor in the background of the shot and roll like a log towards Riley screaming “cheese!” So helpful.)  

I call this, “Photojournalism at Its Finest, Birth Announcements at Their Worst.”  

24

Lest you think I’m unfairly picking on Zoe, this photo is titled “WHO Did They Send Me Home from the Hospital With?”

IMG_3151

“Call Me Maybe” was the hottest song of the summer.  In 2012.  Hence, I call this photo, “Out of Date.” 

IMG_3522

And I’ll pick on myself a bit too.  Our next photo is called, “Why Mom Won’t Ever Be a Craft Blogger”  (alternate title: “Is that Minnie Mouse or V for Vendetta?”)  

IMG_3564“Oh well,” Zoe says.  “I’ve already been exposed to V for Vendetta.  I’m cool with this.”

IMG_3565Zoe then added “eyes” (related: she recently pointed to my eyes and counted 1, 2, then to the lenses of my glasses and counted 3, 4…a wonderful flashback to third grade.)  

IMG_3567After making Minnie Mouse, Zoe requested that I use my mixed media “skills” to create “fire.”  Um, ok, little pyro.  I took my best stab at it, then invited her to paint it.

Things got a bit messy.

And…edible.

The resulting photo is titled, “If You’ve Ever Wondered What Goth Zoe Would Look Like, Here’s Your Answer.”  

IMG_3571I can’t even.

The second-to-last photo in our exhibit today is titled, “Don’t You Dare Pay Attention to that Baby.” 

IMG_3576

And our concluding photo, “Nobody Puts Toddler in a Corner.  No One Who Wants to Live, That Is.” 

IMG_3575

From the Other Side…ish

Today, we took a drive.  And our drive took us past that exit—the one that holds the hospital where I met Zoe for the first time, where my heart grew more full than I ever knew it was capable of.

It’s also where my heart broke.

It’s funny how an interstate exit can hold so much of my life’s experiences.

Someone asked me the other day if I was still grieving our failed adoption, or if getting Riley had ended my grief process.  I appreciated the question a lot, mostly because it’s something I’ve tried to avoid thinking about and sometimes the things we avoid are the things we most need to face.

Like everything grief-related, it turns out that there’s not a simple answer.  But here’s a start to an answer and some of what I’ve been mulling over: in my mind, these events aren’t comparable.

Loving Brianna resulted in great pain.

Loving Riley resulted in great joy.

They are different girls, different situations, but Brianna wasn’t an overture for Riley—she holds her own story, and so does Riley.

Riley isn’t a solution or answer to my grief.  She is a completely separate blessing.  I appreciate the gift of having her as my daughter all the more because of what I experienced on the way to her, but that’s MY story—not hers.  Her story doesn’t begin with my pain, but with her birthparents’ selfless decision to have her and love her in the best way they could think of.

Riley was born at a different exit of a completely different interstate.  Literally, and figuratively, this is the truth.

And that exit is where I’ll start her story when I tell her about it.  We didn’t adopt her to heal our hearts or to replace “the daughter that got away.”  We adopted her because we wanted and loved her.

But for those of you who have been following MY story, I will say this: for months after our failed adoption, I felt like I moved through life with a painful and gaping emptiness.  I tried my hardest to embrace and be filled by the blessing of Zoe, and was never NOT filled with joy by God’s goodness in giving me her and David to love.  But I felt, very keenly, every day, the absence of the family member we had wanted and planned for.  I felt this way before Zoe, too—I tried my hardest to embrace the life stage I was in, but I just knew that I had more love to give and so badly wanted another person to spread it to.  The emptiness was something I felt every day, through breakfast and lunch and evening walks and bedtime, a constant message beating in my heart even when I told it to shut up and go away: there should be another person here to love.

I don’t feel that way anymore.  My heart is fuller and happier these days; it’s a companion I don’t mind having along.  And that’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that I humbly and gratefully gasp out thanks to God for.

But am I “healed?” Am I “over it?” The unbidden thoughts and feelings that came as we drove by the exit today tell me, no.  I’m not.  And I don’t know how that works in this type of situation, honestly.  Maybe full healing comes with time.  Maybe it comes with reconciliation.  Maybe it comes with answers.  And those last two aren’t dependent on me, so maybe it doesn’t come.

But in case you’re where I was, in the emptiness…I thought I’d send you this message from the other side…ish of emptiness:

When you get here? The pain of the loss you’ve experienced doesn’t negate the joy of God’s grace.  The existence of grief doesn’t diminish the gift.  Just because there is darkness, doesn’t mean it wins forever (“the light shines in the darkness, and the the darkness can never extinguish it!”) It is scary now to think about opening your heart again, but when you do and it’s right, you will be able to cherish and love as if there was no in between.

IMG_3415Crowder sings, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.”  I cling to that, not my situation, not the child in front of me.  And here, the writer in me would like a nice ending statement here, but the real-life-liver in me is finding out that, like all things grief, there isn’t one.  It’s a journey and an annoying one at that.

But you’re not alone on the journey.  And there is joy that you can’t picture still to come.

 

Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

Photo on 9-22-14 at 6.57 PM