5 Most Important Things I've Learned in 5 Years of Motherhood

At 5 pm on my daughter's fifth birthday, I popped a bottle of champagne and poured a single glass. I'd survived my first five years of motherhood, maybe even thrived at times, and since motherhood is something we so often do alone with our kids, it felt appropriate to toast to my kids and drink alone. Many of us humans of the female persuasion know from a young age that we want to be mommies. I don't remember a lot about early childhood, but I do remember being five myself and persuading my best friend's two year-old sister to be my child. "Hug my legs," I would tell her.

Fast forward 24 years and it seems everywhere I go I have a child clutching onto my legs. The baby loves to pull herself up onto me, one hand on the back of each leg. It's as sweet as I knew it would be, and harder than I never knew it could be.

For all the mommies struggling today, for all the women struggling to become mommies, for all the women wanting to become mommies, not today but someday, this is for you.

1. Women are strong (and hire a doula). Society teaches us to fear birth, both the pain and the risk of it. But the World Health Organization estimates that only 5% of c-sections are true emergencies. 95% of the time, we can birth our babies without complications. That being said, interventions lead to more interventions. Drugs are great, empowering in their own way, and hospitals are helpful because they take pressure off of the mother. Even if we choose these gracious safety nets woven by the 21st century, we can still have faith in our natural ability to birth. Your beliefs can go a long way in helping and hindering your birth. My best advice? Hire a doula. A professional labor coach will help you in ways you cannot foresee or understand now. Contact me for Seattle-area recommendations.

2. You must fill your own cup. Your kids are going to demand a lot out of you. Everything, in fact. It's only natural. Don't try to do everything by yourself, don't get bitter, don't be a martyr. Ask your partner, parents, friends for support. Ask them to take care of your kids so you can fill your cup. You know what it is you need to do, now do it. You will be a better mother and you will have more to give and your kids will benefit from spending time with other caregivers. You might feel guilty at first. But when you see how much better you run when you aren't on empty, you will understand. Also, no one else can fill your cup for you. Not your husband or your mom or your best friend or your partner. That part is up to you.

3. Do what works for you. Nobody but you and your partner knows what's best for your kids. Many people will be quick to judge your methods or suggest alternatives. Take their advice with a grain of salt, even if you asked for it. (And they'll give it to you, whether or not you asked.) Parent the way you feel comfortable parenting. Birth the way you want to birth (fearful or fearless!). Let your kid cry it out or don't. Bed share or don't. Discipline the way you want to discipline. Figure out what works, and go with it. You have something called mother's intuition for a reason: survival.

4. Enjoy yourself. This started as "don't take everything so seriously," but that didn't feel right. There is nothing more serious than the love we feel for these brand new humans for whom we are solely responsible. I read a blog post recently that connected our exhaustion to the hyper vigilance we must practice every single second of every single day to keep our babies alive. Sleep deprivation aside, taking care of small children 24/7 is the most exhausting job in the world. You deserve to have a little bit of fun while on the job. Go get an ice cream cone. Turn up the music and dance, or make videos of your children dancing. Pop some popcorn and pop in a Disney movie. Invite your mom friends over for coffee and let the kids make a huge mess. Drink the coffee, dammit. Don't worry so much about what they're eating or how much TV they're watching. If you ever feel guilty, just go outside and chase your kids, and I promise their giggles and your endorphins will help you remember that everything is actually okay.

5. This won't last forever. They are so cute. You just want to inhale them, don't you? When they giggle, you feel so much joy that it hurts. And it hurts because it's all temporary. Children grow up. You can give them every thing and tell them nothing about life, but they will still grow up and they will still leave you. Someday you will miss them. Someday you will ache for little voices and little feet and little bodies that wake you up all hours of the night. You will miss the laundry and the messes and the hands always reaching for you. These bittersweet truths have helped me through the dark hours when I am lonely, bored, isolated, tired, under appreciated, overwhelmed. It is a tragic relief: you will not always be a mommy, but you will always be a mother.

To read more of my thoughts on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

miller2014-90

Lessons from my children: it's okay to be real

My girls need me. They need me to pay attention, soothe, be steadfast. But I am erratic. My attention is scattered in piles like fallen leaves in the autumn. Cayenne crimson, turmeric orange, ginger yellow. The colors of my temper, spicy like the evil twin who lives somewhere in my head not my heart (I wrote about her on Mamalode). The earth spins and circles the sun and the leaves die and emotions gallop into uncharted territories like wild horses and no one can control any of it.

I see it in my daughter. Four years-old with feelings loud as a train wreck. She opens up her heart when its bursting and spills her frustrations all over the universe. Like fallen leaves in the autumn. Though I may grow angry in response, I prefer to be calm. In my center I am glad that she expresses herself with the freedom of a person who is safe.

Wild horses do not do well in cages or suppressed by crowds, but in wide open spaces where emotions have room to dance and turn, an ever-shifting kaleidoscope, its beauty a product of all the colors.

20140619-091039.jpg

Funny how I can celebrate my daughter's colorful feelings and yet feel shamed by my own. What if we extended the same love and sympathy we show our children to ourselves? What if the chubby pieces of our belly are actually endearing, indicative of pleasure and humanity, and not something we need to hide beneath big shirts or use as a catalyst for deprivation or guilt? What if our stupid mistakes are not stupid but natural and productive?

Maybe I'm not a failure for raising my voice or losing patience. This isn't Pleasantville, this is Earth in all its grit and glory. Maybe I don't have to pretend to be calm when I'm not. There's no shame in being real. Right?

At a birthday party recently where GiGi knew no one but her big brother, she covered her eyes when the party coordinator asked her a question in front of a small crowd of (older) kids. She didn't try to pretend to be bold, she didn't speak simply because someone asked her to. She let herself be shy and she opened up to the others when she felt comfortable. And ready. She stayed true to her emotions.

20140619-091018.jpg

It all comes to holding these emotions inside vs. feeling them and letting them go. There's a fine balance between keeping your cool and causing a fuss, not only for parents but adults everywhere. I'm not suggesting we go around town honking haphazardly at other cars, arguing with hostesses or dragging our children by the ears, but rather that we feel okay about it when we do lose our cool. We aren't bad parents or road ragers or terrible people, we are people. Terribly fallible, terribly sweet people.

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

Lessons from My Children: Be Giddy

These are Lessons from My Children, a new series on the blog. Everything we experience is temporary. Feelings are fleeting and newborns learn how to sit up. Sadness ebbs and flows. Happiness is a choice, a way. Like beauty, success exists in the eye of the beholder.

Children beg us for attention and this confuses us because we think our attention is nothing too special, nothing worth working hard or crying over. We don't always know what our children know. We tend to forget we're all babies, innocent to the mystery of existence. I'm not sure who has more to learn from the other--children or adults?

We call children innocent because they know so little of the world we've spent decades seeking to understand. Including their own cuteness, their own perfection. (Does anybody?) Skyla, now 12 weeks young, bobs around in our arms, her piercing black eyes looking at everything and nothing, taking it all in, this wild world of ours.

But I'm starting to think she knows things I don't. About God and angels and the intricacies of the human face. Things I'm too busy to notice.

Giovanna spotted a butterfly on the other side of the car window and she squealed like she'd seen a miracle.

And she did, didn't she? The caterpillar, who went to sleep and awoke with wings, thinks so.

She dragged me into the front yard because "something happened." Her face looked the way we think kids should look on Christmas morning. But she didn't need a truckload of presents.

I peered between the newly opened petals and what I saw turned my skin to gooseflesh. I felt like I'd become privy to a secret, a certain intimacy with nature. In blooming, the poppy showed us what she was made of. Not just pistil and stigma, but pattern and individuality, every flower exhibiting different interpretations of the same genes.

Not unlike people. Whether you like it or not, your DNA is 99.9% the same as your neighbor, your enemy and your best friend. In that 0.01%, our opinions reside like stubborn rocks and our passions begin and bloom and wilt and die.

There is no one who experiences pleasure as you do. There was no other baby who cried just like you and there will never be another adult who can offer the world what you have.

It doesn't matter what excites you, what makes you giddy, it only matters that you let yourself be giddy over the things that bring you happiness in the eternally fleeting moment, whether it's a flower or an ice cream cone or an unexpected smile. Let yourself memorize faces and stare at patterns until they become something else entirely. Look up. Follow the gaze of children. Just by noticing their enthusiasm I find my heart growing and my mind wandering into uncharted territories where words flow like waterfalls and beauty appears everywhere, as prolific as flowers in the month of May.

20140520-163112.jpg

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.