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

The secret to patience (lessons from my children)

I was on the airplane last week with my daughters, and without my husband. It was a short flight from San Francisco to Seattle which felt easy after our recent journey across the country to Atlanta. When we stood to deplane, the mom sitting behind me expressed disbelief that I could travel without having any help (maybe she didn't see my glass of wine). Then she commented that I was very patient. I laughed but I accepted the compliment and knew it was one I will not soon forget because it means I must be growing.

I am not terribly patient by nature. I like speed. I like productivity.

My children slow me down. The truth is that they've slowed down everything from my career to my savings account. Everything except time.

They consume time like they consume me. Not just days, but years. My twenties are nearly gone and I'm positive my thirties will pass even quicker. Skyla was born yesterday yet she's nearly 7 months old. I could handle 6 months, but 7 months? She's trying to crawl. She gets in position but she's unsteady. She can only go backwards, but she can also turn 360 degrees. So really, she can get anywhere she wants.

Giovanna is four and a half and a little lady. She has purses filled with money, a sense of adventure, and a very precise sense of style. I can't remember the last time she actually wore the outfit I picked out for her. She goes to bed without fussing and she usually sleeps through the night. She's growing up a little more each day, understanding the world in new ways, possessing knowledge that blows me away. Yesterday she talked her auntie into feeding her junk food at the fair by explaining, "if you don't, my blood sugar will crash and my mama will be upset." (Actually it's Gigi who would be upset since she tends to have fits if she goes too long without eating.) She's a sponge; absorbing, processing, internalizing.

Humans are pristine when we arrive. Since we are soft, the world makes its impressions on us easily. As we grow older, we harden like clay. These impressions become us. I try not to dwell on the mistakes I've made, but I'm also not kidding myself. I have a limited time to set a good example for my children. Every moment counts.

These babies of mine will only be little for so long. Although this mommy stuff tests every limit I didn't know I had, it won't be this way for long. The impermanence of my children as children helps me to savor their present states, adorable and frustrating and sweet and demanding.

By staying mindful of time and knowing time always passes and change always comes, I find it easier to practice patience.

How do you stay patient? Tell me about it in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail.com.

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

IMG_0933.JPG

If You Worry About Tomorrow

Depression. It's like cancer. Either you've had it or you love someone who's had it. And it comes in a huge variety. Like headaches. Benign and fleeting or heavy and serious and in rare cases, deadly.

Feeling depressed here and there is leaps and bounds from chronic debilitating depression that interferes with your relationships and passions and work and everything else...but mostly your natural state. Your birth right. Your happiness.

What is happiness anyways? I think it comes from the joy we find in the moment.

I'm sitting here in my bathrobe, nursing Skyla while Giovanna draws with a pen in Daddy's old notebook, pondering depression and happiness and joy. I've had a bad morning and I'm sad and I'm wondering when things will get easier and when I won't feel so bewildered by life. 

The sun just broke through a few clouds, bringing with it an immense shining of gratitude. I want to climb out of the hole but I can't find the first step. So I ask myself, what's Good about this moment? 

The sky. The lake. The abundance of trees. The sweet fuzzy head between my arms. The curly talking head to my right. The laptop beneath my fingers. The people on the other side of my phone. 

If you stop enjoying that which you once loved, day after day and week after week, I hope you seek help in a professional or a loved one or both. This is the kind of depression that needs treatment, though I'm sure there are as many definitions of depression as there are people who experience it. Likewise, depression does not arise from an isolated reason but from a complex web of experiences, past and present; the tangles in your auric field.

And then there's the anxiety that either contributes to depression or is often a byproduct of depression. Suffice it to say that depressed people have a lot to worry about, and people who worry have a lot to be depressed about. The world is just so damn scary and evil and hard. Even white middle-class Americans like myself know that things can fall apart in a second, and nothing is guaranteed. When we have our basic needs met, we have everything to lose. What's more, we have expectations. We want to know deep satisfaction and purpose and maybe even a certain version of "success." Maybe we don't believe ordinary is enough; maybe we want more. We think happiness is something to find or have or keep or achieve.

A loved one recently shared with me a transcontinental conversation with a loved one of her own, an African man who is happy in spite of living in poverty. He makes $30 per month, most of which goes to his daughter's school fees and medical care. He lives with no running water, no electricity, but plenty of death. He said that because of the struggle to survive, Africans live only day to day and don't worry about tomorrow.

In other words, they live in the moment, and not because they're trying to be zen or mindful. If they get to eat today, then today is a good day.

He said: if you worry about tomorrow, you'll go mad.

Simple truths are often the most profound, the most important to digest and understand.

May we remember this when we find ourselves in billows of stress. May we take this to heart when we become paralyzed by anxiety. May we focus on enjoying the moment rather than preparing for the future. May we practice looking for the Good so our minds stay healthy. May we turn down the volume so we can live in peace.

Just do what you can, now.

gandhi