To the Mother at Daycare, I Know the Feeling

Our morning routines are pretty well set at this point. My husband gets up a little early and starts to get ready. Then I get up and start to get ready. Then we tag-team getting our toddler ready and then we are off – out the door and off to work/school/daycare, a toddler and two adults who are still just half ready, at best.

It’s not always easy. It’s not always pretty. There’s usually some stomping of feet, some huffing and puffing, and even a few tears (and that’s just from me!) and at least one change of clothes (for me and the toddler!).

And it hasn’t always even been this *easy*. When I first went back to work full-time, my husband was deployed. That was tough. I mean, wow. That was beyond difficult. I am still not sure how we got through those eight months and how I survived my return to work in the midst of solo and first-time parenting fiascos. Our daughter was younger, and I was more tired, and man, sometimes I can’t even remember those early days. Except that I can.

I can remember each and every morning with utter clarity.

Why?

Because every morning I was having to make a decision to take my daughter and place her into the care of other people while I went off to work. I loved my job. I still love my job. Financially, even if I didn’t love my job, I would have had to return to work – our family needed my income.

But that doesn’t – that didn’t – make it any less heart AND gut wrenching to leave my daughter in the arms of someone else each and every day.

The pain of that suffocated me.

The memory of that pain suffocates me still.

As I was leaving that same daycare this morning, dropping our daughter off as I do every morning before heading into work myself, I watched a mother who, I swear must have been just at her six weeks postpartum mark, dropping off her child. The moment I saw her walking toward me, I literally couldn’t catch my breath – the memories of what she was feeling at that exact moment flooding desperately back into my brain.

I saw her first from down the long hallway; I had just come out of my daughter’s classroom where we finished our own morning ritual: hug, high fives, kisses and I love yous. Then she “pushes me out” the door and waves at me through all four windows looking into the room – two on the door, two off to the side. We blow each other kisses – she runs toward her friends, waiting in the classroom – sometimes I catch a glimpse of them hugging. I walk, smile on my face, holding tight to the memories of our routine throughout my entire day.

And then I see this mother.

She is walking slowly, compared to my hurried gate, ever concerned about getting to work on time.

She is cradling and cuddling her baby, who is nestled against her chest, head snuggled up underneath her mama’s chin. My hands once wrapped around my daughter that same way, the soft tufts of her hair tickling my chin as I carried her down that same hallway. Now my hands were empty and my chest suddenly felt cold, with no baby nestled there.

She has her face against the very top of her baby’s head, taking in the sweet smells of newbornness that we all know, you know, the way we all do. I found myself unconsciously taking a deep breath in, and remembering the smell that I sometimes still catch on my daughter, when she first wakes up or right after a bath – that newborn smell, that smell that connects me to my daughter.Processed with Snapseed.

She closes her eyes for long moments at a time. I know mama, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: Why am I leaving her here? Is she going to be held enough? Will she miss my smell and my touch the same way I will miss hers? Will they know what each of her cries mean? Will she forgive me?

Oh mama, I remember that feeling – all of those feelings – those I don’t want to leave my baby feelings. I actually still have those feelings every single day.

Oh, mama, I know all too well how you feel.

Thank you for visiting my page!

You can also read this post, and others I have written on The Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/581b4efce4b0570d6d6f0c5e?timestamp=1478186050399

And now you can see my writing featured on the wickedly popular scarymommy.

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Confessions of a Cosleeping Parent

Confessions of a cosleeping parent

I am no longer a cosleeping parent, at least not with our toddler.

Except, she’s still in my bed as I write this, snuggled close to me, her right hand wedged under my leg.FullSizeRender

You see, we are on vacation, my daughter and I. And my husband, her father, is at home because he had to go back to work.

There’s a perfectly good bed here she could sleep in.

 

She didn’t want to.

 

I didn’t push it.  I know these snuggles won’t last much longer. Nor will the kicks to the ribs or the side of the head in the middle of the night.  I’m willing to take what I can get.

At this point on our vacation, I am cosleeping with my daughter, not the other way around.

Let’s be serious, the person getting the most comfort out of this cosleeping relationship right now, on this vacation, is me – the mama.

I am comforted by the sweet sound of her tiny snoring and the rise and fall of her little chest that I can feel each time I gently rest my hand on her.

I am comforted by the smell of her toddler-ness, you know it, that indescribable mixture of baby skin, shampoo and sweat.

I am comforted by the tiny little sigh she lets out about two hours after she falls asleep, alerting me that she has dozed off soundly and has let the ‘worries’ of her toddler day slip aside.

I am comforted by her small hands that she cups around my face when she rolls over in the middle of the night to face me, saying nothing and not even opening her eyes (yes, this REALLY happens!).

I am comforted by the little wiggle of her toes that I feel underneath the blankets with me, or against my leg as she snuggles closer to me during the night (or, maybe as I snuggle closer to her).

I am comforted by the fact that, when I am there with her at night, she still needs me to get her a drink from her water bottle, that is right next to her on the night stand.

She still needs me.

I am comforted by the fact that she needs my reassurances when she is startled by the oddness of toddler dreams, about pizza with no toppings or the cat that is most definitely not on the stairs.

She still needs me.

I am comforted by the fact that when she wakes up in the morning, pops up like a little flash of a light bulb with a chirp of “it’s time to wake up mama!”, she wants me to help her to the bathroom and to change her clothes.

She still needs me.

We didn’t always cosleep. I didn’t ever actually intend on cosleeping even. When my daughter was just shy of three weeks old her daddy deployed for an eight-month tour, leaving me alone as a first-time mother who knew she eventually had to head back to work full time. Cosleeping was the last thing I wanted to do. I thought it would be horrible for my own sleep, which I knew very much that I needed.

So, just after daddy deployed, our little daughter was sleeping (not through the night mind you…) in her own bed, in her own bedroom – with mama keeping a watchful eye through an elaborate baby monitoring system.

And this was our life for about the first year. It worked for us. Sure, there were nights when she was going through feeding clusters, where it was easier to nurse her in my bed with me, and not have her sleeping in her crib. And I didn’t mind that, not one little bit. But overall, she was in her own bed.

Then, at about 7 months, she got horribly sick. It seemed like “just another cold” at first, but her coughing progressed pretty rapidly and got to the point where breathing was incredibly difficult for her and very scary for me.

Medicines and homeopathic remedies were not working quickly and I made the decision that I could not sleep in a different room and be sure that she was OK.

And so our cosleeping journey began. And her illness didn’t let up and when it did, it came back often. Imagine, for those of you who have not lived through this, giving nebulizer treatments to someone who isn’t even a year old.

I wanted to give her every bit of cuddling and comfort that I could, and that extended into our nighttime routines; we were still nursing and that nursing and nighttime nurturing, as well as my watchful eye – that happened through our cosleeping. And it remained that way even after her dad returned, partially because that was our new “normal” but also because her illnesses weren’t subsiding and both of us now agreed, cosleeping was the best option.

And then when she turned two, and she was getting bigger but our bed was not, we decided to work with her to move her back into her bedroom and her own bed.

It wasn’t a process that took a long time, though part of it had one of us (mama and daddy alternating nights) on a air mattress on the floor next to her bed. And it wasn’t perfect either. Some nights she ended up back in our bed. Sometimes she lasted until 2am or 4am. Some nights it was all night long. But gradually, eventually, she was in her own room and she was not upset, and we weren’t waking up with bruises!

Do not get me wrong, I loved the amount of time we did cosleep and, despite concerns from some parents and parenting experts, knowing what I know now about the benefits of cosleeping, I would do it again from the beginning, in a heartbeat!

We experienced many of the benefits of cosleeping in our short time doing it. Our daughter rarely woke or startled in the night, unless she needed to nurse. We also saw the emotional benefits that sites like Dr. Sears tout, we had a less anxious and more independent kiddo on our hands, even early on – and to this day (seems opposite, right?).

There are risks, of course, that need to be addressed to cosleep safely. We took those measures into consideration and made every possible choice to make this a safe sleeping environment, even though we hadn’t planned for it originally.

Let me pause here and say, very clearly, I am neither stating parents SHOULD or SHOULD NOT cosleep. I got over the parent-shaming thing a long time ago and I am not participating in any of that nonsense here. So if you came here to read some parent bashing, go elsewhere.

I am a firm believer that we, this village of mamas and papas, are doing our level best to raise our kids and we need to support each other in doing so.

That said, I’m just sharing my experience.

And my experience on this vacation has been traumatic – for me. Not her. She’s fine. She would have been totally, 100%, hunkey dory, if I had encouraged her more to sleep in her own “special” bed while on vacation.

I gotta be honest with you. I didn’t want to.

I know she isn’t going to need me in all these same ways for very much longer. Sure, sure, she’ll still need me. She’s only a toddler for Pete’s sake, but you know. I mean, she won’t need me the SAME.

So, I’m back to cosleeping. And I only have six more days to enjoy the snuggles and the cuddles and the baby breath on my face and the knee in my back and the hand slap to the face. So, I’m going to relish it for a bit longer. For six more wonderful nights, I’m going to be comforted by my toddler in my bed next to me.

Because, let’s face it: I still need her.

 

I shouldn’t have to choose – but I do.

Shortly after our daughter was born, I wrote a post about how frustrating it was that everyone was already asking us about having another child. At the time, it was most frustrating because all we really wanted to do was revel in the beauty and joy of our new daughter and enjoy this new experience of being a “family.”

Now, as our daughter nears three years old, my husband and I are beginning the conversation about a second child and I am overrun by anxiety. Not because I don’t desperately want to have another baby. I do. Not because I don’t want our daughter to have a sibling, I do. And not because I’m not acutely aware of the financial implications of adding to our family will have. I am very aware that even for a dual income teacher-military household, our choice will have some strain associated with it.

Those choices are all worth it for me.

No, the anxiety I am feeling is knowing, full well, all the moments I’m going to be missing out on for our daughter, and our new baby, when I return to work. This week we are on vacation visiting my family in Michigan and I am watching my daughter explore, discover, grow, flourish, and shine.

All before my very eyes.

She has gotten taller, and I’ve been around to witness this.

She has started using a larger vocabulary and even putting together complex sentences, and I’ve been around to hear every bit of it.

She has started using some quirky facial expressions and recognizing when she is being humorous, and I’ve been able to enjoy all of it!

She has learned to fish, and I’ve watched that.

She “reads” books on her own and does a whole lot more playing independently, and I’ve been able to sit quietly in the corner and watch this.

When I return to work, I know there are other not-so-major milestones that I’m going to miss, that I won’t even know that I miss, for her and for any future sibling we may have. And I love my job, as I always say, I truly, deeply love my job. I guess there’s a growing part of me just wishing that taking time off for parenting in these early years was easier for us professional moms – that we could take the time we want and need to be with our littles in these early formative years and not feel 1) guilty 2) financially burdened 3) afraid that our professional careers are over.

As much as my kiddo is up past her bedtime this summer making wishes on the star-filled skies, I am wishing on those same stars that the path for career mommies could be just a little different.

 

 

I will help you, my Mama

“I will help you, my Mama.”

IMG_7721“Oh my dear girl, you already have. You already have.”

I was doing a simple task, just moving one piece of furniture to another spot. Not a heavy piece, but I had to put it down to get it around a corner. My two and half year old daughter comes over to me, grabs my hand and tugs me down to her level then places her other hand on my cheek and says with an amount of concern and love in her eyes I did not even know a toddler to be capable of: “I will help you, my mama.”

I squeezed her tiny little hand, wrapped my other hand around her tightly, hugged her and kissed the top of her tiny warm head and thought, “Oh my dear, you already have. You already have.” But I said, “thank you, my baby.”

As we maneuvered the object around the corner, now a little bit more cumbersome with the help of those tiny hands and watching out for those tiny feet, I was struck by all the ways this tiny human had, in fact, so truly already helped me.

My daughter has helped me remember to slow down. Rushing through every daily routine, or rushing out the door, or rushing through the grocery store even means we miss times together, times where she can ponder the world around her and her place in it.

My daughter has helped me realize that children love naturally but have to be taught to hate. Her best friends at daycare don’t all look like her. She hugs and plays and tumbles and laughs, shares meals and toys and nap spaces with all of them. Strangers that are bigger and also don’t look at all like her, she gives waves and smiles to equally. I can continue to teach her to love and understand and know that I too have the responsibility to NOT teach her to hate.

My daughter has helped me to take risks. She sometimes needs my hand to jump from a higher height. She sometimes needs me to pick her up and brush her off when she falls, but she always goes for it! Without knowing it, she has taught me that I must continue taking risks and “going for it” too.

My daughter has helped me see that being scared does not mean we are weak. The world is a sort of scary place and we have to find ways to navigate through it. She has us, her parents and her friends whom she adores, to help her make choices – to watch them and learn from them and us, and be less scared of new things, new places, new people, new experiences. Adults have this too, in our partners, our families and our peer groups – we can be scared and still forge ahead as long as we are there to support one another.

My daughter has helped me remember that naps are important – we all need a reset once in awhile. At the end of a busy work week, grading papers, making dinners, getting my workouts and marathon training sessions in, and spending quality time with my husband and my daughter, I’m exhausted. She might be the perfect child, who tells us when she is tired and ready for a nap, but what that has taught me is to recognize when a recharge is needed. And napping with her on a Sunday afternoon is magical too!

My daughter has helped me love more. I didn’t think my heart could hold as much love as I now know it is possible and my love for her has strengthened my love for her dad too – our marriage and our love is stronger in our shared love for her.

My daughter has helped me feel better about my body. I do not care that my “mommy body” doesn’t look like my 21-year-old body. I housed a human. I grew a tiny, amazing little girl inside of me and helped her enter this world. My body is strong and I am proud of it. This doesn’t mean I don’t work continuously to keep my body (and mind) healthy and strong – I do. My health and fitness is a priority. But I am not ashamed that I am still working on it, I am empowered by that. In many ways, I am more proud of my body now at 40 than I ever was when I was younger.

My daughter has helped me stay connected to the present. She hasn’t reached the point yet when she’s worried about something from yesterday. I hope that she never gets there.

My daughter has helped me enjoy the simple things in life. Bugs, the birds that fly overhead, the sound of a horn honking, the colors all around. She notices and loves them all, gets excited by new things – but not “big” things. In a world where technology and flash is so prevalent, I am glad that she reminds me of the beauty of sidewalk chalk and skipping.

My daughter has helped me laugh more. Toddler giggles. I think that about says it all. I think I have laughed more in the last two years than I had for an entire five years prior to her birth. I feel lighter. Happier. And yes, even younger. Laughter is definitely medicine for my soul and laughing alongside my daughter completes me.

My daughter has helped me remember my manners. I do not have to remind her to say please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry, or bless you. Wanting to be model of that good behavior, I think I’ve even become more courteous myself!

My daughter has helped me see clearly the only thing really is important in life.   Love. Really, simply put, thIMG_9438is is all she really needs. If I can remember nothing else that she has helped me with, this is the best, the only lesson I need from her.

So when I looked at her little face concentrating so intently on helping her mama move a piece of furniture, brow furrowed and fingers curled tightly on the handle, and I thought of all of the ways this small, tiny, person had made such a big impact on my life already, had helped me so much already, there was a moment when I almost couldn’t breath. And then she smiled up at me and I smiled back and I knew, for the rest of my life, we would always be helping each other.

 

Zero Weeks – This Struggle IS Real

I am so proud of this mama, Regan Long, and this movement!  Paid Family Leave is essential for moms and babies, for families all around. I was “fortunate” enough to get some paid leave after I gave birth, via unplanned c-section no less, to our daughter.  My husband deployed within three weeks after the birth; I went back to work after three months, receiving only a percentage of my full time salary during that time.  He was gone for another 5 months.  It would have been IDEAL for us, if I could have stayed home with our daughter, avoided the incredibly hefty bill for daycare, and not have struggled daily to find a balance between being a new mom, a full-time working mom,  and a solo-parent during those 5 months.  Financially, that was not an option.  Every single day I dropped our daughter off at daycare, I had the urge to run back in and take her right back home with me.

I DID appreciate the break from mommy-duty.  I did LOVE going to back to work and sparking up my intellectual brain all over again (nursery rhymes really didn’t cut it for me).  But, even if I didn’t love and enjoy those perks, I had no choice.  And I know that I gave up a lot in going back to work. But again, we didn’t have the luxury of choice in the matter.

We were fortunate that our daughter attended a loving daycare where, I truly believe, she was loved as much during the day as she was with me at home (no kidding, she sort of still runs the show there!).  That did not make it easier, it just made it less painful to accept as a reality. I cringe to think of those parents who don’t even have access to that.  I cringe even more to learn of the moms who do not get nearly as much time off as I did, those that have to return to work as early as 10-weeks postpartum.

I am thrilled to see this movement gain momentum. I hope it continues to grow and gains the attention of those who are in positions to make changes to this policy.

Check the article out here, if you missed the link above: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/regan-long/the-movement-is-in-motion-paid-family-leave-in-the-united-states_b_8478418.html

Extended Breastfeeding

In every scenario I imagined when I knew I was going to be a mother, none of them included me continuing to nurse our daughter past her first birthday. And yet, we are now on the precipice of her 2nd birthday and we are still breastfeeding.  While we are nursing much, much less often these days — morning, evening and sometimes, on a lucky Saturday, in the afternoon too.  There are times when I really relish these quiet moments.  I can smell her hair and hold her little fingers in my hands, and feel her curled up alongside me, almost matching her breathing to my own.  And then there are times when I have to go to the bathroom, or want to do another load of laundry before bed, or GO to bed, or take a shower and even these small moments of breastfeeding sort of feel like they are “in the way.”

So I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I really feel ready to wean at the 2 year mark, if she doesn’t do it first on her own.  And I know that I will miss so many of these moments even though I will also be a little relieved as well.  That, I feel, is the definition of ‘bittersweet’ to me.

I know that I will miss these moments.  When I read Amanda Metcalf’s piece, “7 Things You Miss About Breastfeeding When Its Over“, I immediately remembered instances for each of the seven.

Tonight mid-nursing session, which is only about 15-20 minutes in length these days, our little one pops off and said emphatically:

“Mama, mama!”

“Yes?” I replied.

“Hi!” And back down she went.

Yeah, I’ll miss these moments alright!