Nine, in Mom Years.

It's hard to believe that my first baby turned nine on Sunday. Everything feels the same and everything feels different. The weather is stifling, just as it was nine years ago making it seem as if her birth occurred just a few years ago, instead of almost a decade.

Every year I brace myself for big changes, like those the first year of her life. None have ever been that drastic, none have ever felt that pressing. Until now. Now, at nine I can see we are at the cusp of what is to come. She, my beautiful, sensitive, creative, smart, and wonderful Caitlin is growing. The baby cheeks have all but disappeared. Her smile is that of a wiser older girl. Her opinions are that of a teen. She combs her own hair, paints her own nails, and recently started wearing scented lotions, purchased with her own money.
Stop. Slow down. Wait for me, I silently chant as I catch a wave of warm vanilla sugar lotion on my way to the laundry room.

Here lies the secret. The surprise. The trick.
Just when I thought she would never grow up. She did, she has, right before my almost forty something eyes.

In the fall I will have a fourth grader. A fourth grader who loves to dance and sing. Who will tell you her favorite apps are YouTube and She will tell you that she needs her own Pinterest and Instagram accounts. She will sing you her current favorite song, that she perfectly choreographed. She will explain to you that her parents are mean because they still won't let her get a kindle fire, and because they won't let her watch YouTube all day. And they made her play softball this year and she hated it.

In the next breath she will show you her American doll collection. She will share her art projects from Girl Scouts, or make you a gourmet meal in the play kitchen.

Nine is right there. On the cusp. The delicate balance between little girl and teen. Sensitive enough to still sleep with her tattered bunny, strong enough to want "alone" time.

There is something so beautiful in being in between. Still full of innocence and wonder. Knowing and wanting something more worldly for yourself. These days Caitlin wants to hang out with her friends, go somewhere, do something. She is no longer content with her own environment, the little world she has built, the one that I helped her build. It's amazing to see this change in her, this want of independence, this desire to branch out. All the while with one hand stretched out to me, still touching my arm, still needing me. The cusp. The balance. It's so delicate.

Delicate and imperfect. With nine has come attitude and smart mouthed remarks. For me nine has brought on a new intolerance to attitudes and smart mouths. I still yell. She still pushes my buttons. We still take each other to the edge. But never as often. Perhaps with age we have become more sensitive to each other. Maybe we have finally found a middle ground on which to build a better foundation for the teen age years ahead. Maybe our souls can feel this and sense that there are bigger fights to come, and perhaps our souls are steadying us.

Or maybe we are finally speaking the same language.

Caitlin is nine. Wonderful and wandering nine. Finding her footing. Carving a place for herself. Changing right before my eyes. I don't remember all that much about being nine, but I'd wager that I changed in many similar ways. Nine seems like the first door into adolescence. Walk into door number nine and begin the journey into who you are. I've been watching Caitlin and listening to her talk with her friends. The juxtaposition of being not so little, but not yet big. There is still an immaturity in her voice. Which I welcome. Which I will savor for as long as it lasts. I will keep my hand outstretched to meet hers for as long as she will allow. Because just when I think she is little miss independent, I find her tangled in my bed. I find her sitting next to me on the couch. I find her needing me, if only for a moment.

Nine may be the death of me as we begin our journey into adolescence. It may make me pine for those late night feedings and sleep training I thought were so hard. Or nine may just be as lovely, chaotic, and perfectly ordinary as all the years before.

Happy Birthday Caitlin! {Nine years old}

Nine years ago you were born. I was so nervous and so was dad. You were late, taking your time, so we went to the hospital and lied.

I promise the doctor told us to lie. Because you were almost two weeks late. We were going to lie so they would let me stay at the hospital. That way the doctor could come and start my labor. You don't want the details on that.

The trick was on us though, because I was in labor. Of course I was, you still are usually one step ahead of me.

For a first baby you came pretty quickly, you were born in less that 12 hours. And it was almost painless. Thank you very much for that.

But then the real work began, and I promise you kid, even on my worst days, I'm working as hard as I can for you.

Today is amazing because we are both nine! You are nine in human years and I'm nine in mommy years. You'll understand one day when you are a mom... Like 30 years from now, when you're married and ... more on that later.

Maybe you don't feel any different from being eight. Maybe you think nine is just the same. I'm here to tell you you're wrong! You have grown so much in the last year! There are so many things you should be proud of.

This year you became a reader. I know you really hate AR, but this year you figured out what kinds of books you like. You figured out what interested you so that you could read for fun. That's awesome, and very hard to figure out for some people.

This year you started combing your own hair. Which might not seem like a big deal but, for me this was a huge deal! Most mornings you did your own hair and it stopped us from fighting about hair!! Did you even notice that?? Very cool, am I right?

I love that you have found so much joy in dancing. You are an amazing tap dancer and I'm sure you are going to love pep as well. I love that you put a dance routine to any song you hear, even if it's just in our living room! Don't ever lose the love of dance, or the love of music! I hope they always bring you joy!

I love that we found our happy place around make up this year. Now you are a little too young to wear it to school, but it was super fun putting it on for dance competitions! And it was even more fun to shop for it at Sephora! Can you believe we figured out how to put on false eyelashes???

This year you have made a really great group of friends. I also noticed that you stuck up for some friend this year when they were bullied or pushed out of a group. I'm so proud of you for that! Keep doing that. Keep being kind and loving. Keep being a good friend. I promise it will pay off!

What a great year you had at Oraze! With an amazing teacher and some great classmates. You are so incredibly good at math! Don't lose that! I love that you love learning. I always did too. I can't wait to see what next year brings!

There are so many ways you have grown this year! Have you noticed? Did you see your fashion sense change a bit? Did you realize that you known how to use some apps on my phone better than me? Did you notice that you are finding your own way and following your own path? It's really exciting.

Happy birthday baby girl. I love you with all my heart and all my life. I'm so proud of the little lady you are becoming!

Enjoy today and enjoy every bit of this year! That's my wish for you!

When nothing makes sense

I had planned on spending Sunday catching up this little blog of mine. The last week of school had left my head spinning, so with Saturday filled with birthday parties and dance class, I really hoped that Sunday would be my day to knock out four or five posts. Good posts with good content.

Instead I woke on Sunday to the horrific news coming out of Orlando. First on my phone, because checking it is always the first thing I do, then with the live coverage on CNN. The Hubbs and I were so stunned that we didn't even make time to shield the kids. Instead we handed them the iPad and told them to camp out in the living room for a bit. Because we were stunned. Overwhelmed that it, this massacre style attack, had happened again. This time not in Paris or some other far off land, but here. Right here. America.

We watched and debated, the Hubbs and I. He votes Republican, I Democrat. We talked about how this would come up politically, in an election year. Gun control. Terrorism. That "Wall" we keep hearing about. As I made muffins with the girls, we both glanced at CNN to see live coverage from the Los Angeles Pride parade. Los Angeles Police had caught someone. Another someone with fire power and hate in their hearts. In confusion the Hubbs thought it was still about Orlando, but I said no, No this is Los Angeles. There was almost another one. And then I cried.

I walked into my bedroom under the guise of getting laundry so I could cry without the girls noticing. Because it would scare them, because I was scared and I was sad.

I had no words. No words of comfort. No words of understanding. There were no words to even wrap my head around Sunday's events. There was just quiet and tears and questions.

People, gay and straight, still marched in LA's Pride Parade Sunday. Out of respect and honor for those that died in Orlando. The community of Orlando, gay and straight, came out in full force to donate blood, feed the responding officers and volunteers, to help in any way they could. People all over the world lit candles, posted pictures on social media, and used their voices to protest or offer condolences.

At this point I don't think your gender matters. I don't think your race matters. I don't think your religion matters.

For the first time in my life I think the only thing that matters is prayer.

It's one of the first things I did after hearing the news on Sunday. I'm sure it's what most of you did on Sunday. It's something that I'm still doing today, as Anderson Cooper reads the names of those who died as he choked back tears. Praying as the stories of survivors and first responders come out. Praying as I hear about the beautiful people who lost their lives on Sunday morning.

Still, after all that praying, I was at a loss as of what to say. I could not open this lap top and pretend that everything was A-okay. It's not. Nothing about these types of attacks, nothing about this political season is okay. And I say that not because I don't agree with one side or the other, I say that because I feel that there is so damn much riding on America's future. On my children's future. On every one's future. Gay, straight, black, white, Christian or otherwise. Nothing about this is okay.

Then last night, as I was scrolling through Instagram for entertainment, I found the hashtag "wandsup". Wands Up, in reference to Harry Potter, in remembrance to Luis S. Vielma, who worked at Universal Orlando. He worked at the Forbidden Journey ride, and you guys, he was a Griffindor. Maybe none of that makes any sense to you and that is okay. For me, in times of trial and uncertainty, I turn to books, stories, fiction, anything to help make sense of the nonsensical. So when I saw the hashtag "wandsup" and the adjoining picture, I stopped in my tracks.

photo cred: @patrickzfilms

The accompanying quote to this picture of people holding a vigil at Universal Orlando, in front of Hogwarts, was:
"Do not pity the dead. Pity the living, and above all those who live without love..."

Maybe to you this seems like a lame memorial. Maybe this is the opposite of what their loved ones need, or what this country needs. Still, in the moment it made perfect and total sense to me. It made me cry. It made me stop and remember that Saturday night 50 people went out for a night on the town, to dance, to laugh, to sing, to live out loud; only to be silenced in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Like I said nothing about this makes sense. Nothing about this is okay.

So for today and tomorrow and for a while, Wands Up. Gay or straight, wands up. Black, white, brown or purple, wands up. Christian or otherwise, wands up.

What Have I Learned as a Mother?

The end of June will mark nine years of being a mother. I'll be totally cliche and tell you that the years flew by so fast, that I blinked and suddenly I was here almost ten years later, I will go all out and tell you that time is fleeting. Sadly, when you have children, every last cliche rings true.

Motherhood did not come easily to me. Before my own children I had never changed a diaper, I had never prepared a bottle. I wasn't the teen in the neighborhood that everyone asked to babysit. Honestly I never really liked kids, hadn't even really thought about having any of my own. Still, maturity and matrimony brought on baby fever, and by my second wedding anniversary I was seven months pregnant. I read What To Expect religiously, I wrote list after list of products that I would need for baby, I listened to "wise mothers" in line at the grocery check out as they spouted off their sage advice. As my due date approached, I was ready, if only in my naive brain. The nursery was painted, the crib assembled, the bottles sterilized. I had this in the bag.

Then my daughter was born. All six pounds of her, and she scared me more than anything. She was the tiniest human I had ever seen, and she was mine. What was I going to do with her? I kept looking at her and then looking around for her actual mother to come and take her from my arms. Except I was her mother and I was totally out of my element. That first night in the hospital was rough, she cried all night, she never latched on, and in turn I was convinced that this was a bad idea. Before I knew it we were on our way home, my life forever changed.

I'd like to say that I was a quick study once I got home but I wasn't. My daughter never latched on, and after two weeks of nipple shields and supplemental feeding with a tube and a syringe, I surrendered and gave her a bottle. I counted that as failure number one. After a month of her sleeping in a swing most nights, we tried to transition her to her crib and endured three sleepless nights of screaming. Failure number two. Then as the months gave way to other milestones and experiences, I numbly went through the motions. Counting my imperfections as a mother at every turn. Nothing about motherhood was going the way I had planned. By my daughter's first birthday, I was sleeping in her full sized mattress on the floor, she still relied on a bottle for naps and bedtime, and I was still on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I missed a lot of life in that first year of motherhood. Blinded by my imperfections, I soothed myself by getting by. I made excuses on why we couldn't make play dates and mommy gym. Declined invitations to dinners out with friends. I ignored phone calls from friends and relatives, never wanting to get caught in a conversation where I would have to admit that this was not going right. That motherhood felt wrong and foreign. That I had to be the worst, most disastrous mother on the planet. All the while I missed so many important moments. I spent night feedings angry and resentful of the sleep I wasn't getting. I spent bath time counting down the minutes until I could give her a bottle and sleep myself. At the time I was never able to find the joy in any of the chaotic moments that mothers claim bring them joy. I was just angry and sad, dumbfounded that I couldn't get a grip on the life that is being a mother.

Around the time my daughter turned two, I found my happy place. I threw out my previous expectations and settled into the comfort of our imperfect life. My daughter slept in her own bed, but only after I'd lay with her while she fell asleep. We weaned her from her bottle just weeks before her second birthday. We established a bath, book, bed routine which was the only routine in her life. I accepted that she would never nap again, ever. Once I was able to accept this not so perfect life, I found the joy in the little things. I was able to laugh at our mishaps. I was able to let go of the mother I thought I would be and accept the mother that I was: messy, imperfect, but always trying her best. Then a few months after my daughter turned two, I got pregnant again.

My second daughter brought my rare second chance, the opportunity to do motherhood my way. This time I had experience under my belt. I knew what worked for me and what didn't. I knew that I didn't have to listen to any sage advice, I didn't have to read any book, I didn't have to follow any list or directive. Here was my chance to follow my own rules... And I did. By doing so I finally found the joy in those night time feedings. I was able to laugh at the blowouts and the missed naps. I was able to submit to those days when all the baby wanted was to be held without the overwhelming guilt of not doing the laundry or the dishes. The second time around I found myself. I found that person who was undeniably, Mom.

No one ever tells you about the ugly stuff. When you announce that you are expecting, you are showered with congratulations and peppered with advice. Everyone will tell you about the best breast pumps and which diapers are most absorbent. No one will tell you that sleep deprivation and night time feedings will bring you to the absolute edge of everything. Everyone is quick to share sleep tricks and recipes on how to make your own baby food. No one will ever admit to those few short moments when they contemplate packing a bag and driving their car to the next state without their new baby. I think it's because motherhood is one of the most revered titles on the planet. Mothers, by definition are supposed to be perfect and infallible. We are supposed to know how to get our babies to latch on the first try. We are supposed to know how to make baby sleep through the night before two weeks of age. We are supposed to know how to soothe and nurture and love. When I was pregnant with my first a woman I know told me, "Motherhood is the most natural thing in the world". Three weeks into be a mother I thought, "Natural for who?". I'll admit that after nine years, that although I'm not a natural, I am a mother, faults and all.

Motherhood is the ultimate learning experience. It's like never ending on the job training. What have I learned as a mother? The list is endless, but here are a few lessons that have stuck.

Write your own rules. If you want to breast feed, do it. If you want to bottle feed, do it. You are the mother and it's your choice. Don't let friends or colleges write your rules. Don't let books or blog posts write your rules. Write the rules yourself. This is your child, you get to make the decisions. I wish I would have known this so many years ago. It would have made motherhood so much easier. I second guessed every decision I made because it didn't line up with this parenting book or that friends advice. Who cares. Your kid. Your rules.

Savor every minute. You won't realize that you will miss night feedings, until your kid is in kindergarten and doesn't need you to rock their tiny body to sleep anymore. You won't ever again get those short moments when they are milk drunk and woozy, their impossibly small head on your shoulder, grunting as they fight sleep. You don't realize that when you are in the thick of it, so just know that you should enjoy it a few times. You don't realize that your toddler will never be that same chunky and demanding person with sticking hands and ill pronounced words again. That chubby cheeked face will thin, they will learn how to pronounce their "r"s or "t"s, and they will find their own way three weeks into preschool. It will most definitely break your heart, but it will also overwhelm you with gratitude. Savor the moments that you are in right now, no matter the mess or the chaos. I promise, you will miss them when they are gone.

Know your limits. Don't let obligations and expectations break you. Three birthday parties for three different friends in one weekend may kill you, or at the very least turn your child into a goblin. It's okay to say no, it's okay to quit. When my oldest daughter was three I signed her up for a ballet class that didn't allow the parents to watch. I didn't realize that when I signed her up, because my oldest has class A separation anxiety. After two classes where she cried the entire time, we quit. I asked the studio to transfer the money to their gym class where I could watch from the sideline. I heard it all from they naysayers, "How will she ever learn", "She has to get used to being away from you", and so on. Still, I knew that she was three and one day she would learn how to separate from mom. I also knew that I didn't have the emotional or mental stability to shuttle a crying three year old with a newborn in tow to a class once a week. I knew my limits and everyone was happier in the long run.

Speak up. Talk to someone. If you feel lost or numb or on the edge. Tell someone. I was so afraid that I'd be labeled a bad mother if I admitted that motherhood just wasn't my thing. I was scared that I'd be judged, and cast out of my group of mommy friends. The surprising thing was that once I admitted it, I was a better mother. Once I admitted that I hated the night time feedings and the breast pump, I felt better. Once I stopped lying about how awesome motherhood was going for me, I was a better mother. I'm not sure why, but maybe the secret is in the surrender. Just talk, to friends, to your husband (remember him? see below), to those "perfect" gals at mommy gym. I bet they have a struggle or two of their own, and they are just dying to let it out. You never know who you will help just by speaking up.

Don't forget your husband. I know this sounds silly, but it's sound advice. I got so wrapped up in being a mother that I totally forgot I was also a wife. No, I'm not talking about housework and hot dinners, I'm talking about that person you married because they are your partner. When my oldest daughter was born I never asked my husband for help, I never told him I needed help, I didn't share a single thing with him. Why? I have no idea. I guess I just figured since I was a mother I was on my own. Crazy, I know. Not only did this divide us, but it also made us roommates. Husbands or Partners are important. They married you and took vows and they are capable humans. I promise that just because they do things backwards or not "your way", they are still very capable of being parents. My husband is a great father, but in the beginning I never gave him the chance. One I relaxed a little, he took a lot of the stress off this whole child rearing business. Then I remembered that I really liked him and that I really missed him too. Don't forget your husband or partner. Lean on them. Ask them for help. Invited them to eat the left over pizza with you at four in the morning after the baby wakes for the twelfth time. They miss you too, and maybe they won't eat that pizza with you, but they will remember that you asked.

 Motherhood is the one thing that brings you overwhelming joy and earth shattering heartbreak at the same time. Which can blind you when you are in the thick of it. Each year of motherhood will bring new challenges that will make you wonder what was so hard about those two in the morning feedings. Still motherhood will be the most exciting thing you will ever do in your life. Even if you aren't a natural, even if it took a few years to find your groove. I try to remind myself  every day that my children don't need perfection, they only need me. Which is so very reassuring when you are in the middle of chaos and catastrophe. More commonly known as motherhood.

Wife, Mother, Blogger, Writer. I like Starbucks, Instagram, anything by Shonda Rhimes, and the "F" word. 
If you like to laugh and lament over motherhood, Absolute Mommy is the place for you. 
Join me on my quest to be the "Okayest Mommy" in the world.