Monday, September 23, 2013

Confessions of a Single Mom

This could also be titled "Confessions of a Single Parent" or "Confessions of a Mom."

I eat my daughter's leftovers.
I drink coffee for my sanity. I drink tea for my health. I drink wine for my soul.
I don't have many really close friends anymore.
I say way more of the things that my mom said when I was young that I NEVER thought I would say.
I smile all the time because I'm happy, but also because I'm insane.
I taught my 3-year-old daughter to sew.
Sometimes, I turn on the t.v. for June so I can take a nap.
I love naps, probably more than any child or adult I know.
I could eat my weight in chocolate. Juniper would fight me for it.
Sometimes, when I say to Juniper, "You're beautiful like Mommy," I don't always mean it.
I long for the day when a man will walk into my life, a good, good man, and step up and be there and sweep me off my feet and build us a house and a family, but I also dread that day because then my magic world where just June and I exist will disappear a little.
I dance in public, usually with Juniper, but sometimes by myself.
I really like taking my daughter grocery shopping, because she is excellent and I get complimented a lot and it makes me feel like the perfect mom, even though I'm far from it.
I have worn children's dress up clothes. Proudly.
Sometimes I rock June to sleep because it's easier than wrestling her to bed.
I always want to go out and have a good time, but even if I'm having a great time, I still wish I was home with June. Always.
I can cook really well, but my daughter prefers pizza. Does this bug me? Yes.
I never go to the bathroom alone anymore.
I work two jobs - one full time, one part time.
I never have enough money for anything.
When I go to the store, if I do happen to have a little 'extra cash,' I consistently buy things for Juniper, even if she doesn't need them. I hardly ever buy nice things for myself.
I usually cut and color my own hair because I can't justify paying that much for a haircut/color.
Sometimes, when I can't parent just like the magazines and the perfect moms on t.v. tell me to, and I know that somewhere down the line, what I'm doing is going to manifest itself psychologically in my daughter's brain, I feel like a failure.
I know I'm not.
I'm a great parent because I love my daughter more than anything, and I would do anything for her. I would go to the ends of the earth for her every single day. I want only good things for her, and I'll do anything I can to bring her those good things.
I'm a great parent.

And you are, too.

Brooke + JuneBug

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On Losing Your Child.

Initially, this post was to be about how children grow and how no two children are alike and we should value their differences and not rush them to develop at a particular pace. I even had it half-written in my head. After tonight, I'm writing about something different.

Tonight, my mom, June and I went to a pig roast at my friend's house. June was playing with some older kids in the neighbors yard, and I could see her from where I was standing. My mom and I were talking to an old friend when I saw all the other kids come running back from the neighbors. I glanced around and didn't see June. I looked around the backyard and didn't see her. I started walking around the backyard and calling her name. I didn't see her. I looked back at my mom and she stopped talking and looked around and realized what was happening. We both started scouring the house and backyard. I stopped one of the kids June had been playing with and asked her if she had seen where June went. She said no. I walked toward the end of the yard, where it butted up against a schoolyard. I saw one of the girls that June had been playing with riding her bike down the sidewalk. I started to panic. I thought about how easily June could have tried to follow this girl and gotten turned around in the neighborhood. I feared that someone might have pulled up in front of the house and yanked her into the car and driven away. I walked back into the yard and alerted my friend that June was missing. His son went to the neighbors to see if June had snuck inside. Others started looking around the yard for her. At this point, I was feeling nauseous, just totally sick in my gut. I walked up to another girl that June had been playing with and described June and asked if she had seen where she'd gone. At that moment, I heard my mom yelling for me, and I turned around. She was walking toward me, and she was holding June's hand. I ran up to her, scooped her up, and immediately burst into tears. She knew something was wrong, because she held me just as tightly. A lull sort of fell over everyone as they discovered that June had been located. We just stood there holding each other.

All of this transpired in about 5 minutes.

I haven't had a scare like that with June EVER. She is one to check in with me; I'm home base. She'll go play a little, then come back and hug me or tell me what she's doing, then go back out. She's terrified of people she doesn't know. She'll cling to me and hide behind me and tuck her little head as far into her shoulder as it will go. For her to wander off on her own is extremely rare.

So many emotions arose in me during that 5 minutes. Obviously fear was at the top. I didn't even want to imagine what would have happened if she had been taken. I was also angry with myself for not staring at June every single second to make sure she was right where I thought she was. I was sad because the only thing I could think of was her perfect little hugs and how badly I wanted one at that very moment. However, the strongest emotion I felt was regret. Strangely enough, this trumped all the other emotions.

I regretted all the times I had pushed her to do something so she could meet another developmental milestone. I regretted yelling at her when I was having a rough day and she was pushing all my buttons, though unintentionally. I regretted any and all times I had left her with a sitter, regardless of the plans I had, whether it be work, church, etc. I regretted not hugging her every second and taking every single possible opportunity to tell her I love her. All I wanted at that moment was to hold her and kiss her and whisper 'I love you' over and over and over again, forever. If I find her, I thought, I'll never ever push her to accomplish anything again. I'll never yell again. I'll never stop hugging her. I'll follow her around for the rest of her life telling her I love her.

It's amazing what the absence of your child will do to your heart under duress.

If you're a parent, you know this sinking feeling. You're at the beach, you scan the water....and you don't see your child. You sit up. You glance up and down the shore. Wasn't he just there? You stand. You walk toward the water. You start yelling his name. People are looking at you, then out at the water, wondering if what they think is happening is really happening. You start to feel nauseous, you start to play out the horrid future waiting for you if your child is gone....and then, from behind you, "Momma? I'm here. I was building a castle!"

Our children will never understand the ramifications of their random "disappearances" until they are parents. They can not quite comprehend the panic, the sadness, the anger, the fear, the deep pain of loss already hitting our souls within minutes of losing sight of them. It's impossible to quantify, because the joy of a child is impossible to understand. Your heart turns inside out when you have a child. Something is triggered in a mother's brain that starts rewriting her memories, basically making it impossible to remember a time when that child wasn't her whole world. Your child is your heart, forever walking around outside your body.

Yet, somewhere along the way, our children often turn into trophies, tangible evidence of what great parents we are. It can become a rat race; her child spoke at 10 months - well, my child walked at 10 months - my little one speaks fluent Spanish at age 2 - our little guy can write his full name at just 3 years old - etc etc. We start to use our children to proclaim our achievements rather than letting the child be the achievement. Every single child is an achievement - regardless of developmental difficulties, disabilities, delays, etc. Every child is to be appreciated, no matter their circumstances.

During those 5 minutes of utter uncertainty, all I could think of is how much I love Juniper and how much I love being her mother. I honestly didn't care if she knew her numbers and letters. I didn't care if she learned to write her name in time or participated in dance class or could read by age 5. All I wanted was to hold her and tell her I love her until she fully understood - and that will take my entire lifetime. I plan to utilize every second of it to do exactly that.

Now that I'm a mother, I appreciate my mother for everything she went through, everything she did for me. When my mother became a mother, she had the same deep appreciation for her mother. Now that my grandma is getting older and losing her memory, my mother is clinging to those memories, loving on her mom every chance she gets. That's what being a parent is all about - teaching our children what love is, and loving them as much as we possibly can, as much as our being will allow. Forget about when he/she learns to walk. Don't worry about how soon he/she can talk. Stop worrying about whether or not they'll be successful in kindergarten. LOVE ON YOUR CHILDREN EVERY POSSIBLE MOMENT. It shouldn't have taken losing June for 5 minutes for me to remember that. It should be at the top of my Mommy To-Do List. It should be the only thing on my Mommy To-Do List.

Remember this: Don't be the wind - be the sun. Don't be like the wind, pushing the clouds around, making them go the way you want them to. Don't try to get your kids to behave a certain way, blowing them from accomplishment to achievement. The wind makes us hunker down, put on jackets, and try to get away. Be the sun. Drench them in the rays of your love. Let the warmth of your love open your children up to all the wild, beautiful potential they possess.

Brooke + JuneBug

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Punctuated Thoughts on Joint Custody.

This will be a short little ditty, because I'm reserving mental energy for this week, but it's weighing on my mind. June's dad and I share custody of her. It wasn't an easy decision to come to and took months of adjusting. Some days I hate it, and some days I hate it less. I didn't have her this weekend because I went on a leader's retreat with my church, and I miss her tremendously. More than usual. I think it's because she is really growing up into a tiny human, able to hold conversations and spell her name and say things like, "Momma, I love you. You're the best." Also, having her in Preschool has somehow transformed her. She was always at child care centers with me, where I worked, but true Preschool is new for us. It makes her more grown up and I'm still not sure how I'm coming to terms with that.

Back to joint custody. June's dad and I have come to an arrangement that works with our schedules and serves June the best. We do 2 days on, 2 days off, 5 days on, 5 days off. Seems complicated at the outset, but it's seamless, and really easy to swap days/weekends when it's necessary. While I hate being apart from her, and miss her so, so much, I have grown to appreciate 'me' time and take advantage of extra time for chores, cleaning, writing, and work. Yet, nearly everything I do is marked with little reminders of her, which make me miss her more, so it's somewhat like a pendulum; swinging back and forth between appreciation of my alone time and the acute sensation of little arms hugging my neck.

If you're a joint custody parent - or a parent that shares custody at all - you'll know the feeling. You're dreading letting your little one out of your arms but simultaneously planning your evening. You feel a tinge of sadness and maybe the prick of a tear as you wave good-bye while you mentally check off the list of things you plan to accomplish. Some weekends, I know how busy I'll be, so the time goes by fast, and pretty soon, June's back in my arms. Other weekends, even with the promise of sleeping in and kid-free lunch dates, the minutes tick by and I miss her so acutely I just ache.

It certainly helps that she is excited to see her dad. She still always hugs me, says, "I love you, too" and gives me a kiss. She always waves as they drive away. The minute she sees either one of us coming to pick her up, she runs right into our arms like it's been years. Those are the best greetings.

When people ask me if it's hard to share her, I want to laugh. "Of course not!" I jokingly say. What I really mean is, of course it's hard. Of course I want her all to myself. But would I deprive her of a loving relationship with her father to satisfy my maternal selfishness? Not a chance. That relationship has the potential to be just as enriching as my relationship with her, and I won't take that away simply because I don't like to share. She's not a possession. She's a living, breathing creature who needs both parents to love her and support her. I wouldn't take that away from her. And while I miss her tremendously (I get her back Tuesday morning; I haven't seen her since Thursday morning) I am learning more and more to appreciate my time. It also creates and re-creates a tiny void in me that June so delightfully gets to refill every time we're reunited.

It's taken some time, but that is what I've grown to love.

Brooke + JuneBug

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Baby Talk.

I was recently asked to write a blog on how mothers talk to their children and other mothers. I've been really thinking on it, because there's so much to say about both of these things. I'm going to ping-pong around a little bit, so try to hang on.

I'm a pretty educated person. I consider myself fairly professional and adult. Now, don't get me wrong - I have a silly side. A very silly side. I also like to laugh and have fun. Does that take away from my professionalism? Nope. Do you know what does? When I excuse myself from a situation by saying, "Mommy's gotta go take a pee-pee in the tinkle room!"

I can't tell you how many times I've excused myself to go 'potty.' I work in child care and I'm also a mom, so naturally, I talk like a kid. I've also been in situations where that kind of talk would be considered unprofessional and inappropriate, and I've still caught myself doing it! As parents, and for some reason, especially mothers, we tend to talk like our kids more often than not. Is it because we spend more time with them than with other adults? Is it because it's easier than using 'grown-up words'? Is it force of habit? I honestly don't know, but I want to dissect it a little.

I think that some mothers talk like their kids because they have so many friends that have children, and it just naturally happens. We think, "Oh, this woman has kids, she says 'potty' and 'boo-boo' and 'go bye-bye' so I don't have to talk like a grown-up around her." Maybe we're so sleep-deprived that we truly can't conjure the 'big words.' Have you had your quota of coffee yet? If not, then I don't blame you for talking like your kid. I'd be impressed if you were speaking in full sentences. For whatever reasons, we talk like our kids, even when we're not talking to our kids, and I wonder if this is something that we should think about changing....I'm not saying that I'm doing this perfectly, but I'd like to share what I've done with my own child and how it's changed both of our language patterns.

Since Juniper was a baby, I have spoken to her like an adult. I never talked 'baby talk' to her. Plus, I talk to her A LOT. When she was an infant, and I wore her while I cooked and cleaned and grocery shopped, I explained what I was doing. When she was rocking in her swing or her bouncer, I would read chapter books to her or talk to her about what was happening in the world. As she got older, I would walk her through our schedule. I would tell her all about our day and I would explain everything to her. I always did this in a 'regular' voice using 'grown-up' words. Now that she is 3, she speaks like an adult. She uses words like 'upset,' 'disappointed,' 'fragile,' and 'focus' appropriately in full sentences. I'm pretty proud of her. I'm not saying that her progress is entirely the product of the way I talk to her, but I think it had something to do with it.

Another plus to the way that I've talked to Juniper is that I don't have to 'turn off' my baby talk and remember how to talk to adults. I can't tell you how many times I've been talking to another mom on the phone and we'll be clipping along in a normal conversation and suddenly I'll hear her say, in a high pitched voice, "Oh yes, she's such a big girl, you so sweet! You go potty!" then switch casually back into 'adult' conversation with me as if nothing happened. [Were you talking to your kid or your dog??] Now, I'll be the first one to admit that my voice goes up about 2 octaves when talking to tiny babies and tiny puppies. It's ridiculous. But it's different when I talk to children. These are tiny humans who understand so much more than we give them credit for! If I talk to them like babies, they are going to think that they are babies, and they might not expect as much from themselves as they would have, had I talked to them like adults.

By talking to children like small people, and not babies, we encourage them to use the same words that we're using. We build up their self-esteem and help them to believe in themselves and their potential. They feel empowered that a grown up is speaking to them like an equal. That's an amazing feeling for a child. The benefit for you is that you don't have to worry about being taken seriously by your peers. You don't have to remember when to switch from 'baby talk' to 'grown-up' talk, and you can enter seamlessly from a conversation with your child to a conversation with a friend and vice versa. Plus your kids learn a great deal from you talking to everyone the same way. Our children can sense inflections in our voices, and if they hear trepidation, anxiety, fear, sarcasm, etc, they pick up on it. They will be influenced by the way you speak to them and others.

All that to say....words are powerful. The way you say them might be just as powerful.

Brooke + JuneBug