Faith

Written one year ago today, this is one of my very favorites. Only the beginning of the article is about childbirth- the rest is about letting go . . .

New Leaf Parenting

It took three attempts for me to succeed in having an unmedicated childbirth.  I attended nearly 70 hours of childbirth classes before my first baby, read countless books, and spent many-a-night role-playing labor with my husband before falling asleep to my hypnobirthing CDs.  The message was clear:  LET GO.  Succumb to the pain instead of fighting it.  Relax even when your body instinctually clenches.  Unless you have been in labor, you have absolutely no idea how impossible that seems when you are experiencing gut-wrenching pain.  By the third labor, I knew what to do and my unmedicated birth was everything I had hoped it would be: raw emotion that cannot be imitated.

Unmedicated childbirth isn’t just about “proving you can do it.”  Sure, you feel proud, just as a marathon runner does after her grueling race, but at its core, unmedicated childbirth inherently embraces FAITH.  Faith in our bodies to do what…

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Secret Garden

Waiting until the last sliver of light hits the horizon against the ocean. Sleeping in on Saturdays. Literally dancing in the moonlight on the dock of a bay.

Why on Earth would we give these things up to have children?

They don’t sleep, they cry, we lose ourselves.

We have them because they are our Secret Garden.

Sure, no one tells you how difficult nursing is when you are so focused on the birth. You tune out the laments of “teething”, “twos” and “teens”.

You focus on that tiny baby in your arms. Who grows and challenges you and rules your schedule.

Sometimes you daydream of life before children.

But then you remember your heart.

You’ve never known a love like this before.  It’s unlike any other.

And then you see your mother for the first time.

It’s like an awakening.

A Secret Garden.

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My husband, Emmett.

Slow it Down.

Museums, Aquariums, Zoos, Trails, Beaches, Farms and Libraries.  For the past 4 years, I’ve exposed my daughters to a plethora of stimulating experiences.  They’ve seen more in their short years than many children have in their lifetime.  And while that is great and something they will see in our family photos for years to come, deep down I know that is not what they will remember.

On any random day, my eldest Aurora will say, “Remember that time when I crawled in your bed and you pretended your hand was an alligator and mine was a crab?”  Yes, I remember it but only because she reminds me of it all of the time.  It was so insignificant; at least it was to me.  But that is what she craves.  That is what she treasures- an intimate moment, unplanned, unremarkable to anyone else’s standards but something just between the two of us.

I realized, recently, how much I have depended on using external stimuli to parent my child.  This is hard to admit, but it is the truth.  I used to marvel as I watched my Mother-in-Law capture Aurora’s attention by slipping pine straw through the cracks in our deck.  Aurora was in complete awe and wonder for 30 minutes.  No toys.  No music.  No playmates.  Just whatever was around.  I envied my Mother-in-Law and didn’t believe I could do the same so I looked everywhere else to replace the one thing my daughter wanted most:  me.

You can find zoos, aquariums and parks anywhere in the world but you can’t find another Momma quite like your own.  So for the past two weeks, I have stayed-put at home.   We’ve colored, crafted, swam in kiddie pools, read books, and role-played.  I’ve never felt so close to my children before and yet I’ve been “home” with them since they were born.

I’ve recognized, there is a difference between being physically present and actively engaged.  I used to be around to supervise my children having fun at or with XYZ but now I’m having fun with them.  And in such a short time you can feel the difference.  The length of Harper’s hugs when I say goodnight and the meaning behind her “I love you mom.” She means it.  She always has but recently, she’s really feeling it.  And so am I.

I’ve listened to my elders warn me that this phase passes quickly, that one day I will yearn for these exhausting days to return.  So I’m slowing it down.  I’m soaking it in.  I’m giving my girls what they’ve wanted all along-  My love.  My attention.  My precious time.  Me.

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Camille Vaughan Photography

 

It’s not me, it’s you.

Have you ever been in an argument with someone who you know has done wrong but won’t admit it?  You provide a variety of examples to “make them see” to no avail.  You usually part ways frustrated, exasperated- wondering why they won’t take responsibility.  In the end, sometimes you even apologize for bringing it up, simply because you hate to live in conflict.  How do we reckon with this?

We are unable to force someone else to be self-aware or apologize for their wrongdoings.  Many people suffer from low self-esteem and choose to find faults in others in order to make themselves feel better.  Often, they don’t even realize they are doing it.

They criticize the way you look because inwardly, they hate their own body.  They resort to physical violence because you made them feel weak with your words.  They question your career choices because they never reached their full potential and regret it.  They insult your parenting style because deep down, they are defending theirs.  They provide a thousand different reasons for why they are unable to commit, all-the-while the true reason lies buried deep underneath.

Ultimately, it is not our responsibility to “make them see”.  When faced with these difficult confrontations, it is best to first validate their feelings.   “I’m sorry I/this job/decision/outfit makes you uncomfortable.  It was never my intention.”  By using this statement we are not apologizing for who we are or what we believe in, rather, for the fact that it makes them uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry breastfeeding my baby makes you uncomfortable.  It was never my intention.”   I will not apologize for feeding my child but I am happy to express sympathy that it makes you uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry you do not like my hair/tattoo/new job/diet/boyfriend/wife.  It was never my intention.”  I will not apologize for my choice but I am sorry you do not agree.

Sometimes, we also need to recognize our part.  Is there any truth to their accusations?  Certainly it is tough to convince someone else to see their faults if we are not first able to see our own.

“You’re right.  I haven’t been exercising enough.”  “You’re right, this is not the job I thought I would have.”  “You’re right.  I am taking the hard road.”

By addressing their concern rather than arguing against it, you have taken away some of their ammo. At this point, they may find something else to argue about but before that, perhaps you can offer an opportunity of self-reflection by asking a question:  “Can you tell me why that bothers you?”

“I’m sorry you do not like _______.  It was never my intention.  Can you tell me why that bothers you?”

If we can approach these conflicts as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and each other rather than to vehemently defend, we may walk away all the wiser.  Or, we may just walk away knowing, “It’s not me.  It’s you.”

Your discomfort of my choice is not mine to behold.  It is not mine to have to defend.  It is yours to live with and my hope is that by asking you why it bothers you, I have planted a seed for you to consider; an opportunity for self-reflection.

My choice to avoid ” trying to make you see” frees me; for your life is yours to live just as my life is mine.  And my hope is that you will respect mine, as I respect yours and that in time, we will recognize and take responsibility for our own faults.  That we will show gratitude when we have been made aware of something we had not previously recognized.  That we will practice empathy in difficult situations and that we may find peace when it is not our burden to bear.

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Reality Check

I feel like a fraud and I’ve got to address it.  So far, my blog, for the most part, appears as if I am shitting rainbows and butterflies.  While it is true that I grew up stuck in the back seat of a car on long road trips listening to motivational speaker Tony Robbins on tape (thanks Mom) and as a result, strive to find the silver lining in any situation, the reality is . . .I feel super overwhelmed at some point every single day.  Then I feel guilty for feeling this way because I do not have an immediate family member with a chronic illness, I live in America, I am a white, upper-middle class female with a supportive family, I have a great education and am healthy.  What the hell do I have to feel overwhelmed about?

I remind myself that it is all relative.  I remind myself of my time in Africa- when I did not know how to return to America and live this life I have been given when I knew how others were living thousands of miles away (let alone a few blocks away).  I remind myself to continue to be self-reflective.  To evaluate my weaknesses and develop plans of how I will improve.  To pat myself on the back for my successes.  To be humble.  To be empathetic.  To feel everything because what the hell else are we doing here on Earth but to “feel it all” as Feist sang?

I lose my Sicilian temper, I yell at my kids and feel bad.  I wish I could runaway sometimes or trade places with someone else I see pictures of on Facebook.  I feel guilt and regret and disappointment at my self-pity.

Pictures are worth a thousand words but we never see the full picture, do we?

So I offer you my words.  My truth.  My reality.  It’s not all rainbows and butterflies but sometimes it is, and those sure are pretty.

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Orphanage in Accra, Ghana 2000

 

 

Love to You

Swinging, strolling, playing, nursing.  None of it has worked.  It is 9 PM and you should have been asleep two hours ago.  Instead, you are awake and crying when placed in your crib.  What is a mom, to do?

You had me up at midnight and 5 a.m.  Your sisters, collectively, woke me at 1, 2 and 4 a.m.  I haven’t slept in years.

After all of the trying, the rocking, the swaying, it dawns on me just what you need.  It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of it all along?

My energy changes.  I lay you on your tummy.  You fight.  I place my gentle hands upon your back.  Your head.  You settle.

I caress the soft skin on your sweet, little chubby arm and you lift it begging me to continue.  So I do.  I channel all the love I have for you through the end of my fingertips.  I calm and so do you.

We’ve been connected since the beginning and we always will be.

I set aside my exhaustion, my frustration and I send my love to you.

I slowly stop moving, resting my full palm upon your body.  A fingertip.  Hovering.

I’ve waited all of this time for you to sleep and yet I pause to marvel at your perfection before shutting your door, leaving my energy safely enclosed so that you feel safe.  Secure.

All my love, to you.

 

Achilles Heel

We all have one.  A weakness, an Achilles heel.  For some, it is more obvious- perhaps a physical disability or chronic illness.  For others, it is an internal battle- a mental illness, an insecurity, invisible.

In today’s age, where friendships are formed over the internet and text messages, it is easy to hide these shortcomings- using photographs and witty quips as a facade for what lies beneath.  But the weakness remains and with it its ability to fester and silently crumble our confidence.

Some of us are more aware of our flaws than others, perhaps even too aware- obsessing over our failures; punishing ourselves as if that fixes the problem- while others choose to avoid confronting our demons, sweeping them under the proverbial rug where they grow and grow, only showing face during unrelated arguments.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  I could not agree more.  Looking back, my saddest moments were when I 1)  blamed others for my unhappiness  2) knew the root of a problem but refused to face it and 3) exhausted myself in an attempt to force someone else to recognize and fix their own problems.

Now, when my life feels imbalanced, I first look within.  I try to break through the several smaller issues that easily distract me from the true root of the problem.  Once identified, I take responsibility for my part- how did I contribute positively/negatively and what can I do now to improve it?

It is at this point that my achilles heel rears its ugly head- my inability to control the way others perceive me.  I care way too much about the way other people feel about me.  I envy strong-natured souls, unafraid to publicly announce their biased opinion, regardless of how it ostracizes them.  Instead, I play the middle-ground, always empathizing with the other party in an attempt to understand their point-of-view, wanting to appear fair and considerate.

It has taken a lot of thought for me to understand why I am this way and, as is the case for many insecurities, it stems from my childhood.  I am one of eight children; however, they are all half or step-siblings.  To me, they have never been anything but “siblings” because they all entered my life by the time I was three years old, but to them, I was an addition- the youngest and in some cases, unexpected child.   In an effort to “fit in” to three different families, I forced myself to be malleable, afraid that if I was deemed to have a difficult personality, I would be overlooked or avoided.  Fast forward thirty years later and here I am:  paralyzed when I have done everything I can to be easy-going and yet still sometimes misunderstood, powerless to change the other person’s perspective.

Once we recognize our weakness, it is up to us to either live with it or deal with it.  I don’t want to live this way any longer so I am determined to deal with it.  I don’t have a perfect answer but I know I can focus on what I DO HAVE:  The nuclear family I am creating- the fact that my daughters won’t feel as misplaced as I felt growing up.  I focus on my health- my gratitude for my healthy body and mind.  And I focus on my strengths- what I am doing well, giving myself credit for what I have overcome to get to where I am today.

The truth is, Achille had only one weakness but in the end, it was the weakness that killed him.  And I’ll be damned to allow this weakness to be my demise.  I will take all the necessary time “To find yourself, think for yourself”, as Socrates said best.  And I challenge you to do the same.

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Misunderstood

Have you ever been misunderstood?  It’s a pretty terrible and helpless feeling when you mean well and yet are received in a completely different light.  My mother taught me to exhaustion at a very young age that we always have “choices”.

When we are misjudged, we have a choice.  We can ignore it.  We can get angry.  We can seek justice.  Or we can forgive.  I’ve only been around for 33 years, but I can’t think of anything more exhausting than holding onto anger.  It is self-serving.  Sure you have been wronged, but in the end, you are wronging yourself more when you carry that anger with you everywhere you go.

This is not to say I am a pushover.  I simply cannot keep quiet when an injustice has occurred.  Absolutely NOTHING except resentment gets accomplished when you do not defend yourself.  Once the defense has rested, however, I make the conscientious choice to let it be.  Over the years, I have learned that truly the only person we can control is our self.  We cannot control how others perceive us or how they will react to our defense.  But we CAN control how we move forward.

What did we learn from that experience?  What would we change, if anything, the next time around?  An error isn’t a mistake unless we fail to learn from it, I used to tell my fourth graders.  So I resolve to live by that motto today.  We are all imperfect.  In most situations, surely, even if we have been wronged, we can take some responsibility.

I choose (my mother would be so proud) to feel sadness when I have been wronged, followed by possible anger, followed by a plan of how I will move forward. What can I learn?  Where do we go from here?  What good can I make of this?  And then, as James Baldwin said,

“I looked down the line, and I wondered.  When I buckled up my shoes, and I started.”

We keep on, keepin’ on.

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Faith

It took three attempts for me to succeed in having an unmedicated childbirth.  I attended nearly 70 hours of childbirth classes before my first baby, read countless books, and spent many-a-night role-playing labor with my husband before falling asleep to my hypnobirthing CDs.  The message was clear:  LET GO.  Succumb to the pain instead of fighting it.  Relax even when your body instinctually clenches.  Unless you have been in labor, you have absolutely no idea how impossible that seems when you are experiencing gut-wrenching pain.  By the third labor, I knew what to do and my unmedicated birth was everything I had hoped it would be: raw emotion that cannot be imitated.

Unmedicated childbirth isn’t just about “proving you can do it.”  Sure, you feel proud, just as a marathon runner does after her grueling race, but at its core, unmedicated childbirth inherently embraces FAITH.  Faith in our bodies to do what they were designed to do and faith in our resolve to see it through.  Unmedicated childbirth celebrates the beauty of nature.  As miserable as she may feel, a pregnant woman cannot deny the miracle of feeling tiny little feet responding to a hand on the belly.  It truly is a miracle.

What I did not expect was how my experience would permeate into other parts of my life, long after the birth was over.  This notion of embracing nature- of having faith – of being fearless.  Just as labor has the opportunity to progress smoothly once the mother lets go, so does life.

So I have decided to let go.

As a result of my experience with unmedicated childbirth, I no longer fear letting go of toxic relationships, for I know that fear was the only thing that kept me in them in the first place.

As a result of my unmedicated childbirth, I am not concerned with using my “things” – my house, my car, my clothes, my jewelry- to show my worth, for my value lies underneath the surface of my skin, in the chambers of my heart and the core of my soul.

As a result of my unmedicated childbirth, I am not afraid of aging.  In fact, I embrace it.  My wrinkles represent my time; the more I have, the luckier I feel to have lived long enough to display them.

And as a result of my unmedicated childbirth, I believe in myself.

I am capable.  I am worthy.  I am humbled.

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Turning the Page

 

First it was the newborn diapers, then the newborn clothes.  Next was the Rock-N-Play you slept in until you were four months old and then the Snug-a-Bunny Swing.  Today, it was the Bumbo and floor activity play mat.  All stored in the attic, likely waiting for a larger-than-life, baby gear liquidation yard-sale.

You. Are. Growing.  So fast, too fast.  Just a week ago you couldn’t sit without toppling over and now you are army crawling across the room.  I feel a mixture of anticipation and panic.  I can’t wait to see the development of your relationship with your sisters and yet I am terrified of you not fitting into the cradle of my arms anymore.

All there is left to do is absorb it; to allow it to permeate my skin.  To leave the chores left undone and blow raspberries with you, instead.  Your giggles are my gasoline and while I yearn for a full night of sleep, I am not quite ready to turn this page.

If I have learned anything from having your older sisters, however, it is that each new chapter offers more to love and cherish.  So while I will continue to marvel at your tiny fist wrapped around my pinkie as you nurse in the middle of the night, I will still look forward to the day we can walk alongside each other, holding hands.

Your book is just beginning, Emma Jane, and I am hooked.

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Special thanks to Danielle Ice Photography for the first photo.