I remember this day, eight years ago, like it was yesterday. Except I was on copious amounts of morphine and I was recovering from a major abdominal surgery. I had my little boy eight years ago today and that was hands down one of the best days of my life. It was also the most monumental. I remember looking down at that tiny little face and it just took my breath away. I felt myself transform in that moment into a mother. I felt like I was having this grand metamorphosis. It was the start of me raising and shaping a tiny human so that one day he may be fit for society. I remember looking around me after having this revelation and wondering how in the hell the world still looks the same when my entire life had just changed so much.
Boy let me tell you, laying in that bed, I never for a second thought raising my son was going to be easy, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was really going to be like. There are no books, articles, or ancient scripts that can put into words just how much your babies can rock your world. I was not prepared for the first time he smiled, I swear angels were singing. The first time he walked, you could have knocked me over with a feather because I was just so stunned. When he started speaking I never thought I had heard a sound quite as sweet. There are so many joyous times for me to look back on and it still makes my heart so happy. But there are truly hard times too. The first time he was sick just broke my heart, there was nothing I could do for him and I just had to watch him suffer. I never realized how much I could miss him until he went on a trip with his grandparents for the first time. And I never thought my heart could break into so many pieces when he told me he hated me once. There is nothing I would change about him or any of the things we have experienced together. They have shaped him into this little person with such a large personality.
Every year when his birthday rolls around it startles me a little bit more. I thought five was hard because he was leaving me to go to school, but eight just kind of took my breath away. I feel like it’s just going to hit me harder every year because he is growing up so fast and my little baby is turning into this wonderful young man right before my eyes. I am so proud of him everyday. I love you so much, Brody Bretton.
I took my one year old to the park this morning. I typically take him early so it’s not too hot for his little porcelain skin. The park we usually go to is empty that early in the morning. I decided this morning to change it up and try out a new playground. Little did I know that I was in for a treat. We get there and I’m shocked by the sheer number of stay at home moms in spandex and oversized sweaters. At first I think, these are my people. Leggings ARE pants damnit! But then I get closer. And see that while they may be decked out in gym gear, they have their hair done and makeup on at this ungodly hour and I immediately don’t trust them. I take my nugget onto the playground and I’m trailing behind him as he gets acclimated and I begin to notice that all of these mom’s are speaking to each other in these unnaturally cheery falsettos and I can see way too many of their teeth. “It’s fine,” I think to myself, “they’re probably definitely not cyborgs” and we keep playing. That is when I pick up on the next thing: every time their kids misbehave I see them grab their kid by the arm and get very close to their ear and whisper. Oooookay. So I take my little to one of those cars that sit on a giant spring that rock back and forth and let him play when another child climbs in next to him. His mother quickly followed and we stood there for a minute in semi-comfortable silence until her son reached over and screeches “ELMO!!!” and tries to take my son’s Elmo plush. She quickly grabs her son’s arm and does the creepy whisper-threat in her son’s ear. At this point the kid is not having any of her passive-aggressive parenting bullshit and he proceeds to try to push my kid out of the car. The other mother then looks at me with her giant Xanax eyes and says in her stepford wives voice, “so sorry! It’s the terrible twos you know! Boxer just doesn’t want to play by the rules! I didn’t have this problem with my daughter, Flower!” I give her my best “I’m going to agree with you so you don’t murder me smile” and grab my son under the pretense of walking the trail around the park. Once we got out of the eyeline of the most-definitely-cyborg park mom’s we got in the car and left. From now on, I think we’ll stick with our regular park. But if I ever need a little Xanax with my coffee I know where to go!
These sound like comforting words. These sound like words that make you secure. These sound like words that should make you feel comfortable being yourself. They sound like a beacon of hope. But let me tell you about these words. They come with fine print. They come with a word of caution. There are unspoken words that tag along to the end of that statement. “I’m here for you…until I’m not.” …until it isn’t fun, …until it isn’t convenient, …until it gets too hard, …until I see how bad it actually is.
I’ve seen first hand someone speak these words to me, to give me reassurance that they will understand what I am going through, and they will be a rock when I can’t stand anymore, that I don’t have to work so hard to make myself seem happy when I’m not to please other people, and then as soon as I let my guard down I’m left in the dust.
I have this to say to those people: don’t say what you don’t mean. Don’t say what you think needs to be said to someone you see struggling because one day they will take you up on those words. They will lean on you emotionally and it’s going to be messy. It will be sad. And it will probably be something you’ve never seen before. When the dust clears from those walls breaking down you damn well better still be standing there like a light in the endless night ready to catch them when they fall. It may seem like a lot to ask of someone, but it is a lot to promise. If you can’t be that light, then don’t offer those words.
It’s no secret that relationships are hard. You have to work at them all the time. Life happens and it changes people and you have to figure out how you still fit with your SO constantly. Here are a couple of ways to make your spouse feel like you’re still trying.
Ask about their day
And actually listen when they tell you. It may seem like such a small thing, but the little things build the foundation to support the large weight of a fundamentally strong relationship. I’m a stay at home mom currently, and now that my oldest is back in school, life doesn’t vary day to day with a 19 month old. But it is still nice to be asked. Adult communication is vital for parents especially.
Ask about your partner’s dreams/aspirations
I’m a person that has trouble sometimes articulating my desires because it is very personal for me. I’ve had the sole identity of “mom” for so long that it is hard for me to think of doing anything else. But I want to, and I’m so excited about it. And I’m sure your partner is too. All you have to do is ask.
Support your partner
I feel like this one should go without saying, but it is often overlooked. This is kind of an umbrella category because it means so many things. Support their dreams, support their goals, support them emotionally and physically, support them against people who rail against them. Be there in every way for them.
Don’t hide things
I’m one of the brave souls of the world who doesn’t have a lock on their phone. I’m not passing judgement on anyone that does. My lack of passcode is more anxiety fueled because in the event of an accident I want first responders to be able to easily access my emergency contacts, but it’s also because at any given time, I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to have anybody see the content of my phone. Want to see a bazillion pictures of my family or see the ridiculous conversations I have with my mom? Be my guest. I’m an open book. I won’t begrudge anybody their right to privacy, but if there is something on your phone that would hurt your partner, you’re doing something wrong. This heading really goes for communication in general. Don’t hide things. It might suck to hear the truth sometimes but it’s more painful to be left in the dark.
I’m not a relationship expert by any means. But there are basic things that I think people need to be reminded of. Life gets crazy and we sometimes forget to give our SO the attention they need. Check in with them and it’s amazing how smoothly that machine can run.
She was fierce and beautiful at five, bursting with still-new life. She had adventure in her heart and an unclouded mind. Everything was sunshine, she didn’t yet know of storms. One night she ventured from her room in the dead of night, as silent as she could be. She met a familiar figure who changed her irrevocably. That night the shadow on her soul took shape and began to grow.
She kept quiet about her encounter, too young to know what to do. She was still vibrant but perhaps a bit more guarded. On the outside she wasn’t tainted.
She grew up into a fiery teen, who lived with reckless abandon and sucked life dry. Still no one knew of her secret, and, thus, the shadow grew.
She became a woman with a very blemished soul. Her secret festered and bloomed. Her vibrancy barely flickered through the shadow anymore. The storms were all she knew.
She gains wisdom with her age. She craves the light and yearns to see the beauty after the storm. She loosens her grip on her secret little by little. The shadow is heavy, but she is strong. She is determined to live in the light again.
I celebrated eight years of marriage this past May and it made me look back at all the things we have been through together. It has very rarely been easy, but, more than anything, that has made me appreciate our union so much more. I was 20 years old when we wed and we had our first child the same year and it was a big whirlwind of crazy and magnificent. I was asked more than once why I was rushing it and my response was, why not? I was young and in love and I knew what I wanted and I haven’t looked back since.
So what have I learned in the last eight years? I’ve learned not to take time for granted. After 14 combined months of deployments, and a nightshift job, those stolen moments in the early mornings are the most important thing in the world. I’ve learned that neither of us are the same people that we were in the beginning, and it’s always exciting to fall in love again with new versions of ourselves. I’ve learned to communicate and trust because at the end of the day, he’s the one that is there to catch me when I fall, and it’s so much easier to get back up when you have a helping hand. I’ve learned that nothing is more attractive to me than watching my husband play with our beautiful children. I’ve learned to love myself again because he loves me and he shows me everyday.
We had a rough start, and it still isn’t always easy, but there is not one single person I would rather journey through life with. Just remember, everything is more satisfying the harder you work for it.
I was going through my camera roll and I saw this picture of my mom with my kids. This was taken when she surprised me with a visit before Christmas last year because she knew how down I was not being around my family for the holidays. She dropped everything and flew out to me because that is the kind of person she is. She is so selfless and caring and she is truly an inspiration to me. She was a single mom working her ass off to care for and provide a nurtring environment for my brother and me. She had a firm hand that I hated, but I am so thankful for now. She listens to me speak about my life and my struggles and victories without judgement. She kicked Cancer’s ass with grace and dignity and I am in awe of her. She might look back at her journey through life so far and see herself doing what she had to do, but I see a fierce, independent warrior making her struggles her bitch. She is beautiful, kind, sarcastic, hilarious, a ridiculously talented bargain shopper, but most of all, she is my mom. She has taught me so much, and I am eager to learn even more. I will never be able to thank her enough for everything that she has done for me and given up for me. As a mother myself now, I understand a little bit better, and I appreciate her so much more. I love you so much, Mom.
An open letter to those that are tired of my shit:
I know that you are probably tired of my mood swings. You know what’s funny? I am too. I’m actually pretty fucking sick of not knowing which direction my brain is about to take me. I’m happy right this second, but don’t blink! This rollercoaster doesn’t stop!
I’m sorry for being insecure. And not just a normal or healthy version of insecure that is acceptable, but the kind of insecure that inspires paranoia and requires frequent validation from you. I know it sucks to have me ask you if I’ve made you mad 20 times, or if you love me. Trust me, I hate it too.
My bad for that anxiety. I know it’s a bummer to hear about the twisted and frankly improbable fears that I have. I would love for them to stop tormenting my brain all hours of the night when I’m trying to sleep.
Be a dear and excuse my sheer lack of ability to communicate. You see, that one is a combination of the above. I don’t want to complain about anything ever that you may be doing that’s effecting me because I’m paranoid you’re going to get angry with me and fight with me and all the terrible things I think you think about me are going to come out and then when you’re done with the horrible confrontation, you’re going to leave me.
The thing is, I’m really tired of saying sorry. Just like you, I can’t change the way I feel. While your feelings might be more rational, my feelings are still just as valid. And as much as you didn’t ask to deal with a basket case, I didn’t ask to be one. But if you’ve committed to being a part of my life, you need to accept me, and my crazy ass brain, in all of its seratonin-deprived glory. It’s not a piece of cake to be friends with or in a relationship with someone who has a lot going on upstairs. It is hard to excuse things that you can’t see. It’s hard to fathom how someone can’t see reason from time to time. But try to. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it is like to be trapped in your head, looking totally normal on the outside but screaming to be seen on the inside. We wish we were “normal” too. We wish we didn’t have to ride the struggle bus when the wheels are falling off and the whole damn thing catches fire. And please know I’m not asking you to not feel whatever you may be feeling in reaction to whatever level of batshit crazy you may be witnessing from me. Just try to be empathetic to something you can’t possibly understand. Sometimes all it takes is a simple, “are you okay?” Or a hug, or some space to let me sort out my feelings. All I’m asking is the same respect you demand as a human being.
Watching your kids grow up is a truly amazing, humbling, hectic, mesmerizing thing to behold. When I had my first child I was thrilled at every milestone and “first” and while I enjoyed it, I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting for the next new thing because I was so enthralled with him. I loved watching him learn to walk, and talk, and learn to use a spoon and graduate from formula to real food and all the little things in between. I didn’t necessarily want time to speed up so I could see him develop more, but I was just so excited! I would proudly exclaim, “look at this masterpiece I created and behold his intelligence!” Let me tell you about this baby’s hair. He had a head full from the moment he was born. It started off as a deep auburn and then turned into a bright orange and he had some Shirley Temple ringlets that went down to the middle of his tiny back. We decided when he was 10 months to cut his hair because his daddy was deploying and he wanted to be there for his first hair cut. I welcomed the change, it was another wonderful “first” for me to witness.
Fast forward seven years and I’m sitting here with my 15 month old with wispy strawberry blonde hair that hangs in his eyes and is curly and long in the back. He has what can only be described as “Donald Trump” hair, but I just can’t bring myself to cut it right now. You see, he is my last baby. I had my tubes removed when I had him. So while I sat and watched my oldest with wonder and excitement, my reactions with my one year old are laced with trepidation. Don’t get me wrong, I am still amazed at his milestones, but with each one that passes, I am reminded that it will be the last “first.” I watch him toddle around the living room and I’m reminded that in the not so distant future he will be potty training and going off to school and my days will be spent working instead of playing airplane and cleaning cereal off my floor.
I’ve had a lot of people ask and plea for me to cut his hair, and I know they mean well. But know this, I can’t control him growing up but I can hold off on that hair cut until I’m ready to experience that last “first” so be patient with me while I slow down time while I still can.
The PTO program at my 7y/o’s school is not quite as aggressive as the ones that are portrayed on television, but they have their moments. I remember walking into his school for the first time for the “Meet the Teacher” event before he started Kindergarten. We came in through the front door and we’re immediately accosted by a bright, smiling, as-stepford-as-she-could-get-in-north carolina-mom. She asked my husband and myself if we wanted to join the PTO. Her smile pierced my soul and I vaguely remember shaking my head yes, as if I were in some sort of trance. She asked us for five dollars and then cheerfully says, “Here! Have a Smencil!” The fuck is a Smencil? It’s a scented pencil. I distinctly remember ours smelling like root beer and myself being pregnant at the time, wanted to vomit. I walked around feeling dazed as we visited all the booths for kiddie sports leagues and clubs and then we went to meet our son’s teacher. After it was all over, we went to leave and had to pass the PTO booth again and were accosted once more and urged to join. After reminding the far-too-pleasant PTO seductress that we had already signed our lives away, we left with our Smencil, and without my soul.
After we got home, I called my mom and was telling her about the teacher and all the sports my son wanted to do and then I casually mentioned that I joined the PTO. Radio silence. And then my mom started laughing and asked me in between her hysterics why I would do such a thing. Let me explain something about myself, I am not the group activities kind of person. I am not introverted, I just don’t give a shit to sit in a circle jerk making bright colored posters that nobody pays attention to. It’s not that I don’t support their efforts, and I have no problem donating to the cause, but I don’t want to be involved like that. I quickly realized my grave mistake and I was horrified. When the time came for the first meeting, it turned out that only one of us would be able to attend, so my husband went. What a guy, right? I felt a little sorry he had to go. I’ve seen enough pornos to know what happens when you get a group of sexually frustrated moms together with apple juice and ginger snaps. It’s nothing anybody wants to see, so I didn’t feel THAT bad. He came home an hour later and reported that they just announced upcoming fundraisers and then were sent on their merry way. We paid five bucks for them to read off a piece of paper they sent home with my son for free? Needless to say, neither of us went back again.
Good on those parents that are willing to sit through those meetings and to come up with the different ways to raise money for the school, but I will not be one of them. I will, however, buy your doughnuts and your wrapping paper. You can keep your fucking Smencils though.