Browsing Tag

children

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Visit From My Retired Parents Helped Reset My Anxiety Clock

February 23, 2017

By Marilyn Maloney

I’ve been riding a knife edge for too long. I have always worried, mostly about nothing, death, being alone when I’m old, some odd pain that could be a blood clot. Or not.

My daughter has been having more seizures lately. She is nine and lives with Leukodystrophy, causing her cerebral palsy, seizures, impaired swallowing, and overall low muscle tone. Researchers suspect they have found the genetic cause, and will tell us as soon as they prove their suspicions. Four long years have gone by since their discovery, and Maddy has developed daily seizures that can last up to a minute. Lately they have increased in intensity. Instead of a barely noticeable eye flutter, they come with a grimace and outstretched arm.

My son wakes up sniffling, followed by the telltale cough. His eczema puts his IgE levels 50 times higher than they should be, so the blood tests say he’s allergic to everything except cocoa. This year he developed asthma. The ER had a teddy bear on his bed when he was admitted, and “Jack” the bear sleeps with him now.

We pump Jimmy full of five different medications when the cough shows up, following his Asthma Action Plan from the Immunologist. Steroid inhaler each morning and night, steroid nasal spray and Zyrtec before school, albuterol before recess, and we pray we never need the Epi-pen. I label all his foods and send him “emergency snacks” in case he ever forgets his lunch. He has a pre-K crush on the school nurse. And the teachers like him, so he already ran out of emergency cookies. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Always

January 4, 2017
tantrums

By Kristi Rabe

I’m not your typical writer. I had a great childhood. Yes, I was odd and the entire school made sure I was keenly aware of that fact. I was ridiculed and bullied, but I had a great family. We weren’t well off, but every summer there were campouts and vacations. Every Christmas and birthday was made magical by my parents and every night we sat together as a family and ate dinner and talked. My parents taught me the importance of family, so that all I ever wanted as a little girl was to be a mom – not just any mom. I wanted ten kids. However, after my oldest son was born in 1995, I faced 7 years of infertility, an emergency hysterectomy, 3 failed adoptions, and a divorce. Life never really goes as planned.

My youngest son was born June 6, 2006. I’ve learned the importance of saying it this way. Like spelling my last name before saying it, stating the month, day, and year instead of abbreviating with 6/6/06 usually saves the awkward conversations of Satan and wide eyes of worry and fear. You’d think in this day and age, such a thing wouldn’t be so controversial, but it is and I admit at times I’ll say it short hand to fuck with someone. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting, The Hard Stuff

To Tell A Happy Story

December 30, 2016

By Steve Edwards

Early on there were nights I thought my son might die, and I thought it might be better for us all if he did. If on those nights his crying ebbed and his breathing stilled, I would lie in bed waiting, listening, the way you lie and wait and listen if you suspect an intruder in the home. I imagined Rebecca at the funeral, out of her mind with grief, and how in the days that followed sorrow would be all we knew, until one day—years later, perhaps—we would have made our peace with what had been taken from us. I kept this to myself and it skewered me because I loved my son like nothing else.

Had he been born with some physical problem? Some incurable disease? No. Aside from mild jaundice and a hemangioma, the doctors pronounced him perfectly fit and we brought him home to begin the life we had been imagining for so long. The life of a happy, healthy, and loving family.

The trouble started that first week when Rebecca’s milk didn’t come in. We bought the special nursing pillow, the pumps and bottles. We went to a lactation consultant. Maybe our son wasn’t sucking right, getting a good seal. Or maybe Rebecca needed to pump more often. Or maybe, the consultant finally suggested, Rebecca was suffering post-partum depression and wasn’t trying hard enough. Not ten days before, Rebecca had had a completely natural childbirth—not so much as an aspirin crossed her lips during labor or delivery—and it wasn’t painful, she assured me, but joyful, full of love. And even that first night in the hospital, when our son couldn’t stop crying and we didn’t have a pacifier: I stood by his crib and let him suck the tip of my thumb for over an hour because somewhere in our copious preparations we had read that this might comfort an infant. My wife and I are people who try our hearts out. But you can’t try to make milk come in. It comes or it doesn’t.

When our son began experiencing colic-like symptoms—“inconsolable crying, distress, irritability, sleeplessness”—our pediatrician told us we had gotten unlucky but that it would pass. We tried to laugh it off. We smiled through our tiredness and the well-meaning comments and teases from family, friends, elderly checkers at the grocery store: about how hard it is, how it would get better with time. We looked forward to when he would surprise us by sleeping the night.

As the first wearying, wondrous days of his life turned into weeks and months, an edge crept into his voice. He started screaming. He screamed every day, screamed, at such a high pitch and volume that if he screamed as I held him on my shoulder after a feeding, my ears would ring for hours. He was a shrill, writhing knot of muscle. Still too young to lift himself up on his arms, he somehow found the strength to buck his entire body away from us. We laid him on the changing table, on a blanket on the floor, on a couch cushion, on a chair, and we turned on ceiling fans, radio static, music soft and loud, and always—his face puckered and red, his tiny hands curled into fists—he wailed. Often without shedding tears. During the first snowstorm of his life, I rushed him outside thinking the dizzying zigzag of snowflakes might calm him down. It didn’t work. Nothing worked. In our exhaustion and fear, Rebecca and I argued bitterly until we lost even the words to say why we were mad or what was happening to us. Or to him. Or what we should do now. We were attached parents—devoted, gentle—and we never once touched our son in a way that wasn’t loving. But as three months turned to six, nine, and twelve, an instinctual, insuppressible rage sometimes welled up in me, and I slammed doors, kicked over chairs. On bad nights it took everything I had not to bend down and scream shut up into his little face. Not to fling him across the room.

At the doctor’s office we put on a brave front and did not complain. Down deep, of course, we were incredibly scared. After having dragged ourselves in multiple times for vaccinations and well-checks that provided no remedy or respite, we debated: Should we go again? Will they be able to tell us anything this time? Are we going too often? Finally, we brought in a cellphone video of his screaming, evidence that to us clearly meant something was wrong. Nonsense, our pediatrician said. He’s going through a “screechy” phase. Stretching out his vocal chords. The footage of his full-body convulsions on our changing table at home didn’t alarm her in the least. She prescribed an antacid and said we could try to make him “a little happier.” He was still steadily gaining weight after all. And after doling out a few final pieces of advice, she quickly excused herself.

On our way home that day, Rebecca wept in the car and said she felt like an abuser. We could not save him.

For our own survival, we fell into shifts. Since Rebecca took care of so much during the day (feedings, laundry, dishes, bills, her own work as an editor) while I taught my writing classes at the University of Nebraska, I picked up the slack at night. When his crying started at one, two, three in the morning, I rose and went to him. I changed his diaper. I tightened his swaddle blankets. I rubbed his little back. If he had spit out his pacifier, I put it back in his mouth. I held him in my arms and sang in a whisper. And always my mind went down the ever-growing checklist of what could be wrong. Was he hungry? Thirsty? Was he too cold? Too hot? Did we need a white-noise machine to imitate the sound inside the womb? Did we need to let him cry it out? Was he napping too much during the day? Was he overstimulated? Was he just fussy? Spoiled? Trying to manipulate us? In those moments in the darkness, alone with my son, I blamed myself for never having an answer that helped him.

Other men pulled off fatherhood with such grace and humor, and with multiple kids: the difference, I thought, had to have been me. Our son’s crying was a problem because I wasn’t patient enough. Because I wasn’t man enough. The thought that he might die, that it might be better for us all if he died: I saw it as a personal flaw, and the night shifts were my penance. Sometimes he slept for an hour or two between crying jags. Other times it was only ten minutes. Rebecca would roll over, drowsily ask if I needed help. But if the two of us got involved, half-asleep and tense, it could lead to a fight, and that was the last thing we needed. I would tell her I was already up, that everything was fine, that she should rest. To keep myself awake I shouted into my pillow, punched myself in the thigh. Whatever it took. Again and again, over weeks and months that slowly turned into a year, then two, I rose in the night and went to our son.

***

Through it all we were compulsive about documenting his good times. We kept a camera with us and were ready at a moment’s notice when any smile, like a ray of sunlight, passed over his face. To tell a happy story about our child, even if slightly fictional: we needed that. For all of his desperation and pain, he was still an incredibly beautiful boy. Dark blue eyes and soft honey-blonde curls. Chubby dumpling cheeks inherited from Rebecca’s Polish family. He was the baby strangers at the grocery store, men and women alike, stopped in their tracks to coo over, who people called a little doll. Rebecca organized our pictures of him on Facebook to share with friends and family, and in any spare moment of downtime she and I found ourselves scrolling through them, hungry for the lives of wonder and enchantment the pictures suggested.

And, yes, there were the rare good days: the times we put him in the stroller and, one foot in front of the other, walked the neighborhood. There were the days we stopped to chat with friends down the street about Nebraska football or the weather. He would sleep a bit, then wake and keenly take in the world, and even play peekaboo and giggle a little. We began to wonder if it were all in our heads.

I remember one day we came home at dusk to the sound of a robin chirping in the maple tree in our yard, and that sound—those gurgling chirps—lifted me out of myself, out of my pain, out of despair.

Other days I managed to write for an hour or two, or garden in the backyard, or cook Rebecca a nice meal and chat with her in the evening as we watched television. For those few hours his screaming and screeching, his terrible sleep, as well as his new symptoms—the eczema scarring both his cheeks and forehead, his distended belly and disgusting bowel movements—belonged to a distant, harmless past. On the good days we were as optimistic as we had been on the night he was born.

Unfortunately, there was no method for inducing one of those infrequent good days. What calmed him on one occasion could provoke him on the next. If one thing went wrong—if none of our bottles were clean and we had to wash one before feeding him, and, if in the time it took us to wash the bottle he started to cry—nothing brought him back. Theories about his pain dominated our talk. We got different brands of diapers. We changed formulas. Changed detergents. We got him softer sheets and an organic mattress pad. We put him to sleep in his crib in his room, in a swing, in a co-sleeper by our bed. We put him to bed early, kept him up late. Fed him vitamins, a probiotic. Every minute of every day was consumed by the most basic of necessities: getting him to eat, getting him to sleep, getting him to stop crying. Like wild animals—like wolves frantic over a wounded body in the pack, faced with blood, raw bone—we circled and paced around our helpless child. We kept a vigilant watch for clues, for answers that never came.

In the meantime, in our hour of need, Rebecca’s job—our main source of income while I was in grad school, and which allowed her to work from home and be with the baby full-time—was slashed by two-thirds. Friends fell away. Certain academic mentors shunned, admonished, or ignored us. Only a chosen few understood our predicament: we were not sleeping; we had no money. Then after my graduation and a year spent working as a lecturer, my job, too, was cut. We were grief-stricken, exhausted, broke, burdened with student loans coming due, and fearful about the credit card debt we were racking up in order to pay for diapers and groceries. During the twenty-minute spurts of his nap times, I tapped out cover letters to schools in far off California and New England, and waded through the bureaucratic hell of unemployment. My caseworker, a former teacher himself, told me that in this economy I would be better off if the letters behind my name were GED instead of PhD.

Rebecca and I talked about how many months we had before we would have to ask my parents if they could put us up in their basement. They lived five hundred miles away in Indiana, and the job prospects there were worse than in Nebraska. Rebecca’s father was out of the picture, and her mother passed away twenty years before, taken too young by breast cancer. We cashed in the small investments we had worked hard to accumulate and lived in fear of what new bills might arrive in the mail.

This was not how our lives were supposed to turn out. I should have had a job to support us, to at least get us the essentials. Rebecca should have had the chance to be the mother that she herself had only known for so long, the chance to be healed by love and loving. Our son should have known so many things: calm and comfort, the warmth of our arms, the wonder of a budding consciousness.

When we first decided to have him I had been scared of everything that could go wrong: with his health, with Rebecca’s health, with money and jobs. I did not know what kind of father I would be, and I worried I would lose my writing, my sense of self. I was anxious, too, over the fact that part of bringing a child into the world meant offering that child—and also myself, Rebecca—to the infinite variety of suffering life devises for us all. On our walks around the neighborhood with our dog, as we held hands and talked and made plans, I had a hard time imagining how I would feel as a father, and what would be different. In the mornings, as we laid in bed together—as I held Rebecca and cradled an arm around her growing belly—I wondered if I had made a huge mistake, if I would be found out as a fraud. At the same time, I knew how much Rebecca wanted this. Every night I watched her as she sat with her laptop, reading books on natural childbirth, buying baby clothes and slippers and BPA-free baby bottles, combing websites for tips, and making lists of all the other things we would need. Each time UPS brought a box to the door, she opened it and pulled out a prize to show me: alphabet flashcards to hang on his wall, a wrap for carrying him around, Sophie the teething giraffe.

If anything gave me the courage to face my fears about fatherhood it was the joy Rebecca felt preparing for his arrival. It was contagious. I began to imagine him, his soft weight on my shoulder some Saturday in the fall as I watched a college football game, the sighing up and down of his breath.

But that scene never played out. In the first eighteen months of his life, he fell asleep in our arms exactly three times (and then only out of exhaustion). I became angry, sullen, withdrawn. Jittery and lacking a good reaction time due to the sleep deprivation, Rebecca didn’t feel safe on the road and stopped driving. Our walks with the dog got fewer and farther between. The toys and trinkets we bought before our son was born stayed in their boxes or were played with once and set aside. The night’s adrenaline-spiked confusion left us hung over and wanting only to be alone between work and caretaking shifts, and in the mornings we did not hold each other. Instead we gradually became a family of shut-ins who only left the house when absolutely necessary, for work, groceries, the doctor. Any leftover energy went right back into our son’s care.

***

Two months before his second birthday, I landed a phone interview with a school in New England and needed the house to myself for a few hours. Rebecca took him to the zoo. There was a train at the zoo, and she wanted to treat him to his first ride. But before they got to the train, he went ashen and started crying. She took him to the bathroom to change his diaper, and once she got his pants down he panicked, started screaming. Afraid of what the other women in the bathroom would think, she hurriedly pulled his clothes on and brought him out into the light of day. She took him to a park bench, held him, rocked him, offered him a sip of water, some animal crackers. He was confused and shrieking, and several times he tried to run away from her but she held him tight, spoke to him in as soothing a voice as she could manage. Finally, when he still did not calm down, she walked him to the car, buckled him into his car seat, and drove around town, in tears herself, until she was sure my interview was over.

“I can’t take my son to the zoo? To ride the goddamned train?” Back home she came in the door, angrier and more frantic than I had ever seen her. “I’m calling Tricia.” Tricia was our new pediatrician, a woman I had known from one of my writing classes at school. She was writing a novel set on a ranch in western Nebraska.

“What’s she supposed to do?” I said.

“She can get us a bed at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. I’m calling her. I don’t care if it’s the ER. We’re going.”

“Hon—”

“We’re going.”

She stormed off to the bedroom to call Tricia, and I looked at our son where he sat on the floor. His eyes were puffy and red. He seemed a little dazed, out of it. Rebecca had convinced herself he had celiac or an intestinal blockage, something with the gut, and she wanted an endoscopy performed. I edged away from that. The thought of surgery scared me: a masked doctor leaning over our precious child.

I picked him up, stood in the doorway.

“Yes. Okay,” Rebecca said.

She shouldered past me to the kitchen and wrote something on a piece of paper. I shifted him uneasily from one arm to the other. He was heavy, awkward. Finally she hung up the phone and turned to me.

“We’ve got a bed.”

“For when?”

“Tonight.” She went back to the bedroom, began packing an overnight bag for the three of us. “They may scope him.”

I said I didn’t understand. If he needed an endoscopy why hadn’t Tricia ordered one before? What had changed? He had a meltdown at the zoo? He had meltdowns every day. And what the hell were the doctors supposed to tell us that they had not already told us? No matter the symptoms we described or the photos and videos we brought in, he was meeting his physical and developmental milestones. And what if the scope proved as inconclusive as everything else had? What then?

“I don’t care,” Rebecca said.

There was a fierceness in her voice—she had made up her mind and nothing was going to change it. So I said nothing more. It was lunchtime anyway. I put him in his high chair, set about making his milk, dumping applesauce in a bowl. Rebecca put our bags by the door. The house was quiet.

All afternoon I worried about what would happen at the hospital. And if they didn’t find anything wrong with him, what would they think of us for having brought him in? Out of my confusion the only reasonable thing seemed to talk to Tricia myself, to make sure we were in the right. So before we left for the hospital, I put in the call. I asked point blank if she thought an endoscopy was necessary. No, she said, frankly, she did not. “Then why even get us a bed for the night?” I asked.

“For Mom’s peace of mind.”

“What?”

“Well, if we can make Mom feel better,” she said, “that’s probably what we should do. We should make Mom feel better.”

I thanked her and hung up the phone, feeling sick to my stomach. She thought it was Rebecca—thought it was us. Part of me thought it was us, too. We were first-time parents without family nearby. We were under a tremendous amount of strain because of money. And even though we both feared something was wrong, he did have his good days. But I still could not get clear of the fact that if it were all in our heads, why could he not sleep for more than a few hours at a time? Why was he so fussy? Why did he shriek? Why was his belly distended? Why the alternating bouts of constipation and diarrhea? And why, no matter how we worked at his care, could we not comfort him?

When it was time for us to go to the hospital, we prepared—as we had learned to— down to the smallest detail. We packed the car with snacks, sippy cups, diapers, multiple changes of clothes, pillows, blankets, baby books, books to read, magazines, the iPod, Rebecca’s laptop. On our way out of town, we picked up sandwiches and drove north to the interstate under an indelible powder-blue sky. Instead of our normal route, I took an ill-advised shortcut that ended in a barricade of flickering ROAD CLOSED signs. Rebecca stared out the window, silent, as I turned us around. We snaked through side-streets and made our way to the outskirts of town, where houses and gas stations gave way to hot green cornfields rippling in the breeze. Up ahead, a grain elevator towered over a set of railroad tracks. No sooner had I spotted the crossing than bells sounded, red lights flashed. Here came the train—a freighter loaded with coal from Wyoming. It was huge and moving at a steady clip, and the roar as it approached and pounded down the tracks ate up every other sound. I pulled over to the side of the road, cut the engine. The rattling and clunking of its cars, the grinding screech of steel on steel: I felt it pulsing through me, from the hollow of my chest to the tips of my fingers. I thought maybe getting stopped like this, a second time, was a sign. Maybe we shouldn’t go. In the passenger’s seat, Rebecca looked pale and overtired, as though that morning’s flood of anger and determination had receded into the deep channel of weariness from which it had spilled. I asked her what she wanted to do. She shrugged, said she didn’t know. In back, in his car seat, our son turned a Dr. Seuss book over and over in his little hands. I loved him so much. He was sick, and I did not want him to be sick.

I started the car and drove us home.

Steve Edwards is author of the memoir BREAKING INTO THE BACKCOUNTRY, the story of his seven months as caretaker of a backcountry homestead along the Rogue River in Oregon. His writing can be found in Orion Magazine, The Rumpus, Electric Literature and elsewhere. He lives in Massachusetts.

What’s Jen Pastiloff’s workshop all about anyway? It’s about being human. Connecting. Finding your voice. Not being an asshole. Singing out loud. Sharing your fears. Bearing witness. Telling your fears to fuck off & fly. Listening. Moving your body. Laughing. Crying. Finding comfort. Offering comfort. Letting go. Creating.
Next one after this is NYC Feb 4 at Pure Yoga West. You don’t need to be a yogi at all. Just be a human. Click photo to book.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Relationships

Deconstructed: The Adventures of Co-Parenting And Running A Business With My Ex-Husband

December 8, 2016

By Ally Hamilton

You know the fairy-tale about the princess who marries the prince and has babies, and opens a yoga studio with him and gets divorced and has to figure out how to keep it all going? Yeah, me neither, although I’m living that story now.

When I tell people I’m in business with my ex and we have two young kids, they say something along the lines of, “Wow. How does THAT work?!” Most of the time it works really well. Of course I have my moments when I’m reminded of why we’re divorced, and I might even curse him with every expletive I can think of, but those moments are few and far between. I’m sure he has his moments, too.

The thing is, my life looks nothing like any five-year plan I ever would have devised, and nothing like the picture I had in my head of “how things should be”. Growing up, I went back and forth between my mom’s and my dad’s, three nights here, four nights there, switching that fourth night every other week. If you’ve never lived that way, it’s crazy-making. I was forever forgetting my keys and finding myself locked out, or leaving something essential at one place or the other. The rules were different in each household, as was the energy. When I was at my dad’s I missed my mom. When I was at my mom’s, I worried about my dad. When my step-parents joined the circus, it got even crazier. My mom and stepmom did not like each other, and did not hide that fact from me. My dad said disparaging things about my step-dad. You know who never said a bad word about anyone to me, or within my earshot? My step-dad, and I remember that to this day.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

On Ignoring Your Peers in Seventh Grade

November 26, 2016
daughters

By Natha Perkins

When I drop my daughter off for school, she looks around and takes a deep breath before she opens the door, as if to fortify herself for what’s coming. She’s in 7th grade and I remember my own time served in the 7th grade was a small version of hell. Some days she comes home excited and full of stories, brimming with almost child like enthusiasm and other days she gets in the car with an air of defeat. “Mom, guess what someone said to me today?”  And I take a deep breath, my stomach knotting up bracing for what’s to come.

I remember this. The insecurity. The deep pain of feeling like I was doing it all wrong. Watching kids who knew what to do and say, kids who were cool. I wasn’t one of those kids, I was shy and quiet. I would get invited to some of the parties the popular kids threw but I would rarely go, because the anxiety was simply too much for me. If I went, who would I talk to? What if no one talked to me? What if a boy tried to talk to me? I see the same things with my daughter. She wants new friends but hesitates to go out and find them. When someone compliments her on social media, she’s thrilled, but would never use it as gateway into something more. She’s easily and deeply affected by the smallest comments the boys make to her at school. I watch her whip out her theoretic measuring stick and hold herself up against it, basing her worth on the things they say to her. I see her determining whether she’s falling short in the cool department. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

The Last First Day

September 13, 2016
school

By Bernadette Murphy

The alarm goes off at 6 am.  It’s a sweltering Monday in August, the first day back to school for my daughter, Hope, and the last time I’ll ever oversee this annual routine.  Hope will start her senior year of high school today.  This time next year we’ll be leaving her at a dorm on a university campus yet to be determined.

For the past 21 years, I have been overseeing these back-to-school mornings, taking pictures of my three kids as they hoist on new backpacks filled with freshly sharped pencils that smell like sawdust, packed alongside clean binders and pristine notebooks, as they lace overly bright fresh-out-of-the-box tennis shoes, adjust new school uniforms and comb fresh haircuts.  My oldest, Jarrod, finished his Bachelor’s degree a year ago and is now in his first real job.  My middle son Neil is about to start his junior year in college and has been living away from home since we dropped him at his dorm three years ago.   And now, Hope’s a senior.

My job as a mother – a job that has consumed and thrilled and exhausted and tried and awed me for more than 23 years — is coming to an end. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood

Building Walls, Or A Guide To Mothering

September 5, 2016
child

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser 

When one of my kids hurts: I want to make everything better. I’ve felt that way since they were tiny. Pat the backs, rub the tummies, and kiss away the tears.

Help isn’t so simple as a desire to offer it, though. I’ve learned this the hard way. You are only as happy as your most unhappy child. That’s a cliché that proves, in so many ways, correct. To grasp someone’s unhappiness is to develop not only empathy, but also strong holding muscles. In order to bear sadness yet not bow to it or get wholly bowled over by it, muscle walls must remain sturdy.

When my kid hurts, I don’t feel like holding strong. I feel like disintegrating into a powdery pulverization of sadness right alongside my child. I can’t cave in like sand at water’s edge every time a wave crashes. When someone’s hurting there are too many waves for everyone to disintegrate every time. Someone has to just hold—what? I guess to hold an understanding of the rhythms until that tossed about person can find a new place to stand, a little further from the ocean’s edge. Feelings require many things, and one is the ability to ride them out.

For a long time, my body leapt into fight or flight—adrenaline burst impulse of panic whenever I became aware of how deeply my child suffered. Flooded, I couldn’t calm my own fears. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Lying To My Son

July 6, 2016
parenting

By Paula Younger

When I was ten, my cousin told me, “Did you know Grandma is really our step-grandma?” I am the youngest of four in a Catholic family of loving people who tend to omit important information or lie to avoid discomfort. But my cousin, who didn’t follow my immediate family’s rule, leaned in and said our mothers’ mother died from cancer when they were young. This seemed suspiciously like the time my older siblings convinced me to take a bite of a banana peel, but my cousin convinced me with a detail. She grabbed a strand of her hair and said, “She had blonde hair, like me.”

I pestered Mom with questions until she showed me pictures of the grandmother I never knew, but Mom still didn’t open up about our family secrets.

When I was twelve, the same cousin said our uncle Frank had AIDS. It was 1988, when our Catholic community saw AIDS as a punishment from God. I waited for Mom to tell me. I even wondered if my cousin had been wrong, but then Mom took my siblings and I to our uncle’s house in Houston. Uncle Frank had been our fun, young uncle, ready with gifts and adventures. But his bones were visible beneath his skin. Black bags hung beneath his hollowed eyes. Lesions mottled his pasty arms. My sisters were eighteen and seventeen, my brother fifteen. They helped our uncle and his partner when they could. They didn’t act bored even though we rarely left our uncle’s house. Their normal too-good-for-everything expressions had been dropped. They avoided eye contact with me. They knew and had known for a while.

I cornered Mom. “When were you going to tell me he has AIDS?” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Rediscovering Babar

June 12, 2016
miscarriage

By Michele Vaughn

I found the Babar book last week.

It was the book, written in the little bear’s native French, that I bought in a cute Parisian boutique in March 2009, just a few days after getting my first (and second, and third) positive pregnancy test.

And just a few days before I’d miscarry the baby Babar was meant for.

I bought the book before I knew any better than to be optimistic about pregnancy. Over that short week, as we strolled through the markets on Rue Cler and gazed at paintings in the Louvre, I thought ahead to due dates. I made mental lists of names and dreamed of cute baby books while saying no to glasses of Bordeaux and yes to pain au chocolat. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

What The Kids Should be Watching

May 20, 2016

By Kelly Sokol

I can’t wait to introduce my two daughters to MTV’s reality series Teen Mom. In each episode Amber, Caitlynn, Farrah, Leah, Maci and the other stars deliver a message I’ve been too chicken shit to tell: motherhood as defined in 21st century America is hard as hell. When they are reduced to tabloid headlines, the cast of Teen Mom look like tragic caricatures of motherhood too soon: bad hair extensions, plastic surgery, drugs, convictions, domestic abuse. However the full story line tells an honest, gritty version of motherhood truth that society (and every other television program) chooses to ignore. The women of Teen Mom were the only on-screen role models to which I could relate as a new mother.

I wish I could hate the series; as an educated feminist, perhaps I should. It’s easy to dismiss the show as exploitative and its cast members as too young and too poor to have agreed to have their lives documented. However these young women are brave, and maybe naïve, to invite cameras into their mothering, with all of the trolling commentary and armchair parenting of an audience that lives their lives behind closed doors, in privacy. I can’t stop watching. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting

Akasha: When Your Kid Asks For More Space

May 17, 2016
parenting

By Lisa Kusel

“Do you mind? I’m trying to get ready for school,” Loy, my 13-year-old daughter, says as I walk into the bathroom.

Ignoring her, I flip open the medicine cabinet. “I just want to grab some coconut oil. My skin is so dry.”

As I stand next to her in our tiny bathroom, smearing my face into dewy shininess I can’t help but notice the scorn in her eyes in the mirror’s reflection. “What?” I ask.

“I can’t believe you just walked in like that. You’re totally invading my space.”

I put the jar back in the cabinet, mutter “sorry,” and slip out.

Instead of going back to my desk, I stand in the hallway, staring silently at the white bathroom door, picturing her carefully applying mascara to her fresh eyes. Dotting her laughingly few pimples with the expensive tube of concealer she insisted I buy.

Her space? Since when did my baby need her space? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Relationships

The Kids Are Alright

April 6, 2016
children

By Jessica Starr

“Are you currently pregnant?”  The new patient questionnaire asked, immediately getting to the topic ruminating in my head over the past few weeks.

Without thinking I hastily scribbled, “Please God, I hope not.”

The second questions asked, “Have you ever been pregnant?”
“No,” I wrote “AND I NEVER WANT TO BE”.

The exam room door opened and the nurse dressed in out of season holiday scrubs called out “Jessica Starr?”

I chose Dr. Carrie Miles as my new OBGYN based on her one paragraph biography on the women’s clinic website.  She did not mention having children, however did enjoy spending time hiking with her two dogs and that was enough to put my reproductive health in her hands.

I sat nervously in the exam room, glancing at the pamphlets about all the possible STD’s I could have.  Dr. Miles walked in, casually wearing a white lab coat with her name stitched in red cursive writing, her pants dragging a touch too long. She had green eyes highlighted by blue eyeshadow, kept a straight serious face, and had obviously read my new patient paperwork. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

In My House

September 22, 2015

By Stephanie Land

When we moved to Montana, Jamie stopped calling Mia for months. We had our own place in this old house next to downtown and we’d go for walks to the park and the river. Then he called to say he’d moved to Portland and had a new job which meant regular paychecks. He said a judge would make me move to Portland if I tried to get more child support. He said the money they garnished from his pay and sent to me kept him from living his life the way he wanted. It kept him from pursuing his dream of opening a bicycle shop. It kept him from cross country bike trips. He made over a thousand a week and I got seventy-five. He called and said he couldn’t afford her visit that summer. He couldn’t figure out how to pay for childcare and feed her and pay support and pay rent. He’d told her he’d buy a big girl bike and teach her how to ride on two wheels. The training wheels stayed on her bike at home. I couldn’t convince her to try.

When we moved into our new apartment last fall, I gave her the big bedroom. She hung pictures of her dad all over the walls. She’d done this in the past, hanging the one in the red frame in particular. The one where we’re both smiling in our hooded sweatshirts. He has his arm around me and I’m leaning in. Mia’s sitting in my lap, looking at us. I might be imagining it, but I can see the uncertainty on her four-month-old face. We’d just come from another useless counseling appointment where Jamie confessed he wasn’t attracted to me. He said it like that, out loud, in front of another person. He said he kept seeing this girl riding her bike around town. The girl was skinny and shorter and had a style of dress that he liked and he wanted to be with her. Not me. “The girl on the bike” would be his new phrase. As in “you’re not the girl on the bike.” As in “I want the girl on the bike.” I’d leave the picture where Mia hung it for a while before I moved it back to a slightly hidden somewhere by her bed. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Don’t Tell Me It’ll All Be Worth It

August 9, 2015

By Abigail Rasminsky

When I was 14 weeks pregnant, my husband and I flew halfway around the world to spend Christmas with his family in rural Nevada. We live in Europe, and by the time we sloughed off our coats and boots at his aunt and uncle’s doorstep—I cannot even begin to tell you how many flights later; I sobbed for most of the journey—I was a wreck. I managed to wave hello to the 10 or so people in attendance, and disappeared into the spare bedroom for most of the visit.

I’d had debilitating nausea since Week 7 and although I’d been told it would dissipate by the end of the first trimester, I woke up every morning pressed firmly against another wave of it. I couldn’t grasp that my decrepit state could, in six months, culminate in something joyful. Although the baby was planned and very much wanted, I seemed to be the only person in my life who wasn’t thrilled by the pregnancy.

On one of my infrequent visits out of the bedroom, my mother-in-law sat down across from me while I took slow bites of a peanut butter sandwich. She raised three boys largely on her own and is one of the very sweetest people on earth, but she seemed puzzled by my state. “It’s all worth it,” she said. My husband’s aunt, also a mother of three, who was bending over backwards to make me feel at home despite my fervently anti-social behavior, chimed in: “Yes! It’s totally, totally worth it.” This became their mantra for the week: It’s all worth it.

Now that I have a child—that child—an absolutely delightful almost-two-year-old whose very being structures and enlivens (and frustrates) my days, I, of course, know exactly what they were saying: This part, this short part, ends—and then the rest of your unimaginable, irrevocably changed life begins. Then you are a mother, hopefully forever. Then you will feel how completely your heart can be turned inside out. Then the pregnancy will be but a blip on a vast and textured landscape.

Pregnancy, however, is all too often treated simply as a gateway—something to get through on the road to the real event, the baby’s birth; not as a momentous, life-altering, and emotionally and physically treacherous event in and of itself. It is rarely something that women are allowed to experience and enact—to speak of—in all its nuanced complexity. Continue Reading…