Dear New Mom

| On Parenthood

Dear New Mom,

You don’t have to apologize. So, stop right now.

You’re in the mama circle now. That means you get to fall off the face of the earth, complain, cry, ask for help, or not return phone calls and texts, and we’ll still be here. We’re crying and complaining about our kids too, so no judgement.

However, if anyone complains while they are “helping you out” even if that person is another parent, politely ask them to leave. You don’t need that shit.

Speaking of help, people are going to want to help you. Let them. They won’t fold your clothes the right way, they’ll put the groceries in the wrong place, and the dishes they just washed may still have food on them, but who cares? Let them help you. You can’t do everything. And you’ll send yourself to the crazy place if you try. Let them feed you, let them take the baby so you can poop, even if the baby cries the whole time. You need to poop.

Breastfeeding is hard. If you are struggling, it’s because you’re human. It’s okay. And just because you’re human and your body was designed to do this, doesn’t mean it will come naturally. Ask for help. There are a lot of options and it’s okay to try all of them. In the end, you need to feed your baby. So, feed your baby. And whatever your decision (tube feeding, pumping, formula, breast milk sharing, half breast milk/half formula, taking domperidon, using magic pixie dust), it’s okay.

If anyone tells you to just relax, you can absolutely shove a pencil in their eye. Just kidding. Don’t do that. But it’s okay if you want to.

Oh yeah, and it’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to put your baby in a safe space and go in the other room to scream or cry or poop or just breathe. They’ll be fine for a few minutes. And you’ll feel a tiny bit better. Sometimes your baby, toddler, or kid is going to be a complete a-hole. You’ll want to send them back. Sometimes he or she will be dazzling, hilarious, or super sweet. Those moments make it worth it.

You’re going to miss being alone. You’re going to miss long brunches with friends, sleeping until noon, solo adventures, and all the yoga. You’ll wonder what you used to do with all that freaking time. Non-parents will complain about not having enough time for this or that. Just smile and nod. They have no idea.

You’ll squeeze an amazing amount of to-dos into nap time. Or you’ll stare at the TV. Or sleep. Whatever. These moments are golden. They are yours to do with as you please. You can “reflect” on life or write your five-year plan in your head on the way from here to there. Seriously. You’ll be in survival mode for awhile. So, take your vitamins, hydrate, and breathe. You’ll get through this.

It’s okay to love being a working mom. It may mean you can’t have play-dates at 2pm at the children’s museum, which also means you may miss out on a few mom friendships. You can connect with moms online and your kid will make friends at daycare. If being a working mom is good for your wellbeing, THAT’S good for your baby. Win-win.

And it’s okay if working is not for you. If you want to be home all day with your kid and have the means to do it, DO IT.

Either way, do not waste your time feeling guilty. There is plenty of that in your future; don’t waste your energy on this one thing. Choosing to work or not work is not a choice between being a good parent or a bad one, being a present parent or an absent one. It’s a choice you make for your family.

While we’re talking about work, let me add there is no such thing as balance. For us or them. As long as they have a basic structure to their day, lots of love, and boundaries, you’re doing great. Some days you’ll OD on TV. Don’t worry. And some days you’ll spend hours outside exploring. Same thing with us adults. Some days you suck at everything and pay your bills late and cry three times. And some days you are on fire, multi-tasking the shit out of your day.

No one is asking you to do anything more than your best. But the best you can give depends on what’s going on in your life. If you have the flu, are sleep deprived, or going through some major life upheaval, your “best” is not the same as it is when life is calm and flowing like honey. The “best” your child is asking of you is based on a sliding scale according to what you can afford. You do the best you can in any given moment and that is good enough.

I read somewhere that it’s better to give them 100% of you 50% of the time, than 50% of you 100% of the time. I think Magda Gerber said that. In any event, that one little piece of wisdom really helps me keep perspective and stay present when I am with my kiddo.

This may be exactly what you wanted. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you didn’t want any of this. Maybe you love the crap out of your baby, but you don’t totally love being a mom. We are complex creatures, and as such can hold space for both emotions. Or maybe you wanted to be a mom, but the universe handed you a really complicated, unfair, and all-around shitty situation.

I got a lot of advice when I got pregnant. And then I got more when Judah was born. The one thing that stood out and remained mostly true was this: it gets better. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better, but it will get better. (Even if this isn’t true all the time, I like to pretend it is.)

And I’m standing on the sidelines cheering you on. Some moms may not agree with all of your choices. But who cares? They’re not your baby’s mama. Screw them. If you’re doing the best you can (and you are doing the best you can), you’re doing great. Keep being awesome and you’ll raise an awesome human.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Love,

Me


This letter was written for every mother who needs to read it. (So, feel free to share it with the new mom in your life.) But most of all, I wrote it for myself. I will become a mother all over again in October of this year. I’m very excited. But I’m also very nervous. So, I put all the words of encouragement I usually share with other moms in this one letter. In October I’ll read it again. And again. And again, until it sticks and I truly believe, despite all the screw ups, I’m doing great and raising two awesome humans.

*Black and white photo by Tanya Alexis

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Standing My Sacred Ground – On Speaking Up Part II

| On Living Well

I hate introducing myself to strangers, starting conversations, or mingling at parties. Making returns or scheduling appointments over the phone make me nervous. In fact, I dislike most phone calls. I avoid them when I can. It is entirely possible that I have accepted crappy insurance, additional fees, or the wrong colored something or other simply because I didn’t want to talk to anyone on the phone.

All this to say, speaking up isn’t my strong suit.

It’s funny though. When I was in elementary school the teachers often told my parents I was bright and doing well, but I talked too much. I needed to stop talking so much. Middle school was a good antidote for that problem. Not only did I stop talking out of turn, I stopped raising my hand or otherwise volunteering my thoughts and ideas. Just stopped cold turkey.

If this was just an insecure adolescent kind of thing, it would have ended when I entered college. But it didn’t. I distinctly recall sitting in a lecture hall when a professor asked us to share some of the ways Alice Walker weaved purple imagery throughout her novel, The Color Purple. My fellow students offered up a list. And the professor waited. “What else?” she asked. Nipples, I thought. Duh.

She waited. No one said a thing. NIPPLES, I screamed inwardly. But I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. “Come on,” she coaxed. “What else?”

Finally, someone spoke up. “Nipples?”

Yes, gawd. Of course. Nipples! Why couldn’t I say that? When stuff like that happens, it’s like a little piece of my identity gets folded up and shoved in a box. Since then, I’ve made it my business to prevent my soul from becoming origami.

I was a bartender for a spell back during grad school, an experience I am forever grateful for. My first mentor was my godmother, a professional badass. While training me, she motioned to the entire bar and told me, “This is your ship. You are the captain. Don’t take no one’s shit.” I needed to hear this. Like, really. On more than one occasion I had to use my megaphone voice to stop drunken stupidity from taking over my ship. And it wasn’t uncommon for me to smack a customer’s hands. The things people try…

Actually, tending bar was pretty good training for life.

Brené Brown has a slightly sweeter (though, no less badass) way of saying the same thing as my über eloquent godmother. In times of anxiety, uncertainty, or stress, her mantra is, “Do not shrink. Do not puff up. Stand my sacred ground.”

I think these words are important because being motivated to speak up by a history of remaining silent means there is pressure under the surface, thereby leaving me at risk of shooting off my mouth – being a bit overzealous, rude, or hurtful. It has been a long journey of puffing up and shrinking down to get to a place where I feel okay (if not entirely comfortable) sharing how I feel about stuff that matters. Still, sometimes I over-share. Or use the wrong tone. Or get my facts mixed-up. There are more cases than I’d like to recall that left me wrought with doubt as to whether I said the right thing, or completely undone by something hurtful that came out of my mouth.

Do not shrink. Do not puff up. Stand your sacred ground.

So, I walk the line knowing that I’ll keep stepping over it. And when I do, I’ll say sorry and do what I can to right what I’ve wronged. In the end, I think speaking my truth is worth the fallout from a few (or more than a few) stupid things I’ll say in my lifetime.

Admittedly, it’s sometimes better to keep my mouth shut. But missing an opportunity to call someone out on racism, sexism, or general shittiness leaves me in a kind of emotional hangover, just physically ill. I think this is why I feel so fired up to speak out about what’s currently happening in this country. My heart still races. My palms still sweat. But I try really hard now to say what needs to be said.

Honestly, I could have used my godmother’s advice when I was 12. And 13. And every year after. It works in all kinds of situations. Your ship is your classroom, your office, your social media page, your home, your body. Don’t take no one’s shit.

____________________

Photo by Keleigh Layton

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The Thing About Depression – A True Story

| On Living Well

Who even cares about food?

I thought this. Me. Jazmine—lover of pasta and cheese and peanut butter. She, who can eat more popcorn in one sitting than a small movie theater. She, who eats hummus with a spoon, because… yum. The very same who loves breakfast more than any meal of the day, could suddenly get all the way to 1pm on coffee alone.

I would put my kiddo down for a nap and think, I better eat something. By then I was despondent and faint. I recognized that I was starving, but somehow I was okay with it, because the feeling seemed to match my mood. I mean, who even cares about food? (more…)

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2016: The Year of Fireworks, Rainbows, and Steamy Poo

| On Living Well

There has been an awful lot of talk about how bad 2016 was. With the election a mere two months behind us, it’s completely understandable that we, as a whole, feel a bit bruised by the impact of what’s to come. The world is a mess and we’re pretty tired of it. There is a lot to sort out. 

And sure, we lost a few significant celebrities. But they were… um, celebrities. Despite how many days I cried over David Bowie’s death, it’s not enough for me to toss the whole year in the garbage and call it a steamy pile of poo.  (more…)

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Why I Love Chicago Weather

| On Living Well

I was born and raised in Southern California, so I’m spoiled when it comes to weather. I don’t like extremes. I complain about anything higher than 85 degrees and anything lower than 65 degrees. Rain is novel and splendid, but only for two days. Anything, longer than that is a little excessive, don’t you think?

It’s no surprise that summer in Chicago had me in a complete fit for weeks. It was horrid, sticky, and stormy and dear God, how do people function in this heat? I thought, I’ll just wait until the weather is nice and then we can go out. That didn’t work. The sticky and stormy would last for days and days with maybe one day of respite in between.

And now we are headed into the darkest days of winter. Somehow knowing this has sparked a better-get-the-fuck-out-there-and-enjoy-the-sun-while-you-can attitude in me. So, my miniature sidekick and I (more…)

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The World Changing Magic of Speaking Up

| On Living Well

 

Speak Up 1

When I was in college I put a little Jesus fish on my car. Just peeled the wax paper off the back and slapped that baby to the bumper of my Geo Metro.

Shocked? Well, let me tell you the best thing about this little fish. He had legs. And instead of the name, JESUS, in the center of his body, it read: DARWIN. Clever, right?

Listen, I have never had anything against Jesus. In fact, I think he’s pretty groovy. I mean, his teachings were directly inspired by the super-groovy Jewish sages who came before him. Still, I have a great deal of respect for science. And I like a good joke.

It was funny!

You know what wasn’t funny? (more…)

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