I was never cool. All of those things women lament about giving up when they have kids? I never did them. Instead, my transformation as a mom has been more subtle but no less radical.
I never went out clubbing. Okay, I did, but I usually complained that it was too loud or too crowded or played music I didn’t like. My husband worked nights and weekends for years and I wasn’t going to go alone, so it was a rare occasion at best.
I never dressed up in perfect makeup and stiletto heels. Mascara makes my eyelashes stick to my face. Lipstick makes my lips feel weird. I’ve never even tried to wear stilettos. The only time I’ve ever been in full makeup was my wedding; it felt like a mask.
Standing on the National Mall in the February cold, I stomped my feet and tried to ignore how sore my lower back felt. Watching the stage, I strained to listen to the speakers, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Native American activists. I was at one of the biggest climate change protests ever, focused on defeating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. While it attracted 12,000 people, it’s unlikely that many were in the same situation as I was: five months pregnant.
Despite the cold and a serious lack of bathrooms, I marched in hopes of shifting the tide against climate change. Now, with the election of Donald Trump for president and the Republican domination of Congress, I find it more important than ever before to be an activist mom.
Blank. Just blank. The empty page after empty page of my eight-month-old’s baby book stared at me in accusation. Even his name wasn’t filled in. Really? Crap.
I specifically bought this book because it was supposed to be “easy.” Just a page a month for the first year. How much time could that take? Apparently too much.
Was it that I didn’t love Little Bird enough to bother chronicling his important moments? While the guilt that beats at my brain wanted that to be the right answer, I know in my heart it’s not true. I adore my children. And I’ve spent a ton of time and effort capturing their childhood. I probably have hundreds of photos of Little Bird alone, much less those with his brother.
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, letting the food settle before dessert, was prime storytelling time in my family. At my aunt’s house in New Jersey, we’d cram as many chairs as we could around the table. Instead of focusing on the vastly different places family members ended up, we looked to the past. Even outside of holidays, my family often shared stories, of struggles and triumphs, of funny incidents and serious ones.
As an adult, I now see that these stories influenced my values so much more than any amount of lecturing would have. In fact, children who hear family stories about both good and bad times have more resilience in the face of difficult circumstances than those who don’t. Here are a few of my family’s stories and the values they passed on to me.
I’m so much of a nerd that I wrote my college admissions essay about it. I’m so much of a nerd that I not only tabletop role-play, but play systems that aren’t D&D. I’m so much of a nerd that one of my favorite places growing up was the New York State museum. I’m so much of a nerd that I’ve dragged very small children to multiple comic book conventions.
And yet, I had a crisis of faith about my nerd self this Halloween.
The pattern books spread across the long, white, slanted table. Spotting the orange and black tab, I grabbed it and flipped to the back. My eyes ran over the photos on each page, imagining what I would look like in each costume. My mind danced with images of spiderwebs and princesses, Renaissance ladies and mermaids. Near Halloween, I always loved going to the fabric store with my mom, where we would pick out the patterns and the fabrics for the costume she made me each year.
No matter how absurd or complicated, my mom took on my requests with aplomb. She cultivated both my imagination and love of elaborate dress-up. Now that I’m making costumes for my own children, I realize how much a labor of love all of it was.
On the night before my son’s first day of preschool, I made a controversial parenting decision – I didn’t make him a “first day of school” sign.
As I said in a message on my personal Facebook page: “I was going to make a sign for [Sprout] to hold on his first day of preschool tomorrow. But I fell asleep in his room while trying to get him to sleep and woke up at 10:40. And now it’s 12:30 and it’s still not done. Maybe next year!”
The bride walked down the aisle, a flowered headband in her short, black hair. As everyone watched expectantly, I shhhhed my yammering three-year-old son. While the readers recited statements from the couple’s grandmothers, I struggled to hold him on my lap. As a member of the wedding party read a passage by astronomer Carl Sagan, I finally hauled my kid down the aisle. The two of us spent the rest of my friends’ wedding in the back of the building. I alternated between trying to catch bits of the ceremony, grabbing him as he sprinted out the door, and whispering to him about how disappointed I was. It was a pretty low moment in my parenting career.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
The last two years were very challenging and last winter, the difficulties started seriously wearing on my mental health. Thankfully, participating in Stratejoy’s Holiday Council workshop (along with an appointment with a therapist) helped a lot. I wanted to give back, so I wrote a blog post for their website.
The post, called Not Perfect, Still Amazing, is finally up! Part of their Two Truths and a Lie series, it talks through a lot of the issues I deal with but I hope it helps you too.
With their forays into mutant beings, aliens, and time travel, I don’t usually look to superhero television shows for practical advice. But in Supergirl, I’ve found a couple of heroines that have taught me a lot about what means – and doesn’t – to be enough.
Read the rest on Stratejoy’s website! (And isn’t that photo hilarious? That’s a fantastic summary of my life right now.)
The Victorian-influenced sun and moon wallpaper, that I felt so grown-up picking out. The musical theater posters on the wall, including one from West Side Story signed by the touring cast. The photograph of two manatees kissing at Homosassa Springs that my dad took when I was in third grade. The glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, interspersed with painted clouds. All fundamental elements of my childhood bedroom, now all gone. Instead, it’s some other child’s bedroom, empty and awaiting his dream of what he wants it to be.
Last month, my parents closed on my childhood home in upstate New York so they could move closer to us. They sold it to a young family with two small boys. Like my parents 30 years ago, the mother and father were excited about the good school district and suburban neighborhood. While I’m glad everything worked out, it’s still a bit bittersweet for me.