Category Archives: Motherhood

The Boys’ Book of Days

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Creating New Rituals

In each area we have visited, we have stayed long enough for Everett and Louie to develop new little rituals that add a new flavor to the sense of “place” in each environment. It has been incredible to see how new experiences and environments ignite the imagination and expedite learning. When we return, Ben and I will likely narrate our epic vacation by summarizing the cities we strolled in, the beaches we played on, the historic sights we toured, and the new culinary delights we savored. However, this experience has been so different and so much richer through the eyes of our little boys, who find a sense of wonder in the unexpected and remind us that being young is a daily adventure no matter where you are.

As Ben and I sat on our Elba balcony this week, we sipped Espresso and recounted all of the little rituals that our boys have crafted that have added so much fun and whimsy to this trip, but that will likely be forgotten details when we look back at photographs and reminisce of this experience in years to come.

So this blog entry is dedicated to Everett and Louie’s “Top Ten” as we have just crossed over the midpoint of our time abroad. Obviously the list favors Everett’s curiosities, but Louie’s ever-developing outgoing personality makes a few appearances as well. This zoomed-in perspective may not capture the sweeping mountain, beach, and countryside vistas we are experiencing in this beautiful corner of the world, but it will offer a glimpse at what this journey has been like with a one-year old and three-year old in tow.

Everett & Louie’s Top Ten

  1. Food Lion

In Switzerland, Everett was intrigued by the wildflowers that grew abundantly across the mountain meadows. Within hours of being there, he became a collector and treasured a plastic grocery bag I found crumpled in the zippered pocket of the Ergo, strategically placed there months ago to assist in poop pick-up on a walk with Otis. The bag was labeled with “Food Lion,” meaning that it had to be leftover from a grocery trip in the Smoky Mountains that we took last October. Everett grabbed on to this and created a game of being a “Food Lion” on the mountain, filling the sack with sticks, rocks, fallen wildflowers, and any other remnant of nature that attracted his whimsy. Even on our dreariest of hikes through cold rain, desperately trekking towards the gondola that would deliver us to drier ground, Everett carried that water-weighted glob of white plastic with him, searching for his next natural treasure.

  1. Number Hunting

In Cannobio, Everett developed a fascination with the house numbers that denoted the individual residences that dotted the old narrow cobblestone street where we stayed. Every time we walked down the charming Via Castello, Everett would find great thrill in calling out the numbers that he recognized and asking us to identify the ones that he did not. The quest was always for “Number 50,” the placard outside of Tommaso’s apartment where we stayed. Louie would get in on the game too, excitedly pointing when we got close to the green shutters and tiled 50 that denoted our “lake house.” Everett had never really shown much interest in numbers before this trip; I find it fascinating and inspiring to see how new experiences can spark the hunger to learn.

  1. Coming Around the Mountain

On Elba, Everett has developed a love for the folk song “She’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I think I busted it out on one of our first days here in a desperate attempt to quell a double tantrum erupting from the backseat as we were all getting carsick, while Ben did his best to jolt the stick shift Fiat around the winding mountain roads. Now as we take the stone staircase down to our “beach house,” we have to enact a very specific musical number every time. I carry Louie to the bottom of the twenty stone stairs, while Everett waits at the top.   When we get to the bottom, Everett will not descend until I begin singing “He’ll be Coming Around the Mountain.” I sing, Louie bounces excitedly in my arms, and Everett makes his cautious way down the steps with the biggest grin imaginable. And this is our daily ritual here, every time we return from a day on the beach.

  1. Bell Towers

In both Cannobio and all over Elba Island, there are old stone bell towers, usually standing guard above churches. The bells sound every 15 minutes, and both my boys think this symphony is something quite grand. Everett has become an expert bell tower spotter, spying the brassy bells peeking out of the pines from the Elban mountain road. Each time we hear the bells ring, Everett shouts excitedly, “I hear the bells!” while Louie perks up and begins pointing in the sky until he locates the tower. Everett usually follows his regal declaration with the question, “What are the bells telling us?” prompting Ben and I to look at our watches and tell him the current time or in situations when we need a little transition help, we may respond with, “They are telling us that it’s time for dinner… that it’s time to go to the car…or that it’s time to get in the stroller.” While the other Italian kids are building castles in the sand, Everett is busy building churches and bell towers from the white shingle rocks and sand that blanket the Mediterranean coast.  He has also pocketed two keepsake rocks from the beach: one that looks like a small circular pizza with olives and one that looks like a wedge of Parmesan cheese. These stone snacks might be coming home with us.

  1. The Gondola

Despite the fact that we spent far too much of our first week here using the gondola to flee from the horrible weather in the Swiss Alps, the transportation experience has rooted itself deep in Everett’s imagination.   Even though it has been two weeks since we rode the gondola for the last time, Everett still beckons the mountain cable car scene to both our Italian lake house and island beach cottage. Several times a day, he is a “gondola worker,” focusing intently on pushing imaginary buttons and arranging kitchen chairs to ensure a smooth glide up the mountain to our “snow house.” He has constructed gondolas from the rocks on the beach, from our cell phone charger wire wrapped intricately around a table leg, and from a piece of dried smuggled seaweed draped from his car seat to the car door handle. Forget choo choos. Gondolas are way more preschool-chic.

  1. Gelato

It’s no surprise that this Italian delicacy has won our little guy’s heart.   Everett can spot a gelato stand from a mile away, usually by the garishly colorful trash cans perched outside every gelateria that are shaped like large ice cream cones. “I want to get gelato!” in a little sing-song voice has become a frequent chorus on our daily soundtrack and in most cases, we are happy to oblige. For two Euros, you get a “piccolo” cup of two flavors and Everett’s reliable favorite has been “mint and melon.” We keep encouraging him to branch out, but this combo has become his trademark treat.   And oddly enough, we can’t get Louie to eat gelato. He continues to ask for a taste each time we cozy up to a park bench with those colorful little spoons in hand, but the instant that cold creamy goodness touches his mouth, he cringes at the lip freeze and lets the delectable glob fall wayward. But don’t worry, he is definitely down with little Italian cookies from the pasticerrias—and again, we are happy to oblige.

  1. Italian Radio

Everett has developed a newfound fondness for music on this trip, specifically new sounds that he hears on the car radio. The day we drove out of Switzerland, he began “singing along” with a catchy tune sung in English by a female vocalist. When the deejay came on at the song’s end, I tried to decipher his German to catch the singer’s name and heard something to the effect of “Sophie Homan,” helped by the fact that the name “Sophie” showed up on car dash display. While Internet searches have not turned up this Swiss/Italian/Euro diva’s identity, Everett continues to ask for his “Sophie Homan” every time we get in the car.

And in the evenings, when we are making dinner, Ben has put Andrea Boccelli on the iPad, to construct a lovely stereotype of Italian kitchen artistry. Everett immediately stops what he is doing and just listens, transfixed by the melody and focused on mimicking the pitch and notes with his little voice. It’s pretty darn cute.

  1. What Do You See Next?

This popular vacation pastime is Everett’s version of “I Spy” and we play it constantly as we explore new places. In the car, on the balcony, while hiking, on the beach… Everett is constantly inquiring, “What do YOU see next?” Some favorite sights: bell towers (obviously), wildflowers, mountains, the ocean, the beach, motorcycles, bicycles, and Fiats (also paired with a new interest in types of cars).

  1. Potties

Even before our grand adventure, Everett was known for being a potty aficionado. Ever since he became potty-trained, he has had a fascination with public restrooms. He wants to see the potty in every establishment and then describe it with adjectives such as, “This is a tall potty; a nice, clean potty; a dirty potty; a potty with pink, vanilla soap, etc.”  So you can imagine the amusement that potty patrol has brought us here. The flushers are not handles, but large flat buttons that you press in to the wall. Some of the sinks in Elba restrooms are turned on by stepping on a pedal on the floor. We have experienced the stand-up-and-pee-in-the-hole-on-the-floor potties at Lake Orta (much easier for Everett than for me).   In Cannobio, Everett favored the “lake potty,” a public W.C. located in the center of the main promenade and his first experience with a urinal. (There is no using the regular toilet anymore if the urinal is an option). At our Cannobio “lake house,” Everett had his own potty to himself, outside his bedroom on the third floor. He would only go in “my upstairs potty” when he was in the apartment and has told us how much he misses this latrine now that we are in Elba.   The only downside to Everett’s potty hobby is that public restrooms seem to be an endangered species in Italy. I’m still trying to figure out where all these Italian tourists are peeing when they are out and about. Maybe I don’t want to know, given how much time Louie spends crawling on Italian soil.

10.  Island Walking

And this last one is for Louie, who is getting closer and closer to taking his first independent steps everyday.   Last night, he held Ben’s index finger and walked a long pedestrian mall stretch in Marino di Campo, shuffling his little bowed legs with controlled awkwardness and beaming with exhilaration at his newly realized freedom. Everett might be even more excited than Louie about this anticipated milestone. Every time Louie sets out to practice a micro-step or two, Everett will stand a few feet away, arms open wide and shout joyfully, “Walk to me, Louie. Walk to me!”  Each stumbling shuffle ends with the sweetest brother hug.

So years from now when I am scrolling through photographs of the majestic (albeit underwater) Alps of Riederalp, the paradise of Aquavivetta Beach, and the bustling charm of Cannobio, I hope that I can also recall these daily moments and little rituals that made traveling with two munchkins so unique.

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At the stunning beach of Aquavivetta. What you don’t see: Louie throwing a tantrum because I am not holding him. He is 100% mama-clingy this trip.

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Louie taking a guided stroll through Marino di Campo on Elba Island. Pretty much his first sustained handheld walk.

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“Walk to me, Louie!”

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Building a church and a bell tower with the rocks on the beach.

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Zebras

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A few months back, I posted about the challenges of approaching the “three-year-old zone” with Ev. The nap battles, the emotional swings, and the obliteration of all things rational.  While there are still trying moments, my perspective is evolving and I am really focusing on cherishing the amazing things about this stage.  Everett’s imagination has really taken off in the last couple weeks.  This imaginative play coupled with his ever-increasing verbosity has given us a window into his thoughts, his personality, and his interests–and let me tell you, this is magical stuff for a parent.

Today we had the longest sustained imaginative play scenario to date.  Here’s a photograph of the scene:

IMG_1902It doesn’t look like much is happening, but if you ignore the dirty kitchen floor and pile of food-covered dishes in the sink, you will see that some serious focused play is happening.  The two wires you see belong to the stick blender and hand mixer respectively, threaded through the kitchen drawers to create a cage.  Everett is a zebra in this scene.  He is eating a salad for dinner and keeping the other zebras safe.  While he was building the cage, he was a zookeeper–but in a moment of magical role transfer, he was crawling on all fours with the other zebras.  For nearly an hour, he crawled in and out of the cage, enacting different zebra actions.  The zebra’s bathtub was in our bedroom.  We had to get the imaginary hose and shampoo out and pretend to scrub him down.  The zebra got on a boat at one point to go to the grocery store to buy tomatoes…tomatoes for the salad.  You can’t make this stuff up.  It really is creative magic, like out of a wacky dream or a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

Everett has never been in to toys.  In the beginning, this frustrated me.  As a first-time mom, I worried that my son was not “normal” because he did not gravitate towards balls or trucks or trains…or even television.  (We tried that in some desperate moments when Louie was a newborn, and he never bit.)  I would find myself getting frustrated when he was pulling the DVD player off the shelf and unhooking the cables in order to wrap the cord around the holes in a plastic laundry basket with an astounding level of focused tinkering.  I would be embarrassed at playgroups when he would sneak off to the corner to open and close a cabinet latch twenty times or fashion a door stopper from a wooden block instead of playing “chop-choos” with the other boys.  Eventually, I gave in to his whims and let the train table become a place to stack all the unused toys.  Eventually, I started to realize that I actually loved the fact that Everett was “non-traditional” in his play.  And now that he is able to verbalize these fantastical stories to accompany his constructed scenes of small kitchen appliances and Tupperware, I am deeply entertained.

I still can’t get him to take a nap at 1:00 in the afternoon when his eyes are fluttering and his temperament starts to waver, but I am starting to be okay with that.  I am enjoying this afternoon intersession when Louie is fast asleep, when Everett can have uninterrupted play that often times does not require my full participation.

All of the milestones are splendid, the first steps, the first word, the first time they sleep through the night…but this one might be my favorite–the first time I can really see my little guy developing into a thinking, creative individual.

Going to Work

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So I decided to go to work this morning. Due to a growing lack (there’s an oxymoron) of patience with my full-time day (and night) job, there was a collective vote that I take a half-day off.

So after I successfully micro-managed my husband for an hour or so this morning (listing my agenda and instructions for his few hours of taking care of our children), I finally got out of the door (much to his relief).

I drove in the cold February rain to a great little coffee shop that I have not been to since the first year we lived in Nashville. Rumor has it that it is country pop star Taylor Swift’s favorite haunt, though I admit that I likely wouldn’t recognize her if she was sitting at the table beside me. I ordered a vanilla latte from the hippie-hipster barista and found a corner bar table with a high-backed chair to sink into my retreat. I opened my bag with a copy of the book I am plodding through for one of my book clubs and Ben’s laptop. Hmmm- what to do. I have an entire half day off from my children. I better make it count. Oh…the pressure….

The perfectionist in me kicks in. I should power through 100 pages of this book. I should write the thousands of stories that have flitted in and out of my consciousness the past month. I should be PRODUCTIVE. I am at work.

Nestled in this corner, I allow myself a few moments of voyeurism, eavesdropping on the twenty-something women sitting beside me. One is clearly writing lesson plans, hunched over a familiar template with boxes for objectives and guided practice directives and with a large Ziploc bag full of leveled readers at her side. The other is restlessly musing about what kind of job she hopes to secure in the future. “I think I could be happy doing lots of different things,” she sighs. I am reminded of my 22-year old self spending a Sunday morning at Onion Creek coffee shop in Houston, Texas pouring my heart and caffeine-driven soul into the 7th graders I was charged to save from the plague of educational inequity. I center for a moment on that transformative time in my life and smile, but I soon become annoyed by the woman’s valley-girl lilt and happily discover that my headphones are buried in the bottom of my purse (smashed under a baby Mum-mum cracker wrapper and a snot-covered Kleenex).

I try to stream Pandora but find that the wireless signal I am borrowing is too weak to sustain the music. I open Ben’s iTunes application and am excited to find that he has downloaded the new albums that he bought for me for Christmas. Perfect. I hook up my ears to my new favorite anthems from “The Head and the Heart” and hunker down with my thoughts. Here I sit in front of the computer. What to do? What to create? I must be sure to use this time wisely. I stave off the pressure by letting my curious eyes explore again. To my right is a guy sitting at a table alone, reading The Catcher in the Rye. He doesn’t look up much. He is deeply enthralled in the coming-of-age vortex of Holden Caulfield. At the other nearby table is a family having breakfast. I admire their cute little boy, who probably falls in between Ev and Lou in age as he bangs his Hot Wheels on the table and his parents try to gently quiet him, so as not to disturb the Salinger reader. I take pause to remember what I am retreating from and feel content to be present here but also happily aware of what waits for me the other 6 and 1/2 days of the week ahead.

And still I sit, struggling to dive in to the work I came to do. I romanticized the idea of packing a laptop up and “going to work” this Sunday morning, but here I perch pushing away the desire to “make it count” and create something to show for my time away from my children. I desire an intellectual charge, but also feel too restless to tune in. So my fingers hit Google and I explore a new writers’ group that I read about in Nashville. I discover that there is a memoir-writing workshop coming up in three weeks served up on the community education docket of a local college. It costs $80 and would take me away for a little more than half a Saturday. I’m tempted. Should I just pull out the credit card and enroll? But what if it ends up being a waste of time, a waste of funds, a waste of the guilt I will feel leaving my family on one of the few days we have to all four hang out together…?

And then I realize what I am really here doing this morning.  I am reclaiming aspects of my self that have faded into the background the past three years.  The teacher self, the writer self, the coffee-shop-sitting-musing self, the self that holds worth and importance independent of the mother-self.  Who knew that this kind of “work” would take deliberate planning and assigning of time, energy, and in some ways risk-taking?  These parts of me are not lost, but they do require deliberate cultivation in order to thrive.  Perhaps I’ve found my resolution for 2014.  Go to work.  Do the work. But let it be imperfect and spontaneous and ever-changing.  Let it be challenging and soothing and gratifying and unnerving and revitalizing all at once.

And let go of the guilt… even though I must admit I am even feeling guilty monopolizing this cafe table as people swirl around me carrying their steaming cappuccinos and looking for a spot to land.  My instinct is to serve, to sacrifice, to move aside so others can thrive.  “I am doing important work here,” I want to look up and say.  And I so I repeat that mantra to myself as I begin to believe it.

The Rollicking Spree of Approaching Three

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Oh my… everyone always told me that it is “the terrible threes” with boys and that battle moniker is beginning to ring true in our household. While I obviously still adore my almost three-year old, his antics are certainly starting to chip away at my patience stores…at a rapid pace.

So because I need to use this blog as a good therapeutic vent today, here are my top three pet peeves of the approaching three’s:

Constant Noise
During all waking hours, Ev emits constant loud noise from his vocal chords. I think I could handle it better if it was actual coherent speech or even the dreaded repeated inquisition of “Why? Why? Why?” But for now, it is just pure nonsensical gibberish sound effects–all day long. Imagine the meal time chorus of “Wee-Ooh, Wee-Ooh, Wee-Ooh, Wee-Ooh” peppered by intermittent giggles, increasing in volume between bites of food. Is there a fire engine rolling through my dining room? No–just random sound effects du jour. This is especially frustrating, because Everett can finally talk–pretty well–in full sentences… yet he chooses to just make obnoxious toddler calls into the wild. There was a time not too long ago when I thought that everything that came out of my little two-year old new talker’s mouth was just adorable. I feel guilty cringing at the grating garishness now as I attempt polite redirections such as, “You are hurting my ears. We don’t scream at dinnertime. Please talk to us using your words.” I’ve found myself actually fearing that Everett’s nonsensical babbling will confuse Louie’s speech development!

Nap Strike
After an early wake-up and a busy morning of active play, my boy is exhausted come 1:00 p.m. You can see it in his eyes. Since the beginning of his existence, the afternoon siesta has been a mainstay in our world. I still put him in his bed, but the stubborn boy will just not let himself succumb to slumber. The sound effects continue to resound as he rolls around his bed, weaves his sheet in and out of the bed rail slats, does headstands on his mattress, takes off his clothing, puts his clothing back on, sings a song, does a jig, makes animal noises, scratches the paint off his bed frame, makes a fort with his comforter, puts his socks on his hands, talks to his dinosaur pillowcase, flutterkicks his feet, claps his hands, tickles his own belly and giggles away. It’s quite impressive the way he can happily entertain himself for two hours without any toys on an area the size of a yoga mat, and I suppose I should be happy about that fact. However, I know that if he would just allow himself to be STILL for even 5 minutes, he would fall asleep. I would surrender to the notion that he might be outgrowing his need for a nap if only that were true. But he is miserable from the hours of 3:00 p.m. until 6:30 when he must go to bed or risk fatigue-induced insanity (for himself and his mother).

Picking a Fight
I thought you had to be more rational to have the craftiness and cunning to actually initiate a conflict….but perhaps it is the irrationality of 2-3 year olds that actually deserves credit for this move. If the mood strikes, Everett will go out of his way to pick a fight with me. It is usually masked as an inability to make a simple decision. Milk or water? Car or doggy pajamas? Green cup or blue cup? I know I am in trouble when the indecision erupts. “I want cereal.” (Ok, here are some Cheerios.) “No, no cereal. No cereal. Can you take it to kitchen? No cereal!” (I take the cereal away.) “My cereal! I want cereal!” For a while, I wondered if I should have sympathy for these existential crises. Is it difficult for a little person to handle the freedom that comes with having choice? Perhaps. But after a while, I think it also just became a way to pick a fight. There must be crazy mixed-up torrents of toddler emotions that need to be released…and maybe a conflict is the only way to express them? I knew this was the case during a nap battle one day. Everett’s latest stall tactic has been to whine for the door to his room to “stay open” when he gets in his bed. Ok, fine. No problem. Door is open. But that simple appeasement was not what he was hoping for apparently, because within minutes he actually got out of his bed to close his own bedroom door just so that he could climb back in and wail for me to “leave the door open!” Crazy, right? Certifiable. He should just be saying, “But mama–I just want to fight!”

So there’s my top three thorns on my beautiful budding rose. Of course I have a far greater store of sweet, endearing gestures and heroic toddler stunts that make me smile…but I felt like releasing a little frustration today and being well, real. Motherhood is beautiful and gratifying and amazing…and mind-boggling. So, I’m just hanging out in the scrambled brain camp today–drinking too much coffee on a cold snowy day and dreaming of summer sunshine and an open field where a 3-year old boy is running and running off energy.IMG_4920

Eight is Great (Again)

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A little more than two years ago, I wrote a post entitled “Eight is Great” that chronicled my first experience raising an 8-month old. Now that Louie is 8 months (almost 9) old, I figured it was appropriate to write a sequel.

At 8 months old, Louie is still the jolliest babe on the planet.  He very rarely fusses and is always quick to return a smile.  He loves to sit on his hands and knees in crawling position and rock and is pretty adept at scooting backwards.  However, the poor little dude just cannot figure out how to crawl forwards.  This results in frustration when he backs himself into corners and gets himself racked on table legs, chairs, etc.  Unlike Everett, he does not army crawl but prefers to be up on all fours (something that Ev didn’t figure out until 11 months).  However, he is much more stationary than Everett was at this age given that getting from point A to point B requires much more pivoting and zig-zagging as he tries to get ahead by moving backwards.

Louie is so much bigger than Everett was at this age.  He is close to 20 lbs already and is wearing clothes sized 12-18 months.  Everett wasn’t even 20 lbs when he turned 1!  He loves solid foods with recent favorites being yogurt with cinnamon, broccoli and carrots.  He is getting a little better everyday with finger foods, which for now is mostly puffs, peas, carrot bits, and shredded cheese.

Louie has 4 teeth–2 on bottom and 2 on top that look like rabbit teeth.  He takes two good naps everyday (if our schedule allows) and if it doesn’t, he is super flexible and goes with the flow.  He is still not sleeping through the night, but we are starting to work on that this month.

He adores his big brother and his daddy.  He loves to squeal, scream (happily) and babble dada-da and gaga-ga.

Here are a couple photos from our 8-month photo shoot.  Couldn’t be happier to be these boys’ mama!

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The 12 Bugs of Christmas

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IMG_4809On the first day of Christmas, the germ lords gave to Lou-
A temperature of one-hundred and two.

On the second day of Christmas, the germ lords brought more tears-
For Louie, it’s a virus with two infected ears.

On the third day of Christmas, the germ lords brought to Lou’s big bro-
A fever and lots and lots of snot to blow.

On the fourth day of Christmas, the germ lords brought to me-
A sinus infection and attack of allergy…

On the fifth day of Christmas, the germ lords brought to Louie:
Vomiting and diapers that were gooey.

On the sixth day of Christmas, you can guess what would ensue-
Everett got the stomach bug too.

On the seventh day of Christmas, we enjoyed two full days of healthy boys-
We were so relieved to breathe in the seasonal joy.

But alas on the eighth day of Christmas, the germ lords started their old tricks:
Everett spikes a temp of 106.

On the ninth day of Christmas, we see the doctor yet again:
Influenza has struck the biggest of my little men.

On the tenth day of Christmas, Everett is coughing like mad
And it’s another ear infection for my little lad.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the germ lords spread the flu:
This time it’s fever, cough, and snot for my little Lou.

And on the twelfth day of Christmas, the germ lords finished their Tsunami-
With a sinus infection/flu combo for Mommy.

A little parody instead of a rant or “woe is me” entry. We’ve been hit hard this month. One of us had literally been under the weather every day since Thanksgiving. We are cooped up, but still trying to smile and enjoy the splendor of the season. I am just hoping for a healthy family as we hit the road on Friday and celebrate Christmas. While we have endured our share of the “germ lords,” I still see how fortunate we are this season. This is small potatoes. But nevertheless, I’m kind of urging spring to come!

Motherhood: An AntiDepressant?

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Sometimes I think there should be some sort of perfunctory merit system for being a mom.  This isn’t meant to be a soapbox post about how little moms are appreciated or a whiny rant fishing for praise.  There are just those parenthood moments (and eternally long phases) where you take a step back and think, “Damn–someone really should give me a medal right now.”  While raising a child is an extraordinarily challenging and rewarding job, there are no bosses to hand out kudos and no annual performance reviews.  I have often thought back to my Girl Scout days and imagined a mommy sash full of badges for surviving the most harrowing moments: projectile vomit on a road trip, two (or more) children simultaneously melting down in a public venue, the very special tantrums of two and three year olds, entire months like this one where at least one of your children is enduring a virus every single day…  I’ve been thinking about these mommy merit badges and then while stumbling around on Google, I discovered that other moms have actually acted on this idea.  This woman has a real shop where she sells iron-on patches “to wear on your diaper bag.”  Wow.  I don’t think I would go that far, but I was intrigued that the extended metaphor had actually come to fruition…and for profit at that!

Whenever I find myself still standing after enduring a particularly chaotic adventure in parenthood, I really do feel strong and powerful.  I don’t mean power in the sense of exerting force or control over small and helpless beings, but power in the ability to handle incredibly stressful situations involving the physical and mental health of both my children and myself.  And to come out of it all with a fuller heart willing to do it all again one hundred times over.

The funny thing is that having children actually caused my anxiety to lessen.  I know many people who say that the opposite is true for them and in reality, this fact really does seem quite paradoxical to me.  Of course I experience the weight of protecting and caring for my sweet little boys, but the generalized anxiety and phobias that hounded me for most of my twenties have really slowed their gait.

I used to fear becoming violently ill in a public setting where there was no escape.

I used to fear becoming incapacitated by a mental illness… depression, schizophrenia, OCD, you name it.  I probably Googled them all at some point.

I used to fear my life shattering due to this onset of mental illness, much like the tragic course of my parents’ lives.

I used to fear hurting my husband and children as I siphoned them through the vortex of despair caused by my ultimate downfall that I felt I was destined to endure.

And then I became a mom and these fears mostly dissolved.  This is not to say that I don’t have anxiety flare-ups here and there, moments where my breath becomes short and quick and I begin to feel that awful out-of-control surge take over my fight-or-flight mechanisms.  Or those moments when my mind races and the down comforter on my bed feels like it weighs 5o pounds as it muzzles my chest.

I haven’t really psychoanalyzed the reasons why giving birth has alleviated my anxious heart.  The only lead I have in explaining this shift is that having children presented me with something bigger, something greater than myself.  And this great, amazing, ultimate responsibility gives me a sense of power.  Again–this is not power that reeks of control or status or even pride, but it is this internalized power that gives me confidence and security and eases my storied, anxious past.  Perhaps it is a determination to protect my own children from some of the stressors that pervaded my own childhood.  Or really, it could be simply that I have stamped my foot down hard on those fears, because there is no room for that weight while holding two small, amazing boys in my heart and in my arms.

Or maybe I have simply channeled that anxiety to a different place that is leaving more digestible breadcrumbs on my trail.  I still worry, but now it is about whether or not my 2 year old is maintaining his nap routine or about the fact that my 8-month old is still waking up to eat in the middle of the night and that I may never sleep more than 4 hours straight again.  It’s these minute (but real) day-to-day hiccups that may give me pause, but do not deliver a sense of doom like my prior perseverations.  Anxiety is real.  It is a real disease just like high blood pressure and arthritis and just like alcoholism.  I am not naive enough to believe that my pangs of worry and dread and panic are gone forever.  But for now, I am thankful for the remission and the way that my worry has mutated and adapted to this current stage of life.

So when I make it through a night where Ben is away on call and I single handedly juggle two boys with a stomach virus or drive solo across four states with my two young children throwing fit after fit in the backseat, I give myself a moment of self-congratulation and pin that imaginary badge on my backbone.  My former anxious self would have crumbled at the thought of those scenarios, so the fact that I can meet those stressful streaks head-on is a huge victory for me.   I’m sure this is not the case for everyone, but for me–motherhood sure beats Paxil.