To the Mamas Who Don’t Have a Summer Vacation

To the Mamas Who Don't Have
a Summer Vacation

Summer summer summertime, time to sit back and unwind.

On weekends.

Swimming pools, water parks, play dates, movies at the theater.  Strawberry festivals, sleepovers, bonfires, trips to the zoo, lemonade stands, swim lessons, ice cream, lightning bugs, and endless hours spent basking in the summer sun we so desperately wait for all year long.  I could go on.  Insert the most magnificent summer bucket list here.  It’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.

On weekends.  

Actually, just Saturdays.  Sundays are mostly for laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping and prepping for the week ahead.

With most jobs, when you work outside of the home you don’t have summer vacations with your kids.  You just have summers…regular ol’ summers.  Now don’t get me wrong, working inside the home is no cake walk either, not by a long shot, but moms who work outside of the home carry a special kind of guilt when it’s summertime.  They carry the guilt of not being there.  

It creeps in when you see pictures on social media of pool days and popsicles…while you’re at work.  It creeps in when you can’t stay up late to catch lightning bugs because you all still have to be up early in the morning.  It creeps in when you drop off at daycare and notice the emptiness of the classrooms.  It creeps in when you see pictures of your little one having fun during sprinkler day…without you.

It creeps in when you wonder if your child is somehow missing out on a fundamental right of childhood by missing out on those endless, carefree summer days spent swimming until exhaustion sets in and romping around outside until the sun goes down.

A few days ago I sat outside on our deck over-thinking this very thing as I listened to the kids in the neighborhood behind ours laugh, play, and jump into the swimming pool.  It was about 8:00pm and my daughter was already in bed, like most other week nights for us.  I was kind of bummed she was already in bed while the other kids played.  I wanted her to have wonderful memories of childhood summers just like I did.  

I thought back to all of the messy, melty ice cream cones in the car.  I remembered the warmth of my mama, the comfort of her gentle hugs, and how she supported any idea I had or any project I wanted to work on (which I know took the patience of a saint because my concoctions ended up in every corner of the house…but darn it…she let me do it every time).  I remembered the trips to the local pool with my siblings and dad when he was off work.  I remembered how light and silly he was and how we’d always drive with the windows down, music blaring.

Those memories shaped who I am today.  And as I sat back and listened to those other kids play while mine slept, I realized that the memories my heart holds on to the most aren’t from the perfect summer bucket list.  The things I cherish and remember the most aren’t actually what we did – it’s how we did them.  We were relaxed.  We were laid back.  We were uninhibited, carefree, and silly.  We talked and dreamed and joked with each other.  We laughed and listened to the storms and let the ice cream drip without caring and played wherever the wind took us.

Now THAT’S the stuff childhood memories are made of.  And that’s when it hit me.  Summer is a spirit, not an event, and that spirit is what my daughter will truly remember the most, no matter what that looks like for us.

She’ll remember driving home from school with the windows down and the music up.

She’ll remember way too many ice cream cones in the car and those glorious sticky fingers on upholstery I didn’t care about.

She’ll remember eating dinner together in the clubhouse of her swing set.

She’ll remember all of the fun summer field trips and experiments at school.

She’ll remember the times we bent the rules and stayed up way too late and paid for it dearly in the morning, but wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.

She’ll remember stopping at the library every Friday afternoon before dinner to cash in our books for the Summer Reading Program.

She’ll remember our weekends, filled with pool days, trips to the zoo, bonfires, and lemonade stands.  She’ll remember listening to the storms and the freedom to bring her ideas to life.

She’ll remember the relaxed, laid back moments where we were uninhibited and carefree.  She’ll remember playing wherever the wild summer breeze took us.

She’ll remember that she had the best summers EVER.

Sometimes it’s so hard to see past the guilt of our precious mama hearts.  We want the best for our babies and are ruthlessly unforgiving with ourselves when we feel like we’re providing anything less than that.  We always question whether we’re doing the right thing and for some, summer is no exception.

So to the mama who doesn’t have a summer vacation: there is no right way to do summer.  You can create moments of bliss and inhibition wherever you want and you can carry the spirit of summer with you and your family no matter what you do.

Play together.

Laugh together.

Dream together.

Love together.  

Whenever you can, wherever you can.

That time together is as golden as the summer sunshine itself, and that’s what our kids will remember and cherish the most.  

Europe or Bust

Europe or Bust

We are one week from takeoff.  

I almost don’t even believe it.  A year and a half of dreaming, planning, organizing, and planning some more makes this trip almost seem like a surreal, perpetual idea and not something that’s actually happening.  

People keep asking me if I’m excited and truthfully, I might be a little, but overall I still feel pretty numb.  I still can’t believe we actually followed through with this whole crazy thing.  Never in a million years did I think we would up and decide to take a three week trip to Europe smack in the throes of life in our thirties and parenthood, but, here we are.  Anxious, excited, and already tired, but we’re here.  And I’m proud of us.  

My husband and I both decided early on that we didn’t want to wait until retirement to live life the way we wanted.  We knew it would take a lot of hard work and committed to that, but agreed if we were gonna work hard we were gonna play hard, too.  

So now, we play. 

I feel like I should be doing more right now.  I keep poking at the pile of stuff to pack, shifting things around and organizing them into different categories, but shoving all of that into a suitcase – yes, that’s right, three people, three weeks, ONE suitcase – will take ten minutes tops.  The hard part was gathering everything into the pile.  Now I just get to stare at it for a while.

Everything else I can possibly think of is finalized.  The house sitter, the dog walker, the grass cutter, the mail hold, the currency exchange.  We still can’t figure out how to use the newfangled car harness we bought for my daughter, but I’m hoping at some point two adults can learn how to read and follow instructions properly. 

Most of my anxiety right now comes from not knowing the unknown, surprise surprise.  The number of variables involved in this trip are overwhelming and I’m trying to stay focused on everything that could go right instead of everything that could go wrong.  I find both exhilaration and terror in having absolutely no idea how this trip will go.  When we’re at home, my husband and I are familiar with our surroundings, our routines, our norms.  We’re safe in our comfort zones and as parents, this is where we feel most confident in protecting our daughter.  Both of us are uncomfortable at the thought of protecting her in territory that’s unfamiliar to us too.  This will definitely be a learning experience for us all.  

Speaking of my little girl, I have no clue how she is going to handle this trip.  She’s never even been on an airplane before.  There are times her high maintenance arrives right on cue and there are times her adaptability and flexibility surprise us.  I think both my husband and I are ready for battle.  We know there’s going to be some rough spots because there are rough spots for even adults on a trip of this magnitude, let alone a confused jet-lagged toddler who can’t even comprehend that there are actually other parts of the world, let alone that she’s suddenly in one of them.  I think our expectations are right where they need to be.  

Once we’re on the road (or in the sky) I’ll update as I’m able, but I really want to take some time and space away from as many responsibilities and commitments as I possibly can this trip.  I’m not sure if/when I’ll ever have such a long stretch of time off work to be with my family, so I want to be present and extra intentional with my time away.  

I can’t wait for this adventure.  Every place I go changes me, and I’m looking forward to the new woman waiting for me when I’m home.

Bon voyage, mamas! 

The Dinosaur Shirt

The Dinosaur Shirt

The world is a fine teacher of how our boys and girls should be.  

Our kids go to school.  They have friends. They watch shows and videos and notice what’s going on around them.  They have eyes and ears and they ask questions, so many questions, sometimes out loud and sometimes not.  They listen.  They process.  Even at the youngest of ages they observe and interact with others to identify the patterns of what is “normal.”  And, after a shockingly brief period of time, their little impressionable minds internalize the messages they’re sent and adapt accordingly.

They learn who they should be…and they’re faced with the arduous task of reconciling that with who they want to be.  No biggie.

From the day my daughter was born we tried to keep our home as gender neutral as possible.  We didn’t want to influence her one way or another and while I’m positive we weren’t perfect at it, we tried.  From a very young age we talked about gender roles and how anyone can like any job.  We talked about how anyone can like any toy or like any shirt.  When we bought a baby doll, we bought a monster truck.  When we bought a play kitchen, we bought a tool bench.  And when we bought a ballerina shirt, we bought a dinosaur shirt.

Oh, the dinosaur shirt.

We noticed the change a couple of years in.  Whether it was through society’s messaging or her own preferences and natural tendencies developing as she got older, or likely a mix of both, the stuffed animals, play kitchens, tea sets, dress up clothes, and baby dolls all took center stage and the “boy toys” ended up in a heap in the closet.  We figured it was phase but she never did circle back around.  To this day she still couldn’t care less about guns, toy trucks, or action heroes and instead carefully tends to her growing brood of every single baby doll under the sun.

Well.  That settles that, I thought.

I struggled a little at first but I took comfort knowing we did what we could to allow her to develop her likes and dislikes from what came naturally and not from what she was pushed or conditioned to prefer (at least, not by us).  She learned not to follow what was funny, popular, expected, or obligatory, but instead to follow the beat of her own drum.  And so, we embraced the little princess and tried to balance out the “girliness” wherever we could…

With dinosaur shirts.    

While my daughter may not have taken to the typical masculine toys, she still wore whatever I laid out for her, which always included several shirts from the boys section because I thought it was nice for her to wear something other than pink or purple every once in a while.  I’ve bought clothes from the boys section since she was a baby and it always went over smoothly.

Until the dinosaur shirt.  

This week finally brought some much-needed short-sleeve weather to our area, and with it a new wardrobe of flowers, fire trucks, rainbows, and basketballs.  As my almost-four-year-old pulled out the outfit I had picked out for school one morning, she immediately crinkled her nose and looked back and forth between me and the shirt.  It was yellow and grey with a dinosaur on it.  I figured it was stained or something but when I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Ew, mommy I’m not wearing this. This is a BOY SHIRT.”  

Cue the cringe.

I wasn’t bothered that she didn’t like the shirt.  She’s almost four and she’s allowed to not like things.  I was bothered by the reason why.  I tried to ask her for more.  What makes it a boy shirt?  Do you think you can’t wear boy shirts?  Did someone tell you that?  WHO TOLD YOU THAT?  I nearly gave the poor kid the fourth degree but I caught myself.  She didn’t have any answers. When I sat back to take it all in, I realized, of course.  SHE’S THREE.  She doesn’t have any answers because she doesn’t know any answers.  She just knows she doesn’t want to wear a boy shirt.

Looking back I think I was attempting to make sense in my own adult mind of how and when this kind of gender conditioning happens, and was trying to accept the degree of it that’s totally outside of my control.  I tried to recover and explained that girls can like yellow and grey and dinosaurs, just like boys can like pink and purple and rainbows.  That all of the colors and all of the clothes are for all boys and girls.  

She actually did end up wearing the shirt to school, but I thought about that interaction all day long.

It’s no secret that girls are conditioned to model traditional femininity.  By movies, magazines, retail stores, Youtube videos, parents, families, teachers, friends, and so on.  Be polite and gentle and selfless.  Also, be pretty and skinny and prefer certain colors, clothes, and animals.  Sugar and spice and everything nice, right?  

It’s also no secret that boys are conditioned to model traditional masculinity by the same means.  Control and dominate and win.  Be aggressive.  Don’t be weak, don’t be emotional…don’t be girly.  Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.   

As a mama, what I’ve seen recently is a hard push against that expectation of traditional femininity, and as a girl mom I love it.  I love the empowering videos, the children’s books, the shirts in the girls section with dinosaurs and robots, the articles about how girls can be athletic AND girly and they don’t have to choose.  I love that my little girl has these things to see to help her figure out who she is.

But I can’t help but wonder about our boys.

What I see for them is a much, much less forgiving landscape of gender progress.  Go into the boys section at the store.  Do you see a ballerina anywhere?  A cat?  A unicorn?  Heck, even a HEART? Anyone?  Bueller?

I see nothing that tells our boys how they can also choose, how they can also be athletic and girly too.  What I usually see is…boys…girly?  Are you KIDDING?  I don’t think so.  For males, femininity is still seen as demeaning and weak and to many, as downright offensive.  Female empowerment is praised and promoted but Gillette caused a poop storm when they tried to tackle toxic masculinity for a mere 90 seconds in a recent ad campaign.  The company faced fierce backlash as many threatened to boycott their products.  Ipsy was lampooned when they launched a makeup campaign featuring a male model.  People called it disgusting.  Sinful.  Offensive.  Some cancelled their memberships and sent the company hate mail.

Over what, exactly?

I don’t know.  As a parent, I’m confused.  I’m no expert in gender studies.  I still have so many more questions than I do answers.  I wonder what’s nature and what’s nurture.  I wonder if I would’ve parented a boy differently.  I wonder how much of who my girl is today was her own choice or how much was who she was conditioned to be.

I wonder how confused our babies must be, because if this topic is so complex I can’t even wrap my adult mind around it, they must feel terribly lost and conflicted growing up in a world filled with mixed messages.

What I know is that our girls are still conditioned to be girls and our boys are still conditioned to be boys and mamas, like it or not, we’re raising our babies in the thick of it.  It’s impossible to shield them from it completely.

But it’s not impossible to help them cope with the mixed messages and teach them how to love, accept, and support others who are coping with mixed messages, too.  It’s not impossible to create a home safe enough to struggle and allow our littles to figure out who they truly are.  It’s not impossible to balance out the world’s unavoidable conditioning with intentional, and sometimes difficult, conversations.  It’s not impossible to deal with this head on and explain things in a way their little minds can understand, if even a little bit.

It’s not impossible to love our babies unconditionally.  This, perhaps, is the most possible thing in the entire universe for us to do.  It’s the only thing we can guarantee them in this life.  To love them no matter who they are, who they want to be, or who they turn out to be.

Unconditional love knows no masculinity or femininity, and a mama’s love knows no obligation.  It’s in our bones.

All we have to do is make sure our babies know that.

Either that or I’m reading way too much into a t-shirt.

How to Spring Spring

How to Spring Spring

Spring has sprung, my friends!

I love this time of year.  The flowers, the thunderstorms, the cool breeze, the weather.

I am NOT a summer person.  At all.  I crank up the AC as soon as the temperature hits 70 outside.  Heat makes me cranky, sleepless, sweaty, and resentful towards the time and energy I have to put into shaving my legs.  For four months out of the year I don’t belong in Indiana, where the humidity of the agonizing Midwestern summers are enough to drive anyone to the North Pole.

The beauty of spring and autumn are enough to keep me here, though, and they make June through September a little more somewhat-kind-of tolerable for me.  

Needless to say, I revel in the beautiful gift of spring, and here are some ways you can do that too.

Wipe everything down with Clorox wipes.  Or Thieves or Lysol or whatever else you want to use.  Even if you did it yesterday, you know it’s dirty again and if it’s not dirty again, wipe it down anyways.  The clean smell alone will remind you that sick season is over (for the most part) and that the kids can finally venture outside without spending twenty minutes to layer up first.  Hallelujah!

Kondo your heart out.  The KonMari method, created by organizing consultant Marie Kondo, is a system of simplifying and organizing your home (and life) by getting rid of physical items that don’t bring you joy.  Instead of focusing on what doesn’t fit, what you can’t stand, or what you think you might use or wear someday, invite more positivity into your life by focusing on what brings you joy instead.  Pick it up, touch it, and if it brings you joy, keep it.  It’s that simple, and I love it. I felt so renewed and energized after removing the weight of the physical stuff from my home, especially the stuff that wasn’t making me happy.  Kondo takes spring cleaning to a whole new level!

Relax in the lounge.  And I don’t mean the 21-and-over kind.  I’m talking about the one in your yard, your very own private oasis of comfort and luxury: a baby pool.  That’s right.  Pick up a $10 inflatable baby pool and instead of filling it with water, fill it with old blankets and pillows.  Make yourself comfortable with the littles, read books, look at the clouds, and wonder where all of the airplanes waaaay up there are going.  Your options are endless, and are endless without the summer bug season terrorizing y’alls chill time in the lounge.

Do any yardwork or landscaping NOW.  Before it’s 500 degrees outside.  Before the mosquitoes are out for blood.  Before it’s so hot and humid outside that paint won’t even dry.  Have someone take the children.  Or take a day off work.  I learned this the hard way.  It doesn’t matter if there’s more daylight in the summer and the nights last longer.  It’s a trick.  DO IT NOW.

Get family pictures taken NOW.  I also learned this the hard way.  If there’s anything more stressful than getting yourself and everyone else ready for family pictures, it’s sweating your arse off in front of the camera and hoping the pit stains and moisture on your upper lip can be photo-shopped out.  And if there’s anything more stressful than all of THAT…it’s wrangling a toddler who’s melting down right underneath the blazing sun.  And in your beautiful family pictures.

Pay attention to your toes.  They’ve likely been hibernating all winter.  Flip-flop weather is upon us and we need to be prepared.  Give those piggies a little extra TLC and if they’re beyond repair, splurge on the $25 to have a professional tackle the job.  You deserve it.

Stay away from geese.  I’m not even joking.  Here in Indy it was just in the news that two people were attacked AND injured (though mildly) in a Walmart parking lot.  Geese lay their eggs March-May and can be exceptionally aggressive when protecting the nest.  If you see geese loitering around in one spot, standing their ground, or staring you down like they’re ready to start something, it’s best to stay away.  In all seriousness, for as much as I dislike geese, they’re still living creatures and are mama bears just like we are.  I don’t blame them for protecting their babies.  Just be respectful and careful out there in the wild, and talk to your kids about being the same, too.  Head on swivel in the parking lot!

Take some time to BREATHE.  Before your mind starts running amok with the spring cleaning to-do list or upcoming summer plans, take some time to slow down and breathe in the renewal and refreshment that this season can provide.  Literally stop and smell the flowers.  Turn off the music or the TV and listen to the rain while you fold laundry.  Buy yourself a new candle.  Enjoy the nice, cool breeze.  Spring only rolls around once a year.  Be sure to take some of it in!

Motherhood Is Hard. You Do You.

Motherhood is hard.

Bed-sharing is hard.  You’re constantly kicked in the ribs or shoved to the edge of your own bed.  You never fall into a deep sleep and your stiff body is restricted to the same spot, not daring to move.  A trip to the bathroom is a risky disruption and you silence even the mere thought of a sneeze.  You worry if your baby is growing too attached.

Sleeping apart is hard.  You worry if your baby is okay without you.  You sleep with your eyes wide open, glued to the monitor.  Watching every move.  You worry when you hear noise, and then, you worry when you don’t.  Another trip to the nursery to make sure your baby is breathing.  You miss their smell.  You worry you’re not bonding enough.     

Breastfeeding is hard.  You’re attached to a baby around the clock.  You don’t know how much milk they’re getting and you worry about your supply.  You have to change your diet and tie yourself to a pump and all of its parts that need washed.  Your nipples are sore and cracked and mastitis is the devil.  You wonder if this is all worth it.

Bottle feeding is hard.  You have to measure and prepare it just right and all of the bottle parts are a nightmare to wash, over and over again.  Formula is expensive.  You feel awful guilt over your baby’s tummy troubles and question whether you’re giving the best, most nutritious start.  You wonder if you and your baby are missing out on a beautiful, intimate experience.

Having an only child is hard.  You have to teach your child what they would learn from a sibling.  You are it.  People assume you’re having another and you constantly face their questions.  You think of the legacy you’re leaving behind and whether or not your child will be alone when they’re older.  You feel guilty.

Having more than one child is hard.  You’re outnumbered.  Someone is sick or working on it at all times and sleep schedules are never synchronized.  You want to make sure each has their own experiences but you’re spread thin financially.  You constantly multitask to make sure everyone has what they need and wonder if you’re in over your head.  You feel guilty.

Having kids close together is hard.  You’re pregnant for an eternity and your body does its best to recover.  You’re changing diapers at all times and coordinating a simple outing is like coordinating a trip to Disney World.  It’s hard to parent younger kids who are needier and going through challenging phases at the same time.  You’re exhausted.

Having kids spaced apart is hard.  Your freedom and routine are turned upside down and your body isn’t used to this kind of brutality.  You’re overwhelmed by starting from scratch all over again and worry about the adjustment.  It’s hard to parent kids who are going through completely different phases at the same time.  You’re exhausted.

Staying at home is hard.  It’s lonely and isolating and you miss adult conversation about adult things.  There is no break from the looming housework or from wiping runny noses (or butts).  You wonder if you should be doing more to contribute financially.  Life can be so chaotic and unpredictable that you struggle to stay present and engaged.  You’re overwhelmed.

Working outside of the home is hard.  It’s a marathon just to get out the door in the morning.  Your stress level hits the roof when you have to use your precious PTO…again.  Racing back and forth day after day wears you thin, and you miss your family dearly.  Life can be so chaotic and unpredictable that you struggle to stay present and engaged.  You’re overwhelmed.

Being in a relationship is hard.  Quality time with your partner is a struggle when you’re raising tiny humans who need so much of you.  Intimacy is the furthest thing from your mind.  It’s exhausting to always have to get on the same page.  You’ve taken on the nurturing role for the whole household and feel like everyone’s happiness rests on your shoulders.

Being single is hard.  You don’t always have the help you need.  You hate feeling like a burden when you ask the same family and friends for help.  You long for a partner.  It’s exhausting to be both mom and dad to your kids.  You’ve taken on the nurturing role for the whole household and feel like everyone’s happiness rests on your shoulders.   

Motherhood is hard.  All of it.  And no one gives you an award.

There is no magical script for doing it right.

So if it’s going to be hard no matter what…

You do you.

Do what’s best for you and your family.  Do what you value.  Do what’s important.  Do what you believe in.  Do what feels right.  Do what’s worth it.  Do what you want.  Do what makes you happy.

Lots of people will have lots to say

But they aren’t you.

What your friends did is great for your friends.

What your sister did is great for your sister.

What your mom did is great for your mom.

But they aren’t you.

So you do you.

So the happiness can outweigh the hard.

So the joy can outweigh the struggle.

So your sanity can outweigh the difficulty.

So you can soak in this amazing miracle you’ve created.

Because for all the things that are hard,

the love outweighs it all.  

You know your heart.

You know the way.

You do you.