Stay-at-Home Mother

As a child if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would not have said a stay-at-home mother. I had an endless list of future careers, but mother was not one of them.  I gave birth to my first child and my plans exploded in my face.  I wanted to be with her every minute.  I chose to stay home and stuff my law degree in the closet along with my high heeled shoes, dry clean only shirts, and endless suits.

Not surprisingly, motherhood shattered my identity.  I imagine that most new mothers (and fathers) have a slight identity crisis.  I don’t like to bake, craft, cook, or clean.  I never liked to babysit or play with dolls.  Pinterest baffles me. I thought I had to do those things.  I felt invisible as if people who looked at me could only see the baby on my hip.  As if the role of stay-at-home mother equated to me having nothing to say at all.

In the universe of mothers there are lines drawn in the sand, working vs. stay-at-home, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, attachment parents vs. babywise parents, etc.  The list is endless.  These lines are isolating.  The crazy part is that these lines become cataclysmic because if we are honest most mothers at times feel slightly insecure about the choices we make. We are slightly defensive about this life choice. We may be ultra sensitive when those around us point out our differences.  We put up walls.  Embrace labels.  This is a shame, because we all share certain truths, the paramount truth being that we all just want the best for our children.

Back to my story.

Identity crisis ensued.  No one admits these things.  No one admits that they doubt their choices.  I felt scorned by the working moms and scorned by the stay-at-home moms for not being blissed out on motherhood.  I felt alone.

It was my insecurity that perpetuated these divides.

Then suddenly, an answer, reinvention.  Reinvention of who I thought I was going to be.  Reinvention of what it means to be a stay-at-home mother.  Reinvention of how I perceived myself.

I wrote.

A story is a snap shot of a moment in time.  This is a snap shot of a moment a few years ago when I felt invisible in the role of stay-at-home mother.

Now this new mother almost seems like a character in a story I once read.

I am happy.

Check out my essay featured on Mamalode today.

Also, I just created a Facebook page for the blog, “like it” and you will get all my publications delivered to your news feed.

Tired

I am so tired that I drove my minivan into the mall parking structure not realizing that I still had the giant capsule roof rack on top of my car. Immediately, I heard the loud SCRAPE of my car against the low beam of the parking garage. I froze, but I couldn’t freeze. Once I entered the garage, there was nothing to do other then follow the maze of exit signs to the exit. I scraped every low beam along the way. It was loud. People pointed at me and not so politely informed me that I was scraping the ceiling.

No s***.

I nodded and smiled. Yes, I was entirely aware my car was hitting the ceiling, just creeping to the exit.

Thank God, my daughters weren’t in the car. My kindergartener would deem this situation “embarrassing” and would probably not recover this decade. As for me, it was definitely embarrassing, but post-children I’ve become well acquainted with embarrassing. It is just par for the course.

I am so tired that I wrote about it. Please read my essay over at Scary Mommy.

Warning – The Invisible Virus

Guilt – A highly contagious virus is spreading like wildfire this flu season.  Parents, especially mothers are highly susceptible.  This includes: stay-at-home, working, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, single, coupled, same-sex, attachment-parenting, helicopter, free-range, tiger, and any other type of mother you can think of.

There is no known vaccine.

The virus may cause insomnia, emotional distress, stress related headaches, attitude problems, marital discord, stomach aches, and nausea.  It may lead sufferers to drink copious amounts of wine or binge eat after bedtime.

There is no known cure.  Although sleep, exercise, yoga, wine and confessing all your guilt inducing sins to your true friends will help alleviate symptoms. Acceptance, of oneself and fellow sufferers is key to moving forward.

Let’s support one another in this parenting escapade.

We are all doing the best we can.

Also, if you get a chance check out my essay “Mom Guilt” on the Huffington Post – share it, like it, tweet it, and email it around.  You can “Fan Me” if you want the Huff Post to send you an email whenever I publish over there.

I am an insecure writer, so any fandom is much appreciated.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/mom-guilt_b_5793030.html

Thanks,

Justine

The Princesses in Their Cages

disney-princess-kida-disney-princess-30168400-2560-1117

“Guess what?” I say as I approach my daughters, sitting at the dining room table coloring. Their markers strewn across the table are mostly faded and dried out. The new colored pencils, our family’s solution to the dried out markers, lay scattered around them in a mini tornado of coloring utensils. I sit down beside my daughters.

“We are going to Disney Land for my birthday. Mom is going to celebrate her birthday with her twin sister and we are going to Disney Land!” I am thrilled about my plan. When I discovered my birthday fell on my daughter’s fall break, I never booked a trip so quickly. I have never been to Disney Land and have received a giant amount of grief about this for my entire life. I will finally experience this American rite of passage on my 35th birthday with my twin sister. But then I start thinking about the details of our “vacation”. For three nights my husband and I will be sharing a hotel room with our three tiny children, one of whom is up several times a night. We will be spending our days at an overcrowded theme park. I don’t like crowds. I don’t even like street fairs. This may be my own personal hell. Perhaps not a vacation at all, but rather a very expensive and rare form of torture?

“Mommy hasn’t celebrated her birthday with her twin sister in 20 years,” I tell my daughters who by this time have completely checked out of the conversation and are dreaming about Anna, Elsa, and their cousin who they adore. “Mommy has never been to Disney Land.” I say animatedly and slightly irritated by the way I am talking about myself in the third person.

My four-year-old jumps from her seat and shouts, “ I can’t wait to go to Disney Land and see the princesses in their cages!”

“I can’t wait to see the princesses in their cages too,” the three-year-old screams, mimicking her sister.

I smile.   My girls think that Disney Land is a zoo for princesses. A modern day feminist’s dream, the dangerous Disney princesses with their svelte bodies and flowing tresses, all locked behind bars. These princesses who brainwash our preschoolers to think that being skinny and pretty is everything. The insidious belief that if a young girl is thin, pretty, and waits patiently, her prince charming will come, kiss her, and carry her to a glorious happily ever after. Some feminists blame princess culture for everything. Disney princesses, the slippery slope that set our daughters on the path to body insecurities and eating disorders.

It would be nice if life were that simple? If banning princesses from our homes would guarantee that our daughters would grow-up with high self-esteem and aspirations to be whoever they want to be. It would be lovely if banning princesses would prevent my future adolescent daughters from obsessing over whether society/ adolescent boys find them pretty or not.

From my experience raising two daughters, three-year-olds gravitate to gender stereotypes. My daughter insists on wearing pink and purple twirley princess dresses every day. She scoffs at pants and shorts. My oldest did the same thing, but now she is five, she only wears pants, and her favorite color is green.

Princess culture is fleeting. The stereotypes in the princess books are pathetic, but this too shall pass. If my daughter develops body insecurities as a tween, it won’t be because of Ariel’s shell bikini. It will more likely stem from pop culture where the media photo-shops images of already dangerously thin supermodels.

As a child I did not own a single disney princess. I spent most of my time coloring my barbies and chopping off their hair. My barbies were skinny and pretty, but they were dolls. At 11-years-old, I remember obsessing over whether I was pretty or not. I spent hours thinking if only I was skinnier, had longer legs, or a different nose. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I believed that being “pretty” was everything. The pretty girls were the popular girls and I wished I could be one. As an adolescent I wasted so much time worrying about how I looked.

I wish it were that easy. I wish I could lock the princesses in their cages and save my daughters from the masochistic adolescent experience of dissecting their looks. I wish I could save them from the monstrous teenage time suck, that is spending endless hours worrying about whether they are pretty or whether a certain boy will like them. I wish I could save them the heartache of feeling ugly, different, or less than. But alas, annihilating the princesses is not the answer. Society’s fixation with beauty is pervasive.  It sucks.

 *****

“The princesses actually walk around Disney Land,” I say to my eldest daughter. “It is not a zoo. You can even shake their hands.” I laugh out loud and kiss her soft face.

Her cheeks flush. She is embarrassed. “I know that,” she says, “Princesses live in castles.”

“Of course they do,” I say, “and we are going to visit them on my birthday.”

Life’s Trajectory & Letting Go

 

For the first thirty years of my life I followed a specific trajectory. My life was a linear graph. One could merely plug in the vertical and horizontal measurements into the linear equation to determine the slope of my life and project where I would be in two, five, and ten years. My trajectory was neat, orderly, and systematic. There were points marked on the graph for high school, college, work, law school, bar exam and then work again. In this world, hard work led to academic and professional success. As far as I knew, thought, believed, I would continue on this path forever. I envisioned myself rising to the top of my legal career, establishing a solid reputation, and receiving awards. In my mind, I would be a legal superstar.

But then, I got pregnant. People never admit this, but I was slightly ambivalent about my pregnancy. I was the first in my group of friends to become pregnant. I was entrenched in my career. My social life entailed happy hours with beloved co-workers after endless hours at work. Weekends were spent sleeping in, lounging with my husband, prepping trials, and visiting clients in jail. The pregnancy triggered something inside me. I started doubting whether I could do my job and be a mom. On some level I knew that I would have to give something up. I loved my life, my trajectory, my diagonal line aiming high into the sky, but I anticipated change.

Well into my second trimester my body indicated that my new baby and I could not survive my career path. I sat across from my boss, tears streaming down my face and I quit. I intended to return. A year maternity leave maximum, I thought as I left the only adult life I’d ever known, my office, my friends, and my co-workers. I’d be back. I loved this place.

My pregnancy was a beautiful ticking time bomb. Her birth tore me apart and ripped me from my orderly world. She blasted me off my trajectory. I was catapulted off the linear graph I’d been climbing and thrown into outer space. A world no one can imagine or be prepared for until their own baby is placed in their arms. In this world there was no line to measure my progress. No linear equation to determine my success. Analytically my choices did not make sense. Hard work would never equate to a plaque or an award.

I looked at my baby girl and knew returning to work would not be so simple. She jolted me out of my life. I threw myself into parenting and loving this little person. I missed my old world – my friends, trials, professional respect, and the fight for social justice. I missed it, but I couldn’t go back. In some sense I didn’t feel brave enough to return. Financially, I didn’t have to, so I stayed home, but I was conflicted. As years passed I thought maybe I’ll go back when my baby attends school all day.

*****

A stay-at-home mother with young kids, our house is a chrysalis, a hard shell protecting our growing family. My three children cozily wrapped together in the silk sinews we created. The walls are thick and tight. We are pressed so closely together it is sometimes hard to tell where one of us ends and the other one starts. We feed off of each other. My children’s bodies melding to the shape of their parents and siblings pressed against them. So malleable, the children grow, bending around one another, expanding any way they can until they emerge into the outside world.  

The moment the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. It sounds romantic, but in reality, it’s slightly gruesome. The butterfly is torn from the chrysalis. It pulls, tears, and rips itself from its protective shell. There is blood. Pain. In the end, the butterfly is beautiful and free.

*****

I remember walking my daughter to the park, pushing her stroller. She ate snacks off of her tray, happily sipping from her straw cup, pointing at dogs and bikes. It was sunny. I was tired from nights spent traversing a path from her room to my own. I passed a woman, standing on the bike path with her daughter who was straddling a two-wheel bike without training wheels. The woman smiled, “It goes by quick,” she said, “Enjoy your little girl.” I smiled, a cliché often repeated to new mothers. I kept walking. My baby tucked in her stroller that woman’s life appeared eons away. I couldn’t imagine my baby speaking in full sentences, let alone a child riding her own bike. I mused, life with a big kid looked peaceful and definitely less draining. She appeared to get more rest than me.

The moment, a cliché, a mere blip on my radar … until now.

My daughter is five-years-old. She received a two-wheel bike without training wheels for her birthday. She began kindergarten. No one informs you how difficult this milestone is. I am letting innocence personified walk out of my protective shell. Her classroom brims full of twenty-five five-year-olds. I give her a kiss and drop her on the curb. I can no longer help her find someone to play with. I can no longer nudge her to speak up for herself. I can no longer protect her from the brutality of the real world.

I begin the process of letting go. The girl who blasted me out of my professional life transitions into her elementary years. Now I realize how quickly this moment will come for her sister and brother too. What seemed my forever is fleeting. Inevitably each child will leave. Parenting small children is a chapter, not a book. One day sooner rather than later, I too will extricate myself from this tight nest and must redefine my trajectory.

My oldest emerges from our shell. She begins to find her own path. Everyday I let her go. The transition becomes easier. We both enjoy our new independence. And luckily, I’m realizing it’s just kindergarten, so when she returns home I am a cascade of fierce mommy love and kisses.

 

success-graph-demetri-martin-squiggly-line Success Chart by Demetri Martin

Five-Years-Old, Kindergarten, and Ripping My Heart From My Chest

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For me five-years-old is kindergarten. Today she is five tomorrow she starts kindergarten.  She will be in school all day. For the first time I will drop her off at the curb instead of holding her hand and guiding her to her class. She will be in a room with 26 five-year-olds. For all the new moms out there, this milestone is hard. It seems like it will never happen, but then it happens, and it happens fast.

My shining star, beating heart, quiet, sweet, and innocent baby is going to kindergarten.

Yesterday she spent twenty minutes being assessed by her teacher and maybe said three words – painful, gut-wrenching, grab my heart with your bare hands and rip it from my chest – all words to describe being a mother of a painfully shy child starting a new school year.

“I spelled one word perfectly,” she told me as we left her school assessment.

“Which word?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “N-O-A.”

In other words, (1) her teacher did not learn much in the assessment, (2) I maybe should have spent more time practicing letters with her this summer, and (3) I wanted to grab her (teacher) and shake her and tell her how sensitive, brilliant, and special my baby is. My heart literally breaks sending her into a giant classroom.  I feel as if I am releasing her into a pack of  Wild Dogs.

I fear that since she is quiet her teachers and classmates might miss her sparkle.

I want everyone to see her SPARKLE. She is spectacular.

She is my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, a dark night with no electricity for hundreds of miles. I tilt my head back and look up into the night sky. There is a magnificent carpet of stars and as my eyes skim the horizon, I see the Southern Cross.

She is the cold sand between my toes, quiet, and peaceful with a glowing moon overhead. I tentatively stick my foot into the saltwater and – POW – glowing phosphorescence swirl around my feet. I swipe my toes across the water and a glowing trail follows it.

This is my daughter.

She walks on her toes – a quirk – some say a problem. When she was three-years-old, I asked her P.E. teacher about it. Her reply, “Some of the fastest runners in elementary school are the kids who walked on their toes.”

My five-year-old is fast. She is confident about her speed. “I am the fastest,” she says, challenging anyone to a race. Long legs and endless endurance, she loves to run.

She is an observer. She learns visually. She may be the most observant person I have ever met. I too like to observe. She hasn’t yet learned it’s impolite to stare, but she is watching the way the world works, soaking it all in, and remembering the details.

My girl has been to three new schools in three years. We had bad luck with preschools. She is nervous, introducing herself into each new situation. It is scary going to new schools. She gets anxious. Each year on the first day she does not cry. She walks right in. She says goodbye and lets me leave. She tells me to leave. My daughter is the essence of BRAVE.

She is learning to make friends, learning to ask others to play, and to join a crowd of her peers. She watches. She learns. At the beginning of her pre-kindergarten year, I asked her what she did during free play at school.

“I play puzzles.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can do it on my own.” At first I considered this a sad response, but then realized this is a SMART response. She knows how to handle new situations on her own. She knows what games she can play by herself and be happy.

First she circled the girls she wanted to play with like a humming bird she gracefully hovered nearby. She circled them until they asked her to play. She was with a group of kids many of whom had been at the same school for three years and she gradually learned to play with them.

 *****

She is generosity. Her heart is gold.

“Wow,” her teacher whispered. My daughter received a chocolate covered strawberry at her end of the year party. When her sister and I picked her up it was untouched. She smiled and offered her sister the first taste. “Most kids don’t do that,” her teacher confided.

She is kindness.

This summer I told the girls they would receive a treat if they participated in their swim class. Her little sister screamed by the pool, refusing to participate. She stayed dry loudly. My oldest swam. She kicked and suddenly her freestyle looked like freestyle. “You get a treat,” I told my big girl proudly as her sister screamed in the car seat beside her.

I gave my oldest a gummy peach. As I put the car in reverse, I peered into the rear view mirror. My daughter bit the gummy in half and handed half to her sister.

She is patience

*****

“She sings like a bird,” a schoolmate whispered to his mother.

First day of school and her pre-k teacher asked her name. I gently elbowed her, pushing her to respond. Silence. Sometimes she hides within herself like a rollie pollie bug, folding into itself at the slightest touch. This year she feared asking for a pencil. She feared asking to go to the bathroom. She had an accident. We (her teachers and parents) were concerned.

But then …

At preschool graduation my daughter stood in front of her entire class and ALL their parents and sang. She sang beautifully. She sang loudly.

“Are you nervous,” I asked.

“No mom,” she rolled her eyes as if I was crazy.

My four-year-old sang. “Peace like a river, I know peace like a river, I know peace like a river in my soul.” The words poured from her mouth and tears spilled from my eyes. She is meant to sing.

Since she was two-years-old she sang in tune.

She is a performer.

The night before preschool graduation, she danced in a recital in front of literally hundreds of people. I was nervous. “Are you nervous?” I asked, dropping her off with over a hundred dancers from classes across the city hours before the show.

“No Mom.” Again, huge eye roll, (I’ve been getting a lot of those lately).

She performed beautifully. Grace personified. She moved across the stage. I underestimated her ability.

“She is a ballerina,” my ex-ballerina sister gushed over the phone after watching the video. “I tease you guys about your dancing, but Justine, she is good.” I let the words sink in.

Acting camp. She knew no one. At the end of the week performance her words rang loud and clear.

My daughter is a star.

Her Elsa rendition – out of this world.

The Hans and Anna duet with her dad – show stopping.

Annie songs – impeccable.

Daring, this summer my daughter jumped on a horse bareback, grabbed its mane, and eagerly kicked it to trot.

A photographic memory, she beats me at memory cards. (I am sleep deprived but her mind is mystifying).

She draws hyenas, foxes, elephants, and portraits of her family in amazing detail.

She is still passionate about hyenas. Foxes are a close second.

This year we read books by Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Judy Blume. Fudge is our favorite.

She is not scared of spiders or snakes.

She is gorgeous with big brown eyes, curly hair, eyelashes that will never need mascara, dark skin, and long legs. Her looks are a beautiful mixture of her Dad and me.

She is strong. She repeatedly swings herself across the monkey bars.

She will be the youngest in her class. As her mother, I worry whether we made the right decision or whether we should have kept her in preschool for one more year.

But then …

“It’s my turn,” she snapped loudly, pushing herself in front of a group of girls at a birthday party. Her newly found confidence is music to my ears.

We go to the park and she gets on the swing. All of a sudden, her legs stretch out and her body leans slightly back. Her knees bend and she leans forward the slightest bit. The swing gets higher and higher. My daughter soars. Her legs stretch into the trees. A sign.

“Look at me,” she shouts. She’s got it. The monkey bars, the swings, the rock wall, my five-year-old dominates the playground. Back and forth she goes, higher and higher, my baby bird soars free. She is brilliant. She is beauty. She is strength.

Five years ago, she pulled the heart from my chest and this girl holds it there.

“What do you want for your birthday?” I ask.

“Stuffed hyenas, balls to play all different sports, and a bike without training wheels.”

The best answer ever. After this birthday, she will own every hyena ever manufactured.

Wow, she is the coolest.

*****

Dear Teacher,

Please work hard to discover that my daughter is so much more than her assessment.  You will love what you see. Please help her make a friend.

Sincerely,

A mother who loves her daughter fiercely and completely.

P.S.

I know this may be a little helicoptery, but the toilet flush in the girls bathroom at school is really confusing.  I hope you explain it to the kids. (It’s one of those big 1970s circular flushes you kick with your feet).  I am kicking myself that I didn’t take her into the bathroom and show her how it works. I know I am already borderline being labeled “Crazy Mom”, so I am refraining from emailing you about this before the first day of school.

(Instead I am posting a pretend email on my blog – CRAZY).

Worries Clouded by Privilege

I am a worrier.   As a child I was a worrier. I lay in bed and worried. I worried about my family. If anyone went out in the evening, I lay awake and worried until they came home. I worried there would be an accident, a drunk driver, a catastrophic event, a mugging or a murder. My mind went and still goes crazy with worry. I never feel safe until the family is safely tucked in their beds. Even then I plan escape routes in the case that someone breaks into my home. Where do I hide when I dial 9-1-1? Who grabs the children? Where do we wait until the police arrive?

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, my brother and his friends got into the typical teenage mischief, even a little more than the typical mischief. My friends and I did the same. As teenagers weekend nights were spent drinking beer and schnapps in parks around town. Summer nights we hopped fences and went swimming in private pools. As we got older we crashed college parties. We were typical teenagers participating in typically harmless illegal activity. Most of these nights the cops would come. Sirens piercing the night air, the heavy thud of official fists pounding on front doors.   The cops came. We ran. We ran, jumped fences and crossed private property. We sprinted away as fast as we could. Teenagers breaking the law. They shouted at us to stop. Some of my friends laughed. The rebellious shouted profanities in return.

I am a worrier. I worry about everything. I worry about the craziest things. I never worried that a police officer would shoot me. I never worried that an officer would shoot my brother. I never worried that they would shoot any of my asshole friends. If you asked me if it ever crossed my mind whether an officer might pull his gun and shoot at us?

I’d respond – “ludicrous, inconceivable, crazy” – not something I worried about.

I am a worrier. I worry about crazy things.

I met my husband when we were in our early twenties. His pants sagged below his boxers, a hoody draped over his head. When he walked home from the bars late at night I never worried that police officers might stop and frisk him. I never worried that a neighborhood watchman would follow him and pull out a gun.  I never worried that an attitude toward authority would get him shot. His parents never worried about these things.

Even though I am a worrier and I worry about crazy things.

We live in a world that is not color blind. We live in a world of the haves and have-nots. We live in a world where black boys are shot unarmed just for being black boys. We live in a world where an 18-year-old black man is shot multiple times by a police officer weeks before he goes to college. We live in a world where the media criminalizes black victims by memorializing them with photos that make them look like thugs. We live in a world where a neighborhood watchman murders an African American teenager under the guise of “self-defense”. The teenager’s act of aggression – being black.

My daughter starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks and I am sick with worry. The list is long – will she be lost in the classroom, will she speak up for herself, will she make a friend, will she have someone to sit with at lunch and play with at recess.  The start of a long list of worries.

But then, I pause to think. I am the mother of a white girl. My worries are drenched in white privilege. If my children’s skin were a different color then there would be real worries.

My heart hurts for the mothers of black boys who have to worry about prejudice that I cannot even fathom. A world where police officers don’t represent safety.  A world where there is no presumption of innocence.  A world where their children must learn to convince people of their good.

I am a worrier.  I worry about crazy things.  

America has reason to worry.

Racism exists. The world is not color blind. We must not cast a blind eye. How many unarmed black men must die before society makes changes?

#Ferguson #RIP #TrayvonMartin #MichaelBrown

Please read Sarah Bessey’s essay about Ferguson.  She describes the situation eloquently.

P.S.

I did not edit this essay.  I felt the need to say something.