Sweet Baby James

Solot summer 2014-9927

You are only one, but there is so much to say about you.

We contemplated whether or not to have a third baby. Did we have room for one more? Did we have the patience, the stamina, and the mental reserve to have three kids under five-years-old? We didn’t know if we did, but when I looked at family photographs, a part of me knew that someone was missing.

You were missing.

 ****

In April 2013, my dad died and one month later I discovered I was pregnant with you. It was a hard pregnancy. There was my grief. Then your dad tore his achilles tendon and could not drive or walk for two months. That fall, your dad lost his cousin and a childhood friend.  The doctor told me that each subsequent pregnancy feels harder on a woman’s body. My body hurt. Pregnant with two preschoolers and an injured husband, I was exhausted.

People often said, “Don’t worry third babies just go with the flow.” Pregnant with my third, I clung to this adage wholeheartedly.

In my head, I thought you would just roll with the punches. Your dad hoped you would be a garden gnome baby who would sit and sleep in your baby carrier and be toted to all of your sisters’ activities. We did not think to contemplate the alternative, which was the ultimate jinx.

Colic.

You screamed. You cried like a screeching car alarm, hardly breathing. You turned purple screaming. The color vanished from your lips.

The definition of colic is constant and inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least three months. The definition sounds nice compared to your screaming. You screamed all day every day for months. I dreamed of only three hours of crying.

You screamed at home. You screamed in the car. You screamed in the stroller when I walked your sisters into preschool. You screamed at the supermarket.

“Is he tired?”

”Is he hungry?”

“Does he need to be changed?”

“Is he cold?”

A chorus of suggestions from well meaning strangers followed me wherever I went.

When my four-year-old daughter’s teachers asked about her baby brother, she responded, “He cries a lot,” which may have been the understatement of the year.

Initially, I marveled at the patience of your two big sisters since your scream became the soundtrack of our lives.  We couldn’t hear ourselves think. I marveled at my husband’s patience. He would never have maintained his cool so well with our first baby.

We were all so patient, but then …

Your two-year-old sister lost her cool. As you screamed in your car seat, she put her hands over her ears and started crying and yelling at the top of her lungs, “BABY, STOP SCREAMING,” repeatedly on every drive.

The sheer noise level of our drives was mind altering.  This may have been the point where the rest of us lost our minds.  My hearing permanently diminished.

Was it reflux? We tried gripe water, Zantac, Prevacid, and Chamomile tea. I eliminated everything from my diet.

You cried. You screamed. You didn’t sleep. You were up every hour for months on end.

I worried that you would never smile. I prayed there was nothing wrong with you. Were you in physical pain? Was there something wrong with your brain or your nervous system?  Your screams pierced our psyches.

My spirit wilted. Were we going to be okay? Denial, I kept smiling.

At this point, there were a handful of people that were my saviors, your grandmothers, who were the only people I trusted to watch you as you screamed inconsolably, a couple of friends who listened empathetically, but most of all there was my twin sister.  She maintained my sanity.  I have never been so grateful for our relationship. She had a newborn as well, a daughter two months older than you. Every day I dropped my big girl at preschool and endured the stares as you shrieked in the stroller. I drove around in my minivan, talking to my sister on Bluetooth, as you endlessly shrieked in the back seat. She spent countless morning hours on the phone with me as I drove my screaming baby. She never told me she couldn’t hear me. She never complained. She never told me to call her back. She talked to me about life as you screeched inconsolably in our ears. This is love.

One conversation stands out.

“Having a third baby is not so bad.” I commented as I pulled out of my alley. “You should definitely have a third baby.”

“Justine, are you crazy?” she said. “I talk to you every day.  You may be the reason I never have a third child.  You can’t tell me what your doing is easy. I can’t stand it when my baby screams like that for five minutes. What you’re experiencing is so hard!” She acknowledged what I couldn’t say out loud.  Silly, but her words meant everything.

At two months, you smiled and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. You laughed. Milestones came and time passed. The colic vanished with the size 2 baby diapers.  Colic became a distant memory.

****

Your beginning makes me think of an Edward Abbey quotation, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

You are the most amazing view.

You are joy, love, and enthusiasm. You stretch your arms and reach for everyone in the family – an equal opportunity spreader of love.

When I cradle you, you wrap your arms around my neck, pulling my face close to your soft cheek.

You give giant open mouth kisses to everyone in the family, sucking on our noses, cheeks, and mouths.

“This is hilarious,” your big sister giggles as you dive mouth first for her nose. (These kisses may have something to do with this being the worst cold season we have ever experienced).

Adored. We swoon in your presence.

You love your big sisters, but they may love you more. This Thanksgiving, the curmudgeony three-year-old proudly told her teachers that she was thankful for her baby brother.

We are all thankful for you.

You have zero personal space. Your two big sisters smother you with hugs whether you want them or not. They grab you, and you either laugh or you scream.

You don’t talk yet, but your desires are known. You watch me fix a snack for your sisters and you shriek loudly until the same snack is placed on your tray. I fill a glass of water and you scream because you are thirsty too.

You scream until your needs are met.

Meals are loud.

Life is loud.

You already know you must fight for what you want. Your three-year-old sister steals your toy and a guttural howl escapes your mouth. Your arm stretches to grab it back. This may be her favorite game, anything you like she takes instantly.

At six-months-old, you saw soccer balls in the grass and kicked your feet wildly with excitement. You chase balls around the house, pushing and throwing them and then crawling after them at rocket speed.

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Much to your dad’s joy, you sit in front of the basketball hoop outside and reach up with your arms to try to place the ball in the hoop.

You and Deets (our dog) are equally obsessed with tennis balls.

You started crawling at 7.5 months.

You are a lover of all things dangerous – stairs, toilets, sockets, and electrical chords.

You don’t know how to walk but you climb step stools and stand on your tippy toes to grab anything elicit from the counter.

You stand on your tiptoes and pull colored pencils off the girls’ art table.

You bump your head on the coffee table at least a thousand times a day. You don’t go around tables or chairs instead you go through them and are constantly stuck in chair legs, rungs, and sandwiched in between end tables and couches.

You see an open baby gate and throw your crawl into high gear in hopes that you make it to the stairs before me. We have started constructing giant barriers of beanbag chairs and toy baskets to block you off from dangerous areas of the house. You summit our manmade obstacles and we make them higher. Cru, our old Basset Hound, barks constantly at the barricades . Again, we are so loud.

The girls screamed angrily in their highchairs when the dogs ate crumbs from their laps. You giggle with delight when the dogs lick your feet.

“Hi,” you wave, so pleased with your ability to communicate. Your wave is an exaggerated opening and closing of the fingers. I say hi, and your fingers immediately respond. I tell you to say goodnight to your dad and sisters, and your fingers open and close dramatically.

You laugh hysterically at my jokes and funny sounds.

You have the hazel eyes of your namesake.

You have a one-year-old mullet of thin old man hair that makes us smile.

You are beautiful.

We survived your first year.  My last baby, every moment is nostalgic. Every milestone is as wonderful as those accomplished by your two big sisters. As I felt with them, you truly are the smartest, most coordinated, most loving, and most beautiful baby in the world.

How did we get so lucky three times?

You put giant smiles on all of our faces. Our hearts soar for you.

“My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” (Tom Robbins)

Three-Year-Old Wild Thing

“Santa is watching,” I tell my daughter who appears to be dangerously close to putting a large pot over her baby brother’s head.

“Oh no,” she cries, collapsing in a heap on the hardwood floors. She cries inconsolably, gasping for breath. “I am so naughty,” she wails. I sit down on the floor and wrap my arms around her body and give her a tight squeeze.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “It’s not yet Christmas, you have time to be better,” I rub her back with my hand. My words are the opposite of soothing.

She bolts upright. “I CAN’T,” she screams. “I want to stop being naughty, but I can’t.” She is distraught and realizes that behaving is not a possible. “SANTA WILL NEVER BRING ME ANY PRESENTS,” real tears stream down her cheeks.

This is the seasonal variation of her wailing, “I want to be good, but I just CAN’T,” or “I want to stop crying, but my tears just won’t stop.”

*****

I walk into my daughter’s preschool classroom. I love picking my three-year-old up from school. Typically, she runs at me with open arms, yells “Mama” and grabs hold of my legs. I never get greetings like that. Today I walk into her classroom. My daughter is huddled in the corner behind a table. She looks up, sees me, and screams, “GO AWAY,” at the top of her lungs. These public greetings can be embarrassing. I approach her and her shrieks grow louder. She opens her mouth wide and ROARS.

“What are you doing? We’ve got to go.” I snap, kneeling down beside her. She holds a Ziploc baggy that contains a chocolate in her hands and like a wild animal she tears at it with her teeth.

“What are you doing?” I repeat, slightly horrified by her animalistic behavior.

“I want my treat,” she growls. The teacher told her she could not have a treat until she finished her healthy food. My daughter’s lunchbox sits full on the table.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put treats in her lunchbox,” her teacher suggests as we exit the classroom.

 ****

“MOM,” my baby howls. I glance at the clock, 2:30am, jump out of bed, and run to her room. “There are spiders,” she murmurs still half asleep. “Mommy snuggle,” she implores. I lie down in her bed, placing my head on a stuffed animal. I try to fall back to sleep. Moments later, she barks, “MOM SIT IN THE CHAIR!” She doesn’t want me to share her bed, the bratty child wants me to sit in the chair by her bed.

 Seriously? I think. Are you kidding me? Last time I climb in her bed.

****

The baby screams and instantaneously, she screams, “I didn’t do it.”

“What do you mean you didn’t do it?” I say. The three-year-old and the crying baby sit beside each other next to the steps.

“What happened?” I ask.

“Oh, I just bumped his chin against the stairs.” She answers innocently. “Is that bad?” Her grin is devilish.

This kid thinks she can get away with anything, and she probably can.  In the future, I just hope she uses her charm for good and not evil.

****

A professional family photo shoot at Wash Park, my wild child pops a squat in the middle of the very public field. There is no shame in her game.

****

We are at the playground, waiting for her big sister to get out of school. I push my wild child on the swing.

“Try pumping,” I say, she knows how to pump her legs, but she has no desire to do it on her own.

“DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY,” she croaks in her best Yoda voice.

Okay, Yoda, you win. You may have the force on your side, but you are dangerously close to sliding to the Dark Side.
Solot summer 2014-9874

Photo credit: Julie Harris Photography

THANK YOU TEACHER

In the trenches of my daughter’s infancy, I dreamed about the independence of kindergarten.  Fast forward five years later, kindergarten snuck up on me. I began having nightmares about her being lost in the classroom, middle school, mean girls and more mean girls.  Terrified, anxious, and unsure were words that described my emotional state.  You can read about it here.

Luckily, there is a happy ending to this story, my daughter loves kindergarten.  This Thanksgiving I am thankful for her amazing kindergarten teacher who eased my worries .  Please check out my “Thank You Note” to her over on the Huffington Post.

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/a-thank-you-note-to-my-daughters-kindergarten-teacher_b_6201260.html

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

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“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 for 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 share a hotel room with our three tiny children, one of whom is up several times a night. We will spend 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 obsessed over whether I was pretty or not. I spent hours thinking if only I was skinnier, had longer legs, or a different nose. Embarrassingly, 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 activity 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.”