Him and Me

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I’m surfacing, taking a deep breath, and slowly peering out from the fog.

It seems like we’ve been sick for months, stuck in doors, endless days of fussiness and fevers. I haven’t slept. I haven’t cooked. I haven’t written anything. We have been surviving. I’ve felt pulled in different directions like there wasn’t enough of me for all of them. There were tears (mostly the kids), shared sighs of desperation (the adults), and tempers erupted (all of us).

Over the weekend, my husband and I went out for a date night. A cool night, we stood at a roof top bar that looked out over the Denver skyline. My hand tucked in the back pocket of his jeans, starving because our reservation was at 7:30pm and we normally eat at 5pm. A middle-aged man tapped me on the shoulder, “You two are a really cute couple,” he said, “I mean your hand in his pocket,” embarrassed he blushed, trying to explain himself.

“Thank-you,” I smiled. Happy, I felt like a cute couple. We are good, I’m impressed with us, after nine-years of marriage, three kids, and the ups and downs of work, marriage, and life. We’ve come a long way, but it all still feels the same. Fifteen years later, he is still the gorgeous boy at the bar and I’m still the girl peeling the labels from my beer, except Saturday we ordered our drinks and the bartender asked for my ID.

“I forgot my ID,” I whined.

“I can’t serve you,” he barked.

“I’m obviously older than 21.” I responded. “Please, I have three kids. We never go out.”

“It doesn’t matter. I card everyone under 50, and you are not 50. Sting operations happen here every weekend. NO ONE WILL SERVE YOU.”

So really, nights out as a 20-years-old with a tattered fake ID and date nights at 35-years-old, I’m still begging the bartender to make an exception with the same cute boy standing by my side. Everything changes and nothing changes at all.

28 Days of Play: Who Doesn’t Play With Their Children?

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I sat on the couch, my legs curled beneath me, my pregnant belly wedged on a throw pillow. My husband lay beside me, watching a miscellaneous sporting event on television. Our toddler slept soundly upstairs. I skimmed a parenting book. That summer I flipped through hordes of books, worrying about my daughter adjusting to life as a big sister.

I shifted positions on the couch. “Hey babe,” I said. “It says to help our children develop healthy self-esteem, we should participate in “child directed play” for at least ten minutes every day.” I laughed.

“Are you kidding me?” He responded, “Who doesn’t play with their kids for ten minutes a day?”

“Exactly.” What kind of mom doesn’t spend ten minutes playing with their children? 

****

Well, ah … things have changed. I’m a different mother than I was lying on that couch.

Check out the rest of my essay over on You Plus 2 Parenting’s 28 Days of Play where throughout February writers share their honest feelings about playing with their children.

A Trip Away

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It’s hard for me to leave my kids – nearly impossible. I may be in the minority. I know other mothers who went on solo vacations away from their children months after they were born. I felt differently. I didn’t want to leave them. The idea of leaving them brought on major anxiety. After my first child was born, my husband and I argued about taking vacations away. He wanted them and I didn’t. My feelings stemmed from a mixture of anxiety, hormones from breastfeeding, control freak tendencies and my own childhood memories when my mother took trips away.

***

On a side note, readers, please have patience for those people in your life who struggle leaving their children. Their decision to opt out of a weekend away is not about their friendship with you/ their love for their husband/ or the importance of the event, it is about them having the faith to leave their heart/the center of their life’s orbit in the care of someone else and trust that everything will be okay. They will be missed but not forgotten. This takes a lot of faith. Some parents understand that if they leave it will be fine and others need some time to figure this out.

***

As time passes, I realize the importance of taking mini vacations. I realize my most precious little people will thrive while I’m away. Most importantly, I want to be an example of a mother who is more than just a wife and mother. A mother who is a woman. A woman that likes to have fun. A multidimensional woman who values family, friendships, adventures, self-care and pursues her dreams.

***

“Mama, you’re going to a Bachelorwet party?” My three-year-old asks, her mispronunciation may be the cutest thing ever.

“Yep, a Bachelorette Party in Miami,” I chime. I’ve been anxious about this trip for several months, but as it approaches my excitement increases.

“What’s a Bachelorette Party?” The girls ask.

“It’s a party you have with your girlfriends before you get married.” I say.

“I want to have my Bachelorette Party in the jungle,” my five-year-old declares.

“Pretty cool,” I say. My mind races, I am pathetically nervous about this weekend:

  1. I haven’t seen my roommate from college in years (in which I became a mom to three kiddos) and I don’t know any of the other women joining her on this weekend.
  2. It has been a long time since I’ve been out after 10pm in Denver, let alone Miami.
  3. I am slightly intimidated by the other women on the trip. These women are successful, from New York City and Los Angeles – I think, clearly, cooler than a stay-at-home-mom from Denver.
  4. In situations where I don’t know anyone, I’m embarrassed to say, my husband has become my security blanket. I think this happens to a certain degree after nine years of marriage, especially for introverts who struggle to leave the couch.
  5. I have never left all three children.
  6. I could die in a plane crash. My husband would be left alone with three small children. I visualize him remarrying a beautiful young thirty-something (perhaps 20-something) immediately and my children calling her “mom” as I become a distant memory. For this highly paranoid reason, I haven’t taken solo flights away from my kids. FYI, I’m aware that there is a higher probability of me dying in a car than a plane crash, but for some reason air travel makes me paranoid. It would be very unhealthy if I was this anxious every time I got in the car.

***

The trip could have gone in a number of different ways, but in the end it was amazing.

I felt good. I went on a shopping spree, which was really a declaration of having possession of my body again –no more pregnancies or breastfeeding. I bought a couple of amazingly “hot Miami” dresses to wear out at night. I bought some bootie sandals like these –  seriously, they make any outfit.

I called my twin sister and told her that if I died in a plane crash, she would have to move to Colorado and tell my children stories about their real mom every day. She told me to “Shut-Up”, but promised she would in the case of my death.

I got on a plane with a small purse. (Other parents will recognize the miracle of this moment). I brought this book and finished listening to this Podcast.

I was ambitious. I packed this book and this book as back up, but I didn’t read either of them.

The afternoon I arrived I sat on the beach and ordered a fresh watermelon drink spiked with vodka and drank it in the sand.

I discovered there is such thing as a selfie stick. As someone who can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve taken a selfie, I came to appreciate the invention (you can take group photos of everyone without anyone stepping out of the picture) and now realize why other people’s selfies are way better than my own (it takes practice).

My beautiful friend from college and I caught up.

I met her amazing friends from New York City and Los Angeles. They seemed intimidating, but they are REAL and so much FUN. My husband can spend days with a group of men and come away with few personal details. Forty-eight hours with these women and we became friends, we listened to each other’s stories, took a break from our lives, shared and connected.

I realized Colorado girls have style too.

I didn’t talk about my kids. Okay, I shared a couple of pictures and funny stories.

I enjoyed hearing – “What, you have three kids? I can’t believe it.” It turns out I don’t have a MOM tattoo stamped on my forehead.

I appreciated and loved my husband from a far. He didn’t complain once about single parenting while I was away.

A five hour flight delay, I came home to freezing temps and a windshield of solid ice. Refreshed. Exhausted. Out of routine. Back to the grind. I ordered some new lipstick, which is always a good “Me” sign.

Sweet Baby James

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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.
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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

Pure Barre

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I push through the glass doors and sprint to the Pure Barre receptionist. I made it.

“I didn’t sign up online,” I gasp. I never sign up online because I never know whether I am going to make it. Every Tuesday I drop my daughter at preschool and drive as fast as I can to Pure Barre.

“You made it,” she says. “Can you sign this waiver? We are filming the class today and you need to sign a release.”

Are you kidding me, I think, filming. I glance around the waiting area. Everyone is looking exceptionally perfect today – foundation, eyeliner, and mascara. I wish I had gotten the memo.

The Sesame Street song “One of these things is not like the other one” jumps into my mind.  I sign the release anyway.

Class begins and the cameraman circles the room. Mirrored walls, today I am too aware of how not put together I am. I haven’t showered. I am not wearing any makeup and I have a large hormonal pimple on my chin.

“Tuck Under. Tuck Freeze.” The Pure Barre instructor calls out instructions through her megaphone.

I silently wonder – Am I tucking? What is a tuck? Should my abs burn more?

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the twenty-something instructor about tucking. She was visibly taken a back. Clearly, I was a novice amongst bar experts. She awkwardly placed her hand on my stomach and pushed a little bit. I don’t think I understood the demonstration, but I was too embarrassed to inquire any further.

“My post-baby abs may not be physically able to tuck anymore,” I joked.

She smiled awkwardly, “Keep trying.”

 ***

The music thumps. I “tuck” my abs and push my legs to the beat of the music.

“Like this,” my instructor tweaks my leg in a new direction. “Better,” she says.

I bought a 20 pack of Pure Barre classes. I attempt to go once a week. I make it haphazardly. Each week I surround myself with women who know whether they are tucking. The Pure Barre ladies (ballerinas) dress impeccably in the perfect Lululemon outfits, leggings, drapey tops that show just enough shoulder, and their hair tucked back in stylish buns.  There is not a trace of unwanted hair on their legs, armpits, or god forbid their face. The regulars have perfect ballerina posture (some of them are ex-professional dancers). Their rings sparkle and they have gelac manicures. They gather together before and after class, chatting about their jobs, their kids and their summers.

I like to eavesdrop. It’s a favorite past time.  Secretly, I hope their put togetherness sinks in through osmosis.

Once a week I stand on the outskirts of these groups. Not because they are cliquey, but because these ballerinas are tight and have been coming here regularly for a long time. I smile shyly when a ballerina glances in my direction.

There are a few of us outliers in any given class. You can always pick us out. The ones wearing boot cut yoga pants (a complete no-no), t-shirts, sweat pants, senior citizens and all the newbies with less than 20 classes under their belts.

Today, the outliers are giving each others the eyes (i.e. mental high fives).  We signed the waiver to be filmed, despite our outlier status.

The cameraman circles the studio. His camera zooms in on one of the ballerina’s perfect tiptoe squat.

“Tuck under. Tuck Freeze. One arm up ladies.” The instructor shouts.

I look in the mirror and realize that I forgot to shave my armpits. There is a smudge of baby food on my right leg. Dog hair covers the entire left side of my body. In the rush to make it to Pure Barre class, I forgot deodorant. I smell.

But, I am wearing my Lululemon Wunder Under leggings. It’s not a complete loss. Luckily, you wear socks in Pure Barre, so no one notices my need for a pedicure.

I stare in the mirror, wondering …

How do I make my ponytail appear as stylishly effortless as the women beside me?

Is my black top with black leggings a fashion faux pas?

From a conversational distance can you tell I need to pluck my eyebrows?

The mirror is a distraction.

I glance around the studio and one of the ballerinas is wearing a black top with black pants too. I am not completely hopeless.

The instructor passes by and tweaks my leg again.

Does she think I’m Pure Barre incompetent? She teaches every Tuesday morning, does she think I come here multiple times a week and still can’t learn the moves?

We grab the bar. On our toes, we push, we squat, we tuck.

How come the leg I’m pressing back with isn’t fatigued, yet my standing leg is jelly? I must be doing it wrong.

My leg is shaking, but it’s the wrong leg. My resting leg is about to collapse. Yet, my working leg feels as fit as a fiddle.

After an intense squatting session, I lean forward, and rest my head on the bar. “FUCK,” I say. The older woman next to me smiles.

I smile back.  I like to say “FUCK” loudly and as often as possible when I am away from the kids.  It is amazingly therapeutic.

Fuck, I love Pure Barre.