Essays

  • HerStories Voices: The Healing Notes of Song

    Happy November. Our theme this month is gratitude, which is one of my favorite topics to write about. This week’s essay may require some Kleenex. I was incredibly touched by Sarah’s story of music, healing, and gratitude. I believe in the power of music to heal. I hope you enjoy – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    My children recently attended a music class at the library. It was a wild, over-crowded affair, but it made the kids smile. They enthusiastically shook tambourines, swirled scarves in the air, and stomped their feet as they sang songs about birds, the sunshine, and a ladybug.

    As I watched my strong and healthy children dance and laugh their way through class with the other pre-school aged children, I couldn’t help but compare the experience to a music therapy session I observed many years before.

    At the time, I was twenty-four, and my fourteen-year-old sister was recovering at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center after suffering from a brain hemorrhage. After brain surgery, days in a coma, and then weeks in the ICU at another hospital, she entered the rehabilitation program at Hershey to re-learn how to speak, eat, walk, and basically every other function that comes naturally to an average teenaged girl.

    As her mental and physical functions were gradually restored, and she was more able to interact with the world around her, she began to participate in some unique therapy sessions, such as music therapy.

    On the first day of music therapy, the therapist placed a tambourine in her hand, but it immediately fell to the ground with a chorus of clangs. She simply did not have enough strength to even grasp the instrument.

    For the remainder of class, she slumped in her wheelchair as I helped her hold the tambourine. As the therapist led the class in a song with lyrics containing the phrase, “happy and delighted,” I wondered if my sister would ever feel those emotions again.

    For several weeks, she lacked the awareness to even react to the music; however, as motor and cognitive skills returned and she could again do things like brush her teeth, music therapy became even more engaging and beneficial to her. Eventually, my sister could grasp the tambourine or bang the drum with success, and as her speech became clearer, she even sang along to the music.

    During my sister’s last therapy session, we sat next to her roommate, an eleven-year-old girl with leukemia. She had been discharged and then re-admitted during the five weeks we had spent at Hershey. She looked even paler and weaker than before, and she no longer smiled.

    Another girl was new to the group. She had been in a car accident with her family, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. She had little hope of recovering movement.

    The music therapist tried to engage all of the girls by playing the guitar and asking them to share something that made them happy. Neither of the other girls said they were happy about anything. Eventually, one was finally encouraged to say, “Mashed potatoes.”

    My heart felt heavier and heavier as the session progressed. These girls could not think of one thing that provoked joy. Would they ever find anything to be happy about?

    When it was my sister’s turn, she looked at me and said, “I get to go home.” I should have only been thrilled to hear this, but I couldn’t help but think of how unfair it was that those two girls might never get to say the same.

    The therapist then tried to urge the group to play various instruments. My sister selected bongos and began playing enthusiastically. The girl with leukemia initially refused to participate but then resigned herself to limply clapping her hands. The paralyzed girl tried to blow on a party horn, but she was too weak to hold it between her lips.

    As the noise in the room escalated, my sister, still in a wheelchair, stopped beating the bongos, reached over, and held the instrument to the girl’s mouth. The two briefly made eye contact, but the music was the only communication between them.

    This scene replays in my mind when I hear the sound of bongos, see a party horn, or watch my own able children dance their way through a music class. I often wonder what ever happened to those two girls. I want to believe that they are somewhere enjoying music and able to quickly list many things in which they find happiness. However, I know that not everyone heals. Not every patient gets to leave the hospital. Not every child gets the chance to sing and dance her way through life.

    I am so thankful that my sister got to continue her dance through life. After leaving the hospital, her love of music only grew. Her body and brain slowly healed during months of outpatient programs. She eventually returned to her own high school to graduate with her class.

    She now lives in Music City and attends concerts regularly. Just last year she smiled through her wedding ceremony as her husband played guitar and serenaded her with a song he wrote.

    My sister doesn’t remember much of her rehabilitation at Hershey, but I like to think that she still, somewhere deep in her subconscious, hears chords of the songs she sang in therapy all of those years ago.

    Maybe when she faces struggles in life, she can hear the reverberation of a tambourine, shaken wildly, but joyfully. Maybe the phrase “happy and delighted” runs through her mind when she sees something beautiful. Maybe those healing notes of music that helped stitch together the wiring in her brain and helped her recognize the world around her again, maybe those notes play on for her.

    They play on for me.

    I hear them when I press play on the car stereo, so my son can listen to his favorite song “just one more time.” I feel them when I abandon dirty dishes in the sink to go help fasten my daughter’s Cinderella costume, so we can dance at a pretend ball.

    The echo of songs from long ago remind me that life is short and unpredictable, so I encourage my children to always sing strongly, play loudly, and dance wildly because others cannot. I hope this is a lesson that hums through their veins not just during music class but throughout their entire lives.

     

    me-2Sarah is a current stay-at-home mom. After years of teaching high school English, she is enjoying focusing on her two children while learning to slow down and look at the world through their eyes. She has learned more about dinosaurs and princesses in the past few years than she ever thought possible. Sarah writes about parenting on her blog, One Mile Smile, and has recently been published in the following sites: Mothers Always Write, Parent.Co, and Her View From Home. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

     

     

     

    **The holidays are upon us! So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood makes a great gift!

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  • Even At 2 a.m.

    IMG_8931 (2)We’re so happy to feature our blogging friend, Jean Heffernan, of Mama Schmama with us today at HerStories.  Because both of us are educators, Stephanie and I love the perspective of new parenthood from a very funny and warm former teacher that Jean brings to her blog. Check out Mama Schmama!  Jean’s essay reflects so much of what  we hope for The HerStories Project to be about: emotional and practical support during new motherhood, friendship, patience, and generosity. 

    As I write this, my best friend is in labor.  Hopefully by this time tomorrow, she will have given birth to her first child.  Earlier today, I gave her a call and after we talked about what she could probably expect to happen, I made this promise to her:

    “I will keep my ringer on and I will answer the phone whenever you want to call, even if it’s at 2am.”

    Almost word for word, I was repeating what another close friend said to me the week before my first child was born.  I had called her up and told her that this labor thing just wasn’t going to work for me because I was going to poop on the table in front of the doctor and my husband and then what.  She responded with the best piece of advice I heard while pregnant:  Giving birth lasts such a short time.  It’s what happens when you leave the hospital that you should prepare for.  That’s the hard part.

    Turned out, I was right.  Labor did not work for me and I ended up having an emergency cesarean.  More importantly, she was right.  Even in my pre-labor hysteria, I knew she had spoken the truth because she was a mom and because she knew me well.

    My sage friend was someone I had met at work.  Our friendship developed in the trenches, teaching children who led difficult lives which required us to be on point all day.  We could read each other’s mind with a look or a tone of voice.  It helped our instruction and to develop a positive relationship between us and the students.  In fact, students would tell us that they loved both of us when we were together.  On our own, we were just “okay.”

    Years before she made that pre-birth promise to me, she had her first two children.  This was while I was still single and wild.  While our shared purpose grew our friendship in the classroom, our opposite lifestyles made us a good fit for each other once work ended.  Her family life showed me what I wanted for my future.  I dragged her out of the house and reminded her that child-free fun was still to be had.  My horrible dating stories and drama also reinforced her belief that she had made the right choice because she didn’t have to deal with that ever again.

    Two days after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, she called me up to tell me she was pregnant with her third.  Our children were due ten days apart from each other.  The big difference being, of course, that I was at the start of my family journey and she was having her third and final baby.

    Throughout my pregnancy, I would call her and talk about how I was feeling.  Now living far apart from each other, we visited each other only once during our pregnancies.  We sat and grumped about how it would be really nice to have a beer.  Me, thinking “I’ll never have a beer again!”  She, grumpy but knowing the beer days would happen again.

    So then our babies were born and we started the work of adjusting to our new families.  I went downhill quickly and she was the person who helped me the most.

    She kept her ringer on and answered the phone, even if it was me calling at 2am.

    “Babies do that all the time.”

    “Yes, my breasts leaked in public and everyone saw.”

    “Yes, it’s obnoxious.  In fact, yesterday she farted so loud in line at the grocery store that a woman looked at me like I did it!”

    My favorite piece of advice from her about parenting an infant was this:  I think about the times I have to get up in the middle of the night as a set number.  Each time I get up is one more time crossed off the list.  All her advice was positive and motivational.  She never tried to scare me with stories or make me feel like I wasn’t doing the best job I could.

    I would call with a simple question or complaint and because she could detect the edge in my voice or the way I would repeat stories or use the wrong word from fatigue, she would stay on the phone longer than she had time for just to talk.  It would calm me down and helped to center me.

    My teacher-friend and I have evolved from that of mentor and mentee parent now that I am past the first rocky year of motherhood.  We catch each other when we can over the phone (never at 2am anymore) and meet up once a year without kids so we can talk as long as we want about everything but being pregnant and getting up in the middle of the night.

    I look back at my early days of being a mom and feel nothing but gratitude towards my patient friend who gave me her advice and time.  I can’t repay her for that but I do believe I’ll be able to do something better.

    My best friend delivered her beautiful, happy, and healthy baby.  I will not tell you how long her labor took because it might make you jealous. 

    When I got the news, I reminded her that my ringer will be on and I will be ready to talk if she needs it.

    And it’s true.  My ringer is on and will continue to be, even at 2am.

     

     

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    Jean writes at Mama, Schmama but spends most of her time chasing around her two beautiful, feisty children.  She recently resigned from a career in elementary education to stay at home with them.  She’s hoping not to turn her new home into a classroom while she recovers from teaching.

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  • My Momtourage

    We are excited to share an essay from Dana at Celiac Kiddo today. Dana shares her transition to new motherhood, and the women she was lucky enough to share this journey with. Dana has a fantastic blog- if someone in your family is gluten-free or has Celiac Disease, you should definitely check her out. And if not, you should still head over there, as she writes about motherhood in such an honest, entertaining way.

    mom and baby a rare moment of peaceWhen I had my first child five years ago, I was lucky enough to have a momtourage. Together we were four brand new deer in headlights mamas struggling to figure out life post babies. For nearly a year we spent countless hours in each other’s homes, at cafes, and in parks while carrying, wearing, or strolling our new babies, trying to make sense of our strange new life. We talked, nursed, cried, advised, and confided. Our last time together was at my daughter’s second birthday, but we had begun to drift apart well before then.

    Sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t. We were friends of proximity. The kind of friends that are drawn together because of shared circumstances. Our friendship was intense, as those kinds often are, born out of fear and the unknown, burning like fire until the flames die down.

    I met my momtourage in childbirth class. About ten couples gathered every week for six weeks to listen intently to a neighborhood woman who had not one, but two babies (!) and was trained in such matters. I thought of her as a guru of sorts, someone who was supposed to reveal the secrets of the universe, which for our class of first time mamas-to-be was how the hell to have a baby. As the class wound down and our due dates approached, our teacher set up an email contact list. In the weeks that followed, we learned the names and saw the smushed up faces of the babies who had brought us together.

    A few of us continued emailing after the initial announcements, and somehow less than two months after having my baby, I ended up meeting three of my classmates on a sweltering June day. The “oldest” baby was mine, at about seven weeks, the others coming in close behind. Though we were relative strangers, even after our six-hour course, that first afternoon we couldn’t talk enough. From the moment we walked through the door of Amy’s apartment with our tiny babies in tow, stories spilled out of our mouths. We tried taking turns, but it was impossible not to chime in and interrupt each other. It wasn’t rudeness, but excitement, and more specifically, utter relief at having found one another. New motherhood is like being airlifted and dropped into another country where you don’t know the language, geography, or the culture. You stumble along feeling totally shell-shocked until suddenly you run into another traveler who you understand, and better still, understands you.

    baby gang age approx 4 monthsWhen you’re pregnant, labor and delivery seems like the penultimate event, but as we mothers all know, it’s only the opening monologue to a play that lasts the rest of your life. Those first friendships I forged in the fire of new motherhood saved me from losing my mind, and my sense of humor. Because right alongside the ecstatic joy of having a new baby is the utter despair upon realizing your “life” is irrevocably changed. Like, forever.

    Even though we’re not all still in touch, I will always be grateful to these three women who made up my momtourage. Names have been changed, but the details are for real.

     

    Hanna

    I remember picking up Hanna on the way to Amy’s home for our first official get together. I had warned her that my baby would probably scream in the car (as she did most of the time except when she was passed out on my body). Hanna took it in stride and sang the whole way while I drove white knuckled. She was always like that, kind hearted and easygoing, never making me feel self-conscious about my colicky baby. I will always remember how she unabashedly sang Old McDonald for the zillionth time to soothe my fussy girl while strolling down crowded city sidewalks, and for the countless moments of kindness she consistently offered, and continues to offer, to both me and my daughter.

     

    Julie

    My gratitude to Julie reaches back to the very first days of our friendship when she graciously invited my family to dinner at her home. Her husband is a chef, so considering our post-baby meals were almost 100% take-out, this was bound to be a real treat. But still I hesitated. Dinner hour was my baby’s prime screaming time, but Julie didn’t seem fazed. In the end, her laid back manner eased my anxiety, and my sweet yet high strung baby somehow followed suit and fell asleep on the car ride over. My husband and I were able to eat dinner while both babies slept angelically on the table beside our perfectly cooked lamb burgers. Soon after Julie and I enjoyed our first glasses of wine post partum while our husbands’ fed the babies pumped milk. It was my first moment of “normalcy” and I will never forget how good that meal tasted. Not to mention the wine.

     playdate--beautiful chaos

    Amy

    My gratitude toward Amy is all wrapped up in loneliness and a respite from loneliness. Just a few days before our babies were born, we met at a local bakery and politely exchanged stories. When she revealed to me that her son would be named after her mother, who had passed away years before, I nearly dropped my cupcake. My own mom had died shortly before I became pregnant, and that recent loss was still so raw. After our babies were born we mourned our mutual sadness, which was twofold: how our mothers would never hold our babies, and how our mothers would never know us as mothers.

    Motherhood can be a lonely and isolating time. Motherhood without a mother perhaps even more so. There is something to be said about shared pain, and I will always be grateful to Amy for understanding my loss.

     

    Loneliness might be powerful, but so is friendship. The stories here are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest lies beneath the surface and buoys me up, even now five years and another child later: a rock solid foundation of support, solidarity, and love.

    The four kids at age two
    The four kids at age two

    Dana Schwartz is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two wild kids, and two neglected cats. She writes about her family’s journey with celiac disease on her blog, http://celiackiddo.wordpress.com

     

  • Stronger Than Me

    BeFunky_Cartoonizer_1.jpgWe are featuring a powerful friendship essay today from Rose Townsend of Naturally Educated. Rose’s story of friendship and loss reminds us to be grateful for the time we have spent with those we have loved. Read her moving tribute to her college friend:

    I hate being sick. It makes me miserable and angry (ask my husband). I resent the time lost and dwell on tasks undone. I curse my body for betraying me. For preventing me from operating at full capacity. I don’t have time for that shit.

    Fortunately, (for everyone) it doesn’t happen often. Recently, I got sick for the first time in years. I reacted exactly as described above. While I complained and whined and cursed the nasty virus, I thought about my college roommate.

    I thought about the night I met her. I pictured her sitting in the house we shared as I unpacked. Arms wrapped around her knees, talking and listening. The conversation came easily and we were instant friends.

    I thought about sitting across from her at dinner. We made “real” meals together. Actual chicken (shake and bake) and veggies (frozen) and noodles (from a box). Pretty classy by college standards. She would sit and say “Mmm mmm,” as we bragged about our gourmet meal to our housemates. (They were so freaking jealous.)

    I thought about playing beer pong in our basement and drinking shots of rum and grape Kool aid. And dancing. Crazy, dizzy dancing that involved loud singing and jumping and smiling until our faces hurt.

    I thought about lazy weekends. I pictured her on the couch watching cheesy Lifetime movies and eating take out.

    I thought about watching the only girl fight I have ever seen. (Which may or may not have involved her kicking someone’s ass while I watched in shock and admiration)

    I thought about her dancing at my wedding. And about how happy I was to meet her fiancé and be at her wedding shower. And how amazing they both were with my kids a year later when met for a winter walk at a park.

    I thought about the phone call I got a few weeks later. The news shook me, but her voice never wavered. Breast cancer, she said. This isn’t going to kill me, she said. I just have to get through it, she said. No tears. No nonsense.

    I thought about the timeline. Done by next year at this time. Back on track with her life’s plan. One year later arrived and all was well. I admired her strength and courage and ability to remain calm and focused. She did it. I knew she would.

    I thought about the phone call a few months later. The cancer was back. In her lungs and inoperable. She talked casually about leg surgery and being unable to climb the stairs in her house. She was in her early thirties. I felt angry. I’m sure she must have too, but she never said it to me. She kept me up to date on her condition and asked what was going on in my life.

    I thought about her concern for her husband. About how she joked over lunch that if anything happened to her, he wouldn’t know how to access their bank accounts. She would give him a tutorial just in case. She talked about him often. She thought about what he needed. About how he was suffering. So completely selfless. So very in love.

    I thought about the last time I saw her. My five year old saw a money jar in her living room and forwardly asked if he could borrow some. She quickly grabbed her wallet and made his day by giving him some change. She had made so many of my days just by being there.

    I thought about one of our last conversations. The cancer was in her brain. She talked about her weekend away with her husband and time at the beach with family. She talked about how there were still more medications to try. The doctor said they would keep trying. If she knew she was close to the end, she never let on to me. Still no tears, no complaints. Just unbelievable courage.

    I thought about the voice mail I left her the day before she died. I thought about the snow on the way to her funeral. I thought about how there is no way that all she was could fit into the tiny box they wheeled up the aisle of the church that morning.

    I thought about her strength. Since the day I met her, she personified strength. I admired her for it then. I am in awe of it now. I don’t know how the hell she fought the fight she did. I was pissed at a virus that would be over in a few days. She had been fighting for her life. But she was much stronger than me.

    I would like to say that all these thoughts made me stop being a miserable sick person, that I sucked it up and showed a little of the strength I saw in her. But that would be a lie.

    20121124_131237What these thoughts did do, was make me even more thankful to have known her. Thankful that someone that kind, that honest, that fun, that strong would call me a friend. Thankful to have spent a year under the same roof–laughing, crying, singing, dancing and really living with her. Thankful that we kept in touch. Thankful to have told her she was one of my all time favorite people (she totally was). Thankful she met my children. Thankful for that last hug and that I can still remember the sound of her voice so clearly. And see her smile. And picture her dancing.

    As for getting angry at illnesses and life’s other annoyances, I’m guessing she would advise me to be strong and positive. She would probably tell me not to be so miserable. She would encourage me to embrace every moment I have here whether those moments are ideal or painful. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to complain or feel sorry for myself. As her passing tragically proved, we don’t have time for that shit.

    20130501_124213(0)Rose Townsend is a stay at home mom with three children and a leader of her local Down syndrome interest group.  She blogs about using her children’s interests, nature and travel to create meaningful learning experiences for the whole family at naturallyeducated.com.

  • The Miles Between Us

    I am so excited about today’s guest essay. It comes from one of my “real life friends” Erica; even more noteworthy, she is the friend featured in the very first HerStories friendship essay! My story of our friendship, which began during a time of shared loss, inspired Erica to add her own essay, a poignant narrative of a friendship and its deterioration. Erica was unsure about contributing to the series, as she does not consider herself to be a “writer.” After you read The Miles Between Us, I think you may have to respectfully disagree with her. -Stephanie

     

    My good friend Erica (left) and me at a girls' night out.

     

    Mandy and I met just once before we became roommates. A mutual friend suggested we move in together since neither of us could afford a one bedroom in the pricey college town to which we were both relocating. We secured a two bedroom apartment online, left for separate summers, and arrived in town a week before our graduate classes began.

    As a logic-driven, athletic, assertive person, I don’t click with a lot of women – it seems they find me overly direct and not gentle enough. The first week Mandy and I circled each other gingerly, but began sharing strategies for the transition we were both making: directions to the DMV, where to find a cheap, tasty burrito. We quickly found that we made excellent roommates, and had many quirky similarities in our personal histories. As an engineer, Mandy also operates from a predominantly logical mind frame, so our communication was easy and natural. As we each began to get a few social invitations, we shared those, too. Finally, we tried running together, and found we were well matched in stride, pace and distance – eureka!

    Before long, Mandy and I were nearly inseparable. We cooked dinner together most nights, had the same social circle, and developed a hundred inside jokes. We both settled in and got quite busy but we often made a point to schedule our run together. We giggled even as we huffed along, talked about being bridesmaids in each others’ weddings, and eventually shared the most painful, raw parts of ourselves. I haven’t had a friendship quite like it since middle school; full of shared discovery, with the intensity of a romance. If I were to repeat some of what she told me about herself, you might understand more of what happened later, but I won’t, not ever. The sharing that happens when you’re that intimate is sacred, even if the sanctuary crumbles.

    Mandy met one of my mountaineering buddies, Ben. He’s a warm, affectionate person who flirted casually with most women until the moment he met Mandy. Instantly, she was the sun and the moon to him. It only took a few weeks before she felt the same about him. I was thrilled; it was fun to be in the glow of their giddy love, and I was crazy about both of them so I had no problem with the fact that he spent a huge amount of time at our place. But as we were about to finish our degrees, Mandy began to pull away. I asked her why, and eventually she let me know I’d transgressed an important boundary: I’d used her special nickname for Ben as if it were mine, too. I was taken aback, as we’d shared every little expression and gesture for two years, but it made perfect sense that they needed separateness in their relationship. I apologized, and never did it again, but she continued to treat me as a third wheel when they were at our place. It started to get annoying, but we all were under the pressure of finishing up so I let it slide.

    We all graduated, moved out, and I rambled around Asia for several months. I figured that when I got back Mandy and Ben’s relationship would be settled in and she and I would continue being best friends without the enmeshment. After a fun initial reunion, I called every few days, but Mandy put me off saying how busy she was. I fell back to our old strategy: I offered to join her for a run, knowing she always made time for her daily workout. When that took weeks, I knew something was up. Once we were finally on the trail hitting a good stride, I asked her what had I done? How could I fix it?

    Mandy said she just wasn’t comfortable any more with how people had seen us as a unit. She referenced her typical pattern of keeping her close female friends in distinct social groups. She’d made some new friends through Ben and she didn’t want me to meet them. But she assured me I hadn’t done anything wrong for which I should – or could – make amends. It was basically the age-old, It’s not you, it’s me. She suggested we spend “less” time together. Since we’d previously had daily contact that seemed easy to achieve within a healthy friendship. But after several months in which my regular invitations yielded two stilted visits and no reciprocation, I felt frustrated and hurt. I said, It’s too weird begging to be around you. I was explicit: I’ll give you some space, I won’t call you, but please, call me as soon as you’re ready. That was eleven years ago. She hasn’t called.

    Initially, when we saw each other at gatherings it was intensely painful for me, and more so that she seemed unaffected. I hoped for her call, but there was nothing for months until an invitation to her out-of-state wedding showed up in the mail. I had a rush of hope that she was also inviting me back into her life. I reached out cautiously by email with something leading like, I got the invitation, thank you! The venue sounds great, I’m curious to hear more about it. How are you? Mandy replied, I’m good but very busy. I hope you’re doing well. It would be great if you can make it. Ouch. I realized it was Ben who wanted to include me. Still, I waited until the day of the deadline before I checked “Regretfully Declines” on the RSVP.

    I may have burned a bridge by not going, but I’m pretty sure it was already destroyed. Seriously, would it have made sense to travel all that way to stand wistfully watching Mandy in a crowd of people, while knowing that she had no intention of seeing me in the town where we both lived? I had a final cry-myself-to-sleep over it during the weekend of her wedding, and then resolved to make my peace with our distance.

    After a couple of years, I could see her without getting a lump in my throat. When I ran into her a week before the birth of her first child, I knew what to say to make her feel ok, and she thanked me, and it felt good to be able to do something small but positive with our old intimacy. The last time I saw Mandy was at a party when her daughter was a few months old. I toted the baby around for a while, giving Mandy and Ben a chance to mingle. Our interactions felt lighthearted, if superficial. I felt healed.

    I had my first child, a son, several years later. My husband and I chose a classic but uncommon name, Miles, as a tribute to his paternal grandmother, Millie. Miles was not an easy baby, but he’s the apple of my eye. When Miles was about five months old, a friend called to gently tell me some news: Mandy and Ben just had their baby boy. And, well, I thought you should know… they named him Miles. When our surprised mutual friend asked if she’d heard the news and name of my son, Mandy reportedly said vaguely, Hmm, yeah, I think I did hear that.

    I was amazed that the anger and grief I thought was gone came rushing back that day, and stayed with me for several months whenever I thought about it. For me, Mandy’s choice of a name for her son encapsulated everything about her and me: How much we’re alike, how far she pushed us apart, and how completely she shed any feeling of connection to me. That quirky little sameness in our mothering further hints at another layer of loss; of what we might have been to each other as support through the challenges of transitioning from our efficient, active pre-child selves into the milky, sleep-deprived terrain of motherhood. Then again, had we stayed friends, only one of us could have used the name since it would have been too darn confusing when we called out to our two little boys scampering together up the trail… As it is, despite my strong initial reaction, Mandy is right: the fact that our sons have the same name simply doesn’t matter. It’s been nearly four years since her son was born, and we’ve never even met each other’s Miles.

     

  • World’s Best Mom?

    We are excited to feature a moving friendship essay today from Jamie Krug. Jamie writes candidly about her family’s unique story on her blog, Our Stroke of Luck, and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. Has a close friend ever helped you to see yourself from a different perspective?

    Today, I had a long overdue conversation with my best friend in the world… Nothing remarkable was planned for this chat, and we really just spoke about what’s going on in our lives. She’s telling me about the unfortunate and coincidental timing of her gutted kitchen setup looking eerily similar to one of the “kill rooms” Dexter set up the night before during their completion of a marathon viewing of the previous season, and I’m talking/complaining/freaking out about what’s going on with Parker and Owen right now. Parker has Psoriatic Arthritis and Sensory Processing Disorder. Add to that having a brother with special needs and it’s a lot for a not-quite five year-old to take.

    Her three and a half year old brother Owen had a stroke in utero and has Cerebral Palsy. To put it so succinctly in one simple sentence seems almost laughable based on how complicated the circumstances around his birth turned out, and the equally unsure footing I’ve felt as a parent ever since. He has a long road ahead of him, and our entire family will be on that road with him. And I consider Rachel to be part of that family.

    And then she said it.

    Rachel told me that I was a wonderful mother and that she hoped I knew it. She told me that she looked up to me and my parenting. I was so taken aback that I almost simultaneously burst out laughing and began bawling. Instead, I do what I’ve been doing for the past eleven months or so – I tried to shrug it off. I’m not comfortable with people telling me I’m a good mother, or doing a good job, etc. There is an unease about it for me that I actually can put my finger on, but am choosing not to at this point.

    It was different when Rachel said it to me though. We are peers and equals, each with our own strengths and weaknesses of character, but I have looked up to Rachel since high school. She has (at least in my eyes) seamlessly achieved her goals along the path I wish I had taken. You know, the easy one – in a straight line. My path has meandered a bit – taken a right, or was that a left? A few u-turns thrown in, and a lot of parallel parking. I’ve clearly taken the metaphor too far, but I’m committed at this point so I need to run with it (or should I say drive the point home?)…

    She is my equal, yes – but she was always the glue that held me together. We used to joke around that if she decided to go into psychology, her “real-world” experience treating me should allow her to skip her internship altogether. We have been through a lot together. There are things that Rachel knows about me that Scott likely doesn’t. Yet another wonderful thing about the man that I married, is that Scott respects that and has no problem stepping aside when he knows that she is better “schooled” on that aspect of me or my life, past, etc. There are situations where her advice is more meaningful to me than his may be based solely on the fact that she has always been there and might know more about the history of a particular situation. I will say that again because it is important – she has always been there.

    IMG_4254-1Rachel will give it to me straight, too. She is definitely not a “smoke blower”. She looks out for me, but has no problem putting me in my place when she feels I’m wrong. I’d like to think I do the same for her. Honesty and friendship like that is a rare gift. So is someone breaking you of your life-long insecurity-based habit of apologizing to everyone for everything – she did it by telling me to f**k myself every single time I said “I’m sorry” to her for anything she deemed unnecessary of an apology. There were a lot of F-bombs dropped during our conversations for a while, but I finally got it.

    For this fantastic woman – my dearest friend – whom I love like a sister and respect beyond words, to tell me that there was something about me that she looked up to, well, it made me take notice. Maybe I am a good mother. Perhaps better than my doubts will allow me to accept. Maybe “just doing the best that I can” is enough.

    I know I’m not the only mother out there to wonder if she’s doing a good job. The difference here is that I genuinely feel (and I think I’m correct about this on some level) that the success and health of my children is riding on it in a different way than the average parent. The pressure I feel is enormous. To be honest, some days I’m not sure if I’m going to crack or explode! Am I bringing Owen to the right therapists? Am I doing enough with him at home? Is there someone else out there that I should/could be having him treated by? Is Parker getting the right amount of therapy? Do I need to change her preschool to one that will be more accommodating to her needs? What can I be doing at home to help her? What am I doing at home that is potentially exacerbating this and how do I know the difference?

    IMG_5074When Parker was little, before Owen came along, I remember wringing my hands over whether or not to change pediatricians… The differences likely being subtle between the practices I was considering, I’m looking back now at that naive woman who thought she had a really difficult decision and chuckling sadly. Now, making a decision to change practitioners for Owen could mean the difference between him walking or not – and if so, with or without a limp. If I choose the wrong therapist, I am taking the risk that he will not have full use of his hands, or speak properly, or eat solid foods before he’s five. I try as hard as I can not to think about the immense implications of the decisions I make on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, but the truth is still there – these seemingly small decisions have gigantic consequences down the road.

    I do not want to put aside my partner in this – Scott. He is incredible and is definitely in on all of the major decisions, and about a million more of the minor ones than he likely needs to be. He is my anchor, but I steer the ship. I am their mother. I am home all day long with them, making all of the microscopic decisions, that individually might not make a difference, but as a conglomerate likely will.

    I am doing the best I can, and maybe – just maybe – it’s more than just good enough. Maybe, it’s just plain good. Somehow, though I’ve been hearing it for months now from other people, hearing it from Rachel makes me a little bit closer to believing that it might be true. If she was just saying it to make me feel better, well, she can go f**k herself.

     

    photo-8Jamie Krug is a stay-at-home-mom with a full-time job as the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) of her family. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post where she is a regular contributor. She is mother to an inquisitive daughter named Parker and the mischievous-grinned Owen.Her blog, http://www.OurStrokeOfLuck.net, tells the story of her family’s day-to-day struggles and triumphs in the wake of the devastating and still largely misunderstood rare diagnosis her son received at birth.She prides (embarrasses?) herself by stating out loud what other mothers may feel but wouldn’t dare say…You can follow Jamie on Twitter @OurStrokeOfLuck or on her Facebook Page for Our Stroke Of Luck.