motherhood

  • HerStories Voices: Perspectives from the Woodpile

    I love this week’s essay (featuring our April theme of “Life Lessons”) because the writer, Julianne Palumbo, beautifully describes a conundrum of parenting and I can’t stop thinking about her situation. What do we do when we want to tell our children to do something different from what’s considered the right thing to do? And who’s to say what the right thing is? She conveys the angst that we can feel when we get a teaching opportunity with our children – one that can be a huge life lesson. Oh, the pressure! Even after reading this essay multiple times, I still don’t know what I would have done in the same situation. I just hope that I would handle it with the same grace as the author did. – Allie

    HerStories Voices

    Perspectives from the Woodpile: Asking My Teen to Honor His Commitments

    I am standing on our porch in front of the exhausted woodpile. The air bites my hands and face as I scavenge through chips and bark for burnable logs that I can throw into the fire to keep it warming. Although winter passed resentfully, if I close my eyes and listen, the birds sing a different story. I absorb the “berto, berto, berto” of the cardinal and pretend that spring is springing the way spring should be.

    Open my eyes and I stare at the devastation that was our woodpile after five cords of wood warmed our house to a livable temperature. I squeeze my lids shut again. There’s a breeze that breathes both winter and spring into the air. It’s a game now, one I want spring to win.

    So, too, tugs the debate I have been having with my teenage son. It’s about commitment, and there are two sides to the story. Mostly, I sympathize with his side, while I try to hold the line on mine. As of yet, neither one of us is winning. Two perspectives, both based in the unfairness of reality.

    When my son was seven he fell in love with his sport. From that moment, it became the most important thing in his life, affecting how he spent his time, what he ate, and how much downtime he allowed himself. It was practice, practice, and more practice. My husband and I supported him, driving him over an hour to practices and traipsing around the East Coast for tournaments, because he was so dedicated and because having a goal gave him focus in everything he did.

    Over the years, he played year-round. He would go to every team practice and every game, like the postman, without regard to weather, illness, or the homework brewing in his backpack. We gave up countless family events, trips, and down time to travel to games all over the East coast and sometimes beyond. Summer, too, was filled with camps and training.

    As he got older, he failed to grow as quickly as other boys his age. He began to sit on the bench because of his small size, and players who never showed up to practice but who had greater physical strength but less skill would play over him. Still, he kept practicing.

    Once he reached the teenage years, things went downhill. It took seasons before we realized that, despite promises and reassurances that he would be given a fair chance to perform because of his skill, his coach had another agenda that didn’t include him. He became frustrated by the unfairness. Players who never came to tryouts were still put on the team. Players who missed practices played over others who went. Rules were bent and broken, and some players, like my son, were given no opportunity to prove themselves.

    After nine years dedicated to a sport that had given the actual beat to his heart, he decided to quit. The deep joy he had always felt when he touched the ball had turned to anger and frustration. He told his club coach that he did not want to play spring season. Unfortunately, my son was last in a list of boys who had expressed their desire to quit the team, and the coach needed him to stay for there to be enough players. This particular coach had been fair to him, and since he asked him respectfully to fulfill his commitment, my husband and I agreed that he should honor it. But, my son didn’t agree.

    Hence my struggle. How do I argue with a seventeen-year-old who had done it all right, who had given his heart and soul to a sport only to have it stomped on and ripped out by coaches who cared nothing for earnestness or for his commitment? His hard work hadn’t paid off. Many of the adults involved had asked for an abundance of dedication on his part but had failed in their own commitments to be fair and to coach in a way that was best for the players. Now, my son was being asked to hold up his side yet another time.

    I have never stood up so half-heartedly for something. He has never stood so strongly against something.

    If ever I was at a loss for words to support my arguments, this was it. I couldn’t argue that commitment paid off. It hadn’t. In fact, it couldn’t have paid off less. I couldn’t argue that something good would come out of it, because there was no longer anything that he wanted from this sport. He just wanted to be free of it. That was his parting wish.

    I could argue only that it was the right thing to do because a man has to live by his word. It was about the type of adult I wanted my son to grow up to be. But, as much as I believe that and have always tried to live and to teach it in all parts of life, it couldn’t have rung more hollow this time. I truly didn’t believe that he owed this sport anything. All I could think was, “commitment to what?”

    To complicate matters, he recently started playing tennis on his high school tennis team. He loves it and is showing the same drive and dedication I had seen from him for so many years. Fulfilling his commitment would affect his tennis as often games overlapped.

    After days of debate, we agreed to agree that he would fulfill his commitment to the extent he could without adversely affecting his grades and his position on the tennis team. This is where we have left it—someplace in the middle of—shouldn’t have to but will anyway.

    While I think we are holding true to a lesson here, I’m truly not certain what that lesson might be. I keep reminding him when he reminds me how much he doesn’t want to waste the time to go to games, that something good always comes of giving of yourself. Maybe he will call on this experience some day when he’s an adult and he’s faced with something he doesn’t want to do. Maybe his being there will be a positive in someone else’s life.

    But I can’t help wondering—will filling this commitment now make him more or less likely to want to fill commitments in the future? Would it even matter to his character if we let him walk away? With three almost-grown children, I feel I should know the answer to this by now.

    The cool days plod on. I bang clumps of grass from his cleats. I pick tennis balls up off the lawn. The sun peeks a little.

    Spring is winning.

     

    authorphoto1 (2)Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories, and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Coffee+Crumbs, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Manifest Station, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013) and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. Her essay will be published in the upcoming HerStories Anthology, So Glad They Told Me. She is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers. You can find her here: http://www.juliannepalumbo.com https://www.facebook.com/JuliannePalumboAuthor  https://twitter.com/JuliannePalumbo and http://www.mothersalwayswrite.com .

     

    **We are currently accepting submissions for our May Voices column: the theme is “motherhood.”

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    ** Have you seen the cover of So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood yet? Our publication date is August 23rd! More information here.motherhood-web1

     

  • HerStories Voices: Finding Yourself Again After Kids

    The early years of parenthood are grueling for many of us and the more children you have, the harder it can be. Today’s author, Megan Woolsey, is the mother of four, and triplets are part of the equation. It’s no surprise that she lost herself. As a fellow mother of multiples, I could relate to Megan’s struggle and cheered her on as she rediscovered the light within. This essay will resonate with moms who miss the woman they were before they had children. Enjoy! – Allie

    HerStories Voices

     

    Finding Yourself Again After Kids

    By Megan Woolsey

    When I was in sixth grade I wrote a mystery series at recess while my friends were playing dodge ball on the playground. The heroine of my stories was named Penny Powers and she was a smart, confident, feminist girl just like my mother was raising me to be. Each story was only a few handwritten pages, but captured all of the imagination my eleven-year-old mind could muster. At the end of each story, Penny Powers proved herself to be a successful heroine by facing her challenges head on and solving problems.

    Little did I know back then that I would face big life challenges and have to solve my own problems one day, just like Penny Powers.

    From a very young age all I wanted to do was write. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be an author of books. I still have an image in my head of being  seven years old, an age where you would draw a picture of what you were writing. So I said in big bold uppercase writing “I AM GOING TO BE A AUTHOR” and underneath I colored a picture of a woman writing a book in what appears to be a library filled with books of all different shapes and colors.

    I kept the passion for writing alive, for a while. My writing was strong through college and by twenty-five years old I was working as a freelance writer making very little money, but I had an impressive looking byline in some local print magazines.

    Then my life changed dramatically after I had my first child. My daughter was smart, funny, and spirited, and I enjoyed her every day. But I did what a lot of moms do in our current culture; I gave everything to my child and left nothing for myself. I lost my career, my writing, myself.

    Three years later, I gave birth to triplets. Those first months of raising triplets were an incredible feat. My husband and I were waking up at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. to feed our infant triplets each night. It would take us an hour and a half to feed, diaper and put them back to sleep each shift. Our middle of the night escapades were met with such exhaustion that I would feed my babies with the wrong end of the bottle, or fall asleep in the middle of my duties. My husband and I would fight and yell profanities at each other in the wee hours of the morning, only because we were too tired to be civil.

    I didn’t exercise or have any hobbies for myself. I spent all of my time around the clock caring for four small children. I began writing a blog about having triplets, but my writing back then was more like unedited journal entries composed after sleepless nights.

    I loved my children with every ounce of my being, yet I was completely disconnected from myself as an individual. I woke up one day and felt that my only value on this beautiful planet was juggling the schedules of my four children, household chores, and managing bills. My life had become a series of mundane tasks; such is life as a stay-at-home mother. Depression set in. There was no value in being me other than routine childcare duties. I didn’t feel attractive, smart, or creative. I could not feel any joy in my life.

    On a beautiful spring day, I received an interesting invitation to attend a yoga retreat in Monterey, California. My cousin was running a three-night yoga retreat and an inner calling messaged me to go. I was tired of saying no to everything. No, I can’t have people over to dinner at my house. No, I can’t go with my friends to a weekend away wine tasting. No, I can’t go exercise. No I can’t, because I have kids. So this time, I said yes. Yes, I will do something for myself. Yes, I will go to this yoga retreat. I will pitch a tent in the woods in a secluded space and have time to reflect by myself. To get ready for this yoga retreat, I began taking yoga classes every spare moment during my week. I realized I was becoming good at something that was just for me. Pitching that tent and attending the yoga retreat by myself gave me a new energy and desire to better myself in other ways.

    I made an effort to style my hair some days, and wear clothes that were a step up from sweats. I set out to make new friends, and found a soul mate. I changed the name, design, and focus of my blog to be more professional. I ate healthy food and took more walks. All of this made me feel good about myself. This made me feel like, while my kids were my world, I mattered also.

    This past year I turned forty-one years old. My children aren’t infants anymore so I’ve found a little more time for myself. I spent my thirties struggling with infertility and raising children. Many days I wondered why I chose this life and if I would ever have enough energy and inspiration to create my own passions again.

    Then I realized that if I look around with an open mind, inspiration is all around me. I began to find that the delights and challenges I found in being a woman, a mother, and a wife created a connection I could write about.

    There is so much pressure on parents today to do everything and be everything for their children. We give everything to our kids because we love them and want them to be successful. We also do it because there is a competition embroiled in our social fabric that is unhealthy and leaves mothers lost and lonely, thinking they aren’t doing enough.

    Most of us are more than good enough. We are too good at being a mom and not as good at being respectful to our own dreams and passions.

    Maybe after all of these years and four kids later, there is still that little girl inside me, the one who was always writing books at recess.

    I have a large family that includes higher order multiples, and it does suck the life out of me. Other days my family fills me with crazy passion and inspiration. Having kids doesn’t have to mean the death of myself as my own creative woman.

    After feeling depressed for years under the pressure of motherhood, I experienced a rebirth to become a new version of the old me who loved to write and followed those dreams of being an author.

    After eleven years being a mom, it is finally clear that I can still have my own life and my own dreams . . . not despite being a mom, but because I am a mom.

    I am Penny Powers.

     

    unnamed[1]Megan Woolsey is a writer, editor and publisher living in Northern California with a very supportive husband and a wild bunch of red-headed children – a set of triplets and their big sister. Megan has been published in Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BLUNTmoms, Bonbon Break, Mamalode, In The Powder Room and is an essayist in two anthologies. She began writing professionally for her blog, The Hip Mothership, which she began while in the hospital eating copious amounts of Jell-O on bed rest pregnant with triplets. When Megan isn’t busy writing or blogging, she loves hot yoga, long walks, and dinner with friends that includes good bottles of wine.

    Co-Editor, Multiples Illuminated. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

    **Our April theme is Life Lessons. Email our assistant editor Allie your submissions at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Find out more about submission guidelines here.

     

  • HerStories Voices: A Baby Story

    I’ve never seen the show A Baby Story, but I know many people who love it. The births of my own children were unique and intimate experiences. I’m pretty sure I’d feel uncomfortable being “in the room” with someone I didn’t know who was giving birth. I may be wrong though, because when I read this week’s essay, which is a birth story, I was riveted. Emily’s essay is emotional and beautifully representative of the circle of life. By the time I was done reading, I had chills. —Allie

    HerStories Voices

    A Baby Story

    By Emily Page Hatch

     My mom loved watching “A Baby Story,” the TLC reality show that follows couples in the late stages of pregnancy and films their births in detail. She always wept at the end when the baby appeared.

    “Why does it make you cry?” I asked her.

    “They’re happy tears,” she replied.

    “It’s so graphic though,” I scoffed. “How are you not grossed out?”

    “Because it’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “I think of you and your brother.”

    Many years later, as I reclined in a hospital bed in Boston in the midst of a January snowfall, I thought about that show. I was in the thick of my own baby story, about to give birth to a son. It was not being televised. I was being induced on my twenty-fifth birthday and feeling nervous about exposing myself in the loud, messy scene that is labor.

    My husband, Tyler, and I were about to meet the boy we’d been touching and feeling and talking to for months through the itchy skin of my overstretched belly. My due date had come and gone uneventfully nine days prior. It turned out no amount of mall walking could kick this baby into gear. And as impatient as I was to meet my mystery boy, I was also secretly satisfied to have provided such a comfortable home that he never wanted to leave.

    His name would be Cody and I already adored him. He woke me up every morning with karate kicks and he danced the Macarena on my ribs. My heart raced when he rested too long and I couldn’t feel him boogying; I’d tickle my belly until he awoke, and smile with relief.

    The older I get, the more often it seems relief stands in for happiness. The two almost feel synonymous.

    I so looked forward to holding my baby, but wished I could just snap my fingers. I hated that labor could take so long and be fraught with difficulties. I also hated the prospect of shitting in the process, which everyone warned me would happen.

    My gaze drifted from the swirls of white dancing in the gray sky to the framed photo of my mother resting on the shelf across the room. It was the same photo that had been used in her obituary and funeral pamphlet, a stunning photo of her, highlighting her straw blond hair and slate blue eyes that smiled as brightly as her mouth did.

    But the picture wasn’t palpable for me, not anymore at least. I saw a distant idea of my dead mother. I didn’t sense her presence or feel more connected, like I sometimes did when I sipped iced coffee or heard that Crosby, Stills & Nash song, or saw my brother smile. But I wanted to feel her—I felt more human when I did, more like the self I used to know—so I kept this photo on my bureau at home and brought it to the hospital. I figured halfheartedly it could bring me luck.

    “Who’s that?” barked one of the nurses in a thick Boston accent, pointing to the picture.

    “That’s my mom,” I stammered. “She passed away a few years ago.”

    But it was closer to a decade ago, and I hated saying, “passed away.” It’s too nice a description for what really happened, but it makes people feel more comfortable, myself included maybe.

    My shoulders tensed, a familiar frozen stance, bracing for her reaction. People always feel sorry once they find out, but sorry can feel a lot like pity.

    The nurse’s eyes softened as she offered her condolences. Then she pushed a rattling cart of supplies up to my bedside and announced she was going to break my water.

    The next several hours felt like a few minutes. The Pitocin kicked in and my contractions raged. Without much hesitation, I accepted an Epidural that knocked me out cold. I woke up to find that I couldn’t feel my legs.

    The nurses and doctors seemed to rotate so quickly I could never remember their names. I could only recall one doctor named Emily, because she shared my name. She had been on shift when I was first admitted and in she walked twelve hours later.

    “Who’s that in the picture?” she asked.

    The epidural wore off as I dilated. It felt like one of those claw cranes that picks up stuffed animal prizes was scraping the insides of my abdomen. I don’t know how people do this naturally.

    I was given a button to press if I wanted more drugs, and believe me, I did. But I couldn’t bring myself to touch the button, convinced that I’d overdose. So I begged my husband to press it for me and begged him to stop when he did.

    At some point, an unfamiliar doctor entered. He explained that although I was not one of his patients, he wanted to meet me, because he’d heard that my mom died of pancreatic cancer—the same kind that had killed his dad.

    I was touched that he shared his experience with me. It’s remarkable how loss can connect us, as total strangers, through a deep and sensitive understanding.

    He spoke about what an awful disease it is, and I agreed, but felt my face go hot. I had witnessed my mother go through her illness, but most of the time from a distance. I saw her suffer immensely, and yet, I had been disconnected, steeped in denial.

    Did I deserve his empathy?

    When she died, I was there; and I wasn’t. Perched next to her on the bed on a dark Tuesday morning in spring, rain coming down in sheets, I watched her take a last labored breath before I covered her face in kisses. I stared in the mirror at the two of us, and we both looked like strangers, starring in an awful movie.

    I was in another movie then in a maternity ward in Boston, on a bitterly cold evening, the buildings blanketed in white, looking down at myself with my legs splayed open, feeling strangely serene.

    My sheets were soaked in sweat and fluid. I began throwing up cherry-flavored Italian ice that I, of course, believed to be blood.

    Grunting and moaning and making the grotesque facial expressions I swore I wouldn’t make, I forced my baby out of me, gradually at first, revealing a spiral of blonde hair that looked black because it was wet—or so his father told me. Next, I freed his full head of downy hair, big round head and wrinkled neck—he was an actual human, and I was floating on the ceiling, watching this woman I didn’t recognize panting from fear and exertion, exhilaration and pride.

    With sweat and tears streaming down my clammy face and unfamiliar guttural sounds emerging from my mouth, I released my boy’s sweet neck and shoulders coated in fuzzy peach hair, and time did not exist.

    At some point, I pushed one final time, shrieking as I ripped apart in every way possible, my baby sliding rapidly out into his father’s shaky arms, never to live inside of me in this literal sense again.

    Within seconds, my son—my son!—was in my lap and there was a nurse snapping our photo, and my heart had swelled to such massive proportions it was spilling out of my body, exploding into a billion tiny bits that I would never get back, because they belonged now to this boy that was laying in my lap, more real and perfect than I could believe.

    There was the photo of my mother across from us, forever young in a frame, that still made me feel nothing, because a photo is just a thing, because maybe it’s true that our souls leave our bodies as soon as we die, because as I sobbed endlessly at the sight of Cody, whom I’d only just met but had somehow always known, and I leaned down to cover his face in kisses, I felt my mother’s arms wrap around me and she was weeping, too.

    But my son, he didn’t cry. And I didn’t notice that, until he was being taken from me.

    Lifted from my arms in a sudden swoop, he was placed on the warming table, stuck with needles and tubes. Machines beeped aggressively as Doctor “Emily” took out her pager and uttered words no one wants to hear: “We need everyone in here.”

    Medical staff swarmed the room, but no one told us what was going on.

    One doctor had her hand, wrist, and then whole arm inside of me, trying to extract my placenta, which was as stubborn as Cody had been and refused to come out.

    Later I would learn how much blood was pouring out, but by that point all I knew and all I’d ever know for sure was that my son could not die.

    The room was spinning and I was positive now that I had overdosed. The most intimate moments that make and break our lives—the surreal seconds of last breaths and first breaths and gasping for breath—I never thought it could happen like this.

    My eyes darted back and forth from the doctors with my son to the doctor with her arm inside of me. Convinced that I could make a difference in whether my baby lived or died if I put up enough of a fight, I advocated for him, for the first but not the last time, though I was not in my right mind. I wanted to blame someone for what was transpiring. I swore that if he died, I would die right then, too.

    He was taken to the NICU and I pleaded with the doctor to let me go with him. But the placenta hadn’t budged and she insisted it wasn’t safe.

     What did it matter? What good was my body without my heart and my soul, which were leaving with my son?

     His dad accompanied him and I passed out from a fever that had drained the color from my face. I fell into a deep and delirious sleep that lasted until dawn, when I awoke with a start. Had it all been a dream?

    I found out later my baby had aspirated and there was fluid in his lungs. He needed help breathing, which he received from an oxygen hood placed over his head that we would later refer to endearingly as his “astronaut helmet.”

    We were told it was common. And that he would be okay. I can’t imagine my life if he hadn’t been, no more than I can imagine my life if my mom had lived.

    But if she had, I would tell her I get it. I understand now why she loved that show. I know why she used to cry. Baby stories are overwhelmingly beautiful, no matter how they end.

    I gave birth to my son on a snowy night in the city two years ago, but his story isn’t over. Neither is my mom’s. One of the only things we have left of the loved ones that we’ve lost are the stories that we tell—small, but staggering consolations.

    When my baby arrived at last at the tail end of my birthday—forevermore our birthday—something else was born, too, that had died with my mom on that rainy day in May.

     

    IMG953652 (2)Emily Page Hatch is a freelance writer, therapist, and mother. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Babble, The Huffington Post, Modern Loss, and other publications. You can connect with Emily on Twitter @EmilyPageH and at http://www.emilypagehatch.com.

     

    **We are currently accepting new submissions for our Voices column! Email our assistant editor, Allie, at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Read our submission guidelines here.

  • HerStories Voices: It’s Really Going to be Okay

    Anyone who reads Christine Carter’s blog, the Mom Café, knows that she’s a woman of faith. She’s extremely optimistic, and her writing is empowering and full of positivity. I know when I read one off her essays I’m going to feel good about the world. So when I read her submission, I was a little surprised by how harrowing it was. I had no idea that her daughter had had such a rough start in life. I was heartbroken as I read, but then the story ended with her little angel’s message of hope and faith. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree! I hope you enjoy this essay. 

    —Allie

    HerStories Voices

    “It’s Really Going To Be Okay . . .”

    I vividly remember being surrounded by doctors who were covering me with an oxygen mask and flipping me over from side to side, as your heart rate plummeted once again. Just hours before, the doctor had sent me straight to the hospital, his haunting last words lingering: “I can’t promise you that your baby is okay. What I can say is you may have saved her life by coming in today.” They forced your delivery to save your life; they had no idea how long you’d been in distress. You came into this world through uncertain hopes, and as they placed you in my trembling arms, I never wanted to let go.

    During your first year of life, I watched you endure countless therapies. You screamed and cried so hard they didn’t know what to do. I witnessed your relentless fight and held back my own screams and cries. Your inconsolable tears tore at my heart and all I wanted to do was protect you from your pain.

    I dropped you off at your special needs program of treatments and therapies during your second year of life and held my breath as I paced in the parking lot each day. I felt tattered and twisted every minute you were without me, all alone in this strange new world. All I wanted to do was go back inside, pick you up into my arms, carry you away, and never let go.

    When they wheeled you in for surgery at nearly three years old, we faced our ultimate decision to risk your life for the use of anesthesia. Going against doctor’s orders, we decided the danger was worth it if we could prevent more torture to your fragile body. We were prepared for the worst and prayed for mercy on your behalf. You had been through enough. The bald patches on your head from pulling out your frayed baby blond hair were evidence of the pain you couldn’t withstand. We couldn’t fathom any additional trauma to your already difficult existence. I prayed for your lungs to stay open, while gasping for my own air. I wanted to lift you into God’s healing arms and tell Him to not let go until you were well.

    Five weeks after your brother was born, we spent hours in the emergency room attempting to open your airways. When I begged and pleaded with the doctors at the hospital to take you home, I surrendered to their haunting ultimatum as they transferred you to the respiratory isolation unit. I was faced with the nightmare of leaving you at the hospital and abandoning my place by your side for the sake of nursing my infant son.

    There you were, hooked up to several tubes and lying in the crib, gasping for air. I will never forget that moment. Forced to leave you overnight for the first time, I was trembling and terrified as I turned toward the door and walked away. We drove home at 2:00 a.m. and I sobbed all the way in chorus with my son’s exhausted wail. I’d never been so distraught in all my life. I longed to hold your precious body. That night away from you, something broke inside me.

    Little did I know there would be many more treatments, hospital runs, admissions, procedures, and surgeries to come . . .

    Little did I know that you would endure debilitating medical issues that would leave me terrified and torn, begging to hold on . . .

    But forced to let go.

    You were so weak. So weary. So worn. So wounded.

    And so was I.

    But somehow you overcame each tumultuous turn.

    And so did I.

    I look back on those horrific years filled with days, hours, and minutes of faltering fear, dreaded decisions, debilitating diagnoses, and I realize something remarkably true:

    You are not wounded and weak, nor are you weary and worn.

    You are a warrior.

    And each year since, I continue to face the undeniable feat of letting you go.

    Begging to hold on.

    But with every struggle to surrender . . .

    You survive.

    Your strength has risen in the suffering.

    You have taught me that through every trial and test, I must learn to trust.

    I never will forget your prophetic words in the car on the way to the hospital one fearful night. You were only three-and-a-half years old, limp with a 105.9 temperature and barely able to breathe. You heard me crying, and with a seemingly seasoned angelic voice you softly sang these words to me:

    “It’s okay, Mommy. It’s going to be okay. ”

    I hear your fateful words now . . .

    Reminding me that what you knew then is what I know now.

    It’s okay.

    It’s really going to be okay.

     

    Profile Pic (2)Chris Carter is a SAHM of two pretty amazing kids. She has been writing at TheMomCafe.com for over five years, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration and faith.

     

     

     

     

    Are you interested submitting work to our bi-monthly HerStories Voices column? Email our assistant editor Allie at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Check out submission guidelines here.

    **Our next online class, The Balanced Writer: Creating a Passionate, Productive Writing Life, begins next Monday! We have a fantastic lineup of inspiring guest instructors. If you are a writer with goals for the new year, this class is a great place to start! Find out more information and register here.

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  • HerStories Voices: I Am Here

    Today’s HerStories Voices column is by Suzanne Perryman, who blogs at Special Needs Mom. It’s a lovely meditation on the relationship between Suzanne and her oldest daughter, as well as the triumphs and struggles of her entire family.

    Sometimes our most precious moments with our children take place with them asleep, beside us.

    My daughter Olivia is breathing gently in a rhythm I know well. For almost 14 years I have studied her stages of sleep.  With her hand tucked in mine, I stay stretched out beside her. In the shadows I study the new curves on her body and the way she fills her childhood bed. The way her long curly hair falls in thick bundles off the ends of her pillow, the dark hiding its rich reddish brown. She called me here me tonight, overflowing with excitement and anxiety, unable to sleep.

    “ Lie with me, Mama,” she used to say. When her curls were just a cap of copper penny red and still shooting in all directions.  And I would resist then, empty and exhausted by the end of my day. Wanting the touch of my husband’s skin next to mine, wanting my own turn.

    Her curls grew into a mop of deep red during the years she favored Strawberry Shortcake. The feather-light weight of her five year old body made her steps small and almost silent in her Strawberry Shortcake slippers, and I could barely hear her coming each early morning when she slowly shuffled down the hall .

    She would find me at my desk most quiet mornings and climb into my lap, whispering in a sleepy sing song, “Whatya doing?

    Looking at pictures,”  I replied one morning, as the softness of her body settled and snuggled into mine, she reached for the photo I held in my hand. “My favorite,” she sighed.

    She studied that image of her four year old self, dressed in pink and red, raincoat and boots, standing in our backyard holding her umbrella. 

    I woke up from my nap ..” she began, “and Zoe was still sleeping and we snuck outside to the play in the rain. We ran all around my playhouse and splashed on the patio until we were wet! You remember, right, Mommy?” She questioned with her eyes wide. “I can’t see you in the picture but you were there.”

    You were there.

    She didn’t say it, but with her subtle reference, I know that she remembered those times when she woke up and I was gone. Beginning when her sister Zoe was born and I disappeared into the night, returning home a week later. My first night home, when I had finished singing and rocking her to sleep and after quietly tucking her in her crib, she awoke screaming and crying for me, and then finally flung her body out of her crib and across the room.

    And times after that, when Zoe fell sick during the night and I had no choice but to take her to the hospital, and Olivia would wake up with her Mommy missing. Her mommy wasn’t there. 

    In Pre-k, the psychologist called it a slow-to-warm temperament, the way she would wrap her arms around my legs, and refuse to say goodbye. The way she would clutch and climb my nearly six foot length, from bottom to top, the way a child can scurry up a tree. While I stood solid with the weight of Zoe in my arms, the weight of the guilt in my heart made me weak.

    Slow to warm, like the careful way I would warm her maple syrup for our pancake lunches. She would stand then, hugging the back of my legs as I poured the pancake batter and then start to giggle as I carried her plate to the table, over the silliness of our eating pancakes for lunch. Pancake lunches were special, for the days we missed our pancake breakfasts. For the days she woke up and I wasn’t there. 

    Kindergarten at an early age was a better choice for my smart and spirited happy child.  A smarter alternative to spending her day visiting Zoe’s specialists and therapists or playing quietly while her sister napped.

    And like a fragile flower, well-nurtured, she flourished within our simple family life.  She grew strong until fall came along every year, and with new transitions and new teachers, she would falter and wilt a bit, until slowly opening wide again strongly rooted again by spring, and warmed by the season’s sun.

    Until one spring, when she didn’t. And I grieved for her. I missed her smile, her charm, her affection, the way she shimmied across her bedroom floor as she sang her favorite songs. And that way she always started her day by sleepily climbing into my lap where I too found comfort in her body still warm from sleep. I missed her then and I tried everything. I went back to my mothering basics: more attention, more love, more sunshine, more backyard time.

    And when nothing worked, I sat down at my computer and Googled “how +to+make+my+daughter+happy+again.” And knew then I had reached my rock bottom, and her anxiety had outgrown me. It was a psychiatrist who helped her to find the right words,  to identify the panic attacks she was experiencing, and it was the medicine that eventually brought my happy girl back to me.

    Olivia just kept growing, taller and smarter. The color of her hair began to turn an auburn brown. She took to reading big books, piling them in her room, and carrying three or four in her arms to school with her each day, admitting quietly the comfort they gave her, how they helped to ease her anxiety.

    With growth came more truth. One day Olivia asked if her sister Zoe would ever get better, when Zoe might begin to walk, without using her walker and if she would ever someday not need her pink power wheelchair.

    I looked at my oldest then, knowing she had outgrown her little girl eyes. I took our routine each day for granted and never realiized that Olivia believed the medicines, the therapies, and the doctors would someday make Zoe better, help her learn to walk and speak clearly.

    I watched Olivia’s eyes fill with tears as I explained that although Zoe’s body would grow taller and maybe stronger, her condition would never change. I waited for her words of grief.

    “Does Zoe know, Mom?” was all she said. Protective  of her little sister, she was trying to imagine if Zoe knew this truth too, if Zoe, who was full of life and laughter, always smiling knew this to be her truth or if there was more hurt to come.

    Through her middle school years there were times when Olivia hurt, feeling the pain of her anxiety and in those moments, I felt even worse. There were other times too, with friends and pool parties and school, her first concert. Through these years she found comfort in our family, and at her school.

    My “fix-it” years of motherhood filled with research, identifying problems and then applying my best mothering skills, were soon coming to an end. We gave up the medicine and I worked on developing a specialized set of coping skills. I started thinking about the tools Olivia would need to take with her one day. What she would need to know about herself, how she would need to be the one to “fix” things in her future.

    I never imagined lying beside my teenage daughter like this, thinking that someone else will lay next to her one day, someone else will love her this fiercely. Thinking about how her world will grow beyond this home, beyond her father and me, beyond her sister who will always stay here with us. That I will still be here, but the someday is coming when she will be gone.

    She is in high school now and everything is new. The scratchy uniforms, her friends, the community, the higher expecations, the honor classes and study load. I am here for you, I tell her. I try to comfort, try to help her to pack and prepare the toolbox she will take with her when she someday goes. I watch her struggling for social approval when even her most familiar becomes uncomfortable, like when she straightens her hair, as if denying her true self, and can erase the memory of her corkscrew curls like they were never there.

    She raises her voice in anger when she is worried, anxious. I raise my own voice in fear and frustration.Then I pull her into me saying, “I am here.”

    She cries many different tears, raindrop tears that trickle, as she slowly tells me her story. Tears of a thunderstorm that come fast and furious lashing out that it is my fault she feels this way, and finally with no warning, the torrential downpour that falls hard and steady and seems to have no end. “ I am here,”  I tell her as I try to be her shelter from the storm.

    These moments of darkness, like weather, sometimes come with no warning, are unpredictable and follow no pattern. They interrupt the sunniest days of sweetness, and light and the calm of our family life.

    No storm clouds follow. The outburst comes and passes, and with frustration I accept that she has outgrown my own ability to fix it. I can hug and hold,  coax and plead. After, we talk about what worked, what helped to guide her through it and soothe her fears. And we pack that too into her toolbox, to take out and use again someday.

    It is late when she calls me to her bed tonight. At first I sit, listening to her talk about her day. I hear hesitation in her voice and then it grows stronger and then smoother. High school is hard but she is finding her way.

    Lie with me, Mom,” she says and I hear that little girl voice again, I can see her little girl curls.

    I don’t resist because I know my turn with her is coming to an end.

    Her hand reaches for mine, and our fingers find their familiar places wrapping around each other. We lay connected.

    I close my own eyes and now it is my little girl I see, the way her curls fly as she runs. The way she likes to hide behind me, her body aligned perfectly with mine.  I see my husband, waiting for me time after time, his eyes full  with care and understanding as he too chooses to put Olivia’s needs before his own.

    We do all we can to prepare our kids, to pack their tool box full for someday. We push them out into the world — when really we want, for just a little while longer, to pull them back in.

    Olivia’s fingers are still wound tightly through mine, and I know that years from now, she will be gone, finding her way in the world with her confidence in full bloom, and it will be this moment I will miss: the simple joy of being the one who holds her hand, late into the night.

    I am here, I whisper in the dark.

    suzanneperrymanSuzanne Perryman began blogging at specialneedsmom.com to celebrate the simple, inspiring every day, one story at a time. Her work has recently been featured on HuffPost Parents, Brain,Child, BlogHer, Mamalode, Project Underblog and QueenLatifah.com and was chosen as a BlogHer Voice Of The Year.

     

     

    -Mother.Writer-We still have a few spaces in our “Mother, Writer” class starting next week! Find out more here….

  • HerStories Voices: The Mommy Inside the Rocks

     We’re so happy to present to you the second HerStories Voices column. This week’s essay is from Kathryn Wallingford. In Kathryn’s own words, her essay is about “rocks, remembering why I love Toni Morrison, and teaching my son to put apples in his pocket. How do we allow the continued growth of an imagination when we send our children to a system of order, structure, and real time? This is a mother clinging onto her son.”
    For May, in recognition of Mother’s Day, we’re looking for essays about a moment or an experience during early motherhood that changed you. Our upcoming anthologies Mothering Through the Darkness: Women on the Postpartum Experience and So Glad They Told Me: Women on Getting Real About Motherhood both are about these early days, months, and years of new motherhood. Tell us your stories of about a “moment of change” as a new (or new-ish) mother! For more information about submitting to HerStories Voices, read here. Submit your motherhood-themed essays to us by May 1st!
    HerStories Voices--The Mommy Inside the

    In the beginning, my beginning, I marked time with a rock in my pocket. The smooth glass of the eastern shores. The Bright Angel shale reminded me of the hot Arizona sun. I stole the granite of Wyoming and lined my freshman dorm with pieces of Appalachian quartz.

    Eventually the rocks were thrown into one box. Sand, dirt, silt, and clays sifted together. They were the hot desert air, those cool Montana nights, and the Himalayan sunset, bounded and carried from home to home.

    Until finally my four-year old found them.  One cold, winter day they made their way into his hands.

    “Can I paint on them? Can I give them to my friends at school?” he asked.

    With no hesitation, I replied, “Of course.”

    What else was I saving my memories for? To be thrown on another window sill?

    So he pulled the rocks out one by one.

    It was his Mommy Before.

    Mommy in-love on Roan Mountain.

    Mommy scared, almost ready to jump into Crater Lake.

    I tried to tell him the life behind each rock so he could be there too. In the 5 years that he has been on this earth I have had two additional children. As a result, I have been pregnant for approximately 550 days, a nursing mother for almost 720. He deserves to know this Mommy.

    The Mommy inside the rocks.

    As he paints I also remember how much I love these places. But it is hard to describe what he can not see. His Mommy before. I do not have many pictures to correspond to the collection.

    He picks up the rocks one by one and his questions multiply.

    “How cold was the lake? What did the lake look like? Were you scared? Did you want to jump? What did it feel like? How big was the mountain? You climbed into a canyon? Where was Daddy?”

    The questions seem to exhaust him too. Moving away from my stories and the rocks and my geology 101 lesson, he begins to create a picture of his own. He goes into his own world and I migrate to the laundry pile that needs to be folded. But he soon comes to me with his creation.  His work is red paper smothered in glue and white dots.  I make out my name. I make out his name.

    “It is beautiful. What is it?” I ask.

    “It is a rocket ship taking us to the moon and people are throwing snowballs at us,” he answers.

    “I love it.” And I do.

    I am not sure how my rock collection gave away to the artistic expression or how to explain if snow could or could not land on a spaceship.

    This was his understanding of our conversation. A new world has came alive.

    He has started kindergarten and real time replaces the abstract. School supply list- a plastic, red folder. 24 twistable Crayola crayons. Room- # 223. Rules- three warnings and then time out. “Zero-voice” in halls. 10:45 am- lunch. Curriculum- Science and Math in Spanish. Reading and Writing in English. Estoy contento. There is a correct way to say contento. He will be corrected.

    Before his first day he asks me how to open a 3-ring binder. There is a correct way to do this too. By the end of the day he is tired. There seems to be less time to chat and rummage through a box of rocks.

    In her poetry collection, Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith writes, “We move in an out of our rooms, leaving our dust, our voices pooled on sills. We hurry from door to door in a downpour.”

    I read this and think about how badly I am getting drenched. My forgotten voice, my racing legs. Where am I going? In and out. Drop off kids at school. Change dirty diaper. Nurse the baby. Time to cook, for who else is going to cook?  Cook dinner. Stop, snap a picture.

    And now he has homework. He knows the bad kids and the good kids. He joins the race. The downpour continues. We both get drenched.

    We race for explanations and for the finite moments, to explain and to store memories. When are we left to imagine, believing in what you can not see?

    As a teenager I read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon when I heard about Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide.  Thirty-nine individuals from Heaven’s Gate took their lives with the belief they could reach an alien spacecraft following the comet Hale-Bopp.  I watched the news coverage from a condo in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was my spring break. I obsessed over the news reports when I was supposed to be snow skiing. I tried to imagine the world was really going to end.  It seemed crazy. It seemed unimaginable.

    But as I dismissed the cult members as lunatics I read Song of Solomon engrossed with the character of Pilate, the woman born without a navel. “She was a like a large black tree,” Morrison writes.

    I tried to imagine such a woman. I remember feeling small and that the world was large. I did not know how 39 people could kill themselves. I did not know if a woman could really be born with a smooth stomach.

    I was 18 and and my world was being deconstructed.

    And now here I am again. I have a five year-old to remind me to raise my eyes a bit. To look a little farther. He needs to see outside the present moment. He wants to see a dinosaur. He wants to know how you get to heaven. On an airplane? I need to get him there. Life past our five senses.

    I pick him up for school and he tells me about the fire drill and sings, “Down by the banks where the watermelon grows…” It is his favorite from preschool. He tells me about the school rules and what he had for lunch. I watch him fasten his seatbelt and we drive in silence.

    When we get home I put away the book bag and the homework and we walk outside.We dig at ants, we suck on popsicles. We smell cut grass. The sound of rockets in sky become catalyst for the microcosm of the unknown. He asks if the rocket ship can see us. He asks if I would rather be a bird or a rocket.

    What a damn good question! I tell him a bird.

    He begins to climb our crab- apple tree.

    In two years, he will probably not want me to watch him climb the tree.

    In five years, he will have soccer or band or art practice after school.

    In ten years, he will have his driving license. He will not want to climb the tree.

    In fifteen years, he will will likely be living elsewhere.

    He sticks an apple in his pocket. I do not tell him that the apple will not fare well in this pocket. He finds another apple to store away and climbs closer to the sky.

    FullSizeRender (17)Kathryn lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her three sons and husband. On good days she writes about religion, mothering, and the natural world. You can find more of her work in Brain, Child and Literary Mama. Visit her blog at http://thisisenough.weebly.com/