The Repetition of Motherhood

I didn’t know last Thursday was going to be the one that broke me. The day that sent me, crumbling at 3:30 in the afternoon, to text a message over Voxer to my friends in pure desperation. I met this scattered tribe of writing mamas through a year-long writing course, a gift from Tyson a couple Christmases ago. This group of women turned out to be more of a gift than the actual gift of the writing workshop itself.

“This parenting thing is no joke. The kids have been so difficult lately and I’m feeling 100% completely drained by the day-in-day-out of life with kids,” I wrote, “ And then my anxiety comes out as anger so I feel even worse. I also feel behind on everything from my writing to the amount of library books on loan to me to picking outfits for our family photos to organizing every single room in my entire house. Maybe that sounds silly. Life is hard.”

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The day had started off normal enough. Better, maybe, since it was the first day of the week we didn’t have to be out of the house well before 9 am. At 8 o’clock that morning I had been calm, sipping coffee that was still hot and swatting Nolan’s hand away from my egg-topped avocado toast.

“Go play!” I told him. He scampered off to join his brother and sister, though I knew he’d be back all too soon. I cleared away spoons and bowls, rinsing them off in the sink and watching soggy cereal bits swirl away. I ate my own breakfast as I cleaned; multitasking, the life of a mom. Bite of avocado toast, rinse. Sip of coffee, fill the dishwasher. Bite, sip, wipe, rinse.

My only plan for the morning was to take the kids to the park in a probably futile attempt to burn off their energy. Without a firm schedule, just for the moment, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

That lazy feeling was the opposite of the weekly dreams I used to have, far too often, where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t be on time. One week it would be the airport and I was about to miss my flight. A few times it was a class at school I could never get to before the bell rang. I would forget a book and go back to my locker, over and over again, or pack a suitcase that never seemed to fill. Every time I would wake up frantic, anxious, panicked, sweating. Growing up as the kid who was always late for everything, these dreams were truly the stuff of nightmares to me. But not this morning. I took another sip of hot coffee before telling them to go upstairs and find some clothes for the day.

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No specific thing actually sent me over the edge that afternoon. There was plenty of screaming and sibling battles. There was the house that looked like a hurricane (or, ahem, three) had hit every single one of its 2200 square feet from the master closet to the playroom. There were a couple of writing deadlines I couldn’t get out of my head but also couldn’t get to work on, because: children. There was the several-months-potty-trained toddler who pooped his pants enough to warrant a bath. Not just once but twice, including immediately after I sent off my plea over Voxer. I was resigned to my fate at that point as I wearily dragged him home from the park in the wagon. I wondered how badly his pants were leaking, if I would need to hose down the wagon when I got home, where all my emotions had gone. It was another day in a long series of days with the grind of working, cleaning, disciplining, and attempting to find patience for the most ordinary of things.

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I recently read it takes our brains 28 minutes after an interruption to get back on track to what we were doing before we were interrupted with the same level of productivity. Reading that, my immediate reaction was, No freaking wonder I can’t get anything done! Twenty-EIGHT minutes? As a person who feels as though she is frequently interrupted 28 times in a single minute, I’m basically doomed.

Maybe the nightly dreams of my youth are coming back to haunt me now in motherhood. I’m not missing something as momentous as a flight, as tangible as the bell to sit down for history class. Yet the continuous, fruitless repetition that now takes over my days is undeniable. I may no longer be frantically packing that suitcase, but instead corralling the shoes and jackets that take over the mudroom again, and again, and again. I’m not turning around for the umpteenth time in a crowded high school hallway to retrieve a book from my locker, but I struggle to keep my thoughts in an orderly line as my children derail them over and over with requests for the TV to be turned on, by the shrieks of another sibling squabble, to answer the question, “Where is the Earth?”, with small people showing me - “Look mom!” that a T-Rex stomps “like this” and his arms can’t touch “like this”.

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My friends rallied, as they do, as I knew they would. It is hard, I’ll be praying for you, they said. I’m right there with you. Sending you love. You’re not alone. It is. So. Hard. Cheering you on! I feel emptied at the end of the day, too. It’s not silly. Being a mother is hard.

The solidarity and love as each little ping alerted me to another message pulled me through the rest of the day. I read through each little message once, twice, three times or more, each one a reminder that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t alone, that parenting every day in and out is actually hard, holy work.

My Motherhood Journey Through Food

First pregnancy (twins!), first trimester. I want no food. Nothing. Absolutely no food. Wait, I want ice cream. Yes, ice cream sounds good. Nevermind. We don’t have any ice cream and it’s been five minutes so now it sounds terrible. Maybe an apple? No, not an apple. Chewing anything that long makes me want to puke. What about Thai food? Thai food sounds so good right now. In fact, only Thai food sounds good and I think I need some curry, stat. If I can’t eat that then I can’t eat anything. Oh and also an Arby’s roast beef sandwich. I don’t remember the last time I had Arby’s but now I want to eat one of those sandwiches every day until I die.

First pregnancy, second trimester.
Phew. Food is just food again.

First pregnancy, third trimester. I am so hungry all the time. Also, I can’t eat anything. I am so full and huge and my stomach has no room to even exist in my body anymore, much less have room for food inside. I am going to eat very small amounts of food all day long. I probably look like a glutton because I constantly have food on my person but really I can only eat one bite every five minutes or I will probably, actually, literally explode.

Vanilla milkshakes.
With every meal in the hospital after giving birth. The hospital, of all places, made the most amazing milkshakes. If there’s a time in life that you get to overdose on milkshakes, it’s after giving birth. To twins.

Meals in tinfoil.
And in take-out containers. Casseroles in disposable aluminum pans. Also individually-wrapped granola bars, dry cereal, and dried fruit. Some kind of dark chocolate. All within arm’s reach. The early postpartum months of meals from friends and constant breastfeeding.

Coffee. Enough said.

Baby food. 
Cereal puffs. Banana slices. Cheerios. Yogurt. And all of these things ground into every crevice of every high chair and car seat.

Normalcy. We’ve survived the first year and I’m making real meals again! Actual real, human meals with things like protein and carbs and fruits and veggies and healthy fats! Yay!

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(Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!)

Good Girl

“Why are you so quiet over there?” a relative asked in my general direction at a family gathering. I was around 10 or 12 years old and lost in thought.

An older relative fully snapped me out of my reverie when she replied, “Shannon’s a good girl. She’s always quiet.”

This relative didn’t intend anything malicious by what she said. It was meant as a compliment. She said it fondly, lovingly, with a caring smile as she looked at me. I’m sure it came from the way she had been raised, in the era of “children should be seen and not heard” and that sort of thing.

I grew even quieter. Her comment had given me more to think about.

It’s true, I was a quiet girl. Not out of a sense of shyness or because I didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t hesitate to raise my hand in school and I wasn’t scared to speak when spoken to. I was just in my own head a lot. As a girl who spent many of her days and even nights with her nose in a book, there was a lot going on in my head.

Was I a “good girl” because I was quiet? I had always identified with the good girl strain of things. Typical firstborn, straight A’s, type A, honors classes, perfectionist, always followed the rules. Was this another thing I was or needed to be? Were good girls quiet, too?

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My quiet continued throughout young adulthood. I was a good girl. Whatever I may have thought in my head, I didn’t express it out loud.

I was quiet in the days and years following September 11th, as people around me vilified Muslims and anyone who wore a turban. That a few terrorists had come to define an entire world religion, an entire people, was disturbing to me. I was young, newly absorbed in high school, and I didn’t know how to use my voice to combat the terrible parodies and ignorant language I heard around me.

I was quiet when my confirmation teacher told us to blindly adhere to the tenets of Catholicism. “For example, you can’t get married as a Catholic if you know you can’t have children,” she told my group of 9th graders, “It’s hard for even me to understand, but because I’m Catholic, I believe it.” That sounded absurd to me — both the rule (if it actually existed) and her blind adherence to it. My mind swirled with thoughts, questions, and opinions for the rest of class, but I swallowed them and got confirmed a year later anyway.

I was quiet during the first presidential election I was able to participate in after turning 18. I silently, resentfully voted for John McCain because I felt the entire Christian culture pushing me to do so, despite the fact that I was intrigued by the youthful, eloquent, hope-filled Barack Obama. Truth be told, I had a strong feeling that Obama would win after eight years of the Bush administration. It helped me feel slightly less guilty about my own vote, but the fact that I didn’t vote the way I wanted still bothers me.

I was quiet as my church small group discussed homosexuality and gay marriage. Though people in the group came from all sides and opinions on the topic, my own brain was in turmoil. I wasn’t quite sure what I believed. I’d heard a lot of things from the church on this issue. Lots of “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of talk. That didn’t sit quite right with me — so we were supposed to welcome them through the door with open arms and then later tell them to change? It all sounded like the very opposite of “God is love.” This was a much more difficult belief to swallow. I had been hearing these ideas from the church for so long now, how did I even stand up for gay rights? My brain swirled as a I attempted to harness a multitude of thoughts and express them well. Maybe I had been quiet for too long at this point. It haunted me that I didn’t know how to form the right words to stand up for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

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As I’ve grown older, I’ve been practicing how to use my voice. The 16-year-old girl who wanted to be liked and seen as “good” doesn’t really care about other people’s opinions now that she’s a 31-year-old woman. To be quite frank, she has no more fucks left to give.

(My teenage ears are earmuffing themselves out of duty. Now it’s a regular part of my vocabulary.)

There are too many abuses going on in our country, in our world, now, for me to remain quiet. Immigration, border walls, LGBTQ rights, sexism, institutional racism, the rights of children, the rights of mothers, slavery, climate change, the importance of journalism, politics, and that damn President of ours. Just to name a few.

I’m using my voice to say:

Not today.

Not on my watch.

This is not okay.

I cannot stay silent.

Really, I think I’m growing into who I’ve always been.

(Read the rest over on the Feminine Collective.)


Breakfast Scene

I flip on one light after another as I come downstairs. Another cloudy morning makes it feel more like 5 am than 7. I open the wooden blinds — the bane of my existence, the way they collect dust — but they do little to add light to my space this morning. The smell of coffee, already made and waiting in the pot, helps slightly. I grab my favorite rusty-orange mug and fill it up, then take a lap around the island, making pit stops to add a little sugar and a swirl of heavy cream.

Oatmeal awaits me on the stove, this overnight oat recipe one of my favorite life hacks to cut down on busy mornings. A little olive oil, a scoop of steel-cut oats, toast it all up before adding some water, bring to a rolling boil, cover and switch off the burner. In the morning all that’s needed is to heat it up and — voila! — breakfast. I switch on the gas burner and give it a stir, adding a little whole milk to the mix. The kids have been begging for oatmeal for days, weeks. I’ve always had an excuse; it’s too hot, we don’t have any, or (most often) I forgot the night before. That’s when I hear six little feet thundering towards the kitchen through the mudroom, home from their morning walk with daddy.

“Oatmeal! Yummy yum! Yay!” Nolan screams as he runs in and sees me, complete with exaggerated lip-licking, mouth-smacking, and dancing. He never has been my subtle child.

Brooklyn and Caden trail behind. Brooklyn huddles close to my legs, smiling, her blue eyes gleaming up at me as she asks, “Did you really make oatmeal mommy?”

I show her the full bronze pot in response. I’d doubled the recipe last night, remembering how last winter we could go through a single pot before everyone was full. I smile, glorying in a proud mom moment as I scoop globs of oatmeal into colorful bowls and top them each with dried cranberries, ask if they want cinnamon.

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Nolan takes one bite, “Yum!” Then, because he’s two, changes his mind. “I no like the oatmeal.” He pushes it away and asks for Cheerios instead.

Caden this morning has been uninterested in the oatmeal from the start. “I just want Golden Grahams and strawberries,” he says.

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yup,” he replies with a furled brow. I sigh but don’t argue. I choose my battles and this morning this isn’t it.

Brooklyn is my last remaining hope. She takes a few bites (“I want to put the cranberries on myself.”), then pushes it away, declaring herself “not really hungry”.

Huh. Well then. So much for life hacks.

Once they’re settled with their assorted food items, I grab two bowls and scoop generous portions. I slice bananas and arrange them on top, scatter dried cranberries, add lines of chia seeds, top it all off with cinnamon sugar. I grab two spoons and pass one to Tyson, along with a bowl. An Instagram-worthy bowl. Someone is going to eat this long-awaited oatmeal around here. And it’s going to be damn good.

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ

The Course of Love
This novel was a beautiful read. It details the married life of a couple, beginning with how they met and their courtship, and continues on decades into their marriage. The narrative is interspersed with short essays on love and relationships which are just as true and inspiring and interesting as the novel itself.

What is the Bible?
I adore Rob Bell. This book about reading and interpreting the Bible - reading it “literately” instead of “literally” - is so refreshing for my soul to read. His breakdown of the type of books in the Bible and historical context is both helpful and fascinating.

Educated
I had to dive in since this book was blowing up my social media feed. It wasn’t quite what I expected - I thought it was going to focus more on the author’s actual education - and she wasn’t exactly the heroine I expected her to be. That said, I adore memoirs, and this was an amazing read into a very different subgroup of American culture, if a bit more violent and traumatizing than I expected going into it.

Stay With Me
This. Book. I picked it up after reading the synopsis on the back cover to discover it covers themes I’m interested in, namely marriage, fidelity (or lack of), infertility, and family, but takes place in Nigeria. It’s a fascinating read that looks at these issues through the lens of another culture. In some ways these issues are remarkably the same, in others they are vastly different. And I was not at all prepared for the surprise revelation towards the end.

Fates and Furies
The language in this book is beautiful. I’ve seen some reviews that describe the book as pretentious, and, well, I can’t really argue with that. I guess I had a theme the past month or so, since this novel is another that explores the marriage of two people over a number of decades. I adore books that explore both sides to a story and really dig into multiple character’s backgrounds. That said I almost stopped reading about halfway through. I got really bogged down in the middle third of the book, though it grabbed my attention again enough to finish.

The Female Persuasion
I could not put this book down, yet I can’t put my finger exactly on why. I enjoyed reading it so much, despite the nagging feeling that it felt flawed. I’m sure it had something to do with the strong feminist themes - hello, you’re preaching to the choir here - and it was interesting to see critiques of the older feminist in the book (Faith Frank) vs. the newer one (Greer Kadetsky). I can’t get into a book unless it has well-written characters, and the people in the book were likable enough. I thought the plot even meandered a bit before tidying itself mostly up at the end. But again, for a book that felt flawed, I couldn’t stop reading it. This is possibly the most underwhelming review ever, but if anyone else has read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

WATCHED

Friday Night Lights
To be honest we’re stalled out near the end of the first season. Should we keep watching? I do love Coach and Tammy Taylor, but I’m not sure if I can keep handling the high school drama. Is it worth it in the end? Do we have to get through the first season and all the set-up to get to the good stuff? Please let me know.

Vox Borders (Hong Kong)
Borders is my favorite series that Vox puts out. The 5-episode Hong Kong series is so interesting, and covers everything from the silly (neon lights) to the sad (cage homes). Short episodes mean these are a must watch. And Johnny Harris has just put out that his next location for the Borders series is going to be Columbia - coming soon!

Demetri Martin - The Overthinker
I haven’t watched Demetri Martin for awhile. You need to know what you’re getting into. Short, snappy, unrelated sentences, one seguing right into the other. I do enjoy him, though his drawings section is the best part of the skit for me, every time.

LISTENED

Slow Burn
I don’t even know where to start with this one. I just finished Season 1 (Watergate. Season 2 focuses on Bill Clinton.) As someone who knows a lot about Watergate, fact-wise, but obviously didn’t live through it, the interviews and exploration of society and emotions at the time it happened are fascinating. And (ahem) it’s all very relevant to our current political climate. The parallels are just amazing.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.