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Stories

Stories, observations, and reflections from a life of raising boys

How Wintertime Is Different With Kids

Jenifer DeMattia

When I was a young girl, there was nothing more exciting than a good snowstorm. Not only did I get off school, but the neighborhood kids and I could walk across our street to the huge hill down the road. We would build ramps that would send us flying until we landed on the hard snow, pounded down by hours of pressure. We would sled until the grass and dirt below poked through – until our fingers were so frozen they could barely bend. We built snow forts and made trails. Even when a snowball hit me in the face and slid down between my eye and my glasses, I stayed out. I couldn’t feel my feet, but I never wanted to go inside. Just the icy chill of winter was invigorating to me as a kid. I remember crunching my feet on the frozen ground, and cracking the ice with the heel of my shoe.

But mostly I remember loving a good snow day because I got to spend time with my mom. She was a single mom and worked all the time – but not when we got snowed in. That is truly what I remember. My sister and I would play in the yard and come in for some hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. We would throw the pieces of snow that flew from our layers upon layers of clothes on top of the wood stove and watch them sizzle away. The same applied when it would snow at my dad’s house or become too cold for him to go to work. We would go sledding together until the sun went down. And in the silence of the snow, as we walked back toward home, I remember feeling the warmth of my dad’s company. It felt so good just to be next to him.

Now that I’m grown up and have children of my own, the onset of cold weather brings different feelings. It means snotty noses, sickness and germs, taking an hour to get them dressed and spending three minutes actually outside. It means running out to warm up the car on a freezing morning. Sledding with my children, but freaking out the whole time that they’re going to get hurt. Telling them, “No way” when they want to build ramps, and the frustration that comes every time my son refuses to keep his hat and gloves on. Winter can make you go a little crazy with children – confined to the indoors when the weather is too much to take. I can get lost in it, and I can find myself wishing for warmer weather to come faster and the sun to set later in the day.

But earlier today I was reminded of something very important. With the anticipation of snow,  I joined the mad rush of people at the grocery store to stock up as usual. After grabbing the standard milk, bread, and toilet paper, I looked over and saw the section with Pillsbury™ Grands! Cinnamon Rolls – there were only two packages left. There are only a few things from my childhood that I remember making me feel a certain way. My mom would have the hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls with icing ready after my sister and I came in from the snow. And when she didn’t have them, we were so disappointed. So of course I bought them as a treat to warm us up when my kids and I returned home from our own snowy adventure. Not a bad way to feel like a kid again.

I have to remember when I feel the icy wind hit my face that there is warmth to be found. Wintertime means I get bonus time with my children. That I get to see the joy on their faces as they experience things like sledding for the first time, followed up with some Pillsbury™ Grands! Cinnamon Rolls. Whether there’s snow on the ground or just on a frigid day, I can snuggle with them under the blanket with a good cartoon and run my fingers through their soft hair. The cold weather is a reminder to slow down in life – to take time and be with the people who warm our hearts the most.



 

“Disclosure: This post was sponsored by General Mills through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about Pillsbury™ Grands! Cinnamon Rolls, all opinions are my own.”

For My Boys...When You Fall In Love

Jenifer DeMattia

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I am constantly being reminded that this February 14th will not be a dozen roses or chocolates kind of situation. Actually, I take that back. I will most certainly be buying my two little boys some extra chocolate this year and perhaps they will share. But as much as you want to resist it, it’s really hard not to think about the subject of love when it’s all around you. A wise woman once told me that throughout your life you will fall in and out of love with your husband. That butterflies don’t last and marriage can be a testament to your ability to forgive again and again.

But if that is always true, then why are my husband and I having these impossible conversations with our kids about how we love each other but not enough to stay together? If anyone ever tells you it is easy to end a marriage with children they must be lying. There is always that fear that you are ruining love for your kids. You don’t see divorce in the Disney movies.

…Yikes. Gulp. Breathe.

Anxiety sets in along with sweaty armpits, rambling words, and the desire to pull the covers over my head and hide while someone else explains it to these angel-faced boys. I have boys. How do I not screw up this unique gift of opportunity to mold them into exactly what a partner would want or to be so aware of themselves they find the one that will last forever? I want them to be happy and meet that person and live the most perfect life.

Right now they are more interested in Wonder Woman’s invisible jet than how pretty her eyes are, but the day will come - probably faster than I’m ready for. So how do you do it? How do you tell them what love is when you obviously don’t exactly know yourself? How do you tell them to fight hard for love because it’s the only thing that really matters – yet in the same breathe…you get my point. Especially when they are growing up in a society where you need to be validated every five minutes. Where your ideas about love are brought to you by Facebook and reality shows. How will they know what is fake and what is real in the world of love?

The reality is, I can only tell my boys what I imagine to be truths, and let experience and stubbornness guide them the rest of the way through the years they will undoubtedly spend in the card isle. Trying to pick the one that’s not too cheesy yet will still end up on her Instagram with little hearts as the caption.

And so I think I know this, boys…

If you want to love someone forever, trusting them is key.

Always be honest to your person. Even if it hurts, it will always hurt them worse if you’re not.

You can’t control anyone else’s heart.

…And you most definitely can’t control your own.

When you break someone’s heart - do it as if it’s made of glass.

When your heart gets shattered - heal like it’s made of titanium.

And find a good play-list to grieve along with you. Music is essential to heart repair.

I think, if we went through life without heartbreak we would lack gratitude, and we sure as hell would know even less about what actual love feels like.

If you feel that feeling - you’ll know the one…follow your heart without regret. Because even if you only feel it for a short time, you are capable of feeling it again.

Even when things get bad. Even when love falls out…there are always sparkles of happiness left behind to remind you it was there and sometimes it shines in the eyes of two perfectly imperfect little boys.

Love is an enigma. It’s different for everyone. And it’s beautifully complicated.

Children are the greatest evidence and achievement of love.

But that’s only the view from my path - yours could be much different.   No one will ever be able to truly tell you about love. It’s literally unexplainable I’ve decided. Experience and stubbornness will win out over my advice.  It’s like asking me how to describe how I know I love my kids. No words will come out…the tears don’t make noise. I’m left speechless.

So, boys, there is only one thing I can say that’s universal as the countdown begins to another February 14th:

Love each day you live, even when you don’t have that special someone to share it with and read carefully now…

Any day is a perfect day to give someone you love chocolate, not just Valentine’s Day.

 

Even if it’s just your crazy mother.

 

 

 

The Wild Ride of Parenthood

Jenifer DeMattia

This whole life, the American dream, can truly feel like a roller coaster. You have these moments of epic joy and a gratitude for living that hits you right before you plummet to the point where you feel a little nauseous and wonder what the hell you were thinking even getting on the ride in the first place. 

Of course, I was elated about my new role as a mom following the birth of my son. But just as I learned about marriage, I quickly discovered that parenthood was not like living on a fluffy cloud of happiness all the time. 

During the first few months, I ached for the daylight. As the sun went down I began brewing the pot of coffee I would need to get me through the night. Sometimes I would silently cry as I rocked by boy back to sleep in the darkness. You truly enter a new realm of existence as you attempt to settle a distraught baby at 1a.m...2a.m...3a.m..Repeat. I still get flashbacks of the anguish I felt after feeding my baby for an hour, just to have him puke it all up on the carpet. Sometimes I just felt like I had nothing left. Completely drained.  Mentally, physically, and literally. 

As my son grew taller, it wasn’t his stomach that was hard to feed - it was his hunger to control the universe that drained me. Tantrums like I’d never seen. Emotional explosions left me standing right in the middle of the minefield…paralyzed by the fear that I was completely fucking it all up. And with adding another child, perhaps I had doubled my chances of screwing up humans. Parenting is like a merry-go-round. Up and down. Up and down, round and round…repeat. 

This is horrible, right? So depressing. 

But that’s the crazy part; it’s really truly not and I really can’t explain why. The only way I can express it in words is by saying that over the weekend I stayed in my basement for two hours with my five-year-old son hunting “Creepers” and wearing goggles while Gangnam Style played on repeat in the background at his request. I never thought I would ever be spending my existence doing such a thing. I have done some of the weirdest stuff with my boys. I have re-opened the vault in my brain where I locked away my imagination and it is now overflowing. 

Sometimes I try to recall the “me” without kids and wonder what I used to think about. What did I do with all that spare time? I have no clue, but I know now that my time is always taken up, moving at incredible speed, and much more precious than I can ever recall. They call time the thief that steals your life – but I think it’s my children who are the culprits. They have literally taken everything from me…

My children have taken my ego and made things just things, nothing more and nothing less. They made me a bold protector and have taken away my soft-spoken voice. They have shown me great independence and therefore taken away the shadows I used to hide in. They have stolen my excuses. They have taken my anger, and my judgment of others. They have stolen all my reasons not to pursue my dreams. They have stifled my stubbornness, and taken away my desire to keep things clean all the time.

And they took every reason I had not to travel the unknown roads.

I sing “You Are My Sunshine” to my two-year-old because it makes him smile. And I can’t sing. If anyone else heard it they would cringe – but not him.

Just like that he took away my reason not to sing.

They make countless mistakes and they learn. There goes my theory that I’m screwing it all up. How can you learn if you don’t? You have to get it all wrong to get it all right, and it will be all right. 

Today I had plans, but my son is sick. So the plan quickly changed as usual. Life is a shell game. Everything shifts and slides, moves around until sometimes you have no idea where the reward is hiding. But for me, the reward always comes in its own way. The adventure of raising children has no end point. There is no one highlight or goal. Only to raise these kids to be okay adults who may have kids of their own one day. Then, maybe only then, they will have the life they created for themselves stolen away, and slowly discover that the parts where they feel a little nauseous…those were the times that made them.

Up and down. Round and round. Repeat.

How to Find the Perfect Family Tradition

Jenifer DeMattia

I had several scattering thoughts during my first pregnancy. All the hopes and dreams of a first time clueless mommy-to-be. Of course by week two, most of the dreams were squashed because I was a paranoid mess, and I never slept so dreaming was not even an option at that point. Babies have their specific ways of telling you what they need, especially that you will not likely be the mother you envisioned.

Around the time my son turned three, and I was pregnant with his brother, one thing I remember specifically thinking about was the lack of tradition in our family. We followed the usual stuff, fireworks on Independence Day, a trip to the pumpkin patch on Halloween. But the truth is Santa still terrifies my son, along with the thought of a rabbit coming in our house and leaving a basket. He called the pumpkin patch, “The town of creepiness”, and every craft attempt just turns into a request to throw everything and blame it on a bomb dropping. We join in the celebration of each holiday with the standard spectacle, but I was feeling a lack of tradition in the sense of not yet creating something just for our home that really stuck. Something just for us.

But a few days ago, I had a realization I never had before. It came to me when I told my son that this month is my birthday. My kids both flip out when you mention the word birthday. Yes it means something special, like presents and decorations, but more importantly it means some kind of treat will be there, including fire. A double whammy of excitement for two crazy boys.

In fact, my son loves birthdays so much that he often throws them for his stuffed animals and superhero action figures. He had a party for a banana once. And his pinky finger. And when I told my now five year old it was going to be my birthday his ears perked up like a puppy dog, he ran to his room, grabbed a stuffed animal, and proclaimed we would plan the “Most best birthday Ever Ever” for…“Mr. Cute”…his stuffed polar bear. Oh well, I was a close second place perhaps.

But there it was. My realization. A tradition has been born, thanks to a bright-eyed, dirty-blonde haired boy. Sunday morning birthday parties. He began by describing Mr. Cute’s home life, his preferences, likes, dislikes, and hopes and dreams. It turns out Mr. Cute lives on a mountain in the snow. He enjoys watching spaceships from the mountaintop and he lives with an army of “Invisible sharks” who keep him safe from the evil villain…”Fire Claw”.  Wow. What a life to celebrate. And thanks to Pillsbury™ Grands! Cinnamon Rolls, Mr. Cute had one heck of a shindig. 

My son decided to stack the cinnamon rolls like a mountain for the delicious cake. I let him get messy. I watched him laugh, and I let him control the story. He even taught me how to put the icing  (or snowy ice as he called it) just right. The key is to apparently…”PUT It Everywhere”!

And there it was. My realization that I was foolish to ever think I could create a family tradition that the kids would love because family traditions can only be ignited by the minds of our children. The most loving, magical minds in the existence of anything. There are just some things a mom-to-be does not need to worry about before their children are born. Through the messes and the crazy, our children will help us remember that love is sweet, life is a party sometimes, and that family traditions find us.

The following FTC disclosure: “Disclosure: This post was sponsored by General Mills through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about Pillsbury™ Grands! Cinnamon Rolls, all opinions are my own.” 


The Naked Truth About Motherhood

Jenifer DeMattia

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When I was maybe fifteen I went to a water park, climbed the never-ending stairs in a ridiculously long line, and finally sat in the rushing water waiting for the annoyed worker to tell me it was clear to go. I looked into the darkness of the tube, and could hear the plummeting force of the water. I lay down and folded my arms across my chest like an x as I was instructed, scooted myself closer and closer and went for it. Twenty terrifying seconds of feeling like I was in a washing machine, banging my head on the bolts that held the damn thing together and thinking perhaps I should have chosen the lazy river instead of the water slide, and I came out at the bottom very disheveled and mostly naked. Somehow in the shuffle I had lost my swimsuit. But at least my bottoms were still hanging on my ankle for dear life. Everyone was staring at me and it was traumatizing at the time.

This is the closest thing I can think of today that describes my descent into motherhood.

It’s like feeling the most amazing butterflies you’ve ever had in the anticipation of that rush of joy. Deciding to ride life’s most terrifying ride. Entering with one expectation and coming out completely different. Naked, and stripped down for the world to see.

But isn’t it amazing how one experience can change us? Everything that goes right and wrong in our lives shapes the next course of action we take. And what’s particularly funny to me is how having children changes us. How once we make the plunge into parenting we begin by drowning and then learn to swim all over again, just in a very different way. Even though I still get anxious at the thought of getting on a water slide, I realize now that experience was a piece of cake. My children have shown me that those kinds of experiences are the best kind. The ones that make you see the humor of our existence. Raising a child, now that’s a real ride for your ego.

I now go grocery shopping with a little person who dresses head to toe as The Flash and stays in character the entire time.

He told the clerk at the shoe store I was “Horny”. I just looked at the guy and smiled as though my son had just said any normal old thing. I knew he was referring to the name he had given me based on the toy car I was playing with earlier that day. The one with the horns. Makes perfect sense.

If you had ever told me I’d wipe another human’s boogers with my hand I would not have believed you. I even kiss them after they lick the snot off their upper lip to clear the way. And the thought of it doesn’t really gross me out like it should.

I have already sat through what I consider to be hundreds of tantrums about the most ridiculous things. Washing their hands, food touching on the plate, my improper pronunciation of the angry bird language, and some other meltdowns that I never in fact figure out the origin of. It’s hard to suppress all that passion.

I spend hours researching how my son can deal with his behavior issues only to figure out that I’m the one who has to do all the work. Darn.

I haven’t really slept for 5 years. But when I do, it sometimes happens in a car bed, my son’s floor, or in my bed with their sweaty feet kicking me in my face. I have debated actually climbing inside the crib after falling asleep standing up so many times. Ok, I really did sleep in the crib once. Three times.

I have made countless plans and had to change them in an instant because I got puked on.

I have puked while breastfeeding, while my older son puked on the floor, during the unforgettable stomach bug on Christmas Eve.

I have had conversations with other adults while milk leaked out of my breast and soaked my shirt. I just laughed with a “whoopsie” and walked away red-faced.

I have analyzed every Disney movie from watching them so many times. I still don’t understand why the prince needed a shoe to remember what Cinderella’s face looked like. I tried to turn this into a conversation about love, but my son didn’t really want to talk about that.

Anyway…

If you had asked me when I was young that one day I would have memorized the name and function of each train on the Island of Sodor I wouldn’t have a clue what you meant. But I have.

I’ve spent an hour packing for an outing with my children and never left because I was too tired.

I know more about my kid’s bowel movement cycle than I do about world news.

I have been yelled at by another mom, the very person I thought could relate to my struggles, because my son was going up the slide while her son was going down. I’m still not sure which kid was using it inappropriately.

I hang out with a person who farts and tells me that it’s his “Butt’s way of telling me he loves me”.

And I could burst into tears right now if I think about how much I love that person.

I have smelled the inside of a Diaper Genie after forgetting to empty it. And I live to tell about it.

I have missed so many fun things because I have children. But I am having more fun than I can ever remember spending time with them.

I have nursed them through sicknesses and witnessed my son get teased. And yes, I have told a 14-year he is an asshole. Not my proudest moment, and very unlike me, but he was teasing my son. Sometimes my heart thinks before my mind.

But surprisingly I don’t feel that bad about it. It takes a village, just doing my duty.

I have bobbed up and down through waves of sadness and joy as I struggle to steady myself in the ever-changing sea of motherhood.

Isn’t it funny how children can change us? Isn’t it crazy how they end up making us?

We are stripped down completely and forced to face our fears and become better versions of ourselves. Shedding our skin, and leaving it behind.

Our heart gets bigger, our skin gets thicker, and we no longer give a shit if our bathing suit falls down in public, or whatever other level of embarrassment still lingers from our past.   We are more so consumed by making sure our babies are happy, healthy, and by God, asleep before 8.

 

My Observations After Surviving One Week Of Kindergarten

Jenifer DeMattia

“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going..”       
                                                                                                                  P.J. O’Rourke

This is where it truly begins…

The only thing that saved my grasping heart was the excitement he belted out as he put his skinny arms through the straps of his Avengers book bag. “Oh thank God, he’s still a small boy.” But as we approached the now massive building I couldn’t help but feel that certain ping in my stomach, the one that always reminds me he can’t do it yet because I don’t really want him too. I frequently waver back and forth between letting him be his own person and diving full throttle towards the floor just to tie his shoes for him one more time. Elementary is a word defined as easy, basic, and even straightforward. The easiest part about the first day was the decision to use my arm to wipe the snot and tears off my face as I walked home from dropping him off. My son taught me that little trick. But uncomplicated, I think not. Nothing about parenting comes without complications, not even when someone agrees to watch your kid for six and a half hours every day.

When the double doors closed in my face with a theatrically loud thud I turned and looked at his brother in the stroller. Suddenly the two of us were like an old married couple with nothing to talk about but his brother or the weather. Every five minutes he asked where his brother was, and I told him to look at a cloud. Good thing he’s only two and hasn’t yet realized his mom must be crazy. Soon enough. I was so worried about my son’s behavior but ironically I was the one who got in trouble on the second day of school. I had penetrated the first wall of defense but was quickly ambushed from behind by someone with a nametag hanging from her neck as I attempted a stealthy walk with my son to his classroom. The woman looked me in my eyes and knew. She nicely reminded me that I was only allowed to walk him on the first day and now I just leave him at the entrance.

But I have so many questions. And when my chatty son returns home he suddenly becomes silent. It’s like his version of Fight Club. ”Whatever happens in kindergarten stays in kindergarten”. Is he listening to the teacher without arguing back in Angry Bird speak? Is he eating all of his lunch? Is he peeing with the door closed? If he’s using a urinal, is he peeing with his shorts to his ankles like I have asked him not to do a million times? Are kids laughing at him because he can be a little intense when talking about playing Battle Wars? A game he made up but just assumes everyone knows about. Is he scared? Is he anxious? Is he being nice? Is the day too long for him? Am I crazy?

And so every day for the next however many days I will continue to leave him at the door and watch through the rectangular glass as my boy walks down the hallway hand –in- hand with another woman, no doubt another mom who has experienced the same moment as me. And I will grasp on to the crazy hope that every person inside that building sees my son, gets to know who he is, and treats him as they would their own. For a good portion of the day I need to trust they will keep him safe and excite his mind. That they will see more smiles and inquisitive eyes than whining and tears, and that he will find a friend just as quirky as him.

My PTA check has been submitted and I will surely burrow my way through their fortress of a school, but this my friends is where it truly begins.

Never have my son and I been in a more separate place. A new world has opened up for him, a world where he gets to leave his parents behind for a bit and explore this new space. And for me, a new normal is also emerging. One where I have to learn to embrace the unstoppable force of a kid who wants to grow up as fast as he can, with no way of letting him know he’s better off slowing down. So on the way back from dropping his brother off for his second week of kindergarten, me and the little guy stopped at the baseball field and ran the bases for a bit. I’ve decided I can’t stop my boys from wanting to grow up, but I can teach myself to grow down. I showed my son how to make a grass doll, something I used to do at recess when I was in Elementary School. And now that I think about it, Elementary School did seem easy at the time. It did seem fun for me and I do have amazing memories. And the bottom line is, I think I just desperately want that for my son.

So what I have discovered from my son’s first week at kindergarten is that we all did it. All the anticipation of this new beginning and now after only a week, it’s like this is what we’ve always done. Such is life. The hardest part is always letting go of what we are used to. But after the initial first steps…it just becomes another layer of who we are. I have to keep telling myself that I will be ok because I will continue to get it wrong, and the same goes for my son. So I have decided to look forward to our failures, after all, it’s the only way we’ll learn.

The Secret Way I Tell My Son “I love you”

Jenifer DeMattia

I’ll never forget the day of my baby shower. The excitement of my first child my first son. Friends and family provided me with so much love and so many gifts for my little guy. But I was huge, uncomfortable, and found myself focusing on opening everything quickly so I could get up from the hard wooden rocking chair and get home to my couch and giant maternity pajamas. I smiled and read each card out loud. I thanked everyone, and piled everything in the car. I cried all the way home. I was overwhelmed with emotion as well as the physical pain caused from carrying what I was sure to be a giant growing in my stomach.

I had no idea at the time what a tremendous affect one of those gifts would have on my son. At around 9 months, it was clear that only one blanket was allowed in my boys crib. He would stop crying when I placed it near him and he would weave his tiny fingers through its yarn for comfort. It took us a while to understand that around 20 months he was telling us its name. Nee-Nee. His version of the word blanket came out as Nee-Nee. Or perhaps it was just the name he had chosen on his own for his first true love.

Nee-Nee has been our savior on so many occasions, and has caused me so much frustration on others. Handing my son his blanket could heal most of his wounds.  He would actually rejoice at the sight of it. His eyes danced as Nee-Nee moved closer to him and you could see his body relax at its touch. Just contact with this object made him whole. But there have been so many times that in a rush, Nee-Nee was left behind, and what was supposed to be a nice outing quickly became a horrible nightmare. I have driven back 20, 30, 40 miles just to retrieve that blanket. I have had the blanket shipped back to us, and handed back to me by strangers who saw it fall from my stroller.

But the biggest issue with Nee-Nee is that the rumor about boys just happens to be very true. My son is the ultimate magnet for dirt and he has taken Nee-Nee to some scary places. His blanket has been dragged on the grocery store floor. It’s been to the beach, through the mud, and deepest of puddles. It’s been covered in leaves, hair, and whatever other muck is lying about. It’s been on a plane, a train, and a hundred elevators. It’s been drooled on, snotted on, and used as a bandage for practically every booboo. Nee-Nee has seen life through the eyes of a now 5-year-old boy, and it gets so disgusting. But every time I would try to wash the blanket my son would cry. He told me Nee-Nee did not like to be washed and that it made him sad.

Now as mothers we each have our secret ways of telling our children that we love them, which they’ll never know of or understand. It could be making their favorite meal, or as simple as rubbing their hair a certain way as they run by. Mine is washing Nee-Nee.

I have tried many brands of detergent and stain removers. It was very difficult to find a product that made Nee-Nee white again, as it had turned a tinge brownish after years spent with a young boy. But at last I have found a detergent that actually made me go, “Wow”. I couldn’t believe that although Nee-Nee's yarn is pulled and frayed, OxiClean™ Laundry detergent turned it back to its original white. It’s an all-in-one solution that can be used on all of your laundry* to help remove stains, brighten your colors & whites and leave a long lasting freshness. It also helps save you time since it can help you get out tough, dried-on stains the first time.!

Nee-Nee has become another part of our family in a sense. We talk about it, always make sure it’s with us, and we take care of it. And just like I wouldn’t use any product on my son that I didn’t feel was the best, we give Nee-Nee the same kind of love. So on some evenings, I sneak into my son’s room, slowly pull away his dearest friend from his side and I wash it with the only detergent I now swear by. I dry it. Sneak back in, and place his warm, fresh Nee-Nee by his sweet side. And I reminisce about the baby shower I had and the anticipation of his birth. He may not have been born a giant, but the love I feel for him certainly does feel pretty enormous. And the love he feels inside him when holds that blanket, surely is tremendous as well.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by OxiClean™ through their partnership with POPSUGAR Select. While I was compensated to write a post about OxiClean™ Laundry, all opinions are my own.

 * Please follow manufacturer directions for your garments. For best results, pretreat stains with laundry detergent, wait 5-10 minutes and then wash.

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The Anguish of Being a Mother

Jenifer DeMattia

If someone were to ask me to describe myself, the first thing that comes to mind is, “I am a mother of two boys”. I would not say I was a wife. I would not say I was a friend or daughter. I would not describe my hobbies or interests. I would first think of myself as mamma. That’s what my boys call me for now anyway. Well besides “Bossy Man”, as my 5-year-old has recently taken a liking to. Which leads me to my anguish. To the ultimate suffering that some days I feel is the perfect way to describe motherhood.

The suffering did not begin with childbirth. In that moment you escape outside yourself. You enter a space that cannot be described and never should be. It’s only for a mother alone to know. A mission. A personal journey where fear has no place, only an impenetrable desire to bring a new life into the world temporarily left behind.

The anguish began the moment I touched my new baby’s slippery skin.

Emotionally, you are more full than you’ve ever been. They say you can’t define love, but in this moment, it’s tangible. You can touch it. You can feel every curve of love and see it in it’s finest with every facial expression and curl of those tiny toes. Physically you are empty. Drained from hours spent enduring what happened in that private space inside your body and mind. The weight that you had grown accustomed to inside your belly was suddenly gone. And you perhaps briefly mourn that no more nights will be spent lying in bed on your side, one hand tucked beneath your pillow, and the other circling your belly, speaking to your baby through movements and pressure.

Speaking of pressure. It hits you that first night alone. The enormous pressure of what you have done. The blessing and curse of the gift you’ve just been given. Your heart becomes so heavy with the weight of “If anything ever happens to this child I will crumble into nothing”, that although you should be sleeping, you realize you’ll never truly rest the same again. Ever.

Forever and ever, as long as you live, someone else matters more than you. And you are now the protector of life, the healer of wounds, and the only one who makes them feel completely safe. Because after all, they came out of the safest place they’ll ever know again, and you might for a small second wish you could have kept them inside your fortress of a body, for just a little longer.

Out of nowhere this child has taken away your old life. They stole your ability to be selfish right out from under you. You feel like the old you has been swapped suddenly for the mom you. The desire to go out and let loose becomes more fleeting. You would rather be investigating a mysterious rash than having a cocktail. The appearance of you hair and outfit is some days not even a thought in your mind. Your home does not look the same. There are swings and diapers, and toys. A bassinet here, a diaper genie there, and probably piles of clothes scattered and dishes piled in the sink. You may find yourself apologizing to your new squishy body out loud, as you realize how quickly you find yourself changed.

And how much they change. You are so sleep deprived in the first months that you might suddenly be distressed when you realize their appearance is already different. Their growth brings joy you’ve never known along with the feeling that you’re running as fast as you can, but just can’t catch up. Every milestone brings awe and disbelief. Their laugh becomes music to your ears and still with all your happiness, if you think about how much love you have for them, you could cry in an instant. A mother wears the burden silently. Deep within you, always, always you are fighting back the desire to not let them go.

But they go, and they go. The excitement they feel about everything in this world brings you back to a time when you saw things the same way. As you suffer though the self torment of whether you are disciplining them right, teaching them the best way, giving them the attention they deserve, and keeping them safe, they keep you sane by reminding you how to have fun. But fun sometimes leads to booboos and tears and there you are to hold them and tell them everything will be ok, as you secretly don’t feel okay. Every bump, ever bruise, every sickness, every sadness they feel, you feel. Every time they are teased or judged by the world because of any “differences” they may possess. Every time they fail, get embarrassed, or find themselves with a broken heart. Every time you yell or get angry because they are constantly trying to find a way to get their way, it hurts, and you will punish yourself for your mistakes.

When someone asks me to describe myself I first say, “I am the mother of two boys”, and that is no mistake. It’s not a regret, or a confused response that I didn’t put myself first. It is my immediate response because it is my best quality, but not because it defines me. I am many other things. It’s my best quality because what I continue to endure as a mother makes me feel strong. Every time I let go, every time I allow them to be who they are and be easier on myself, I feel amazing. It takes a warrior to love someone this much, and not completely lose your mind in the process.

If you are a mother, soon-to-be-mother, or a woman with the unstoppable desire to be a mother, prepare yourself for a lifetime of anguish and heartache. Prepare for disappointments, regrets, and feelings of helplessness at times. Prepare to be forced into self-reflection and constant change. Prepare to be the strength and the rock and to love someone so much it causes pain.

Prepare to be painfully astonished at how complete you feel because of it. That tiny human you created unknowingly forces you to become the best version of yourself.  Over time they are the protector of your life, the healer of your wounds, and the reason you feel completely safe. Our greatest victories in life come from those that we have worked hardest for. And that is why I will always be a mother first.

Because it tells the world I am a warrior. 

 

How To Pack Your Child’s Lunch

Jenifer DeMattia

I say it time and time again. I am no super mom. I am not ashamed of this, nor overly proud of this fact, it just is what it is. There are days when I can’t get it together and there never seems to be enough time to get it all done. And as my boys have grown, so has the amount of stuff they need, and activities they participate in, and my inevitable embrace of everything “short cut”. I desperately have tried to be the Pinterest mom, particularly in the area of food now that my son has entered school and he is the pickiest eater on the planet. I have been tricked by the internet into thinking my son will open his lunch every day to a perfectly placed train sandwich with blueberry wheels and smoke coming out of its funnel made of a sprig of cotton candy. The reality looks more like this. A superhero made of whole wheat bread, strawberries, and cheese that looks more like strawberry mush after my wild son has traveled with it. Speaking of son, I also attempted a sun. My ham sandwich sun looks more like a Cyclops duck when my son opens it. So although I am not the food artist I’d imagined, here is how I have mastered the task of packing my son’s lunch:

1.    Find a great “short cut”.

I discovered my secret to lunch packing sanity when I purchased a Rubbermaid LunchBlox set. It magically turned lunch into an efficient and fun experience for my son and me. It’s my personal short cut. They are super inexpensive and come with several different sized containers that all snap into place to create a square that fits in his lunchbox. My son loves it because he gets to take it apart and put it back together. And I love it because nothing will ever be left behind. He will always complete the LunchBlox puzzle, just like the puzzle I create for him when he opens his container to find a mangled sandwich that used to be an octopus swimming in a sea of blueberries.

2.  Keep it simple.

My son does not stand still, like many kids. If he gets too bored, his lunchbox may substitute for a torpedo being launched or just another object to throw for no reason. So I have determined the food masterpieces should probably be attempted for meals at home, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be cute. I use cookie cutters to make my son’s sandwich into shapes. Same with some fruit and cheese. Simple, fun, and kid proof. I also love to write him notes. This is another reason I love the Rubbermaid LunchBlox. The top of each lid allows for you to easily slip a little note in. I may not be able to perfect the “fruit robot”, but I can definitely go crazy with the “I love you” notes, ABC reminders, and pictures of his favorite superhero.

3.     Keep it Healthy.

It has taken me a while to realize I can create healthier options for my son, even though he has a strong desire to only live on cheese pizza and toast. I just discovered once again that my success rate improves the less I try to be too fancy. I would make a healthy recipe that looked pretty good, just like a regular muffin, he would taste it and realize I tried to cram too much good stuff into a tiny package. The result was gross. And he also distrusted me even more when I tried to feed him something homemade again. My son is a grazer, a snacker, so I tend to stay away from recipes, and focus on getting him to eat the things I want him to in simple ways. The Rubbermaid LunchBlox has helped me reach my desired goal because they created a flat ice pack that snaps onto the center of the cube to keep the top and bottom of the block cool. This opens up my options for creating a fun and healthy lunch experience for my son. Here are some of my simple tricks:

·      Yogurt Parfaits – Greek Yogurt, blueberries/strawberries, granola

·      Pita and hummus

·      Homemade Pizza - Chopped spinach cooked in the dough (if my son sees it on the pizza he won’t touch it). Pizza can be made on a whole grain English muffin or pita bread

·      Cheese quesadillas and guacamole

·      Pumpkin pancakes (my son will eat many things if they are purified and cooked into a pancake)

All I can say is get yourself a Rubbermaid LunchBlox, and you will not only organize your children’s food easily, but you will entertain them and provide them with more independence when eating no matter where they travel. Snapping the LunchBlox together has become much more fun than attempting the sea turtle sandwich, including edible beach and umbrella.

"Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Rubbermaid through their partnership with POPSUGAR. While I was compensated by POPSUGAR to write a post about LunchBlox, all opinions are my own"


Lead Like A Black Belt

Jenifer DeMattia

One of the many things I can not seem to do anymore since having children is get through an entire book. As soon as my eyes begin skimming the page, I’m gone. In a deep coma until the next morning when the drooling zombie of a 5-year-old wakes me with either a thought provoking question or a demand for chocolate milk.

But when I found out my former colleague, Scott Alexander had written a book, I was naturally curious. And also, I respect him and reading his book would be, well, respectful. So it took me only a few days to get through it, and I thought I would share the impact it had on me because it most certainly did. The book is called, Lead Like A Black Belt, but truthfully it could be titled, “Parent Like a Black Belt”, because I connected with it as a mom. I don’t have to be a black belt wearing martial artist to appreciate the knowledge within the book or to utilize any of the leadership techniques. I just have to be a mother, or a just a person for that matter who wants to touch someone else’s life or improve their own.

Becoming a mother for the first time was not as smooth and natural of a process as I had originally thought it would be. It was literally as though I was pushed in the water without knowing how to swim. The lack of sleep and diaper changing I could handle. It was more so my heart that needed to be resuscitated after children. Nothing can emotionally prepare you for your babies. As my boys grow, it’s the enormity of the task at hand that paralyses me from becoming the mom I want to be. Teaching them right from wrong, shaping and molding who they will become in the future is a job so important, rarely people see themselves as qualified for the position, myself included. But reading this book has helped me to see my experiences as a mom a little differently.

As their mother, I am essentially in the leadership role. I am not their boss, or just an enforcer. I have been given the honor of guiding them towards finding their greatest potential, a life long journey for us all of course. And just like a potential Black Belt moves through stages before they reach each desired goal, as a mom I do the same thing. I have been on a journey with my children this whole time. And the reason we continue to move forward is because they are not the only ones learning. It’s amazing when you read something you actually know but rarely remind yourself of as often as you should.

If I look at the gift of raising my children as a journey of learning, I will stop punishing myself for making mistakes.

 This is huge for me. Just like a Black Belt engaging an opponent, if they come out learning something new from each encounter, that is considered a win. Imagine the impact of this simple notion if a parent could grasp it. And then you think, “I’ve got this”, when your second child is born. I’ve done it once, this will be easier. But then you meet a totally different child with new challenges and expectations. A new unexpected journey begins.

Although this book has so many techniques to appreciate, there are definitely things that stuck out to me, flexibility and balance certainly being two of them. I’m not talking about holding a child while balancing groceries, with the other one hanging off your back kind of flexibility, although this is often the shopping experience. But this refers to your mind’s ability to change the way you think based on the information of a given situation. Every day with my boy’s challenges come up. Some of which I have no clue how to deal with. But if I can learn to look at things differently I will have different results.

And if I am off balance emotionally, it will be impossible for me to provide the kind of guidance my children need. And if my boys are on emotional overload, their ability to handle a situation will be greatly impacted.

Days can be hectic and I can loose it a little, raise my voice, start talking way too fast, things that I know are not helpful but the stress gets to be so impactful it can take over at times. I was relieved to read about the importance of doing one activity at a time. That multitasking is difficult for your brain to manage, so focusing on so many different activities at once does not allow for you to finish one of your objectives to it’s best desired outcome. Trying to get it all done in one day, the story of a mother’s life, can actually reduce your productivity. A good reminder to focus on the important pieces in my life.

As a person who generally worries about too much too often, who happens to also be a mother, I have to be able to sit back, care for myself, focus on what’s important for the moment, and use my strengths to get us through. If I can reflect on each day and think, “What did I learn”, and alter it the next time, I am winning as a mom every time. If I can remember that failure is just a word, just like fear and disappointment and everything in between. They are just words, but the key is what perspective will I see my life though. Will I focus on my shortcomings or learn new skills by the grace of my mistakes.

Reading the practices in the book remind me that focusing on building my children’s integrity is a key piece in guiding them in the right direction. I really feel this is the goal for me as a mother. I don’t need my children to be famous athletes or award winning people. I want them to be strong in their beliefs. I want them to be men of honor and dignity and respect. I want them to live a life grounded by the morals and standards they have set for themselves based on their ability to use the unique talents they each possess. And most of all, I want them to know that none of this will come easy, and that it takes a lifetime to become what we truly are. Much like I will spend my lifetime realizing my abilities and talents can take me beyond the role of a mother, and perhaps into the realm of a leader to many, including myself.

Being a mom is not a series of yeses and nos. It’s an art form, a careful dance of self-reflection and improvement. Leading through example, with acceptance and confidence of what life will bring and your ability to handle it.

Thank you Scott Alexander, for Lead Like A Black Belt, you definitely have inspired the importance of always learning and seeking inspiration.

Why I know I Love My Children

Jenifer DeMattia

I loved my children from the moment I found out they were growing inside me. Of course I did. Isn’t that the expected response? But now that they are here, and we have experienced life together, I do realize there are moments where I knew without a doubt I am truly in love with them. Deep, soul crushing, heart exploding, crazy kind of love. The truth is, just like a child, I can fall in love with many people. Babies and adults alike are programed to love. Or at least I am. I have loved many people because it feels good. But I know love also fades or changes, or maybe it was never love at all but just the pulling desire to have it.

I will admit, the day my first son arrived into this world I was a little traumatized. It was no doubt the worst pain I had ever endured, and the greatest joy I have ever experienced within only nine and a half hours of my 28 years on the earth. I did everything I was told during my pregnancy with him. I was active but stayed well rested. I ate the right foods, and read all the books about what to expect being that I was expecting. The truth is that nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. A statement I’m sure any mother would agree with.

A tiny human. My very own son. He was breathtaking and I loved him. I held him against me and rubbed his entire body, every part of him over and over again. There is no feeling ever as spectacular as rubbing the skin of a newborn right after they breathe air for the first time. He was smooth and warm, and his heartbeat was rapid, perfectly in sink with mine. Then in an instant, after they took him from my arms, I suddenly felt the weight of the world on top of me. An unexpected sinking in my soul. Surprisingly, I had never felt so alone.

In a tear filled delirium I tried in frustration to breastfeed him. It didn’t go well. I was terrified. I stared at him as he slept in the hospital room with me. Content in his bassinet, swaddled by a nurse because through more tears, I couldn’t bundle him the way they could. Everything was hard. Or perhaps I had not yet accepted that I was worthy of such a perfect gift. I was more afraid of him, fearful that I was not giving him precisely what he needed. I was unsure of my abilities, and he was just simply too amazing for me to comprehend.

The first time I remember knowing that I was in love with my son he was about six months old. His reflux was so bad he could projectile vomit across a room. The doctor thought there might have been something wrong with his stomach so I was referred to have him looked at closer. In order for him to be x-rayed I had to give him barium in a bottle. As I watched that small boy being placed on the table, there it was. Obviously I loved him, but that crushing feeling stopped me in time. For the first moment in my life, I knew I was capable of sacrificing my own life to save another. Although his condition was not thought to be serious, and it wasn’t, just the mere possibility that he would have to suffer had overtaken me.

I have fallen in love with my son over and over again throughout his only 5 years on this earth. The same holds true with his younger brother. Although, of course I loved them from the beginning, it’s the most difficult times with them that I know I am in the midst of experiencing true love. There have been falls, sickness, and worse. It became clear that at around age 3, my first-born was facing a tremendous battle within himself. He had emotional episodes that would last for hours. My angel, who once loved to be held, wouldn’t allow me to touch him. He would cry in the corner and hit himself or look right through me like I wasn’t within reach. And there it was again. The purest, deepest love I’ve ever known. I would do anything to take away his pain. When he was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, true love bolted through my soul once again. An automatic instinct that you cannot be taught. A response only to be felt in your core, “I will love him through this”.

It’s easy to love another human when life is good, but it truly is the hardest times that bring out true love. In a marriage, there is only so much you can take before you let go. In a friendship, the same thing applies. I used to think that when I heard people say, “I love them, I’m just not in love with them”, that it was ridiculous. But now I get it. I can guarantee there is nothing either of my children can do that will break my love for them. I can take anything when it comes to those two. I can heal from a breakup or a friendship that’s ended. But the kind of love I feel for my boys, it’s unbreakable and unfading. But just like any love, how do I really know? How can I be sure I have experienced true love?

The answer comes to me easily. It’s because I’d bet my life on it.

Why It's Okay To Be A Mom With The Best Of Intentions

Jenifer DeMattia

Every evening I close my eyes and I meditate. I unwind from the craziness of the day and I simply think positive thoughts about how the next day will go. I will wake up before everyone else. Sip coffee as I write or read something inspirational about how women are all-stars or how amazing it is to be a mother. And then my sweethearts will wake up, “Good morning mommy”. And then we will all eat breakfast together, and laugh as we imitate our favorite animals.

I will be a fun mom, I will eat well, my kids will eat well. They will laugh a lot, we will do a craft, and in between I will get some laundry done. Yes, by the end of tomorrow I will feel accomplished and healthy. Powerful and in control like the all-star that I am. Happy children, errands complete, a somewhat clean house, and a belly full of veggie smoothies.

Set your intentions. You will be a success. Envision you are amazing and amazing you will be. Guided imagery will unlock your mind to unleash the awesomeness inside.

So as I awoke this morning to my 5-year-old spreading my eyes open with his boogey fingers, I saw the sun poking through my blinds, reminding me to seize the day. I could hear the 2-year-old screaming my name, then screaming for milk, then my name again. The older one makes demands for chocolate milk, but I remind myself I am an all-star, put a smile on. “You got this girl”.  I request snuggles from my son before I get his brother. “Oh my God, what’s that smell?” I open my crusty eyes wider to the sight of an Ironman pull-up filled with piss that he took off and placed next to my head.

Breathe.

At breakfast, they both have decided they won’t eat, and the small one flails like a rabid beast as he attempts to rip the straps off of his high chair. I realize quickly there will be no imitating animals. They are animals. And I’m like one of those idiots who think she can live in the wild with the lions. They build sanctuaries for them and you see video of her playing with the lion and think, “that is so beautiful”, until out of nowhere the lion snaps and rips her to shreds. Ok, so it’s a rough start to the day.

I walk in the bathroom to discover that because my son ran out of toilet paper, and decided not to ask for more, he made the best of his situation and used the cardboard toilet paper roll to wipe his butt. And then displayed it like a tower on the back of the toilet seat. I guess we’ll consider that the craft for the day.

The park was fun until the 5-year-old tripped and got dirt all over his pants. He practically bathes in dirt all day long, but on this particular day, the small dirt stain on his pants inspired an epic meltdown, which led to his theatrical debut, where he put on a show so outrageous the crowd couldn’t keep their eyes off him. And his little brother kicked and spewed out gibberish, what I can only assume was a toddler version of cussing me out as I dragged him to the car. The smoothie I prepared at lunch was declared  “disgusting” by the oldest, and gave the little one the shits.

Make more coffee.

The laundry pile I had somehow managed to assemble was dissembled in the blink of an eye by the little one as I was in the bathroom attempting to once again tell his brother that a penis is not a toy, a battle I surely will never win. He eagerly tries to explain he was only putting the fire out. Funny, I was feeling a little steamed. I am convinced they are plotting against me. One distractions while the other one scrambles to destroy something random.

Today it was the plunger. It was my fault for leaving it out. You see, I was teaching my son yet again how to wipe properly so that it doesn’t look like a truck was leaving skid marks in his underwear by the end of the day. Of course he thought that sounded awesome. So the next time he used the toilet he utilized the entire roll of toilet paper to ensure cleanliness. Then he flushed and I can’t even imagine the excitement he felt when he saw the “eruption”, as he called it. Hence the plunger being used, left out, only to be discovered by him and then use as a hat for his younger brother.

During an impromptu bath time I guide myself through imagery to a kid-less beach. As lightening McQueen hits me in the face I snap out of it. For the rest of the afternoon we play and finally they settle and watch an evening cartoon while I prepare an elaborate dinner that I might as well have fed to the floor. And during story time the oldest tells me if he doesn’t get some food he will  “starve to death”. Wow. Just before turning the lights out I realized I had forgotten to brush their teeth. I determined I was willing to risk a trip to the dentist. My son asks for a kiss, but of course the jokes on me. He licked my face instead.

Lights out.

I turn the corner to my room and lay on the bed. Why are my intentions so good and then some days just turn into crap. Literally, thanks to my veggie smoothies, and figuratively. After some serious reflection I realize I do not meditate at night. I am not putting into the universe positive vibes for the next day. The image of me as the perfect mom, with the perfect kids. I am exhausted. It’s not meditating. It’s called dreaming. Maybe I’m not as aware as I thought I was.

But then I think…

My kids did laugh a lot today. And looking back, what took place was pretty damn funny. And I know raising children is hard work, and I did the best I could today. Every day for a child is the opportunity to learn something new, and the same thing holds true for their mom. The funny part is that after I peek in on them sleeping soundly, no doubt having magical dreams of their own, I feel proud of what I’ve done. That within the chaos and the monotony of some days, I did it. And sometimes we have to admit things about ourselves that we don’t want to. My veggie smoothie not only caused the shits, it tasted like shit. I can fold my laundry at night. And I don’t want perfect kids. I think I actually want to be more like them. My boys wake up every morning excited. They are these adorably selfish little creatures who don’t think, “Who can I impress today?” Who can I make happy and meet their expectations? How can I disappoint myself by setting unrealistic expectations then judging myself when everything gets a little crappy? They just want to play. One day my kids will have to worry constantly about pleasing others, doing a good job, meeting everyone’s expectations, all while battling self-doubt. Their teachers, their boss, their peers, and then the whole freaking world. I have been setting my intentions all wrong. My newly instituted meditation practice goes something like this:

“Tomorrow I will start the day just as my children do. I will wake up with the certainty that the new day will be full of adventure, possibilities, and the unknown majesty of what life has to bring. Including the certainty that from time to time, I will no doubt be putting up with other people’s shit”.

You got this girl!

4 Reasons Weekends Suck When You Have Kids

Jenifer DeMattia

Let me begin by clarifying that children do not suck. However, they do happen to suck the life out of what used to be referred to as a weekend. How quickly the tide turns when you have kids. The problem is that the weekend still means excitement awaits, responsibilities are put on hold, and fun is waiting to be had just like the old days, however, that’s because the kids stole it right out from under us and that mentality now applies to them. So after two children and countless weekends spent in their company, here are a few observations on how the weekends have changed:

 

You’re not as fun as you used to be.

Hmm..I think I’ll choose to blame Facebook for this one. After a long week of running the mom marathon I feel okay with a little Saturday morning cartoon watching, pajama wearing, delayed teeth brushing, until I fire up Facebook. Seems like everyone I know is posing with his or her kids at Disney World. Families have picked strawberries, gone for ice cream, and frolicked at the park with the ducks before I have fed everyone breakfast. Suddenly the TV is off, and so are the kids and I to find an adventure. Or perhaps at least get dressed.

 

 Getting “Crazy” has a whole new meaning.

As parents we are told to put our children first. What we realize quickly is that you must put them first in order to maintain your sanity. So this has to explain why we fill up our weekend calendar with birthday parties, soccer practice, swim meets, and play-dates. Just when you get excited to spend quality time with the kids, you find yourself crammed in the house with your oldest, “I’m bored”, and his faithful sidekick, “more Caillou”. It’s more about how to wear the kids out so they don’t make you insane. And man, if you can catch Dateline on time and not pass out right before you find out who did it, you think, “Damn, that was crazy!”

 

The term “getting wasted” exclusively refers to all the food you throw away.

Raising the future of the world is no easy task. And neither is raising ourselves. We are all a work in progress and the weekend used to be a time to take it easy, reflect, and regroup for the week ahead. In other words, I used to really enjoy liquor before I had my kids. And this time of reflection was quite cleansing and often done in public settings with good friends. The side effects included uncontrollable laughter and increased tendency towards fun, to be followed up the next morning by an activity known as sleeping in and then showering. Now, forget drinking. If I can get through an evening with adults without a phone call stating the kid simultaneously sneezed, pooped his pants, and threw up, well than it’s a pretty good night.

 

You realize there is really no such thing as a weekend.

Even before children the complaint was the same. The weekends are just too damn short. But after you have children, you can’t really justify your week ending so the word is really not appropriate. Not only are you shuttling them around to practices and parties, but also now weekend time requires the grueling task of preparing for the upcoming week and all the impending madness. You find your day consumed with child projects and it becomes like the huddle mid-game. Weekends are for a family to get together and figure out how to drown out the noise in order to strategize. And the team captain, aka, mom, somehow keeps them in the game.

 

What I Learned When I Donated My Liver To My Best Friend

Jenifer DeMattia

I have been thinking a lot about fear lately. How it begins to manifest and change us. I can easily think back to my youth and identify my fears. Today I am envisioning myself at 12-years-old, feeling terrified as I stared into the small drainage tunnel that extended all the way underneath a long driveway. The boys in my neighborhood dared me to crawl all the way through. I wanted to impress them so I got down on my stomach and began to enter the dark space. I barely fit and was essentially consumed with fear, so I backed out just the way I’d entered. I could write on forever about decisions made based out of fear throughout my teenage years into adulthood.

And then I had children. Fear does not even begin to describe that.

The days where I felt terrified as my mom closed my bedroom door have been replaced by nights spent convincing my son there are no monsters in his room. Fears about not dropping him off at school on time, that I left the baby gate open, that they swallowed something they weren’t supposed to, or have an unidentifiable rash. Fear that the world will be unkind to them or something much worse and that I wouldn’t be there to save them. Scared to death that I’m doing it all wrong. Add marital conflict, bills, Autism, bedwetting, the flu, losing my grandmother and so on… there comes the unsettling feeling that life is hard and I am in the tunnel again, feeling like I want to back up to where I started, where it felt safe.

Oh yes..And then my best friend was diagnosed with cancer.

It started 9 months ago on June 18, 2014 after she was diagnosed with a rare bile duct disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, or PSC as we refer. Basically a disease of the bile ducts that eventually leads to liver failure. Then August came with the diagnosis of bile duct cancer, rare for a 32-year-old female. And so life became consumed with hospital stays and nights where she would cry herself to sleep in pain, and what I can only assume to be the suffocation of fear. She was immediately on a plane to Minnesota seeking out the best care. Traveling 1,000 miles to undergo chemotherapy and intensive radiation in hopes of killing the cancer inside her body. Essentially, she decided to enter into the tunnel. Into the darkest of spaces. When she returned home, the hope was quickly crushed by more infection, sickness and hospital nightmares. She was told that the only cure was a liver transplant. However, due to an immense shortage of deceased donors, and her aggressive form of cancer, a living donor would be her best option.

And then, this happened:

Me: “Hey buddy. You know I’m going to miss you like crazy right?”

(Said between kisses all over his sweet face)

4-year-old son: “I’m going to miss you too mommy, could you please stop doing that.”

Me: “No, I need to give you enough kisses to last a while.”    

(This time said between an all out tickle-kiss attack)

4-year-old son: “I want to go to the soda town with you. Please take me there with you.”

Me: “The state is called Minnesota, but there is no soda there.”  

(I totally lied, they had soda there)

Me: “Will you do me a favor and be extra sweet to your brother while I’m gone?”

4-year-old son: “No.”

That was the extent of most of the conversations I had with my son before I left for Minnesota to be a liver donor for my best friend. The transplant was scheduled for December 15, 2014 but it didn’t go as planned. The day before undergoing a transplant, a staging surgery takes place to determine if the cancer has spread. If it has, the transplant can no longer happen. Ever. Following the staging procedure I watched her mother’s face when they told her the cancer had in fact spread. As a mother myself I could not comprehend what that would feel like. Her only chance at long-term survival taken away in an instant. And then I watched the look on my friend’s face as they told her. She was brave. I was back in the tunnel, frozen in disbelief. I had been preparing myself mentally to be a donor for months. I passed every scan and test they gave me to determine my body could handle the surgery. I was even told that my liver was unique in size, and now I had to somehow comprehend that it was not going to happen.

And my boys.  

The Flash, as my son likes to be called, received a diagnosis himself last year. Autism Spectrum Disorder, without intellectual or language impairment. At age two-and-a half he began having intense emotional episodes. As he grows his emotions continue to perplex him and they consume him in moments of fear I’m guessing. I never thought Autism looked like this. But then again I never really knew what cancer looked like up close either. With the emotional battles I see him fight, he truly is a superhero to me. And I was looking forward to the day when I could look him in the eye and tell him that I was a superhero too. That his mom went to battle against Cancer. Truly the scariest villain there is. I wasn’t scared anymore, and yet it felt like the world had taken away the opportunity for me to prove it.

What I’ve come to understand is that fear is like the monster in my son’s room. It simply doesn’t exist when the lights turn on. Fear is a false perspective of what is real. You can choose to let it consume you or you can make the decision to take control of it. I don’t think of fear in the same way anymore, but I also don’t blame that 12-year-old girl for not going through the tunnel. I just wasn’t ready yet.

On December 19, 2014, I donated fifty-five percent of my liver to my friend because I love her. Because the lights turned on for us, and we no longer saw fear lurking. By what has been described as a medical miracle, three days after the staging procedure, the decision was reversed based on further pathology reports. It had never happened there before. We were given 18 hours notice before the transplant would take place after all. We spent the night before the transplant in the hospital together, processing through the emotional rollercoaster, but mostly laughing about random things. Attempting to realize we were actually living this life, as unbelievable as it was.  I lay on my cot at 4:30am staring at the ceiling. Smiling. I was thinking of the 12-year-old me coming through the other side of that tunnel. It wasn’t just about going through with the procedure, but being provided with the opportunity to lead my children by my example. That it’s possible to face your fears head-on.

Which lead me to this conversation two months later:

Me: “Sweetheart, what are you doing?”  

(Said while I’m driving, distracted by him flailing his blanket around)

4-year-old son: “I’m giving Nee Nee my liver”.

(Nee Nee. A blanket that follows him wherever he goes)

Me: “Oh yea, why?”

4-year-old son: “Because he’s sick and I love him.”

(Well there you go)

So yea, I’ve been thinking about fear lately.

What my friend and I endured over the last few months, I can’t really explain. It’s like trying to describe what it felt like to hold my babies for the first time. There are just some experiences in life that you could never possibly express with words. My friend is still fighting, but this time with a new liver. But more importantly, a renewed sense of fearlessness.

And as for me, I no longer fear being late to my son’s school. Some mornings we just can’t make it work. I’m not afraid that my son will have a meltdown. I do not fear Autism. I’m not scared that my kids won’t turn out ok. I am not afraid that I’m doing it wrong or that I’m a bad mom. My 16-month-old son described it perfectly even though he doesn’t really speak. When I arrived home after being gone over two weeks, I was tired and in a lot of pain. I wasn’t going to be able to lift him for months, and I wondered if he would forget me. But when I walked in the door he ran to me so I immediately sat on the floor. He lifted up my shirt and gently placed his head on my stomach, right next to my healing scar.

There is no uncertainty about it. Fear is insignificant when you love someone.

For whatever reason, throughout my life when I felt the sting of fear I would think about being inside the metal tunnel from my youth. There are simply moments in our lives that evoke paralyzing fear, sometimes for unknown reasons. My hope is that my journey being an organ donor will provide my boys perspective when they face their own impending dark spaces. That when they find themselves there, surely in a place of fear, they will remember to turn on the light and see that the only thing hiding in the darkness was their own strength. 

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5 Ways Waitressing Prepared Me For Motherhood

Jenifer DeMattia

Ah, waitressing! The job where you smile and promise to take care of someone as they unknowingly abuse you with complaints and annoyingness. I was a server throughout college, and although I used my actual psychology degree for a while, to this day I could argue that I learned far more about human nature from my years as a waitress, especially when prepping for the ultimate test in dealing with human aggravation. Motherhood.

And if there is anything to be gained by my experiences as a server and put to good use as a mother it’s this:

1. Always remember who the A**hole is:

I would stand at my perch and watch as my table was seated. I’d size them up then grab the silverware and head over with a big fat smile on my face. However, before I could even finish my, “Hi, welcome to….”, they would cut me off to say diet coke, then gesture to the person they were with to make their beverage choice. A**Holes. Day in and day out I waited on them. Sometimes I knew they were trouble immediately and sometimes it caught me off guard. As I emerged from my bathroom yesterday morning I saw my son walking towards me. So sweet looking with his hair all a mess. All 4-years of him. So adorable in his giant onesie. However, before I could even finish my, “Good morning my little…”, he cuts me off to say, “Get me chocolate milk with a top in the blue cup with Lightning McQueen on it, not the one with the footballs”. I have found when dealing with rude customers and children the rules are the same. Do not take it personal, do not let it ruin your day, and always model the respect you want from them. And perhaps “forgetting” to put the chocolate in that milk of theirs.

2. Don’t blame it on the kitchen, I mean the kid:

Panic sets in. I was completely in the weeds with a full section and was suddenly shaken with the realization that my table had been sitting for 45 minutes and I completely forgot to send their order to the kitchen. In fact, the most intense nightmares I have ever had involve this very scenario. I would run into the kitchen, tell the cooks I forgot another freaking order, listen to them all tell me what an idiot I was, and then run back to the table and tell them, “I’m so sorry. The kitchen is way behind”. I would bring them out some “complimentary” chips and salsa because it was the only thing I could get on my own. I blamed everything on the kitchen. After all, they had no idea. Until my manager went and told my table he was so sorry and that I had clearly had a “rough day”. And then suddenly I was right in the middle of a life lesson that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and take responsibility. More humiliating at first, but feels better in the end. So now when I am super tempted to explain to people that my children are to blame for the messy house, the stain on my shirt, and the lateness, I have to stop and appreciate that in fact it may be me who’s dropping the ball. But thank goodness I keep stocked up on chips and salsa.

3. It can always be grosser:

Within my first week I dropped a full tray of food right before I made it to my table. I spilled drinks on people, and I had chili flicked in my face by an elderly gentleman whose wife clarified he just “didn’t like it”. I stumbled into my apartment at midnight, plopped on my bed, immediately getting a full-blown whiff of what smelled like throw-up, but was actually beer mixed with different kinds of food particles attached to my shirt, and the grossness of the gunk stuck on the bottom of my non-slip shoes. When my son was born I quickly found out what reflux was and a “blow-out”. We both changed our clothes twelve times a day. I was spraying him in the face point blank with breast milk and he was puking it back up all over me. And now my second son sits in his high chair at 15-months-old, smiling as he precisely hits me in the face with the spaghetti I have prepared for him. Thanks to waitressing I just presume, he didn’t like it. And as the children grow I realize not to stress the mess because it could always be grosser, always.

4. Complaining training:

I put too much ice in the glass then not enough. The meal described on the menu as, “Insanely Spicy” was “too spicy”. People ate their entire meal then requested it be taken off the check because they were pretty sure it wasn’t actually what they ordered. The restaurant business gave me the perfect practice because 4-year-olds are fluent in the language of “It’s never good enough”. Being a server provided the realization that people are absolutely nuts. They complain like toddlers and building up a tolerance to their noise is key. I remember those moments when my son sits down to dinner like he’s running the show and almost always rejects the meal I have prepared as though it’s not what he ordered. When he tells me the spaghetti is “too stringy” and the chocolate milk is not “brown” enough, I do what I did when waiting on annoying customers. I smile, nod, and then walk away at a distance safe enough to observe them and take a moment to appreciate how ridiculous they are.

5. Always put the children first:

I would act like it was so cute when I walked up to a table and saw the children emptying the entire caddie of sugar packets, biting them open, and making little designs on the table out of sugar. What I was really thinking is that children are monsters. However, after months of waiting tables I realized the key to successfully getting a good tip from a family. Always, always, put the kids first. Get the kids their drinks out first, their food out first, dance for them, give them extra crayons, and basically completely embarrass yourself. And now that I have children of my own I know why. When the kids are happy, the parents are happy. Personally, I was blessed with two boys and they are very cute but at restaurants they too are monsters. Not just to servers, but to most people I come across in my life this rule stands true, If you’re good to my kid, you are all good with me.

So for now I will continue to use all the skills I developed while waitressing to deal with my little monsters, until the day comes when I can send them into the world to get a job of their own. I will gently turn them in the direction of the closest restaurant and encourage them to apply. Then I will sit back and wait. Wait for the stories of the 12 top getting sat right before their shift was ending. The mucky dishwater flying in their face. The nice couple that never tipped, and the double-shift from hell. And I will smile and know that my kids are one step closer to gaining the parenting skills they will one day need themselves. But most importantly, they will learn to always tip their server and that nobody likes an A**hole.

The Airplane

Jenifer DeMattia

For the last few weeks, I have been experiencing something that I guess could be summed up as “writer’s block,” although it seems like so much more than that. I like to write about my life. My experiences with marriage and my children sometimes seeming boring or monotonous but very deep and complex at the same time. Writing just makes me feel better – a release – that’s why I do it, and today I definitely could benefit from feeling better. So I went onto my computer and looked through my old stories for inspiration. I realized that the day I saved the first story I wrote was today, a little over a month before it was posted about a year ago.  It was called “The Elephant.” It was about the emotions I experienced when my son first began having difficulties controlling his emotions. Reading it brought it all back. The nights spent in his room watching him cry in the corner until he eventually passed out on the floor. Emotional episodes that seemed to come from nowhere but began consuming our everyday lives. My fears about his fear of everything. It seemed as though he was scared of the world. I was a first-time mom who was terrified of what would become of her whole universe. Now, two years later, our little world is nothing like I thought it would have been during that time when I first began the adventure of learning who my son was.

When I first began writing I was clearly on a search for a diagnosis, although I ended the piece by saying I didn’t care. After all, my boy who was afraid of even his own shadow had ridden the elephant and proved to me that I knew nothing. But I did care because the behaviors continued and so did our concerns for what would be the best for him. There was eventually a diagnosis made, interventions and strategies put into place, which leads us to where we are today.

Today, I got a text message from my husband with a picture of him and our son in an airplane. They traveled to Kitty Hawk, NC for what was meant to be a family vacation but ended up being a boy’s trip. Our son has changed so much in two years, as all kids do. But he is mine and I know where we came from so watching this particular change has been, and continues to be, quite astounding. Needless to say, he is no longer scared of his own shadow and the corners of his room no longer remember the nights he spent huddled in them, struggling to breathe because the emotions were too big to bear. Now, when he gets overwhelmed, he hits himself in the head while staring at me. As awful as it sounds, I find myself trying not to laugh. He does not hit himself incredibly hard; it’s more like a tick of some kind. And even the hitting has decreased. Sometimes he even says, “Err, I’m putting myself in time-out!!!” And that works for us just fine. In fact, I too need to put myself in time-out once in a while.

It was one of those Biplanes, where it only fits a couple of people and is completely open. I saw the picture on my phone and immediately texted back, “You were just sitting in it to get the picture, right?” But I knew with the second text, that was not the case. It was a video of them flying over the ocean. I was so pissed off. I immediately texted him back with something along the lines of how could you do this without asking me or at least telling me it was about to happen. I knew by that point they had landed safe, and these plane rides happen multiple times a day for tourists and most likely everything would have been fine, but I was mad. That was a piece of my heart in the sky and I didn’t know about it. My mind was flooded with thoughts about what my son must have been thinking. He was probably scared to death up there. My son who used to stop in his tracks if I moved a picture frame in the house to a new location and demand it be put back in its place. But he has changed. He went up in the plane and never shed a tear. He talked to me on the phone and said, “It was a little scary, but I’m okay.”

I quickly came down from a place of anger into more a place of realization and inner peace about the situation. My new thing is questioning myself constantly. After something happens, such as a moment of anger, I ask myself around five questions in my mind. This time it was went something like this: Was I really mad because my husband didn’t ask me first? Was it really about the permission or about wanting to be included in every decision about my precious boy? Was I mad because I really wanted to be in the plane with him? Or was it because I didn’t trust that our son would say whether or not he was scared before it was too late? Was I just over emotional at the thought that something could have happened to him? Or was it because I am over emotional at the thought of how much I miss him and how fast he is growing up?

The inner peace came with this thought: Would I have been more upset if my son chose not to get on that plane? The answer is yes. Because I have to remind myself there was once a time I thought my son wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things, paralyzed by his own fears. And so reflecting back on the Elephant ride two years ago that opened my eyes to the possibilities, the airplane ride was just a reminder to allow those possibilities room to soar. He is not the same boy he was. He is evolving into himself although he doesn’t realize yet he will spend a lifetime doing so. And I am not the same mom I was before. I am still evolving, and that is a wonderful thing. And so continues the adventure of not so much finding out who my son is, but what else I can learn from him. So as I sit here and try not to dwell on my own battle with the tough times life can sometimes bring, I am lifted by the possibilities of two years from now. Watching each layer reveal itself slowly, giving me a glimpse of who he might become and what else he may teach me about my own life. All I know is that I will certainly be there, looking back to a story I wrote about a boy taking an airplane ride, reminding me that although sometimes life can be a little scary, I’m definitely going to be okay.

3 Reasons Why I’m Not The Mom I Thought I’d Be

Jenifer DeMattia

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Before I was a parent, I was the expert on parenting styles, and I had determined I was to be an authoritative parent. I would have rules and limits, but I would follow them through with patience and pure love. I would never be the authoritarian who dramatically responded with, “I told you so, that’s why!” I would not yell. I would allow my child to question me, and be a part of the experience. I was going to be really cool. Impart wisdom yet set boundaries. My children would be raised in a democracy of bliss. Now that I have two children and my empire of awesomeness is slowly crumbling to the ground, I have decided that a “parenting style” is not so black and white. And honestly, children are much more complex than I had ever imagined even though, before I had children, I worked with them. Here are a few thoughts on why I have to remind myself that it’s ok to change it up a little when it comes to my mom style. Some days, certain things just don’t work. Period. And here’s why:

Because what works for you may not work for them – Of course children are going to test their limits; that’s what they are programmed to do. But sometimes the parent we want to be does not match the child we have. For example, my son is very literal. I used to tickle him and say, “You are so silly.” And he would respond, “I’m not silly, I’m Chase.” Chase is his name. He is so serious, remembers everything we say, and is extremely sensitive. The parent I imagined I’d be does not completely work with Chase. The limits need to be extremely clear and the more options I give him the more difficult things become. He also has difficulty with sensory processing. Time and time again, I would take him to crowded places and wonder why we returned home feeling as though we just survived a tornado. Crowded places have to be handled in a certain way and for a certain time. I used to have the philosophy that I would just stick with it, that the exposure was good for him. Sometimes that is true, and sometimes I was just torturing us both, and I realized it was ok to leave. I don’t think it’s always true that a parenting philosophy completely works for every child. For me, I treat them all like a buffet – you can choose a little from each one that you like, just don’t overdo it.

Because they can be quite the pain in the ass – Recently a friend of mine watched my son. She told me afterwards that my son didn’t like her. The reasoning was that he seemed very upset because she cut up his chicken nuggets at dinner. My friend does not have children yet, and it felt as though I was watching the old me. So clueless. So innocent. I had to explain to her that had she not cut the nuggets he would have insisted she do so before he could eat them. There was another time when I had to get assistance from the teenage girl at the bouncy house to get my son out of the building. He was running from me, laughing like an insane person, those eyes; I’ll never forget the way his eyes were bulging out like a lunatic. My son has inspired, “Because I said so, that’s why!” And much worse at certain low points. Some days I think I gave birth to “Drop Dead Fred.” He can be an incredible pain in the ass, and I have suddenly found strength in my newfound parenting style. You see, I have become quite the pain in his ass. No more negotiating with preschoolers. The truth is that all kids have their moments, as do adults. There are times I have lost it. I have found that not playing into the drama of the situation has saved us on many occasions. When my son is sick his behavior is worse. When he’s tired, his behavior is worse. And when I’m sick and tired my behavior is worse, so I always try and remind myself that if I just keep my cool, I have won half the battle. 

Because the mom I imagined I’d be, never really existed – There are so many times I’ve caught myself saying, “I never thought it would be this hard.” That’s it, that’s the key to letting go of the fact I’m not the perfect mom. This is really hard, and before I had children I didn’t realize that. You can’t realize the enormity of what’s about to happen. Often times, it begins as a desire to hold that new life in your arms, the possibility of everything wrapped in a perfect package, cute and sweeter than anything you’ve ever known. And then that child is yours. Looks like you, looks up to you; there literally is no way to describe its beauty. Or the moment you meet them for the first time and your heart explodes inside your body, rendering it impossible for you to be the same person you were moments ago. The mom I imagined I’d be never existed because I never really knew what I was getting myself into, and there’s no way I could have truly prepared myself to deal with being a parent. I have come to the conclusion that unless each individual baby comes out with a manual, then basically there’s just no way of knowing the best method for them until you embark on life’s greatest adventure. Figuring it out together.

Mother and Son

Jenifer DeMattia

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The thought of life with you was a mystery to me,

A boy, a son, we would see the world differently,

I was happy when things were pretty and clean,

People told me you’d create messes like I’ve never seen,

And now that you’re here, I would say they weren’t joking at all,

You love yucky things and smudges cover the wall,

You are always getting into lots and lots of trouble,

Out of your nose you love to blow a giant booger bubble,

It’s like you are constantly trying to get yourself hurt,

You are only interested if something involves three tons of dirt,

You are stubborn and throw quite a fit,

You are wild and crazy and barely ever sit,

But I’ll tell you what’s happened since having you here,

What used to be confusion is now suddenly clear,

I wanted a son like a flower wants light,

You make everything worth it and my whole world right,

The smudges you leave are imprinted on my heart,

The trouble you cause is secretly my favorite part,

The boogers, the dirt, the constant running around,

It’s like everything I every wanted is finally found,

I no longer care if my house is a mess,

Even if things get broken, I couldn’t care less,

If there’s sand on the floor or mud on the chair,

It’s okay because it means my sweet boy was there,

So go crazy my love and live life just like you do,

I wouldn’t be me if there weren’t a you,

My eyes are now open, this life is incredibly fun,

I am so thankful we will forever be Mother and Son.

5 Things A Stay-At-Home-Mom Needs To Let Go

Jenifer DeMattia

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I first heard it once, then about a thousand times. “You have no right to complain because you get to stay home with your kids all the time!” Or, “I have missed so many milestones because I was working, and you never had to miss a thing!” True, and sort of true. I do see them all of the time, but I did work for the first year after my oldest son was born, so I did miss some things. A crazy decision was made when I was laid off from my job – I would stay home with our son. I was ecstatic. I was burned out from my career, and I was missing my son. Fast forward three years later, and add another little boy, and I have definitely discovered there are pros and cons to staying home with your children, just like in any decision we make. After years of emotional ups and downs, I have come to accept that there are some things I need to let go of in order to be a better mom and a generally more sane person.

1. The Guilt – I think I spent the first year of staying at home with my children feeling guilty for being able to stay at home with my children. I felt like judgment was being placed on me because I wasn’t contributing to society in a way I felt was adequate. I felt guilty talking with my friends about work, feeling like they couldn’t relate to me as much anymore because I wasn’t dealing with the stress of a job and raising a family. It was like I needed to explain to everyone that financially we were struggling to make it happen, and that our lifestyle changed dramatically. That guilt has now been replaced with the occasional thought that maybe I should go back to work. Especially because when my son gets mad at me, he yells, “You're fired!” And I feel guilty because I’ll tell him he can’t fire me because, “I quit!” What I have found is that my true friends never judged me, and the one person making me feel most guilty was me.

2. Not Being Supermom – Did you know there are moms who won’t allow their children to wear shoes at the park? Apparently it’s not natural. In fact, through play-dates, and get-togethers, and meeting moms through other moms, I have found there are some pretty super moms out there. I felt I paled in comparison to these stay-at-home moms and working moms who not only nursed their children but also made baked goods out of their breast milk. Women who not only made food but made their child’s lotions, toothpaste, and butt cream. Let me make it clear. I am not mocking these women. I was comparing myself to them. If they could accomplish all this, why did it take me 45 minutes to get out the door to get to the park, and what the hell is my son wearing? I think the key was my acknowledgment that I was not this kind of mom. But I am a loving mom, so that trumps anything. I did spend an hour making sweet potato cookies, but it only took 3 seconds for my son to take it out of his mouth and throw it on the floor. He even seemed to shake his head in disbelief as he walked away.

3. The Regret – When my son was a year old, and I began staying at home, I was not aware of the concept that I could have a difficult child (or strong-willed as I’m supposed to call him). At around two and a half, my son began having severe emotional breakdowns, and he has continued to keep us guessing ever since. He is prone to sensory overload, and you may have possibly seen me. I’m the woman carrying the shirtless, screaming child across the grocery store.

“Hello.”

It’s hard. It’s hard when you want to be the ultra hip mom with one in the sling on the boob and the other asking nicely if he can go make his bed because it was just that fun. Do I regret my decision to stay home, you ask? Definitely. At least once a month. I slightly remember the old days when I dropped my son off and went to work. Sometimes, I felt I was surprisingly more present for my son when I got home. Now, I have a job I’m burned out from, but somehow the spark keeps getting lit and I regain all of my strength. Tonight, my son told me after watching, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” that the ending sequence where the credits roll was, “The most beautiful thing” he has ever seen. And then…he totally redeemed himself!

4. The Illusion of A Perfect Marriage – This one cracks me up because for some reason I thought staying at home would make my marriage stronger. I don’t know why exactly, the issues that have been brought to the surface after sharing our lives together for this long and having children, along with financial pressure, have taken a toll. I have an emotional son, and I am sometimes exhausted at the end of the day. My husband works all the time and sometimes it throws things off when he is home for long periods of time, as crazy as that sounds. People say we are a great match. Secretly, there are days I think we should work out our stress with a good old fashioned boxing match. I have a rhythm with the children, even though it’s a little offbeat, and he has trouble knowing when to chime in. Being married is a complicated dance of making sure your children are happy, your spouse is happy, and you are personally happy. It’s like one of you is trying to waltz, while the other is trying to tango, and what you find is that it may be easier to just make up your own dance.

5. The Self-Doubt – It’s pretty obvious that I have doubted myself as a parent since the very beginning, and sure enough feel guilty about that too. Ugh! It’s time for it to end. The challenges that I have encountered so far as a mom sometimes overwhelm me. Sometimes, I feel like other moms can balance so much more, and look better doing it. I have the kid who wears no shoes at the park, but not because I wanted him to. He is a wild boy, and I am his mom. Flawed and some days not so super. When I wear my youngest in the Ergobaby, it looks like a small creature is fighting to come out of my chest, arms flailing and screaming. He hates it. All the images in my head of the mom I wanted to be screwed up my ability to be the best mom I could be. That is the lesson. Whether you are a working parent, stay-at-home parent, or truly super… a single working parent, creating a loving environment for our kids is half the battle, including giving them a good example of what a confident person looks like. So, even on the days where I am feeling down, I do recognize that I am lucky to be able to stay at home with my boys. It has been my greatest joy and my biggest challenge. So, do I really have a reason to complain being a stay-at-home mom? The answer is yes. Absolutely. But only as long as I’m willing to change the things that aren’t working and embrace the things that make me special to my boys.