I used to nanny for stay-at-home moms when I was in college.
Read that sentence again, please. I nannied. For STAY-AT-HOME MOMS.
I did school pick up, ballet drop off, soccer practice, homework, dinner-on-the-table, tubs and dried hair and bed times and stories and laundry. I did the whole shebang while Little Miss Stay at Home Mommy Tots was at Tennis Club or Shopping Club or Drink One Too Many Gin and Tonics with the Girls Club.
And now I have a confession to make: I judged them.
I judged these women. For hiring me. For not being a parent to their kids. For having the money to hire me. For not making meals. For giving me their house keys. For giving me extra sets of dog leashes. For not working. Oh, and wait, did I mention they had cash to spare on nannies like me?
But I’m sitting here in my house. It’s slightly a mess, but slightly not. I have one kid. He’s asleep in bed. And you know what I want? You know what I want more than anything in the world?
I want a nanny.
And if I could afford it, I’d want to be one of those moms who doesn’t work and has a nanny. Why?
Because, ladies, because. Because. Just because.
Because motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Because being a working mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Because there are moments and days and weeks where I feel like I’m a terrible parent. I say all the wrong things and respond in all the wrong ways and lose creative energy or focus or whatever it takes to parent an articulate, precocious toddler. There are days when work gets a better version of me than my son does. There are days when I can’t wear my contacts because my eyes twitch so badly from 4:30am wake-ups. Sometimes I cry irrationally like my little boy does during a tantrum. Sometimes I fall asleep sitting up. Sometimes I want to throw this whole working Mom thing on its head and move to No-Man’s-Land so I can just raise my son and grow heirloom tomatoes all day. There are days I think I might lose my mind. I think I might lose my cool. I think I might lose all the best parts of me that knew I’d forever be incomplete without this little person in my life.
I show up to daycare some mornings and practically throw my child at them. Dear God, take him. Take him and be a better parent than I can be right now. Take him and love him because I’m doing a lousy job at it. Take him and play with him because Mommy can’t make any more games out of Puppy Kit and Thomas toys and “no, we don’t throw blocks at the TV!” I go to work and it’s a reprieve. It’s a break in my day.
I know this feeling is temporary. I know the feeling rises up inside of me and surprises me when work is stressful and my husband’s gone and I find myself unable to manage all things domestic and loving and docile. I know I won’t always be parenting a toddler and I know I won’t always have 77 essays to grade at night. I know, I know.
There are days, many frequent days, when I kiss this little boy and don’t let him go. There are days, many frequent days, with laughter and ridiculous conversation and running around in our socks. There are cuddles and tears and good moments of growing in spite of ourselves. There is laughter and light in my home.
But I also know there are days, much like today, when I’ve reached my limit. I know when I need help beyond what I can offer myself.
Send in my nanny. Let her judge me all she wants. Just send her in.
Or, wait. Even better…send in a grandma.
And, oh, I’m sorry…can I get a glass of wine with that?
She told me awhile ago that she might move to London.
To be honest with you, I laughed it off.
Did I believe she was brave enough to do it? Absolutely. Did I think it would be an incredible, exciting, albeit necessary change for her? Sure I did. Could I imagine her walking out onto the street from the steps of a posh brownstone flat somewhere in the city? Yes.
But I never thought she’d actually go. Why? Because sometimes I’m still a 14 year old girl. I’m still lost in a fantasyland of everyone living on the same block with our houses together at the end of the cul-de-sac. I still picture a life of all us girls laughing on someone’s front porch swing, sipping wine, and watching our crazy kids run naked in the street. It’s not a half-bad fantasy.
But life isn’t the stuff of 14-year-old girls.
So last weekend, I ponied up and accepted my fate. I threw on my best lipstick, heels and a pseudo-smile and I went to my dear friend’s going away party. We drank cosmopolitans and mojitos and toasted and laughed and cried in the spirit of farewells and bon voyages and goodbyes. We took pictures and reminisced and told ourselves we’d all be okay with all the changes coming our way.
Last weekend, she hugged me tight. Before I left the party, she whispered, “this is it.”
And I think, if I can remember correctly, I swore at her then. I swore and got teary eyed and told her she wasn’t allowed to say that to me. Not yet. Not just yet. I wasn’t ready, and I’m still not.
And here we sit. Here we sit on the eve of goodbye and “oh crap, your’e really leaving” and I’m stumbling over my words.
Sweet friend, do I wish you well? (I’m selfish and don’t want to say it)
Do I wish you good luck? (Because I know you’re not going to need it)
Do I say we’ll write and we’ll call and we’ll Skype with Pinot Grigio in our hands? (Because, my God, doesn’t that sound fabulous?)
Do I say I’m praying for you? (Duh)
Do I tell you you’re the bravest girl I know? (You already know that)
Do I break down sobbing to let you know you inspire me, shape me, and make me a better version of myself by watching you live out the best version of yourself? (You don’t need my affirmation)
Do I say I miss you already? (Because you texted me that tonight)
I do not know. I wish I did. You are brave and adventurous and beautifully free and whole in ways I’ve been so blessed to watch. A small piece of me will take off on that plane with you, and for that I am forever grateful. What better gift than that of a friendship that carries a piece of my heart? Of my spirit? Of my small little world intertwined with yours? What greater gift do we get in this life?
You, my dear, are lovely.
I am happy for you.
I am excited for you.
I am cheering you on.
But just know I’m jealous of a city that gets to have you for this time. If anyone had asked me, I’d be renting the flat next to yours.
London is the lucky one.
I love you.
“For a New Beginning”
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ John O’Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)
This morning, a good friend had the good grace to email me the link to this article:
I am posting it because I want everyone to read it.
But more than I want everyone to read it, I want everyone to stop and hear it. Hearing a story is one of the most challenging things for any one of us to do. Hearing involves quieting our inner voices. Hearing involves moving beyond listening, and allowing ourselves to actually absorb the words. Hearing means we don’t jump to comment right away – we don’t speak, we don’t rebuttal, we don’t offer condolences or judgments or our own experiences.
When we hear, we are quiet.
We don’t assume our own experience is worth more than the person’s sharing.
We let our arrogance fall around us like pieces – and allow ourselves to realize that, yes, I have something to learn from you too.
When we hear, we are students and not teachers.
We let silence into the conversation.
Because in silence, perhaps – maybe – God is able to speak and be better heard.
In silence, perhaps, there is the greatest chance for someone else’s story to become a part of our own.
We don’t have a lot of family photos in my house these days.
I know, it’s bad.
It’s bad because my son is 14 months old, toddling himself around everywhere, talking, laughing, playing, exploring and making life equally chaotic and equally joyful. I should be snapping every precious memory of it and framing those memories for all to see.
The problem is that I do snap a lot of pictures. But they’re mostly just of him. Or me and him. Or his toes next to my toes. Or a blurry poorly attempted “selfie” (dear Lord, who coined that term?) of the two of us laughing into the shaking camera of my iPhone.
Or we have other pictures.
Pictures of my son and my husband. The two of them. Throwing rocks. Pointing at planes. The backs of their heads or a side-view profile that I hastily tried to capture while some sacred father-son moment passed between the two of them.
We have almost no pictures of the 3 of us.
I guess that’s because it is just the 3 of us.
I used to romanticize the fact that I moved away from home. I built up images of myself in my head, romping around the big city wrapped in Fall scarves, carrying my badge of independence like it was a prize I wanted everyone to know I’d claimed. I did it! I wanted to declare, I moved away. I moved to the other side of the country and stayed there. I didn’t just head East for college: I got a job, got married, rented an apartment and built a life for myself, by myself. Staying out East was the ultimate proof that I was a strong woman, a brave woman, a root-less woman.
But turns out, as the years go by, my romantic idea was just that – a romantic idea. It’s all a farce once you start your own family. Because as the days get lonely and the nights get perpetually longer and all you and your husband want is to drop the baby off with Grandma for a few hours – it gets tough to be the ones who are away. When your kid knows that FaceTime is synonymous with “Nanny”, well, it’s easy to let the nostalgia for home settle into your soul and stay there.
Some days are harder than others. Some days are better than others. But regardless of the ups and downs of each day, there is one good that has come from living away from our families. There is one good that I can claim as ours and be proud of and smile upon.
We are our own family.
We’re it. We’re all we’ve got in the nitty-gritty day-to-day. We are figuring it out – the 3 of us. We have a strength and an intimacy and a joy that exists only within the walls that we’ve labored over ourselves. Our laughter and tears and accidents and upsets are ours and ours alone. The poop-explosion laundry emergencies, date nights set in a living room full of baby toys, afternoons of “will you please take G to the park so I can have a moment to breathe?” crises – they are the mark of a real, living breathing family.
One of us might be always covering for the other. One of us might always be on the outside, taking the picture. But it’s turning out okay. We’ve got the love thing figured out.
Well, friends, this is a pivotal moment for us. We’ve received an invitation to go party it up at a classier, prettier, and much more highly pink-ified writing establishment than the run-down digs we’ve got over here.
The ever-so-poignant mother, wife, and blogger extraordinaire, Mrs. Toes, has asked us to pay her a little visit. That’s right, we’re guest blogging!
So come on over to Mrs. Toes and read all about my November bah-hum-bug spirit. If we’re lucky, we’ll leave with glitter in our hair.
It’s me. Mom.
You’re asleep upstairs. You’re probably wedged into the corner of your crib right now, with your thumb in your mouth and Blue Hippo tucked under your other hand. You’ve probably turned your head so that your nose faces the ratty old t-shirt that smells like me – the one I stuck along the side of your crib that I conveniently keep forgetting to wash. But you don’t seem to mind.
I just made your lunch. I packed all of your favorites into the small Tupperwares with the red lids and zipped them all inside your robot lunch box. I don’t know too many one-year-olds with robot lunch boxes, so that makes you pretty cool. Coincidentally, I also don’t know too many one-year-olds who can say the word “robot” the way you can, so tonight I declare you to be officially pretty cool and pretty smart. My God, buddy, with those qualities, you’ll rule the world.
But I digress.
I’m avoiding the purpose of my letter, so here goes nothing:
Pal, a sad thing happened today. A teacher died at a school in our town. She was a teacher, like Mommy, and she died doing a job she seemed to really love. Mommy didn’t know her at all, but it is still really sad for many, many reasons.
I’m afraid you’re going to grow up in a society where unsafe things happening at school will no longer be unexpected. I think by the time you have your first box of pencils, many adults will no longer feel as shocked or horrified as we once did by tragic (that means sad) events occurring in the places kids go to learn. We will become de-sensitized (that means numb, which means no feelings) to teachers and kids dying at the hands of others. I’m afraid we’ll almost expect a lack of safety in schools, and likewise expect a lack of trust from the students in those schools.
But kiddo, I’m writing to tell you a truth I learned very early on in my life. I’m writing to tell you a truth I want you to hear and try to never forget. I want you to remember these words on playgrounds and in school bathrooms and on the soccer field at recess. I want you to know that,
most kids are good.
Most kids are good kids. Most kids are awesome kids. Most kids love learning, love being together, and love school. All kids are trying to figure themselves out. All kids are making mistakes as they go. But buddy please don’t ever forget that,
most kids are good.
Let me tell you about some of my students. Are you ready? They’re hilarious. You might start laughing. Here goes:
- there’s the boy who walks into my classroom everyday with a Prince Harry joke for me. He knows I love Prince Harry. He goes out of his way to learn a new fact about him on the news and harass me with the information. I love it. It’s so funny.
- there’s another boy who is reading “The Maze Runner” for the first time. He can’t get enough of it. He comes into my room before school starts to talk with me about the book. I overflow with teacher joy.
- there’s a girl who didn’t feel confident about her writing at the start of the year. I won’t lie to you, she struggled on her first assignment. But on her second assignment – wow – she knocked it out of the park. She blew me away with her thoughts and poise. I remember giving her the second assignment back, with a really good grade on it. She absolutely beamed. But she beamed privately at her seat and didn’t make a fuss to anyone about it. That’s how Mommy knew it really meant the world to her.
- a student gave me a mini-Twix bar yesterday. So that was great.
- a kid emailed me with a question about something on the Homework Calendar on my website. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR – they actually use my homework calendar!?! VICTORY IS MINE!
- this morning, a student tried to barter with me. He told me he’d read the challenging book I recommended, so long as I agreed to write a letter of reference for him. I told him he’s such a stand-out student that I’d gladly, and with enthusiasm, write the recommendation even if he was reading The Bernstein Bears, but that he still had to read the challenge book. His awkward laugh and shy smile when he registered the reality of my compliment was perfect. He left feeling like the gifted young man he is.
Most kids are good. I am reminded time and again, each day, of the power behind that statement. I show up to work and am impressed, challenged, encouraged, and pushed beyond the limits of my imagination by the young men and women who walk through my classroom door. I love spending my days with kids, buddy, I really do.
But more than I love them, I love you. Before I knew I wanted to be a teacher or a writer or a wanna-be actress, I knew I wanted to be a mom. And I hate that there are days, and weeks, and months when I fear for your safety and mine, when I think about having to choose our physical well-being over my love of teaching. I hate that there are some days when my anxiety upon walking through the doors to my school is palpable, that I have to fight my thoughts and pray away my tears. I hate that I have to pray fervently for your protection, and that there are parents who have lost their wholeness because schools aren’t always the safe places they should be.
I hate that I have to use the word “most” and not “all.”
I hate that the reason I’m writing this letter is because a young teacher lost her life.
I will try to shield you from the news as you grow up, sweet boy. I will try to protect you from the truths I don’t think you’re ready for. I will try to help you make sense of the world around you, as you also seek to make sense of words like grace and love and holiness. I will try, sweet boy, I will try.
But for whatever you see, whatever you hear, whatever you start to question and doubt like all of the adults around you do now, please don’t ever forget,
most kids are good.
For however long Mommy’s a teacher, she loved every single day of it.
Let’s hold hands when we walk into school together tomorrow, okay? I think we’ll both feel braver that way.
See you in the morning. I’ll try not to burn your waffles like I did yesterday.
Over coffee several weeks ago, a friend asked me to describe the moment I first felt like a real mom.
I know what she wanted.
She wanted a scene from my hospital bed the night they wheeled my sleeping baby boy in to see me. She wanted to know about the way my voice caught in my throat when I unwrapped him from his blankets and saw his wrinkled, precious little baby toes. She wanted to hear about how I held my breath for several minutes just so I could hear him breathing quietly against my chest. She wanted me to recount the sound of the ticking clock, a sound that grounded me in reality and confirmed I wasn’t living in a dream. She wanted to know I felt like a mom then, but I didn’t.
I feel like a mom today. I felt like a mom this morning. I’ve been feeling like a mom all week. As I fight to get my son back to bed in his now habitual 2:30 a.m. wake-up, a fight that he apparently is only willing to have with me – I feel like a mom. As I stand in the bedroom with my third cup of coffee to assess the damage from the night before – 2 diapers, 2 peed-on crib blankets, Orajel teething medicine, tear-stained pillows from Mom and Baby – well, I guess I feel like a mom then.
For a very long time I thought I wouldn’t get to be a mom. Or, well, I thought I would have to work really hard to be able to become a mom. And as it goes with anything we’re told we cannot have, or don’t have, or desperately want to have – we spend all the years without it creating a fairytale around the day when we actually get it. I spent a lot of years creating a fairytale around motherhood. I imagined only and all of the good stuff – the cuddles and the giggles and the grass at our feet as we ran. I imagined long walks before dinner and Friday night movie nights and anything that was tainted with rose colors and kissed by rainbows and butterflies. I imagined a parenting fantasyland in which everything was perfect and nothing ever went wrong. I imagined a Mother-Me who was always kind, always smiling, who was patient, laid-back, carefree and breezy. I do not know from where I got this fantasy Mother-Me because, friends, I have never ever been “breezy.”
I will never be the fantasy Mother-Me I pictured. And my little boy will never be the fantasyland version of the baby I created in my head either. I look at the reality of motherhood, and for perhaps the first time in the 10 months of my son’s life, I really truly, feel like a mom.
I see his spit-fire personality; his impatient, vivacious, bursting-at-the-seams personality that so closely mirrors my own, and I feel like a mom. I see the same tendencies in him that I fight in myself and I wonder and I pray, how will I guide him through that with grace? How will I teach him to embrace his curiosity, to channel his impulsivity, to contain his quick-to-frustration temperament while I am still learning for myself at the same time? How will I set boundaries that still provide him his freedoms?
As I use stern yet (I hope?) calm words to redirect my son who is screaming and kicking when I move him away from the glass table he continues to bang relentlessly on – I feel like a mom.
When I find myself taking deep breaths while G arches his back and bends his legs backward so that I can’t put him in the stroller he doesn’t want to go into – I feel like a mom.
When my little boy lets out a guttural belly-laugh from my tickling and silly faces – I feel like a mom.
When I search endlessly for sleep solutions on the internet and drive myself silly with self-doubt, frustration, and mistrust of my own instincts – I feel like a mom.
When my son reaches out for me in the middle of the night and nestles his face into my chest – I feel like a mom.
As I pray each day that my little boy will blossom and grow in healthy and humble ways in spite of me – I feel like a mom.
In the hours when I am utterly exhausted, when I wish someone would come serve as my stand-in, when I work to keep my own anger and impatience in check, when I realize I’m this poor boy’s only hope – these are the moments when I feel like a mom.
I don’t think that is the picturesque version of motherhood my friend wanted to hear. I’m not sure the bleeding trenches of motherhood is the stuff of TV movies or wistful novels or the dreams of hopeful young girls like I used to be. But these are the moments when I realize, when I know, that it’s me. It’s still me, and I’m a mom. Not some fantasy Me, not some other worldly Me, but a Me who is flawed and human and learning and here and working and trying and faking-it-till-I-make-it and doing the very best for my little boy that I can possibly do.
There’s no roses or butterflies in this house.
Just me and my boy.
It’s as good a day as any for us to keep figuring this thing out together.