Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

It was a Friday. I was 40 weeks pregnant. My 18 month old woke at 5:30 to come snuggle in our bed.

“We have to make her stay in her crib,” my husband mumbled as I wedged her already sweaty little body between his arm and my giant belly.

“Shhh… she’s just a baby,” I murmured.

“Not for long.” He said as he rolled over.

I pulled my for-now baby in close and breathed in the whisps of her fluffy blonde hair. I had prayed that I would go into labor nearly every night for three weeks, but as much as my body wanted pregnancy to conclude, my mind screamed, “You’re not ready!” How would I manage returning home from the hospital with another little girl who would occupy our bed in the wee hours of the morning? What would I do with two babies in a queen-sized bed? It just didn’t seem fair to send my husband to the couch. Because this was my third baby, I could confidently say that there was room in my heart for more, but, literally, was there room in our bed? In our house? In our schedule?

My son straggled in around 6:45, so I heaved myself up and shuffled to the kitchen. I threw open the door to the patio to let the dog and the toddlers out to play while I made breakfast. This was the part of the day that I had down: coffee, breakfast, outside play. I could unload the dishwasher while boiling water and scrambling eggs (our kitchen is small, okay?). But as I stacked cups and pulled the toast out of the toaster I wondered: What would I do with a baby during breakfast? When will I nurse her? What if she’s crying? Should I wear her? Set up the swing in the kitchen? Perhaps these were questions that I should have been pondering all along, but third pregnancies don’t really pull focus the way other pregnancies do, and I wound up at forty weeks a lot faster than I’d expected. So there I was lockstep into my morning routine wondering what on earth would I do with a baby? 

By 7:30 it was already 85 degrees, and I was – thankfully, I guess - not having any contractions. I tried to fold laundry on our patio table, but I quickly regretted it. Heat plus drought plus small children equals dustbowl, and in an effort to cool my children down/clean them up/distract them from hitting each other with the broom, I opted to let them use the hose for just five minutes in order to fill buckets and play naked carwash (This is a family favorite: Take off clothes, wash outside toys. You can pin this if you want). By 10:30 they were in the bathtub cooling off and scrubbing the morning grime from their sweaty little bodies, and I was pouring my second cup of coffee. Hashtag the usual.

It was about this time that my son declared his concern for our dog: “She scratching her booty so much, mom.” I looked over at our aging maltese-poodle viciously digging at her behind. Waddling over to where she lay, I already knew what I would find: fleas.

I hauled the children from the bathtub and plopped their dripping bodies in the hall. Grabbing the flea soap from the cabinet, I gritted my teeth.

“Mommy, why do dogs get fleas? Does God makes fleas? Can we get fleas? Can people get fleas? MOMMY DO I HAVE FLEAS? Vivi, look in my booty! LOOK!” My son stood and bent forward, sticking his rump in my daughter’s face.

“Gross! Brother’s booty!!”

I swear to you I said a lot of F words. Not the actual F word because I didn’t want to add that to list of things I needed to explain in the moment, but otherwise lots of Fs. So many.

I scrubbed the dog pretty meanly, and berated myself for not remembering the flea med refill, and also what in the world would I do with a baby in this situation? I didn’t know. As I viciously rinsed flea-ridden fur, my mind flooded with doubt: We were gross. My house wasn’t clean. I was a bad dog owner, and therefore probably a really bad mom. Why did I think I could have another baby?

My kids had wandered into their bedroom to play, and I consoled myself with the fact that they were really quite easily entertained and maybe that would solve all of my –

“Vivi pooped on the floor! MOM! By the train table! It’s a LOT of poo!!”

“I did. I have a poo. Right there. RIGHT THERE.”

Shockingly, I did not cry.

***

We survived the poopocalypse. Barely. After diapering and dressing my people, I hurried them out the door to take the dog to the vet. Although I’d scrubbed her, vacuumed, and cleaned the dog bed, the thought of bringing a new baby home to a potentially flea-ridden living room pushed a lot of my anxiety buttons. I may not know exactly how to manage another human, but I could try to keep her clean.

I buckled the car seats, and as I pulled out of the driveway, the thermometer in my van read 100 degrees.

I want to tell you that we really turned our day around, that by the time we arrived home from the vet the day that had been filled with poop and sweat and fleas and conflict was redeemed by a blissful nap time where I rejuvenated myself with iced-chai and thought lovely birthing thoughts in preparation for my new sweet bundle of joy. Sorry, no. None of those things happened, and as I plied my son with Daniel Tiger episodes I heard my daughter yelling from her crib: “Need pizza! I NEED pizza! NO NAP."

I softly opened the door to her room. I lifted her up and plopped us both on the loveseat next to her crib. She laid her head on my chest. Thankful that she wasn’t still yelling about pizza, I simply rubbed her tiny back. My big baby daughter tucked her knees on the sides of the belly that housed her tiny baby sister. Her feet gripped my hips as the baby wiggled inside of me. I can do this, I thought. I don’t have the logistics worked out yet, but I will. I could snuggle my daughter and the baby at the same time. I could really figure this out. I can do this.

I felt my daughter’s breath begin to steady as she drifted off on my chest. My shoulders relaxed, and I leaned my head back. The fan blew in the corner of her dark, cool room, and I brushed away a fuzz that was tickling my arm. I could think my loving birth thoughts here. This was probably more restful than our sweltering living room. I brushed another fuzz away. I need to clean that fan, I thought. It was admittedly pretty dusty, and I can’t have it blowing fuzz all over the room when the baby comes.

My arm started to itch. The fuzz was -- I sat up fast and flipped the switch on the lamp next to the loveseat: Ants. The fuzz was ants. Not just one ant. Not just ten ants. Hundreds.

Lest you think we are the world’s most disgusting family, let me briefly defend myself: we aren’t.

Between the drought, the heat, our half-acre of dry, dusty land, a barn cat, a couple of miniature horses, and a few cracks in the cement slab under our house, things got buggy. It didn’t help that someone left a small bowl of Honey Nut O’s on the floor of the nursery, which was basically a calling card for all ants within a hundred miles.

I texted my husband: ant emoji, ant emoji, gun emoji, exed out eye face with open mouth.

Husband: I’ll pick up dinner.

***

Here’s the thing about that terrible day – it was dreadful – but it was just one day. Poop, ants, pregnancy, fears, worries, these are some of the parts, but as far as motherhood is concerned, that bad day is not the sum total of my experience.

I think somewhere I got in my head that being a good mom meant that I could anticipate and circumvent any potential problem. If I were really a good mom, then I would have a plan for disaster before it ever struck. But the thing is, as much as I like to have a morning routine and a bedtime routine and an organized schedule of events for each day, I don’t have a plan a lot of the time. I can’t.

Days with dogs and kids include poop and fleas and heat and sweat and fights, and it’s not my job to keep those things at bay (as much as I’d like to). My job is to show my kids how to manage them – to learn through those experiences. Days with small children rarely go according to plan. I have to be quick on my feet, able to find joy in the happy moments and persevere in the tough moments, and in the process I’m modeling those characteristics for my the little ones who are always watching me.

I definitely cried into the burrito my husband brought me for dinner that night. The kids were cuddled up on either side of me watching Fireman Sam, and as my husband set the bag of food on my belly I burst into tears. A big, deep bean and cheese catharsis. My daughter rubbed her hand up and down my arm, and my son looked up at my husband: “There were lots of ants today, Dad. Lots.”

It was in that moment that I knew we were going to be okay. Not because I had a plan, but because it didn’t matter whether I had a plan or not. We had a rough day, but we got through it together. I didn’t know what I would do with a baby in that situation, but I knew what I would do overall: I would love her, hold her, cry a little (or a lot), and gear up for the next day.

We were ready.


Written by Anna Jordan. Photo by Sandra Kordazakis.

I Was Just Her.

I notice her running tights first. They are hard to miss, in all their purple and pink spandex-y glory. I’ve never been the type to pull off decorative running tights. My workout drawer is a sea of grey tops and black pants, with the exception of one pale pink sports bra. I’m not sure if it’s confidence I’m lacking (possible), or if I’m simply drawn to black because yoga pants are part of my regular mom uniform and it’s easier to scrub peanut butter off of them. 

She is leaning over a toilet in the bathroom trying to put a seat cover on it, with the stall door wide open. Her toddler is rushing to get his shorts down, while a stroller sits parked right outside the stall, taking up more than half the space in front of the sinks. A new baby squirms in the snap-n-go, restless under the fluorescent lights. He can’t be more than two months old. 

Once her toddler is situated on the toilet, she turns back around, picks up the baby and rocks him in the middle of the bathroom. She sways in that familiar way that all mothers do, while simultaneously praising her other child on the potty. She brushes a piece of hair from her forehead. Our eyes meet.

I smile at her, and fight the urge to say something wise and all-knowing like, “Don’t worry, it gets easier.”

She isn’t frazzled. Her hands are simply full, much like mine had been one year prior.

I was just her.

One year ago, I was the mom with the tiny baby and a potty training toddler. I was the one carting around a snap-n-go stroller taking up entire bathrooms while helping my oldest kid on and off toilets big enough to practically swallow him. Oh how far we’ve come.

Ten minutes later, we are both in the gym. She’s on the elliptical machine and I’m in the back of the room on a spin bike. I watch her out of the corner of my eye, not in a creepy way, but in a nostalgic sort of way. I remember being deep in the trenches with a baby and a toddler and escaping to the gym for 45 minutes of solitude, despite the fact that it took us nearly 30 minutes to pack up and get there and 30 minutes to unload and re-settle back at home.

I was just her.

Come to think of it, I don’t even know how I’m not her anymore. Somewhere along the line, my potty-training toddler turned into a potty pro and my Velcro baby learned to walk and talk. I can get all of us into the car in six minutes flat, and there’s a single diaper stashed in the trunk for emergencies. There is no stroller, no diaper bag, no baby carrier—I come to the gym with my iPad and headphones and two kids wearing actual shoes. They walk themselves into the childcare room, and they wave goodbye to me with smiles on their faces.

One day everything was hard and exhausting and impossible. And then one day I blinked and the sun came out.

***

I finish my workout with some simple stretches on the black mat. My legs look like camouflage against it, and for a minute I wonder if I could pull off pink and purple running tights. I pack up my bag and head to the childcare room to retrieve my children, when I see her again. Right outside the playroom, she is sitting in a plastic chair nursing her baby. Her toddler is squirming beside her, anxiously waiting to leave.

It is like looking in a time machine. 

I offer nothing but a sentimental smile, a soft grin soaked in reminiscence. I think of how many mothers are out there, and how strange and beautiful it is that we’re all roaming the earth, bumping into past and future versions of ourselves. I think of what a gift that is: the gift of motherhood benchmarks. What a blessing to see a past version of yourself, a point of reference to see how far you’ve come. And what a treasure to be able to see ahead, to catch a tiny glimpse of what the future might hold.

I remember picking up Chipotle for dinner a couple months ago. A mom stood in front of me in line with two boys wearing baseball uniforms, probably 7 and 9 years old. They each ordered their own burrito bowls (with steak). I stood alone; there were no kids wreaking havoc around me to give away my identity as a mother, but I remember standing there staring at those kids thinking to myself: that will be me someday. One day, God willing, I’ll wake up and be a mother to two boys who are almost as tall as me. Someday I’ll be here in this line while my boys order their own burrito bowls and we won't need a high chair and nobody will be crying and I won't have to worry about cleaning up a million chip crumbs before we leave. By that point, some things will be harder and some things will be easier; we'll have a whole new set of challenges and a whole new set of rewards.

I stood in that time machine for a minute. What a trip.

***

My friend Lesley just had her third (and probably last) baby. For the past year or so, I’ve listened to her talk about the sweet season she was in with her two kids—family bike rides, trips to the beach, the ability to make dinner in peace while her kids quietly watched Dinosaur Train on the couch. Meanwhile, I was going on my 13th consecutive month of severe sleep deprivation and wondering when in the world my kids would learn to play together.

She was right ahead of me; I was just behind her.

“Keep telling me these things,” I said to her one day, “I love hearing about the light at the end of the tunnel.”

***

We get home from the gym and I unbuckle the kids from their car seats. They each walk into the house on their own, and immediately run to retrieve their toy cars from the basket in the living room. They start running around the coffee table, their favorite racetrack, while I collapse on the couch with a granola bar.

I can’t stop thinking about that woman at the gym, and wonder if I should have said something to her. I wonder if my smile was enough, if she could sense the nostalgia in the air.

I don’t even know if nostalgia is the right word for it—because truthfully, I have no longing to go back there. I miss pieces of last year (new baby smell and long naps, to name a few), but as a whole, that first year of transitioning to life with two kids was intense and difficult for me.

But that’s part of the magic of where we are now, you know? Without that hard year, without that time in the trenches, I wouldn’t be able to recognize how far we’ve come. I wouldn’t see taking two kids to the gym without a diaper bag as an accomplishment. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed the woman at the gym, and the way she swayed with her infant in the middle of the bathroom while simultaneously monitoring another kid on the toilet. I probably wouldn’t have stopped to admire her, to smile at her, to think about her for an hour afterwards. 

But how could I not?

It was almost like acknowledging myself, impossible to ignore.

I was just her. Look how far we've come. 


Written by Ashlee Gadd (who was inspired to buy her own pair of pink running tights last week).

Strawberry, Banana + Coconut Milk Popsicles

We are entering the stage of sticky. There was always some of that from the earliest days of parenthood, but toddler sticky is a whole new level. No matter how many times I clean my kitchen floor, I still end up repeating the phrase, "What did I just step on?!" more times than I care to admit. I carry baby wipes with me wherever I go – and it's rarely ever for actual diaper changes. They’re for wiping granola bar crumbs, spilled applesauce, snot, drool or other mysterious liquids off my own body or that of my two munchkins. Clean up after meals all too often requires a full-blown bath rather than a quick wipe down. And summer? No one told me before having kids that summer is really three straight months of reaching epic levels of sticky.

I remember going down the shore as a kid and getting coated in a thick layer of sun tan lotion before the rays wreaked havoc on our pale skin. Then we’d splash in the ocean, play in the sand, grab a mayonnaise-slathered turkey sandwich from the cooler my mom stocked and repeat that routine until it was time to go home. By the end of the day, our bathing suits were filled with sand and our skin was covered in a layer of salt and sweat.

On hot days at home, my mom used to freeze orange juice in small Dixie cups with a plastic spoon stuck in it like a Popsicle stick. We’d peel off that paper cup and go to town, juice running down our chins as we raced to finish before it all melted completely. Somehow that frozen orange juice eaten in the backyard tasted so much better than simply drinking out of a glass in the kitchen.

I remember the best part about eating watermelon was having a seed-spitting contest outside, and the ultimate summer days would be topped off with an ice cream cone from the nearby Dairy Queen. 

As a parent, it’s easy for me to get annoyed at the little things – the squished banana on the kitchen floor, the little hands that think my shirt is a napkin and the faces that return to their sticky state just minutes after a bath. But when I think of my own childhood, sticky was often accompanied by smiles, and messy meant there was fun being had. The nighttime bath that washed away all the ice cream, fruit juice, salt and sand meant we could make that whole mess all over again the next day. We were a blank, clean canvas waiting to be painted with whatever we could get our little hands on tomorrow.

I’m learning to embrace this stage of sticky. I’m learning to see the smiles behind the dripping ice cream, and lathering up my kids with sun tan lotion means I get to watch them splash in the pool with unrestrained glee. I’m learning that these ordinary days when I constantly feel like I’m cleaning up after my kids are not meaningless. These days, these moments – as mundane and messy as they sometimes seem – add up to a childhood that I pray my kids will someday look back on with joy and gratitude.

So bring on the summer…and bring on the sticky.

Strawberry, Banana + Coconut Milk Popsicles
Yields 10-12 Popsicles

Popsicles

1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

2 Tablespoons honey, plus additional to taste

2 medium bananas

1 (13.5 ounce) can full fat coconut milk

Add the strawberries and two tablespoons of honey to a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer about 8-9 minutes, continuing to stir frequently. The strawberries should break down and the mixture should reduce and thicken slightly.

Remove from heat and allow the strawberry mixture to cool for a few minutes.

Add the bananas, coconut milk and strawberry mixture to a blender. Blend until smooth. Add an additional tablespoon or two of honey if desired. (It should taste slightly sweeter than how you’d normally prefer a smoothie, because the sweetness will mellow when frozen.)

Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze until solid, about 3-4 hours. If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can use ice cube trays or small paper cups. When the mixture is slightly frozen (after about 1 hour), stick a plastic spoon or wooden popsicle stick in each serving and continue to freeze until solid.

To remove the popsicles, I run warm water on the outside of the mold until I can easily pop them out. Serve immediately, or roll in the strawberry coconut topping (instructions below).

Strawberry, Banana + Coconut Milk Popsicles-9.jpg

Strawberry + Coconut Topping

¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries

¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Add the freeze-dried strawberries and coconut flakes to a food processer and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. Roll the popsicles in the topping mix. (This works best if you allow the outside of the popsicles to melt ever so slightly.)

Serve and enjoy!


Words, recipe, and photos by Sarah Hauser

Authors Of Our Own Ending

My Dear Boys,

It wasn’t my plan to fall in love. In fact, my plan was more like “stay in love with your father, whom I married, raise you up in the intact family you were born into, and be the happily ever after I so deeply feel you deserve.” But unfortunately, the plans changed. Adults made choices that cannot be taken back, and I can feel my heart breaking while I write this, but you bear the fallout. You chose none of this. I know that, but our family is changing and while you cannot yet be in the driver’s seat, you CAN help steer us. Which is why I brought him in when I did – sooner than conventional wisdom says might be appropriate, but when my heart knew it was right.

It was supposed to be one beer.

I (bravely) made an online dating account after your father moved out because, well, I am a person who loves to do life in relationship. I do better when I have a partner in crime and this single parenting gig, let alone single woman gig, is hard. I decided to dip my toe into the icy waters of dating in my mid-30s. With kids. Just to see. I needed to know, did I still have it? Would anyone even click on my profile? Was I still a catch? Too damaged? Too old? I asked a younger colleague at work what sites the kids were using these days and got down to business. Within the first few hours of creating that profile several people messaged me, so I had my answer to the “still got it” part, but then the whole thing got a bit ick for me and I started thinking maybe I wasn't ready. But. There was one person who genuinely seemed to fit the bill. A teacher/musician. Funny. Sweet. Okay, I thought. We chatted a bit. Maybe. 

We made one date. I cancelled it. He texted me a few weeks later and I said yes and kept the next date. Here’s the thing: my intention was to go on one date to say I had done it. That was the plan. But as we sat there laughing, talking, and feeling the hours slip away while one beer turned into a couple, which turned into dinner, I realized how very wonderful it was to have an adult conversation with a genuine, caring, honest, smart man who looked at me like he really saw me. And the whole time I sat there, I was also auditioning him, mostly subconsciously, for a meeting with you.

What would the boys think?

Believe me when I say I read all the articles available on when to introduce a new boyfriend to your children. And there were many prescribed timelines, scenarios, and step-by-step guides. They were fine, but they didn’t feel like me. I go with my gut when it comes to you and my gut said I couldn’t wait too long. I finally found one essay by an author with a point that stopped me in my tracks. She talked about kids being the best “sniffer test” of a dud. Kids and dogs, man, they know when a human being sucks. And I’d like to know that now, rather than later, I thought. I didn’t do the most awesome job the first time around – though we DID make the most amazing human beings I’ve ever known – so maybe I could use a little filter-free sniffing out. Kids do say the darndest things and, well, I wanted to know what you’d say. I also didn’t want to totally fall head over heels for someone who just didn’t fit in with us. If he couldn’t hang, better to know now.

I deserve to be in a loving relationship, but more to the point, you deserve to see your mama being loved so well. We are embarking on a new phase, not one we chose, but one we get to make the very best of. We get to write this ending, my sweet ones, and I could not think of better co-authors than you.


Kate Buckholz Berrio is a single mom to two boys, and a truth teller at all costs. She works full time; speaks, writes, and performs in local theater; and generally lives a life of carefully managed chaos. She is a contributor on DivorcedMoms.com and she and her boys live in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Follow along on her adventures at www.iholdyourheart.com and @berrioka.