On Believing Again

There’s an old video my parents recorded in the backyard of our Southern California home that I’ve watched so many times it’s seared in my memory. I am four and wearing a sailor suit dress and braids. My brother, a new two year old, is wearing gingham short overalls.  We are rocking on his birthday gift—a Fisher Price plastic seesaw—underneath the big climbing tree of my childhood home.  My Mickey hat, the one with the name embroidered on the back, is still strapped around my pudgy face as Dad, behind the camera, asks questions about our day at Disneyland. All these years later I realize my mother’s voice is not part of the background noise. She is nine months pregnant with my sister and has taken her two young children to an amusement park for the day. And now, I am certain, she is inside making a birthday dinner when she really deserved to take a nap.  

***

It is the summer of 2003 and I am 21 years old. I convince my then-boyfriend to take me to Disneyland for the day. Because we’re working full-time summer jobs to save for our senior year, we have to visit on a Saturday. It just happens to be very (VERY) hot and very (VERY) crowded so we spend the day holding sweaty hands in monstrous lines. The cooling misters are shooting full blast, and children are crying on every park bench, and it all costs so much money. We kiss and flirt and ride the big Ferris Wheel. It’s fun, but not that fun. We admit it’s not the Disneyland we remember as kids.

“I think we’ve gotten too old,” I say, mostly meaning it.

“I’d be happy to never go back,” he says, with certainty in his voice.

***

Ten years later I casually, tentatively, bring up Disneyland. I’m not sure what prompts the idea, other than the fact that when you have babies you want nothing more than to give them all the good things of your own childhood. Plus it’s Christmas time, and everyone knows that Disneyland in December is extra special. Our firstborn is now 2.5—the perfect age, really, where she can enjoy a lot of the rides but still gets in for free. We analyze the situation: It will be one of the busiest days of the year to visit, I will be wearing her five-month-old brother in an Ergo carrier, and we don’t even like Disneyland all that much.

But the image of a little girl wearing Mickey Mouse ears won’t leave my mind.

So we buy tickets.

***

Instead of riding Space Mountain or India Jones, I spend a lot of the day nursing in the mother’s room on Main Street. The park is so packed we can barely get our stroller to move and the restaurants offer no seating during the lunch hour.  We park our cranky two year old in the shade to wait for the parade; an activity I’ve usually shunned in favor of rides, rides and more rides. But then the music starts, and the characters make their debut, and our toddler’s eyes light up in anticipation. Anna is wearing her new set of Mouse ears and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt, eagerly craning her neck for the arrival of each new float. I catch her face when the real Minnie Mouse debuts. She points at the Minnie on her shirt. She points at the Minnie on the float. She waves, mesmerized. To her, the Mouse is living, breathing and real.

It is all, for lack of a better or more appropriate word, magical.

***

I’d like to say that we’ve returned to the park many times after that trip but it was another few years before we went back. We live a few hours north of Disneyland, just far enough that a trip takes planning, and the traditional side of me thinks that such expensive tickets should be limited to special occasions.

I was explaining this all to a friend recently—my rediscovered enchantment for all things Disney—and my reservations in visiting too frequently.

“You know, they only really believe in the magic for a few short years,” she said. “Trust me. I’ve seen it. You have a year or two left, tops, until she knows all the characters aren’t real. If I were you, I’d try to go again while she’s still little.”

Normally, I hate these sorts of warnings. I try to be the type of mom who enjoys the present moment without fear of the future. The “enjoy this time, dear sentiment can imply there isn’t much to look forward to in the next stages of parenting, and I won’t buy it, especially when there are a lot of things that happen on any given day that I’d prefer to do less of—things like wiping goopy snot off the baby’s upper lip before he swallows it with his rice cereal, or mopping the floor with a wet wash cloth every time he finishes eating, or listening to our kindergartener take a full minute to sound out the phrase Hop on Pop.

***

We took Anna back to Disneyland this year, as an almost six year old. I planned the day around a specific princess performance, but when the hour came near she admitted she’d rather stick to the rides. Her face glowed with excitement all day as she begged for ice cream and a bubble wand, and nothing brought her more joy than screaming on the roller coasters with me, but the wonder in her face that I saw as a two-year old wasn’t the same anymore. This is a lovely, long awaited chapter of mothering her—a chapter where we get to start enjoying some of the same activities—but I’ll admit that I’m sad how quickly her little years are flying by. There were so few years before she realized the Mouse is just a small adult in a very elaborate costume.

And I guess this is motherhood: finding myself in a constant state of mourning the passing of time, and trying to rewind the past, while wholeheartedly embracing the next stage. A few years ago, I got to believe in Minnie Mouse again, and now, I’m riding roller coasters.

I think about my friend’s warning—that we only believe in the magic for so long—and I realize that she’s both right and wrong.

Because all these years later, I still believe in the magic. Now it just looks a little different.


P.S. Head over to our giveaway page for a Strong as a Mother giveaway and discount code!

Photo by Diana LaCounte

Adapted

Dear Ma,

Pardon the informality. I’m reticent to call you “Mom” or “Mother” for a lot of reasons. For one, we only met once, at birth, before the social workers and hospital employees took me. For another, I’ve been raised by another woman, whom I’ve called “Mom” for over 30 years now, so it feels inaccurate and disloyal to use that particular moniker in addressing you. The last reason is that, in my mind, you are too young to be an actual mother. You remain timeless in a memory that I don’t actually have: Sixteen and scared and too unwilling or unable or unfit or unsuited or unhealthy to marry your life to mine. I don’t know the exact reasons that you chose adoption, but I can certainly piece together a narrative based on the little that I know.

But all of that is irrelevant, as this is my story.

So, let’s see. Since birth, I guess a lot has happened. I’ll try to be brief and just give the highlights. My parents adopted me from the orphanage in Tenleytown after my caseworker, Rosa, took me to weddings where I was held by and giggled adorably for her relatives. I went to live with my parents in suburban Maryland, and my grandparents came quickly from the south to meet me. My mother got pregnant after thinking that she never would and never could. She had a son 10 months after I was born. Over the years, he and my father and my mother became very close.

My parents told me that I was a good sleeper as a child, that I’d often leave the room and put myself to bed without ever telling anyone that was what I was doing. I always wonder if it’s because no one ever rocked me to sleep. I don’t mean to sound sad or to make you feel guilty, these were just the facts. I slept fine; most nights I still do.

I spent my early years the way most lonely kids do, getting stung by bees in rosebushes, scratching my chicken pox until they bled, playing in the woods, and getting thrown up on by boys that I’d later hold hands with in middle school. But the big things were good. The television was always on, and dinner was always around the corner. When I got older, I’d love school, especially burying my nose in stories and collecting BookIt points to bring to the local Pizza Hut. Much later, I’d be told I was pretty, and I’d get all sorts of attention from boys and grown men who had nothing appropriate to say to me. I became an angry teenager, rebellious and blue-haired. I was pretty pissed off at you, to be honest. You’d abandoned me to a family where I didn’t fit in. You’d left me alone to figure out a strange new body that attracted too much unsettling attention.

I dashed through high school and jetted off to college to study feminism and social structures, searching for a reason as to why a woman would feel it necessary to leave her child. Was the root of our estrangement poverty? Inequality? Domestic violence? Lack of access to welfare? Coincidentally, I spent a semester in a dorm room that overlooked the courtyard of the orphanage where I lived for the first few months after we parted. In my last year of college, I wrote a thesis and a research proposal about the universal experiences of womanhood. That proposal was accepted and it took me halfway across the world away from my family, and from my bad boyfriends, and from all that I knew, all the way to Morocco.

Like we all eventually do, I learned to put my angry adolescence aside and came to accept that where I came from was less important than where I was going. I began to write, really write, about all of the things that I saw and felt. I fell in love with a man. He is very good, funny and smart and successful. We got married seven years ago, on the fourth of July. I was 24 and it was much too fast, but it’s turned out for the best.

A few years ago, my husband and I got pregnant for the first time. That baby died. Another baby after that died, too. I remember my mother told me through tears: “I never expected this to happen to you. Your natural mother was so young. She had no trouble getting pregnant.”

Finally, a pregnancy took and I got big and swollen (did you gain much weight during your pregnancy?). Nine months later, I fought through a tough labor and had an emergency c-section (was childbirth easy for you?) My son spent a few days in the NICU (were you ever scared I’d die?) and breastfeeding was hard. In the end though, my sweet boy came home healthy. (How did you feel when you went home without me?)

I remember distinctly the moment that I realized what it meant to be my son’s mama. It was 3 a.m., and we had been home for just a few weeks. We were nursing and it struck me: the magnitude of it all. I was forever tied to this tiny, perfect human. I’d always be his mama, and he’d always be my boy. I’d be responsible for feeding, clothing, caring for him. I’d have to teach him about books, and life, and feminism, and how to be a good man. There was no backing out. I felt terrified, but also peaceful. I guess I can’t explain it other to say that I felt God.

A moment later, I was shaken from my peace, and I thought about you. Did you want to be something other than a mother? Because, I have to tell you, you could have done everything. I don’t know your situation, but I do know that no matter how long the days with my son are, children aren’t chains. I have never felt so stretched thin or overwhelmed or stressed as I have since becoming a mother. But I wouldn’t make a different choice. I have found ways to maintain my sense of self despite it all.

When I tell people my story, they often ask me if I want to meet you, and I usually tell them no. I mean, what would we even have to talk about? You made a choice for us a long time ago, and I trust that it was the right one. But sometimes, I look at myself and the person that I’ve become, and I think about the family that adopted me and all of our differences, and I wonder.

When my son was born, he became my only blood relative. I wonder if he is like you. I wonder how he will feel about me in 30 years. I wonder if you two will ever meet. I wonder if it matters.

Sincerely,       
Your Girl


Guest post written by Pamela Savage. She is a work at home mom to sweet baby Raymond and forever-puppy, Buddy. She is married to a handsome, adventurous ER doc whose work schedule drives her nuts. Pamela is a counselor, yogi, runner and writer who has lived in Morocco, Philadelphia and Chicago. She and her family live in Baltimore, Maryland (for now).

Photo by Amy Melissa.

Waiting on You

I slip a blue gown on over top of my t-shirt and carefully climb up onto the hospital bed. The sterile sheets are stiff and scratchy under my legs as I pull my sleepy toddler up onto my lap. He doesn’t understand why my husband and I had to wake him up in the middle of the night, why we toted him to the hospital in his yellow dinosaur jammies and winter coat. I try to rock him back to sleep but he is transfixed by a box of rubber gloves by the sink; he thinks we’re on an adventure.

They’ve given us a private room. Nurses come and go: they check my vitals and a technician pulls a line of slippery, red blood out of my arm. I look away and try not to think of white sheets spotted with burgundy stains, my unwanted middle of the night wake up call. There has been too much blood today.

I am losing another baby. I know it and the nurses know it but still they paste stretched smiles across their faces and try to reassure me with statistics. With calm voices they tell me that, “Twenty-five percent of women bleed during pregnancy” and “Just because you’re bleeding doesn’t mean you’re miscarrying.” But their eyes betray their words; I fit under a different statistic.

My son pulls at my hospital gown, “Mommy pants on! Mommy go!” It’s three am and the adventure is wearing thin. Patience is not his strong suit and right now, it’s not mine either. I just need someone to tell me that this is over. It hurts too much to cling to false hope.

The doctor finally comes in, only to tell me that the results are inconclusive. Her speech is clinical and she does not acknowledge the fact that I’m losing my baby. I shrug on my jeans and shuffle out into the parking lot. The clock starts to tick and I count down the hours until I return for my second round of bloodwork and a conclusion to this nightmare.

***

I’ve been here before.

Two years ago, I lay on a similar hospital bed, waiting quietly for a nurse to bring me my firstborn. A thick scar marches across my abdomen and my stomach skin sags wearily against the faded hospital gown. These are the few remaining traces of the twin boys whom I had carried in my womb only hours before.

The nurse carries one of my sons into the room and fights back her own tears as she lays him gently in my arms. He is bigger than I expect a 31 week preemie to be. Carefully swaddled in a pale green hospital towel, I hold him and whisper how much I love him. I cuddle and sing to him until his body begins to cool and my tears soak his blanket. I’d waited seven months to meet him but now I would never hear his cries, never see his eyelashes flutter against soft, rosy cheeks.

They wheel my recovery bed across the hospital and into the NICU where his twin brother lay clinging to life in a tiny incubator. I press my fingers up against the glass and watch as his tiny chest heaves and shudders, his lungs fighting for air. I too struggle for breath, the weight of my sorrow buries deep into me.

I pray that I may keep this child, and I wait.

The first time they let me hold him, I finally feel like a mother. Laying him against my chest, the nurse carefully adjusts his breathing apparatus, feeding tubes, and monitor wires. We lay together in a reclining hospital chair, our skin sticking to one another, and listen to the sound of our hearts beat.

His brother’s funeral takes place a week later on a wet July morning. Surrounded by red roses and the smell of damp earth, we watch the casket slowly lower into the muddy ground. We mourn and we grieve and we celebrate the lives of two beautiful boys: one in our arms and one above.

Another month passes before we get to bring our twinless twin home from the hospital. We’re impatient and delirious with delight; our house is full of simultaneous joy and mourning. We watch as our baby grows and we wait for time to soften the intensity of our grief.

Time marches slowly on, and strangers passing me on the street begin to question whether or not it was time for me to give my son a sibling. I never thought that I would get to the place where I was ready to be pregnant again; it hurt too much. But I waited until my heart began to sing louder than my fears; I waited for the day when I was ready to build upon my love, no matter the cost.

When the pregnancy test came back positive, I thought my heart would burst. A month later it was bursting again, but not in a good way, as I carried a sleepy-eyed toddler to the hospital and held onto the desperate hope that we weren’t going to lose another baby. All weekend I waited for the results of my bloodwork, but it wasn’t necessary to tell me what I already knew. Another little one had slipped from my womb too early.

***

And here I am again, waiting on another baby: waiting for another pregnancy, another child. I wait for the month to end and hope for two pink lines on a little white stick.

I know that all too soon we’ll be waiting on other things: my son’s first wiggly tooth to come lose, his high school graduation ceremony, the results of his first real job interview. And so I cherish these beginning moments, knowing that for two of my children, these are all the memories I’ll ever have.

A stray pack of pregnancy tests sit underneath my bathroom sink and I wonder how many I’ll go through before I meet you. My days are riddled with impatience and hesitant dreams for round-bellied tomorrows but this time around, I will remember to take things slow. While I earnestly long for arms filled with the soft weight of your newborn body, I will first embrace the wait. Nine months or nine weeks, I will hold tight to each moment with you.

You’re worth the wait.


Guest post written by Liz Mannegren.  Liz lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and son. She is the mother of three beautiful babies: carrying one in her arms but an extra two in her heart. You can read more of her writing at www.mommymannegren.com

The Warmth Of The Entire Sun

She’s crying, and, as usual, I can’t understand the sad gibberish coming out of her mouth. She’s crumpling in front of me. I finally interpret what she is saying between her sobs.

“They ... don’t ... like me.”

Ouch.

I didn’t expect that sentence to catapult me back into my own three year-old body, my first feeling of rejection — the first time I felt confusingly small ... but it does because motherhood has made me absorbent.

Her petite, new pain, amplifies in me to make up for the 21 years of living it will take her to grow the same callouses that I wear. The ones I know will only build upon themselves as I get older and she gets older and life keeps passing between our fingertips. The empathy of motherhood is excruciating. I know this is only the beginning, only the surface of a continuous depth, and the weight of that knowledge almost brings me to my knees.

How do I tell her that it will never stop? That even after all this time and all of this growth and understanding, I still find myself being wounded by others’ words and opinions of me. But mostly by my own. It is a war I have not yet completely won.

There is so much pain ahead of her.

It feels like these black clouds came out of nowhere.

***

I feel the responsibility to prepare her for all of it, but I don’t know if I have enough time. I’ve already seen her as a newborn and a toddler for the last time. Without my consent, she is disappearing, running toward independence at full speed, and I don’t have a choice.

I don’t even notice how fast she is growing most days.

I need her to know that the full moon loves her, that people can be horrible, but that Jesus was hated too. I need her to know that you don’t have to wear makeup or heels if you don’t want to, and it’s okay to eat lunch alone, and the sting of the cold shoulder won’t always feel so bitter. I need her to know that she is supposed to be her own best friend. I need her to believe in herself.

But I can’t just hand over that understanding. I have to sit here and twiddle my thumbs and talk and talk and hope and pray some of it takes root inside of her. I have to allow her to learn for herself.

When she was born, it was like I was given an another lifetime to live — however, in this one, I have more wisdom, but almost no ability to apply it.

***

In tenth grade, I was afraid of my bare skin. I couldn’t look at the blemishes beneath my drugstore makeup and the awkward pubescent weight I carried in my middle without wincing. Having to put on a swimsuit in gym class or trying to run a mile and sweating my foundation off made me hate myself.

I’ll never forget the boy at the skatepark who made fun of the scratches I had dug into my own forearms with a dull box cutter. I thought he was my friend. The time was dark, and I internalized all of it. I became mean. I’d fight with my girlfriends, call them names, and shoot my insecurities like arrows back at those around me. I thought being mean would translate into being liked, and if I was liked, my life would be better.

I tried so hard, in all of the wrong ways, and, still none of them wanted me. Being mean didn’t make my life better, and it turns out being “liked” wouldn’t make it better, either.

I was doing really well in chemistry, at the time.  My teacher, Mrs. P had a reputation for being strict and stubborn. She was bold and sarcastic, intimidating and intelligent, and I was afraid of her.

Day after day, I’d walk into her class feeling ugly and stupid, alone and unwanted. I felt annoyingly sorry for myself, but for the first time, someone saw past the hardness. She saw me.

She would look me in the eye and tell me I was smart. I believed her because she was the most honest person I had ever met. She didn’t play around. She made me believe in myself. She helped me look inward for the value I was seeking. She showed me you have to love yourself, even when others didn’t. And that above all else, kindness (real, sincere kindness which expects nothing in return) is always the answer.

The lessons she taught me brought a light into my life that was blinding.

***

She is practicing plies with her ballet teacher, and I see light swimming in her eyes. Then, she is belly laughing as she works on her weekly reading with a therapy dog and his owner. There is a literal glow around all three of them. Even when her fingers are struggling to write the letters with her pencil, her tutor’s persistent encouragement makes me realize there are glimmers of this light everywhere, if I just open my eyes.

I don’t think they understand how much it means to me to see them love my daughter.

Because of the dark shadows in my own experience, I was able to notice the light in Mrs. P, and I notice it now in the relationships my girl is building - inside circles of which I have no involvement in. They’re going to take care of her and she’s going to take care of herself, when I can’t do it.

So maybe this lifetime, her lifetime, isn’t about eliminating or shielding her from all of the pain with my wisdom, and maybe I don’t want to. Maybe if I do, she won’t be able to recognize radiance when it is blazing right in front of her. Because this lifetime is the one that I know kindness wins and goodness prevails and love makes up for all that I lack. Love makes everything right again - and it will, even if I am not there to witness it. There will be helpers and doers; people who believe in doing what is right, and mercy seeping into every crack of this broken earth because of it.

I will teach her to look inward for brightness first. And then I will beg her to chase it, and to grasp it, and to document it second.

***

It takes a while for me to cool the rage that is boiling through me, I want to go over there and give them a piece of my mind, to tell them they are little jerks, but instead something tells me to teach her what I learned in chemistry class ten years ago ...

“But do you like you?”

She takes a deep breath, swallows her sadness, and whispers,

“Yes.”

And that word right there, those three tiny letters, are the warmth of the entire sun.


P.S. Head over to our giveaway page for a Strong as a Mother giveaway and discount code!