From one mother to another

The US presidential race has as a special place in my heart (others might call it indigestion). Two election cycles ago, I remember sitting on the edge of my couch waiting, counting the minutes, as ballot totals rolled across the bottom of the television screen. One way or another, I knew my life would never be the same. It was the evening before my eldest son was born.

I won’t go into the details too much, but suffice it to say, Kiddo wasn’t particularly interested in leaving the mothership.

After an incredibly long day over which I convinced myself more than once, I must be dying, a rather loud pink thing lay in the room with me. The whole process had given my immediate family ample time to fill the waiting room, (did I mention how very long of a day it was?) and though my mom was never far, soon my hospital room became a revolving door of other well-wishers.

During one visit, my sister smiled at me as she commented with a hint of disbelief, “you’re a mom now.”

I suppose, I technically was by the definition of the word, but I sure didn’t feel all that different, well any more different than being exhausted and more than a wee bit bloated (understatement of the year). My dad likes to tell us about how when my brother was born, time simply stopped until my brother’s eyes (and lungs) opened. I didn’t have that moment, I didn’t experience that new parent glow. I will admit, I felt a little cheated. And tired. And disgusting. And maybe even a bit of a fraud. I felt a lot of I’s. Weren’t moms supposed to be self-sacrificing? My mom sure is. She’d taken the last week off work at the hint that Kiddo might finally decide to arrive with nothing to show for it. Shouldn’t my first and foremost thoughts now be centered on that wailing, hungry, pink thing and not about how none of this day had gone to my plan?

Please do not think I didn’t want my son. I very much did! I just sort of thought that being maternal would be, oh I don’t know,.. more instinctive. So I read parenting books. I did all the things that moms were supposed to do, and my son slept, pooped, and cried without so much as a thank you. I told myself I didn’t need much. A simple coo would do! I read more books, watched how-to videos and solicited recommendations. Kiddo slept and cried some more. People used to tell me I’d make a great mom some day. I was beginning to suspect they were wrong. I wanted to cry too. My mom had made motherhood look so easy. All I wanted now was to be was to be just a little like her (and sleep, lots and lots of sleep).

“After I lost, I slept like a baby: Sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry.” – John McCain to Stephen Colbert on losing the presidential election.

Then late one night, some days if not weeks later, as I sat with Kiddo in a rocking chair, humming the melodies of songs my mom used to sing to us before bed, I suddenly realized I was no longer hesitant to return him to his crib because I feared he might wake. I simply did not want to let him and this moment go. Perhaps I was still being selfish, but there are worse things to be selfish about. But it did make me wonder, when had the transition happened?

I decided it was best not to question it. The exact hour of the change didn’t matter, only that I finally felt like a proper parent (even if I still don’t always feel like I know what I am doing). At the same time, I became even more in awe of my mom. Going through the whole process with one child had been exhausting, but somehow she’d managed to survive it more than once.

One day, quite some time later, my mom confessed that she was never much of an infant person either. It turns our early days weren’t all that different after all. But she also told me that as much as I adore my children now, it just gets better. What she may not realize is the same can be said about her.

Mom, I still wish I might one day learn to be half as good a parent as you. Love you.

Happy mother’s day.

me and my mom
me and my mom

How I almost lost my feet to save my face

When I was a teenager I almost lost both of my feet.

No. I don’t mean I stumbled, or lost my footing. I mean I was at risk of my feet being potentially cut off. Gone. Bye bye.

I wasn’t particularly religious, but I enjoyed spending time with my church youth group. They were a fun group (with a couple of guys who were easy on the eye), and it was an excuse to hang out with people my age without parents or homework. The group I belonged to regularly participated in a summer day camp program for underprivileged children in the Appalachian mountains. We would travel to the main site where we would join other groups from various denominations and creeds, and get sorted into smaller mixed teams. During the day, our small groups would go to nearby sister facilities to act as councilors and chauffeurs for the kids. At night we would rejoin the large group and sleep in large wooded cabins.

I started to pack my bag. I had a problem. The terrain required closed toed shoes and I didn’t have anything suitable. My boots were designed for winter. I’d bake. My summer footwear was typically either sandals or nothing at all. I had to go last-minute shopping. I was in a rush, but I still wanted to look somewhat cool. I got a pair of low-cut Chuck Taylor knock-offs. The back of the shoe was stiff and rubbed the top of my heel, but I knew the shoe just needed to be broken in properly. No big deal. I threw a handful of socks into my bag along with the rest of my clothes. I was ready to go.

Even with the socks, my new shoes rubbed my heels to the point of blisters within the first hours of our departure. I knew that nothing much could be done about it, so I didn’t complain.

Another case of poor planning during times of flood
Another case of poor planning

We arrived at the site. It rained. It rained some more. There was no real point in trying to stay dry, everything and everyone was soon waterlogged. As we didn’t have dryers at the cabin, all you could do was change into what dry clothes remained while your wet things hung to air-dry from any available surface. I had worn all of my socks by the end of the second day and had started a system of drying them, turning them inside out, and using them again. Desperate times.

I started to notice that my shoes were getting tighter. I figured they were shrinking due to the wet conditions. My feet started hurting all the time. I would smile and laugh with the kids during the day, but secretly hope they wouldn’t ask for a game of tag. A couple of days later, as I pulled off my shoes and wet socks, I saw that my feet were the size of an elephants, swollen, discolored, and oh how they reeked! The blisters had popped and in their place were weeping sores. Painful yes, but ewwwwwww!!! I quickly pulled on another recycled pair of air-dried socks. I definitely did not want anyone to see my feet like this. I didn’t want to be labeled as gross. Mom would know what to do when I got home.

At this point I was complaining to a few close friends about how much my feet hurt and begun to waddle, but camp would be ending soon. I was telling, but I was definitely not showing. Once I got home, I would burn those shoes and all would be better. I told myself, think of the children. What’s a few more days of discomfort. We were the highlight of their summer. Keep it in perspective. The rain finally tapered off.

It was finally the last night of camp. All the children had celebrated and gone back home. Only the various groups remained. We had one last group bonfire. At the end, the camp’s organizer asked us to get into small groups and reflect upon the last several days. A man from another church standing nearby turned to me a put me on the spot. He asked me to start us off with a prayer. I completely panicked. Sure, I knew the ritual ones, how to ask for blessings for food and family and whatnot, but I just didn’t do freestyle prayer, at least not out loud, and especially not with strangers! I said a few other words, but then blurted out that I just wanted my feet to stop hurting. Mortified, I apologized for my lack of skill. The man smiled and said that was enough. It was the next person’s turn.

I hobbled back to my cabin. Still coping from my embarrassment, I yanked off my shoes and socks and showed my feet to one of the other adults in the room as if to justify why I was complaining during the time that should have been spent on positive reflection. “See! See!” Her face dropped. “We need to get you to hospital… Now.”

The doctor informed me that had I waited much longer to seek treatment, the gangrene would have taken my feet. My prayer would have been answered, although not quite as I would have liked. My feet would only hurt as phantoms. It’s a reminder to be careful what you wish for. As it was, the infection was still treatable and while I still have small scars on both heels, I can still walk just fine on my own two feet.

Whether you want to believe it was the prayer that put those people in front of me or prefer lucky coincidence, my finally speaking up was what made the key difference in the final outcome. From that experience, I learned the value of packing proper footwear (sorry – comfort now trumps fashion for me), but more importantly that I needed to stop letting my worries about what people might think about me from keeping me from asking for or accepting help.