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Oh, to be a river

Last weekend I went on a mini retreat with one of my oldest — and dearest — friends while Mr. B stayed home with the kids for an adventure only two toddlers can provide. Saturday morning my friend and I packed our computers, books, music and wine and spent a glorious 24 hours in the company of a river at a small cabin in the heart of The Mitten.

Chippewa River View

It was quiet and peaceful and everything my soul had been needing for some time. I have talked before about how bad I am at making time for myself, but I’m trying to do better. I recognized my need to get away and have a night to myself to focus on things I enjoy doing: reading, writing, thinking, dreaming and planning. And what better place for this annoyingly stereotypical Pisces to do that than by the water.

My goal for the retreat was to just focus on things I enjoy that fill my soul. I read two novels, wrote a blog post and spent a lot of time sketching out my dreams for my future — for my family’s future. And, I spent some time thinking about rivers, up to my ankles in the flowing water.

Feet in the river

There’s so much I love about rivers. The peace of the smooth, flowing water. The whispery sounds as wind slides through the trees on the shore and the water snakes past. The chirping birds and splashing fish. The waving grasses and plants on the banks. The coolness of the water on my unsteady feet as the sand and rocks massage my achy arches.

But there’s so much more to rivers than all their beauty and peace, though. And I wonder: is it possible to love and fear and envy rivers all at the same time?

Rivers — even more than bodies of water — scare me. I’m never so intrigued and nervous as I am in the spring when the rivers swell, flooding roads and homes as they wash away what remains of our cold, Michigan winters. And those who aren’t careful very easily could get swept along with the river. Rushing spring river waters carry with them danger for the people and property that get in their way.

But, oh the way they flow — not taking no for an answer, cutting new paths with a fierce stubbornness and conviction only a river can know. There’s a special kind of patience in a river, too, knowing their path won’t be cut immediately. If there’s something in their way, they push through it. It might take years, or decades, or eons, but the river holds firm in its goal. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in this world were cut by a river — earth never the same after a river’s run through it.

There are days I wish I could be more like a river — to have that peace and patience with a fierce streak of determination running through me. Perhaps that should be my goal — perhaps I should focus on finding peace with my path while knowing it’s within my power to cut a new one as I go. Because it is, after all, my path. It is my story.

A view of the river

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Breastfeeding a Biter

I’ve written before about breastfeeding and what it’s been like for me. I’ve been feeling the need to update that story, now that I’ve provided breastmilk for three kiddos. Each of my experiences breastfeeding has been unique, as I imagine they are for every mom. And what better time to update my story than during World Breastfeeding Week?

Images of each kid breastfeeding

Did you catch what I said in the second sentence above? The words “… provided breastmilk for three kiddos …” were carefully chosen because Penelope Joy never actually fed at the breast. But I did, indeed, get to provide her with my milk for a very limited time.

And Dorothy? She nursed until she was 21 months old and I was well into my second trimester of pregnancy with Hobbes. Nursing Hobbes, though, has been … let’s just say … an adventure. And not one of those comedic ones, either.

I didn’t have nearly the issues with supply for Hobbes as I did for Dorothy. And my body responded so much better to the pump — leaving me with a nice little cushion of a freezer stash from the beginning. My pumping experience with Hobbes was so much less stressful than it was the first two times around, and I cried way fewer tears. I stopped pumping when he was about a year old, though he’s still nursing.

At 16 months old, he’s still nursing to sleep — for naps and at bedtime. And he’s still nursing in the night as well, some nights multiple times. Let’s not forget the just-before-we-head-out-the-door nursing, either, when he runs up to me, pulls my shirt down — or lifts my dress up — joyfully yelling “night night milk!” Oh, and then there are the run-by nursings where he literally runs up to me, puts his hand down my shirt, pulls my nursing bra down, takes a quick sip and resumes chasing after his sister or the dog or a shadow.

But probably my favorite — /sarcasm/ — thing about nursing Hobbes is when he shoves his foot in my face, picks my nose or repeatedly pinches my opposite nipple while nursing. Oh, yeah, and he bites. Often — but always with a sly little grin on his face.

There have been so many times when I looked at Mr. B and told him, “I’m so ready to be done with breastfeeding.” And he looks at me back, with knowing eyes.

images of Hobbes breastfeedingBecause he’s well aware that as soon as Hobbes climbs up on my lap, pushes up my shirt, snuggles in and looks at me with his big brown eyes, my heart will melt and I’ll have forgotten all the bites and bruises and annoying rush-around mornings. Because time is fleeting and breastfeeding this little man isn’t going to last forever. I know I’ll miss it when this stage has passed.

 

 

End note: I’d like to end this post by saying that I realize that breastfeeding can be a sensitive topic — one that’s so personal that a lot of moms feel judged based on if they chose to breastfeed, how long they chose to breastfeed, how they react to other women breastfeeding, etc. So every time I write about it I find it necessary to add caveats and explanations in fear of people feeling like me talking about my experience some way reflects on their experience or offers some kind of judgment for those experiences that are different from my own. 

But, here’s the thing, I can only write what I know. I can only write what I’ve experienced. So, please take this post as that — simply another story into my life with no expectation or judgment reflecting on anyone else’s choices or experiences. 

 

 

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Back to School Blues

Back to school is my favorite time of year. Seriously, Christmas and Halloween have nothing on this most wonderful time of year for me. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and even though I’ve not been to school for many moons I still celebrate in my own small way each year with new pens, markers or and notebooks.

I’ve always looked forward to the back-to-school sales and smell of fresh Crayolas lining the aisles at the stores. But this year, it’s different.

Since Penelope Joy was conceived, I looked forward to September 2018 when she would head to kindergarten. I thought about shopping for her first-day-of-school outfit and picking out her backpack. What would she want on her lunchbox? What sorts of friends would she make? Where would she catch the bus?

Then, Penelope Joy died. And I’ve looked forward to September 2018 with dread and fear rather than joy and excitement, knowing that this would have been my precious girl’s year. For quite some time I’ve been preparing for this day, knowing that I’d be a wreck as friends posted their 5-year-olds’ first day of school pictures and talked about their mixed emotions of joy and sadness as they sent their little ones off to school. I had every intention to stay off of social media for the week before and after Labor Day because my heart cannot handle it.

But now things are different as we prepare to send our rainbow baby off to preschool in September. While it’s not kindergarten, it’s her first school experience — and it’s my first mom experience with school.

We received Dorothy’s supply list in the mail the other day, as well as her child information sheet and request for vaccination records. And it hurt my heart — not just because Dorothy’s growing up (way too fast, I might add) but also because of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.

I think most of these milestones will always be bittersweet for me — both celebrating my kids’ experiences while internally mourning everything we missed out on with Penelope Joy. I try so hard not to let my grief — my lifelong grief — get in the way of our celebrations and joy. But some milestones are harder than others. Back to school, it seems, is going to be one of them.

So please be gentle with my tender heart as I experience more than the normal I-can’t-believe-my-little-girl-is-going-to-preschool sadness. And know that when I hop briefly on social media to share my shining rainbow’s first-day-of-school picture, it is because I am the proudest mom ever of a child who deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance we can muster for Back to School 2018.

I wonder what she’ll want on her lunchbox …

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 11.15.28 AM.png

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Before and After

I was working on an article earlier as a submission to my friend’s nonprofit organization, which seeks to help others heal, find hope and try to be happy again after someone they love dies. She asked me to contribute a piece about grief and, as my story flowed, about living with grief.

As I was looking for photos to share with the story, I came across two family photos. The first one is from 2013 and is the last family photo we ever took with Penelope Joy. The second one is from April this year.

So many striking differences between the two photos — and not just in the amount of hair on Mr. B’s face or the color of my glasses. I don’t think I noticed before quite how much fear and sadness were living behind our eyes in that photo. Mr. B’s eyes, I think, say it best — though my blotchy face and misty eyes give it away as well. We were terrified. We were devastated. We were holding on to a very thin rope of hope. We were, in the instant this photo was taken, preparing to say good-bye.

Sometimes I feel like I have two families: my “before” family and my “after” family. So, in a way, these are my before and after pictures.

It’s not that Penelope Joy isn’t an important part of who we are now — because she’s written into every word of our story. It’s more that who we were then is so entirely different from who we are now — as individuals and together. So much of where we are in life could never have existed in the version of our story where Penelope Joy lives. Who we are now would never be if we didn’t have this very specific “before.” Hobbes and Dorothy wouldn’t be part of our story if our “once upon a time” didn’t start with Penelope Joy’s way-too-short chapter.

I miss that little girl with such fierceness, so much force of heart. Even as I celebrate the life and light Dorothy and Hobbes bring into our tale, I can’t help but think about our before. And how it’s directed our ever-after.

I’ll be sure to share the link to the full story about grief — Grief — once it’s posted on my friend’s site.

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The Pieces of Me

In all this talking with Mr. B lately, I’ve been thinking about those pieces that, taken as a whole, make up the person I am. These are the words that float around in my head and, when someone asks what makes me Me, they are the words I use (in no particular order, of course):

  • Mom
  • Wife
  • Reader
  • Writer
  • Nature Lover
  • Woman
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Driven
  • Friend
  • Optimist (though I’ll always be working at this one)
  • Music Fan
  • Lifelong Learner
  • Dreamer
  • Creative
  • Doer
  • Happy

But, as Mr. B and I continue to chat about such things, I realize I’m not really honoring my whole self. I’ve been falling down on the job when it comes to being an authentic version of Kimi Joy because I’ve been neglecting some of the things I know make me the best version of myself.

For the last several years, it’s been easiest to focus on being Mom (“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.”). And, if I’m being honest, I’ve let the other things fall away and, to a certain extent, fall apart.

Let’s break this down a bit:

I define myself as a “writer” but — until recently — I don’t write. I hadn’t even tried, bemoaning the disappearance of my muse. And I’m just recently finding myself nose-deep in good books, realizing how much I’ve been missing making friends with characters the world ’round for the last few years.

And Nature Lover Kimi Joy? She spends far too much time inside the four walls of her house — when all she really longs to do is be outside, barefoot and free.

The other night Mr. B commented that I don’t seem as driven, as dedicated, as I did when we met. Granted, when I met him I was training for a marathon and had a very specific timeline and goal. But — he’s right. I thrive on goals and improvement and measurement, and I’ve not taken the time to truly sit down and think about where I want to be and how I’m going to get there.

Let’s not even get started on where I’ve been lacking as a wife/partner, friend, sister, daughter … because that’s when it starts to hurt the most.

All this to say: I think we all have ideas in our minds of who we are — words, phrases, concepts that help us form our definition of ourselves. These are the parts of ourselves we should be nurturing because they are our Core. And I’ve been doing a piss-poor job lately.

Kimi Joy Picture

Can we talk about wearing maxi skirts all day every day, please? #authenticself

The words above? They help to make up the person I aspire to be — the person I want to be on my best days. They give my ship an anchor.

To be sure, I don’t believe I’m a fully formed, complete individual yet. And I don’t believe this list makes up the Whole of who I am or will be. There will always be a part of me that’s changing, that’s growing, that’s reaching toward the sun.

I will always be imperfect. And I am not yet Done.

But I do know who I am — I just need to get her back.

 

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Talking the Talk

When you have two toddlers, it’s hard to find time to talk — really, really talk — with your partner. I mean, Mr. B and I talk. We talk about our days. We talk about our budget. We talk about our weekend plans. But we don’t really talk about The Big Stuff. You know, the stuff we used to talk about pre-kids. Or, really, pre-marriage.

There’s a special kind of conversation that takes place when you’re in the first chapter of a relationship — The Big Stuff. Hopes. Fears. Dreams. Goals. These kinds of conversations are the stuff relationships and new love are made from. The results of these conversations are, to a certain extent, the reason you fall in love with someone.

At least, that’s how it worked for me.

Mr. B and I used to have the most fantastic conversations. Some of this was due to the way we fell in love with each other — online, through late-night conversations via text, chat, email and, sometimes, even phone calls. Working opposite shifts and living in different cities made conversation a crucial building block in our relationship. Looking at us now, I’m certain you’d never believe we once stayed up until 4 a.m. just walking the streets talking. (Shocking, I know! I mean, just yesterday we called it a night and went to bed at 9:30 after I woke up to the sound of Mr. B snoring on the couch next to me.)

Want further proof we used to young and fun once — staying up until all hours, playing dress up and just being plain silly?

All this to say that Mr. B and I have been talking lately — about more than what’s for dinner. But, to be honest, we do talk about that a lot. And breakfast, too. Because breakfast is really important.

Communication can be tough — marriage can be tough. And I think Mr. B and I have had to work at it harder in the last six months than we ever have. (It certainly doesn’t help that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues of my own.) So much about our life together has been about the kids — what’s going on with them, what they’re currently getting into in the other room, what they need — that, not only have we neglected ourselves as individuals, we’ve neglected ourselves as a couple.

We’re working hard to change that. And part of that is talking more. Real, purposeful talking — setting aside time to actually have a conversation with each other that can’t be interrupted by a needy kid (or one who’s so stinkin’ cute we have to drop everything we’re doing and just marvel at our little creation).

Some of the conversations are ugly — because no matter how much I try to work on my emotional intelligence, all of my feelings look like tears. And some of the conversations are really, really beautiful — how life-giving is it to have someone open his soul wide up and share his biggest, pie-in-the-skyiest dream with you?

We talk about how we can do better as partners, as parents. We talk about where we want to be in five weeks, five months and five years. We talk about our next chapter, our next home. We talk about reindeer and children’s books and coffee and hammocks. We talk about what our future together looks like — and what our future as individuals looks like. And, yes, of course we talk about our kids.

As we spend more time talking — and making real conversation a priority — we’re getting better at it. We’re rediscovering that warm feeling we had in the beginning when we were connecting on a different plane. Communication is starting to flow more smoothly and happen more spontaneously. But, like everything, it’s definitely taking practice and a little patience as we dust the rust off.

I can already tell that things between us are starting to click a little better. We’re reconnecting to the “we” we used to be — with the addition of at least one fun new topic to add to our conversations:

The kids

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An Admission — and a Soapbox

I feel like I should start this post by admitting some things about myself — true confessions style. So, here goes:

  • I am a do-it-myself, charge-on-through kinda gal, and I hate asking for help.
  • I have a terrible fear of failure, of disappointing people and of not being “enough” — whatever that even means.
  • I talk a really good game when it comes to “happiness is an inside job” and “choose joy,” but some days I struggle to see the glass half full and recognize all the good I have in my life.

Now that that’s out of the bag, let me get into the real reason for randomly interrupting your social media and blog scrolling today: depression and anxiety.

The other day I shared a post I saw on someone’s social feed: “In my deepest darkest post-partum depression, I would have personally never called a phone number. If John or my doctor never reached out, I would have never even known. It really can be a lonely hole. Watch the people you love and don’t be afraid to speak up.” (Source)

When I shared that — and commented my agreement, it didn’t mean I think suicide call lines are a bad idea — they are so important, and we should have even more resources like this available. What it meant to me was, I personally wouldn’t have called a phone number. On my saddest, darkest of days, I would not have picked up a phone to dial a number to talk to a stranger about what I was feeling. Because … (see bulleted list at the top of this post).

If Mr. B hadn’t talked to me in loving but honest terms about what he was seeing (“You just don’t seem happy anymore.”) or my therapist didn’t encourage me to share my real feelings even though they made me feel like a failure as a mother or my friend didn’t call me to make sure everything was OK when she saw me struggling, I probably never would have even considered post-partum depression (and anxiety) as what was going on with me. I mean, after all, it was several months after Little Man was born — how could it possibly be post-partum depression?

Even now, after writing this post in my head 1,000 times over the last few months, it feels weird to see it in black-and-white. It still feels like I’m going to be judged for it, like it reveals something nasty about my true nature, like there’s something wrong with me. Like maybe, just maybe, I’m not a good mom or wife because some days I feel completely overwhelmed trying to do it all. And, damn it, shouldn’t I just be happy because I get to hold my living, breathing, thriving, beautiful children when so many other moms — myself included — had to bury theirs? Maybe I’m not feeling as hashtag-blessed as I should be?

When Mr. B first started talking to me about it, I admitted that there had been a couple of times I thought to myself “I could just get in the van and drive away from all of this.” I never got as far as trying to figure out where I might go — although a nice, comfy bed and eight hours of sleep may have been at the top of the list. And, no, I didn’t really want to leave my kids or my husband — I honestly, truly love them and the life we’ve built together. It was the cloud of depression talking; it wasn’t me.

So, why am I sharing this? Why now, when I’m starting to feel happier and healthier (at least emotionally) than I have in some time?

#blessedIt’s because we have got to do something about the stigma attached to mental health in this country. I shouldn’t feel like sharing this puts at risk everything I’ve worked so hard my entire life to have — no one should. I want to build a home — a world — for my children where their emotional, physical and spiritual health are all considered important. I want them to feel confident and comfortable enough to admit when they’re struggling. And if the first step to that is admitting that some days I stumble and other days I fall, then that’s what this is.

This is my admission. It is not a call for help or sympathy (although a little empathy always goes a long way), as I’m finding the help that works for me. We all struggle and we all need help sometimes. So check in on your people every now and again. And, for crying out loud, remember to be kind — it’s the most important thing.

(Here’s some more info about post-partum depression in easy-to-ready and -understand terms.)

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