Fear’s Metallic Taste
The time she called, “come to me, I need to tell you something.” How I heard it in her voice—someone had died or their marriage was over. How I already knew—my life would be marked by this forever. Before and after. Each bearing witness to different people.
When my newly rolling baby of a daughter rolled right off the edge of the bed. And later when she started vomiting—a sign our carelessness might have wrecked her developing brain—he ran to the car forgetting his shoes. And I ran to the front desk forgetting her birthday, the very day I came to know such love and fear.
The times tears fell from my face as we drove the 119 miles home. Wondering if this had been the last we’d see him alive, if his grief would finally catch him. Only able to breathe deeply again a week or so later when he walked through our door, smile on his face.
The spring morning our pediatrician looked me in the eye, sympathy and mystery shining in hers as she ordered a look inside his seemingly shrinking head. The words “something may be wrong with his brain” rang loudly in my ears as I drove home to put him to bed, feed my toddler dinner. I still hear it ringing sometimes when I look at him
Then again today. When I held him over my knee and pounded a goldfish tail out of his gasping-for-air throat. His purple face draining mine of color. The sound of him working to breathe and my yelled-to-the-heavens prayer, “help me, please,” will follow me around and keep me from sleeping.
Metallic floods my mouth in each of these moments.
I’ve tasted fear’s flavor, felt its iron grip around my beating heart, and then in some severe mercy, walked on.
The anxious energy of adrenaline seeping from my sweat soaked skin reminding me of what little I actually control and all I have to lose. The memory of its harsh flush on my face my only scar.
Surprised by Motherhood
I have come to see them both–the light and dark sides of this role I get to play–but only one has surprised me.
I was not surprised to weep with joy and limitless love when all 8lbs 6oz of her was laid on my chest for the first time. I was not surprised at how I could just stare at her for minutes, neither of us doing anything of wonder at all. I wasn’t surprised at the pride I felt, it almost hurt from bursting through my chest, when she rolled over, slept through the night, said mama and dada, smiled, or took those wobbly steps all for the first time. Doing exactly what she was developmentally supposed to be doing and still being the most magical thing I’d ever witnessed.
I wasn’t surprised by my love not dividing but multiplying when my eyes caught first sight of him, a head of dark dark hair soon turned blonde from months of living in the light. I wasn’t surprised at the joy found in my tiny brown house day after day after the day we brought him home, all four of us learning to live and love and know one another. Watching my two beautiful babies fall for one another with laughter and silly games and a language all their own did not take catch me off guard. I could feel it coming from his very first kick, from the day I stuck her in a pink Big Sister t-shirt and paraded her around to our families.
I’m still not surprised by my thumb instinctively pulling up old videos and photos of them when they’re sleeping, my heart always longing to be near to them. Or when butterflies dance in my stomach when I first hear them stirring in the morning. A whole night apart is sometimes too long. I haven’t been caught off guard by the way their smiles and laughs make me do the same or how I feel being the only one they want, all that they need wrapped up in the whole of me.
What has surprised me, what has knocked me off my feet day after day after day is the suffering of motherhood, the pain of it, the grief wrapped up in every single joy.
I became a mother at twenty two. Old enough to have already suffered the disappointment of expectations unmet, a heart broken by my family falling apart, but young and naive enough to believe that my suffering would stop there. That I could avoid it from then on out, not knowing that much of life is suffering.
So I did not see it coming, how my own heart would balk at rearranging my entire life for this tiny, mewling creature I had created. How I would mourn the simplicity of the days I just left behind. How I would sometimes wish for them back. I didn’t understand the suffering that would come from my need to control or how the uncertainty of not being able to would drive me to weep until I was handed that bundle of uncontrollable crying, the one that grew and grew and grew until he became an uncontrollable fist shaking, head shaking, body shaking little force of a boy. I couldn’t have known the fear that would grip me when doctors whispered about something possibly being wrong with him, that little shaking head not growing as it should. Or of the guilt I would feel when days had gone by since I last read a book or prepared a craft for my three year old. Guilt is the suffering most talked about in the motherhood realm and yet it surprised me still–feeling guilty ALL THE TIME surprises me still. I couldn’t have known I would never be alone and yet the loneliest I’d ever been.
Motherhood–light and dark. Easy and joyful and full, hard and unbearable and empty. A both/and kinda thing.
An Angry Mom
Without meaning to, without even realizing what I’m about to do, I start screaming so loud I scare even myself. As the words, “Stop, just stop, you need to stop,” are coming out of my mouth, they are also playing, on repeat, quietly in my head, Stop, just stop, you need to stop. But I can’t stop. I ignore the admonishing words in my head and continuing screaming. Her face before me is in utter terror, tears are running down her cheeks. I hear her little brother start to cry in the other room, appropriately scared of his raging mother.
The day started just like any other, there was no foreshadowing of this meltdown, no warning signal, no red flags–it was not a dark and stormy night. I think this is why we were all so frightened.
Where did this come from?
I woke long before the kids did. I got to read and write and wordle in peace. My coffee was hot and I had an idea for an essay (not this one). We had a fun day planned–a play date at the park, my small group getting together later that night–the weather was set to be amazing. Breakfast was a breeze and the kids were even playing happily afterwards while I folded laundry and made my bed.
Where did this come from?
I felt myself begin to be annoyed when she joined me at my tiny bathroom sink, plopping her own makeup bag down beside mine. I was listening to my favorite podcast and her constant chatter, her questions and nonsense sentences, was causing me to pause it every other second. I remained calm though, engaging her just enough, while also paying attention to what was being said in my ears.
Things started falling apart when Wiley stuck his hand in his own poop while I was changing his diaper. Yuck. But I breathed deeply, washed both of our hands, and went to get dressed. I pulled on my favorite jeans and noticed, again, that they were feeling too tight.
I stopped breastfeeding two months ago and my metabolism and hormones are still adjusting. I’ve also been working out and gaining muscle. So my pants don’t fit like they used to or how I want them to. They’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable, I have “nothing to wear.” I don’t want to go buy the same pair of pants in a bigger size, so I keep pulling them on and I keep berating myself each time I do. Promising to eat better, sleep longer, drink more water; promising myself that I’ll stop considering running and actually do it.
That day pulling on uncomfortable, too tight pants was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I tripped over a toy Isla had left out and calmly called her into my room to clean up before moving on to something else (something expected of her everyday) and I’m met with questioning and whining and but mom I’m not done yet, (if you’re wondering when this kind of language starts, it’s three).
And that’s when, without meaning to, without even realizing what I’m about to do, I start screaming so loud I scare even myself. As the words, “Stop, just stop, you need to stop,” are coming out of my mouth, they are also playing, on repeat, quietly in my head, Stop, just stop, you need to stop. But I can’t stop. I ignore the admonishing words in my head and continuing screaming. Her face before me is in utter terror, tears are running down her cheeks. I hear her little brother start to cry in the other room, appropriately scared of his raging mother.
As soon as I am able to calm down, I pull her into a hug. Sinking to my knees I tell her how sorry I am for losing my temper. I work so hard to just apologize, no I’m sorry, but’s. I explain to her how I am feeling–frustrated, angry, rushed and behind–but that no matter how I am feeling it is never okay for me to yell like that. Nothing she did or does warrants that kind of behavior from me, ever.
It is hard to get those words out. It is hard to admit to my child that I was wrong, so, so wrong. It is hard to not justify my behavior by pointing out her behavior too. It is hard to say only I’m sorry, just I’m sorry, no I’m sorry, but’s.
I recently had this realization that if I want to be known as someone who apologizes (and I do), I have to actually apologize. Seems obvious, but it’s so much easier to have ideals for yourself without actually holding yourself to them. It’s easy to look at yourself through rose colored glasses, believing the best and justifying the worst.
A few weeks ago I woke up after a fun night out and felt a twinge of shame over something I said to a friend. He had been explaining his new diet and without thinking I was critical of it and him. They were jokes, made in jest, and he didn’t seem hurt by them, but I have been on the receiving end of someone’s jokes after I’ve made a positive change–prioritizing exercise, eating cleaner, or not drinking as much. And I want to be a person who champions others when they make healthy decisions, not someone who makes jokes at their expense.
I want to be someone who is known for apologizing when they mess up, which means I actually have to apologize when I mess up.
I think before this happened I really just wanted to be someone who never had to apologize because she never messed up–which, if I’m being honest, is still my desire–but waking up with that shame hanging over my head, I knew I could either face it head on or shove it away and forever feel guilty. Forever wonder if I hurt his feelings.
So I texted him and apologized for being a jerk. I asked for his forgiveness and he happily offered it.
Long before having Isla, I had ideals for the kind of mother I would be. Kind–of course– gracious, forgiving, patient, long suffering, a clear representation of Jesus and the mercy of God in my kids’ lives. Talk about pressure! I didn’t want to be angry or harsh, I didn’t want my children to ever feel like an inconvenience or a burden. I wanted to be the kind of mother my children, especially my daughter, felt comfortable telling anything to. I never wanted to be a mother that yells.
But here I am. All of those–the good and the bad.
I am patient a lot of the time, and I am inpatient a lot of the time. I am mostly kind, but sometimes I am harsh. I am a mother who listens, who tries her damndest to lead with love.
And I am a mother who yells.
What I am realizing is that even more than never yelling, I want to be a mother who apologizes. Who takes true accountability for her actions. A mother who knows she is not perfect and does not come across that way to her children.
Which means, just like with my friend, I have to actually apologize, I have to actually take true accountability for my actions. I have to actually show my children how imperfect I am by owning it, by never covering it up.
I actually yelled three times at my kids that day. Each time I felt more and more ashamed, saddened by my own self most of all. Finally after the third time I strapped my kids into the car, shut the doors, and called my husband. In tears I told him what I had done, how I had scared us all, how I felt unmanageable, uncontrollable, how stupid and silly and small I felt for being such a bad mother. In admitting to another the darkest parts of me on that day, the day turned around. He met me with grace and understanding, a place of true love even though I was yelling at his children too, possibly scarring them for life.
And then I went and bought bigger pants.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is or why I’m even telling it, except to say if you are a mother not able to match up to the ideals you set for yourself before becoming one, you are not alone. From one angry-but-trying-not-to-be mama to another, you are not alone. And there is great healing in knowing that. There is great healing in apologizing, just apologizing, no I’m sorry, but’s. There is great healing in admitting to yourself and others that you are not perfect. There is great healing in being seen by your children, your husband, a friend.
And there is great healing in buying the bigger pants.
Four Warm Walls
I mother within four warm walls.
Rain falls as I stir peanut butter into oatmeal.
We stay dry.
Every morning my daughter asks me what we’re doing today and not once has my answer been merely— survive.
Not once have I wondered what will become of my son. The pink of his skin will not return him to me bruised, bloody, or broken.
Not once have I wondered if my daughter will receive an education. Her country will not keep her from it. Will not take away her value, not in that way.
Not once have I heard a bomb fly overhead or ran under a night sky on fire. Not once have I gone to bed hungry or gone without to give to my children. Not once has fear for my life kept me awake.
I mother within the four warm walls of privilege.
And I have no answers to my own questions, no answers to the doubt cloud swirling my vision.
So I do the only thing I know to do—kneel and weep with, weep for, the mothers beyond these four warm walls.
*Originally seen on Instagram
The birth of a website
I’ve been trying to “break-in” this little website of mine for weeks. Slowly but surely crossing tasks off my list of things to do before launching it out into the world: “build it” (if you can even call rearranging a wordpress template building), write an About Me, upload my poetry from Instagram, write A Very Quick Review for all of the books I have read so far this year, and write one long form essay.
I just can’t seem to do the writing.
Here I am crafting a website from thin air, a website to house my writing, a place for it to live apart from the fickle heart of Instagram and I can’t do it, I can’t write. I have been working on an essay about my crying baby learning words, making meaning and connecting with me through language, and I can’t finish it. That essay sits at the top of my GoogleDoc folder, mostly untouched. This website continues to sit “unlaunched.”
My New Year’s Resolution: take my writing seriously. This is my first step, and I can’t write.
I’ve been writing consistently since my English teacher made me keep a journal in eighth grade. Still, years and years later, almost every morning I pull out a black and white composition notebook, college rule only, and jot down thoughts and prayers, process feelings, record what is happening and what’s on my mind.
I’ve been writing on Instagram off and on since 2017, when I posted some reflections about God’s faithfulness in my marriage and in my time living in a little college town. My husband and I were on the brink of moving back home and I processed those feelings by writing and posting.
Pregnancy and motherhood gave way to more reflections and my journals were no longer cutting it. I had walked into motherhood first of my closest friends and two months after the birth of my daughter we moved from where I had the support of family to a new city. That first year of motherhood, surrounded by friends who weren’t yet mothers but were (are) amazing friends, was still lonely and isolating. I had no clue if what I was feeling was normal.
There’s this joke amongst mothers about how babies don’t come home from the hospital with an instruction manual, and the idea is that you either figure it out yourself using your natural instincts or you ask for help.
I googled many things in that first year: why won’t my baby sleep through the night, how to know if my baby has colic, is my baby too cold or too warm, when to introduce solids, how to introduce solids, how to do infant cpr. I called home and asked for my own mom’s advice, for her own experience. I talked to my daughter’s pediatrician, asking her anything and everything. But there are just some things google, your mom, and your doctor can’t answer.
Is it normal to ache for your old life like a lost limb? Is it normal to hear the baby crying and stay in bed a couple more minutes? Is it normal to have your heart so full of love and fear, wonder and terror at the same time? Is it normal to be wishing for things to stay the same while also wishing things were different? Is it normal to revere your baby making, baby growing, baby delivering body while also hating it deeply? Is it normal to feel like your life is over? Is it normal to feel the pressure of a thousand pound anvil on your chest when you look at your sleeping baby? Is it normal to resent your spouse and the way his life has remained relatively the same while yours has changed more than you ever thought possible? Is it normal to love this much? Is it normal to be so angry you punch yourself in the leg because you can’t punch a baby and somebody has to get punched for this?
Some of these things I bounced off my friends but I was scared of scaring them away from me and from motherhood with her many ups and downs. So instead I wrote. And I posted. And I felt less alone than ever each time I did. The resounding answer to every “is it normal” question I poetically posed from my Instagram captions was–yes. So I kept writing and I kept noticing how I was feeling, and what I was seeing, and what was changing within me and the answer kept being–yes. This is normal, you are normal. Thank you for putting it into words.
A couple of months ago I went to a comedy show. (I think this might make me sound cool, but this is not my normal behavior so don’t think too much of me.) The show was held in a family member’s backyard and the comedian had me entertained, on the edge of my seat the whole time. I’m not joking, the whole time. He was, of course, hilarious but he was also incredibly vulnerable and with each story told I knew this was what he was meant to do with his life. He had a gift, a gift for spinning human tales into jest without losing the humanity behind them. It can’t be easy being a comedian, I know that he lives in a van and that can’t be easy either. I’m sure he has faced rejection after rejection after rejection. He also has had to live the jokes he tells–hard ones about his dad dying and his wife cheating.
Driving home I couldn’t help but comment on how brave I felt he was to be honoring the gift he had been given. How facing rejection, facing vulnerability, facing someone saying this means nothing to the world, he still drove his van to the next stop on his living room/backyard tour and told jokes and told stories and connected people through shared humanity and laughter.
And although he would probably tell me I’m taking this all too seriously, watching him that night changed how I see myself and my writing.
I get the same humming buzz in my head of fate and destiny and God given gift colliding when I listen to my friend’s band play–harmony and humanity and grit pouring from them in a winery, a retirement home, a backyard under a rainy sky; when I watch another friend create dresses and tops out of thin air; when I feel my fingers flying across my laptop, feelings and thoughts untangled before me.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t have this writer’s mind, the one that can’t. stop. noticing, the one that can’t stop making meaning out “nothing,” the one often plagued by sentences and phrases until they are given a proper place to rest outside of my writer’s mind. Sometimes I wish I could bebop through motherhood, through life without asking all the “is it normal” questions. Sometimes I wish I could sit in a comedy show and not have my life changed, but here we are, this is me.
So yeah, this is not the essay I planned on writing, but I think it’s the one I needed to write. To rip the bandaid, so to speak, off this little baby website of mine. To remind myself of why I even wanted to do this. To remind myself that honoring the gifts I have been given–my writer’s mind, my flying fingers– is not always easy, it’s not always harmonious, its not always as funny as a joke told in someone’s backyard, or as flattering as a dress tailored perfectly. In fact, it’s often terrifying.
But if it brings connection, if it makes even just one person sigh in relief at knowing they are not alone in punching their own leg in the middle of the night when the baby literally hasn’t slept a wink, if it brings a speck of beauty to a world begging for it it’s worth it. Worth the fear of rejection, the fear of displaying my vulnerability, the fear of being too much or not enough.
And because I am only trying to honor my God given gifts, you will find word pictures here and a very simple layout. I know my strengths and web design and photography are not among them.
Thank you for being here.
I once had the thought that I’d be the one to teach my children to wonder—to look at the moon and gasp, to sing with the birds as the sun rises then falls, to gallop and whoop with the ocean’s waves—now I know this is only something they can teach me.
The world is a wonderful thing through their eyes, to their reaching hands and stomping feet, to their heads filled with starry night skies.
They’ve taught me more in their wildness, in their abandonment of self–somehow done without betraying their very being, both bending towards the earth, towards each other, towards me–than I’ll teach them in a lifetime. This I am sure of.
Their light brightening up the dimness within me, from years of worry and care. From years of forgetting the wildness, the wonder I was born with, from betraying the amazement, from betraying myself.
They woken me up to the fight I now face as their mama, the one against my own tamed self, my own broken-in-ness, the fight to not be the one to tame them.
Yet I will be the one to show them how to face it–the brokenness of the world–and not let it break them, not completely. To show them how to not let the hardened world harden them. I will fight to stay soft and pliable and full of wonder, even in the dark. To shine the light one day when they stumble upon it themselves or it hits them in the face.
This wildness in them is bringing out the wildness in me—all three of us howling and yipping with delight, the joy of us being alive, being here, together, at the same time. What a sweet coincidence—that they are mine, that I am theirs.
*Originally seen on Instagram
What The Bachelor and My Local Mom’s Facebook Group Have in Common
Every Tuesday night two of my sisters and I huddle under blankets on my couch to chat and watch thirty women vie for one man’s attention: Clayton, a good ole’ boy from Missouri, desperate to find love.
And every Tuesday night I’m struck by the women in the confessional interviews saying all they want is to be a wife and a mother, saying that becoming Clayton’s wife, having Clayton’s children will complete them.
I get it, it’s a show about competing for love with a marriage proposal at the end. So even if they don’t truly believe that a relationship ready for the day-in-and-day-outness of marriage will come out of this “journey,” they cannot admit that on camera. Maybe they’re lying or at least drumming up a feeling they actually feel for effect.
Or maybe they’re not. Maybe, like me, they’ve held on to this belief that what will complete them is their role to another—wife, mother. Maybe they’ve been told their whole lives their womanhood is contingent on them being in relationship with others—a man, a child. Maybe they’ve been told women become good, whole, wise, purposeful, fulfilled when they become wives and mothers.
Maybe it’s this lie that caused one woman in a local mom’s Facebook group I’m a part of to write, “What do you do when you feel like running away? When you regret having kids and maybe even regret getting married?” And maybe it’s this same lie that caused more than 100 other women to write comments of agreement—acknowledging that instead of feeling completed by their kids and partner they sometimes feel weighed down, so unlike themselves they don’t recognize the their own face in the mirror; acknowledging that they wouldn’t change a thing, of course, but that it doesn’t feel like they thought it would.
Being a wife and a mother is a good thing, an honorable thing, but neither are the ultimate thing. Our relationships to others were never meant to complete us. Assuming they do places extreme pressure on our partners and children, and takes away all other facets of ourselves. The very things that make us unique. Perhaps the very things the world needs.
*originally seen on Instagram
When You Know, You Know
They say—when you know, you know
But how could that possibly be true
when life hasn’t told you it’s secret unfolding
when you haven’t walked the corridors of grief or betrayal or red hot anger to see how you’ll stand in the wake of it. To see how he’ll stand in the wake of it.
when you haven’t yet been broken, your body in two, blood seeping out between your legs, a bundle heaving on your chest. Your own life, and his, made new, made over, made, in the seconds of her coming.
when you haven’t navigated the stress of the push and pull of each other’s families. The people who made you left behind or pushed aside for the becoming of something different.
when you haven’t stood by the phone for days waiting for a call of hope, breath rattling shallow in your lungs, afraid to believe everything will be okay. Afraid to not.
when you haven’t tasted all of who you’ll be—the doubt that will cloud your heart, the joy you’ll feel when you find something new, the fear that will seize you as you stand on the edge of the unknown, the relief of looking back and not recognizing who you once were, the worry of it all.
when life has yet to hand you much hard; much knee breaking, sob inducing pain. When suffering is only what you’ve read in stories and seen in the faces of strangers.
when you can’t see the reflection of even your own soul one year or two or ten or twenty from now.
So how could you possibly see the reflection of another’s
and know what they say you’ll know.
*Originally seen on Instagram
The Breath Prayer of Mothers
Inhale: their smoky tempers, all aflame, fiery and persistent in their desire
Exhale: calm and firm, consistent boundaries
Inhale: their sweaty anxieties, all wrapped up in things they don’t understand
Exhale: a peaceful presence, unwavering even in your own misunderstanding
Inhale: the taste of rebellion, their wild energy dancing away from you
Exhale: grace, the very grace you’ve tasted of in the wake of your own rebellion
Inhale: their deep and honeyed need, sweet and sour all at once
Exhale: your own, the taste sweet and sour too
Inhale: the crisp air of joy, their laughter filling your home
Exhale: a fresh rush of the same, their laughter having filled your heart
*Originally seen on Instagram