The Breaths We Take

“OK, now exhale,” the young doctor matter-of-factly stated as I felt the cool metal enter my spine. The nurse laid me down gently and then positioned my arms and legs like I was Jesus on the cross. “Just focus on breathing, through the nose, out the mouth. In and out. It will be over before you know it.”

I offered a close-lipped smile. Never a fan of platitudes when I’m nervous, I focused on holding back my tears while counting white ceiling tiles. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until my husband arrived and sat down next to my head.

“I can’t feel my legs,” I told him, exhaling deeply.

“I think that’s the point,” he replied.

A few minutes later, a team of sixteen medical professionals all seemed to continue saying the same words over and over to me.

“Just breathe, Hon, you’re doing great.”

“Keep breathing.”

“In and out, in and out. There you go.”

I focused on slowly sucking oxygen into my lungs and then releasing it into the overcrowded operating room until we heard first one cry, and then another. And with those breaths in and out, in and out, I became a parent.

 

First night home together, weighing a combined 8 lbs. 13 oz.

When you have children, moments are made in the breaths we take. The exhilaration and fear of watching their little tummies move up and down in the crib the first night when you place your hand gently on their chest to make absolutely sure they are still breathing. The excited gasp as we watch our children take their first steps. The exhale of relief when a high fever breaks. Holding our breaths as we watch our son or daughter shoot a goal or play a solo or recite a speech. Panting as we push their first two-wheeler from behind, and loudly cheering as we watch them cross another milestone off the list.

Sometimes it is an exasperated sigh of disappointment when our child doesn’t meet our expectations. Or, sometimes we can’t catch our breath from the laughter we share regarding a good joke.

Sometimes we feel their hot breath on our cheek, as we wipe away their tears from a nightmare or belly ache. And sometimes they sense our presence as we hold our breath in the darkness of their bedrooms, leaning over to steal one last kiss before going to bed late at night.

In and out. In and out. The breaths we take carry us through their childhood.

And then these magnificent creatures turn thirteen. My breathing is sometimes labored trying to keep up with their busy schedules. I gasp in shock when I see a beautiful woman-child in my kitchen staring me in the eye instead of looking down at the dirt-smeared face of a three-year-old tugging on my pant leg.  I choke back fears of monsters they may encounter and dangers that are all too prevalent. I exhale, slowly, before I speak, knowing that my words must count.

“Almost 13”

The breaths we take in these years are important. The breaths we take matter.

In and out. In and out. Our breaths carry us through the times our teens push us away, and they soothe us when we open our arms to take them back. They give us pause. They calm the chaos. They provide the peace.

Thirteen years of in and out, in and out, yet it seems like it went by in a single breath.

I know there is so much breathing yet to do. I imagine the gasps I’ll make upon seeing my daughters in a wedding dress, the exhalation of watching graduations, the nervous panting waiting for them to return from first solo drive in a car, and the euphoric cheers I will shout when meeting my grandchildren.

I will remember every pant, every gasp, every sigh. I will cherish every time my children took my breath away.

Because parenting is about the breaths we take. And I wish I could slow mine down.

 

No More Cleaning Excuses for my Tweens

Children Are Meant to be Unfinished

“And don’t forget you didn’t finish the laundry,” I yell defiantly.

I watch the slim profile of my daughter stomp up the stairs, her dark pony tail swinging side to side. I can hear her breathing through her nose, in and out, in and out, like a bull about to charge. I watch as she turns the corner, out of my view. I brace myself, waiting for the door to slam, yet thankfully I hear a quiet click of metal on the wooden frame.

I stand still, one hand clutching the railing, the other clenched so tightly I can feel my unshaped nails indenting my palm. I can feel the tension in my right shoulder-blade. I slowly release the bite I have on my lower lip, my weak attempt at trying to keep my rage locked up inside.

Today’s argument with my tween daughter is no different from the ones we have almost daily lately. It could be about finishing her homework or putting her dishes away or completing her chores. Sometimes it’s about her attitude with her sisters or her tone with me or her inability to finish anything she starts. My lectures seem to be on a continuous loop with no end in sight.

Each morning I wake with new resolve to be a better mother, one who does not nag so much or finds innovative ways to motivate my kids.
But somewhere during the day, I watch as my daughter refuses to follow our house rules, chooses to ignore what needs to be done.

Sometimes we let her fail and succumb the consequences of her forgetfulness. Sometimes we help her organize her day. Sometimes I remember that everyone needs a little help now and again.

And sometimes we seem to make progress, only to go two steps back the next day.

“Be more laid back,” I tell myself. “Not everything is a big deal or a teachable moment.”

But as she gets closer to adulthood each and every day, I worry. Will she learn the skills she needs to succeed? Will she live a life to her potential or will she merely get through a day?

I am startled as I see her small body appear on the stairs again, stomping down step by step, avoiding my eyes. She holds a white laundry basket in her hand, and I bite my tongue as I watch it bump into the spindles on my staircase.

Her shoulder bumps into mine as she struggles to turn the corner, and the metaphor is not lost on me.

My relationship with my daughter is like an unfinished chore. Something you don’t want to deal with, but you know needs attention. I want her to be finished, now, so the petty arguments and fights can be done, and we can move on to the good stuff.

But what I often forget is children are meant to be unfinished. Children are meant to continue improving and learning and finding their way.

What sometimes feels like a chore instead should be approached like sculpting a masterpiece, letting the clay form where it is supposed to under my hands. I will try to slow down the process however, knowing this beautiful piece of art doesn’t need to be finished just yet.

I have to fight the urge to “fix” my daughter, fight the desire to change who she is. I have to fight the pressure to teach her everything I want her to know before she leaps into the world on her own.

Because children are meant to be unfinished.

But her laundry, well, that still needs to get done.

When Women Talk about Women In Front of Our Girls

“She looks like Malibu Barbie and sounds equally as dumb. Like she is the role model I want for my girls.”

I sat and listened to two women talk at a long, crowded Starbucks table as their young daughters played on an iPad. I tried to focus on my laptop screen, but considering our elbows were practically touching, it was difficult.

“She’s just wretched. And definitely not smart. A total media whore. I’m not sure how she got to where she is today, but I have a feeling it wasn’t always her brains. He probably just hired her because he thought she was pretty.”

I cringed and looked over to the young girls, one intently viewing the screen, the other quietly focused on the two women talking. I knew the discussion centered around Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, a woman I didn’t particularly care for either, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable with just how much centered on the successful woman’s hair color as opposed to her policy viewpoints.

I am a frequent visitor to coffee shops around my town. Most of my work is done alone in front of a computer screen, so I like to get out of the house sometimes and work remotely. If a latte comes with that, so be it.

My satellite office visits are often spent side by side with others working silently on their computers, but sometimes you just can’t help honing in on other’s conversations.

Like the time when two women with their children playing nicely at their feet called Hillary Clinton a hag and that they hoped she used her free time and all her money from speaking engagements to get a face lift.

Or the time a group of young women waiting in line to order their drinks discussed a female co-worker in their office who they were convinced was sleeping her way to the top. I was in line behind them, and two young teenage girls in Catholic school uniforms and knee socks stood directly in front of them.

Or the time a few years back when I sat at a round table with some girlfriends, and there was a lengthy, uncomfortable discussion about a mom at our school who decided to get a boob job, although it did not turn out well.

“I think she did it because that’s all she has. She’s not very smart, so she has to keep the looks up. And I don’t think she wants to go back to work, so it probably makes her husband happy.”

“Ixnay on the oobnay talk,” I remarked as our kids came downstairs to grab some snacks.

“Whatever,” our host replied. “It’s not like she doesn’t deserve it prancing around the way she does.”

The notion that women are caddy and petty to each other is nothing new, but I believe it has moved up a notch the last few months. In the past decade, women have advanced economically and educationally, seen improvements in sexual freedoms and access to health care, experienced political triumphs and increased business success; yet we still criticize individuals looks with such animosity.
And we do so in front of our girls.

We can blame the media for the disproportionate body commodification that occurs.

We can blame men who often respond to attractive women differently than those not fitting the beauty standard.

We can blame it on marketers who focus on appearances or a judicial system that favors males or a history when women were trophies and properties of men.

But really, we only have ourselves to blame. Because we talk about women in this way in front of our girls.

This does not mean that I think appearances are not important. If it interests us, we should care about fitness, beauty, and sexual appeal. These can enhance our being and life in general.

However, when a woman focuses on her appearance, we should not immediately discount her intelligence, her value, her worth. For women that do not care as much about fashion or glamor, we should not assume they are cold, unhappy or mean.

And we should never associate their appearance with the ability to get a job, be successful, or be taken seriously.

We live in a culture where appearances are important. This mere fact pits woman against woman. Most times, a good looking female is the poster child for a better life. Anything she receives –a promotion at work, securing a loan, an invitation to an exclusive event – is all done under suspicion it was because of her looks.

But in today’s world, we know that beauty does not always equate to happiness. There are gorgeous women stuck in abusive relationships, constant victims of sexual harassment or passed over because they are not taken seriously.

These are the real problems; these are the crimes against women – all women. We are still pioneers in a perceived world of gender equality. We are fighting for scraps left over by those already in power: sometimes in our jobs, sometimes in social settings, and sometimes even in our marriages.

Until we realize that our looks are an expression of ourselves instead of an indicator of our intelligence or abilities, we will continue to cannibalize ourselves, continue to hinder our success.

I like to imagine a future for my three daughters where there are so many women in power that we treat each other better and feel less threatened by their success. A world where we help each other more and talk about each other less. A world where we no longer question why a woman advanced to a certain position and instead celebrate that another sister achieved greatness.

But it starts here and now, with us. Because when women talk about women in front of our girls, the cycle continues.

And if we can’t lift each other up, perhaps we can disparage each other a little less.

Why This Prude Talks Embarrassing Stuff

“Oh, Mom. Seriously?” my daughter remarks. “Way more information than I needed to know.”

I hope she doesn’t see the blush creeping up my cheeks.

“Well, you should know about this stuff. All of it,” I reply. I was in the middle of a play-by-play of what it was like to have your period, and I wasn’t sparing details.

“Mom, can’t I just read the book. And they told us most of this at school,” she begged.

“Nope. We need to be able to discuss this kind of thing and so much more. Wait until we start talking about S.E.X.”

And that was when my daughter’s head exploded.

Well, not really. But I think she was hoping it would.

This may not seem too big of a deal for you. If you have openly been talking about penises and vaginas since your child’s first bath, then I salute you.

For me, talking about this sort of stuff is painful. It makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. I feel like I may die of embarrassment.

But I do it anyway. Because I know it may make the difference in my daughters’ lives.

You see, I had an awesome relationship with my mom growing up. We often went shopping or to lunch. We ate dinner together as a family regularly. We were pals.

Except when I first menstruated I didn’t tell her because I was embarrassed. We didn’t talk about that much and I thank Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for giving me the skinny on periods.

I didn’t talk to her when most of my friends started having sex with their boyfriends, and I started pushing boundaries myself. I would be ashamed if she knew I was even considering having sex.

And I literally almost cried with relief when at 17 my doctor said, “Your blood test shows you are anemic, so I’m going to put you on a birth control pill to help regulate you a bit.”

My mom shook her head up and down while she sat beside me while I thanked God that I did not have to talk to her about the possibility I wanted contraception.

I was lucky. My mom was strict and by good fortune I did not put myself in too many precarious situations. I often wonder what would have happened if I had a more serious boyfriend in high school. Would I be brave enough to ensure I used protection every time? Would I have walked into a Planned Parenthood to obtain birth control?

I am not sure of the answer, but I know both are more likely than me going to talk to my parents about it. Anything but that.

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It’s not that my mom told me never to bring difficult topics up. It’s quite the opposite in fact. She always said I could come talk to her about anything. But between her not bringing it up and me feeling abashed, it was easier to avoid it.

I don’t think it’s my mom’s fault. She is from a different era, and married at 18. She did not grow up in the same world that I did, and certainly not the ones of my kids where every media outlet is sexually charged.

But now with three daughters of my own, I know I must have these conversations — these painful, excruciatingly embarrassing conversations — with my girls, because their futures may depend upon it.

So, I continued to educate my daughter on tampons and cramps and what happens when you take a shower and you have your period. We talked about the menstruation process from beginning to end…well, at least everything I knew about it.

And she even asked me a shy question or two. I looked her in the eyes. I didn’t mince words. I was direct.

When I felt like there was nothing left to go over, my almost 11-year old daughter walked into the room. “Whatcha guys talking about?”

I waited for her older sister to shout: “Run for your life! Mom is talking about disgusting stuff.”

But instead, she casually stated, “You know, just about getting your period and stuff.”

I sat in shock. The girl who turned crimson when I even said the word menstruation took it all in stride.

“I’m outta here,” my youngest said, grabbing an apple and turning on her heel.

“Wait,” I called out. “Listen. I don’t love talking about this stuff either, but the more we talk about it, the less embarrassing it gets. And we need to be able to talk about it. I don’t ever want you not coming to me because you are embarrassed. About anything.”

I had their attention.

“So, we’re going to keep having these conversations. More and more. Because I want you to know you can come to me about anything. Even when you’re embarrassed. Especially when you’re embarrassed. And if we all talk about it, sometimes you can even go to each other if you’re not ready to come to me.”

I looked deeply into their eyes, looking for affirmation, a connection not their before.

“Yeah, mom. You can talk to us about periods and sex, and Dad can talk to us about soccer and farts. We’ll totally be covered.”

They turned and hurried up the stairs before I could even think of a response.

But I felt like I won. My prude, Pollyanna self got through an embarrassing conversation and I didn’t die.

I’ll take that as a win.

 

 

 

 

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