Monday, September 21, 2015

I’m Not Ready to Be “Mommy”

Since the day my boys were born, I have been “Mama.”

I never felt like a “Mommy,” which is actually a little ironic, since that’s what I called my own mother when I was young. My mom epitomizes everything I believe a mother should be. It seems natural that I’d be eager to take on her title.

But for some reason, the moment the doctor pulled my boys out of my open abdomen—10 weeks before their due date—it was the word “Mama” that popped into my head. As I kissed the delicate red skin of their cheeks, mere seconds before they were whisked away to the NICU, I knew that’s who I was meant to be.

In their absence, I whispered it to myself like a quiet prayer. The word on my lips felt much like their skin had: soft, comforting, natural, perfect.

I fell in love with the word “Mama” the same way I fell in love with my boys: immediately and irreversibly. I loved its simplicity and its symmetry. That one tiny syllable—whispered twice—was a perfect analogy for the two new loves that had entered my life.

The word “Mommy” just didn’t have the same effect. When I said it, I felt tension in my face as my lips stretched horizontally, their corners drooping slightly downward on the last syllable. It felt forced. It felt unnatural.

And it sounded unnatural, at least to me.

“Mama” sounded like a lullaby, and “Mommy,” more of a kitschy theme song to an animated kids’ show. Maybe it was that long “e” at the end of it. It sounded hard to me, and it didn’t match the new softness my boys had created in my heart.

And so, the day they were born, I was, too. As their “Mama.”

As their Mama, I watched them grow from scrawny preemies into chubby cherubs. When they smiled for the first time, it was their Mama who smiled back.

As their Mama, I laughed when they learned to crawl by chasing my untied shoelace around the kitchen floor. When they made it all the way to the refrigerator, it was their Mama who cheered for them.

As their Mama, I gazed upon their tiny hands when they reached out for one another, their little arms closing the gap between their Rock ’N Plays. When they interlocked their delicate baby fingers, it was their Mama’s heart that melted.

As their Mama, I marveled at the innovative way they walked around on their knees—their torsos upright—scooting around as though in animated prayer. When they transitioned to their feet and took their first steps, it was their Mama who clapped with pride.

And when I finally heard them call me “Mama,” each in his own time, I couldn’t imagine ever being anyone else.


Now here we are: My boys are on the cusp of Threenagehood. Instead of walking, they’re learning to use the potty. Instead of first words, we’re celebrating letter recognition. Instead of soft coos and simple words, I’m listening to full sentences and (frequent) demands.

Instead of rocking them to sleep in my arms at night, I’m tucking them into big boy beds. Instead of falling asleep to the sound of my voice, they’re drifting off in fits of giggles, while I sit in another room, listening to their private chatter (literally) behind closed doors.

And instead of “Mama,” I am “Mommy.”

The first time I heard one of them say it was over breakfast. They were forking sliced bananas at their Cars foldout table, and I was walking out of the kitchen to use the restroom. As I left, the voice of my youngest trilled after me:


At first I laughed. I’d never heard either of them use that word before, and its newness sounded off-kilter and unnatural, like a native English speaker saying “Hola” for the first time. Of course, toddlers believe anything that evokes laughter bears repeating, so it wasn’t long before my other son was saying it:

“Mommiieeee, more pancakes. Mommiiieee, more ’nanas. Marshmallow cereal, Mommiiiee!”

I thought the novelty would wear off once I stopped laughing, but it kept happening.

When one of them accidentally locked himself in a bathroom stall at the splash park: “MOMMY, help!”

At bedtime, as we were reading stories: “Sit on MOMMY’s lap.”

When they caught me “resting my eyes” for a moment: “MOMMY go night-night.”

When they walked out the front door for a boys-only playground trip with Daddy: “Bye, MOMMY!” (That one stung just a little more than the others.)

I have nothing against the word “Mommy;” I’ve just never identified with it. I don’t feel a connection to it. But I suppose one of the poignant inevitabilities of motherhood is that as your children grow older, your identity—and the role you play in their lives—changes right along with them.

I’m not ALWAYS “Mommy.” In fact (to my relief), the boys have—on their own—reverted back to using “Mama” as their primary way of addressing me. But sometimes (usually when they’re being silly, or acting particularly independent), I become, at least for the moment, “Mommy.” 

And I don't like it.

I know it sounds silly that I'm getting so hung up on such a minute linguistic change. It is—after all—just a word. One word. Not even one word. One syllable. One vowel sound.

An “ah” to an “e,” and—just like that—it feels like I'm losing a piece of myself, the piece that initially connected with them in that NICU, almost three years ago. 

Just like that, I can feel their babyhood slipping away, taking my Mamahood with it.

Far more than the flip of a calendar page, the shift to “Mommy” is making me realize how quickly they’re growing up, and how much we’re leaving behind.

I know we still have a lot of "firsts" to look forward to: The first day of kindergarten, first bike rides, first Little League games, first science fair projects, first dates and first kisses (oof...just typing that makes me cringe).

I plan to be there for all of it (minus, perhaps, those first kisses), whether it's as their "Mommy," or (eventually, I'm sure) their "Mom."

But as they—and the role I play in their lives—continue to grow and change, I hope they'll always remember that I was their "Mama" first.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How a Question About Cockroaches Got Me Writing About Mental Health

Greetings FROM INDIANA, blogolicious followers! That's right, we have officially exited the Gates of Hell (a.k.a. the gates of Fort Hood, TX) and have no intention of returning. EVER.

Apparently, Satan wasn't happy about our departure, so he sent some of his evil henchmen to see us off. After living under his tyranny for just over a year, I would expect nothing less.

So, on our last day in Texas, I discovered a dead roach clinging to one of my sports bras. Thank God I wasn't WEARING the sports bra at the time, or I probably wouldn't have lived to tell the tale, as I would have likely bludgeoned myself with my husband's kettlebell in order to squash the (already dead) bastard, just to be sure it really was dead.

This is just how badly living in the south has scarred me: All I had to do was scream incoherent gibberish (okay, and a few VERY COHERENT profanities), and little Ollie knew what was happening. He came running into the room, yelling, "EWWW! Bug!"

Eww indeed. Silver lining (or, pink lining, since that was the color of the sports bra in question): At least it was dead when I found it.

Which is more than I can say for the colony of fire ants that crawled up my shorts at the playground later that evening.

You see, poor Trystan had been having constipation issues for days, and it was making him miserable. We took him to the playground for some exercise to try to get know...MOVING along. It worked like a charm, and when he finally pooped, I was so caught up in my relief over his LITERAL relief, that I didn't pay attention to my surroundings when I plopped down to change his diaper.

Ladies, you have not known pain until you've been attacked by fire vaginAnts. Holy freaking shit.

By the time we made it to Indiana two days later, I had welts all over my ass and lady bits, so we spent our first evening home at Medpoint, where I was stabbed in my swollen butt with a needle full of steroids.

Hopefully, I'm not drug tested at my next marathon. Hardy har har.

Have I mentioned just how much I hate Texas? Seriously, if the United States of America were a bag of Halloween candy, Texas would be one of those nasty taffy pieces of shit that no one really likes, but that heartless cheapskates insist on buying and handing out anyway.
For real, does anybody actually enjoy these? I think I'd rather get a rock, like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts Halloween special. It would probably be easier on my teeth.

As emotionally scarring as my horror-movie-worthy-bug-infested departure from Texas was, there was some good that came of it (besides the obvious DEPARTURE part).

You see, these traumatic bug experiences led to some seriously deep thinking.

Before I get to that, allow me to provide a little background info: My husband has this odd habit of asking me really stupid hypothetical questions (since he's apparently a giant toddler, and having two normal sized ones pester me with senseless inquiries clearly doesn't meet my daily quirky question quota). Past examples include: Would you rather marry Gollum or Uncle Fester? If you had to have sex with Grima Wormtongue or Beldar Conehead, who would you do? (I have an irrational fear of Coneheads.)

For the record, I went with Grima, even though I'd really rather not think about Frenching someone named "Wormtongue."

BUUUUUT....I just honestly don't think there is anything more disgusting than a Conehead. 
(Besides cockroaches, of course.)
*Shudders at keyboard, causing several inadverte507nqt ty8po=s*

So, back to the "deep thinking." As we were driving away from the Hell known as Texas, Andy asked me what I would choose if I had to be trapped in a coffin and covered in either (A) FIRE ANTS or (B) COCKROACHES.

For the first time, I found myself stumped. You see, I'm pretty sure that being bit or stung or whatever by thousands of fire ants would kill me. Like, pretty much internally burn me alive. (I have horrific reactions to bug bites.) But I'm also pretty sure that being covered by thousands of cockroaches would make me wish I were dead. (I have horrific emotional reactions to tiny demons tickling me with their freakishly long antennae while their beady little eyes stare into my soul.)

Cockroaches are effing repulsive. I know I joke about them a lot, but the truth is that I'm legitimately terrified of them. I've lost sleep over them. I've cried over them. I've screamed over them, and refused to enter my own house over them. I know it's dumb and irrational. A cockroach can't really hurt you. (Although, I did have a huge-ass one land on my head in GA once in the middle of a spin bike workout, and it sort of felt like getting thwacked in the temple by a hot wheels car.)

So, even though I knew that fire ants might actually kill me, or, at the very least, make me feel (ironically) like an ant under a magnifying glass, I'm pretty sure I'd take them over the roaches.

Is this all sounding a little stupid to you? That's probably because it is. I mean, it was a STUPID question about STUPID bugs.

**Note to reader: If you were looking for a lighthearted, humorous post about my hatred of cockroaches, you can just stop reading here.**

But here's where things get all serious and weird. Before I knew it, this insipid hypothetical question had me thinking about the power of the human mind.

Here's the thing: Physical pain sucks. But mental anguish can suck just as much, if not more. And as someone who has a history of depression and anxiety, I can tell you that sometimes the latter is a thousand times worse.

I've endured my fair share of bodily pain. I've had my ovaries swell up to the size of my head, broken multiple bones, suffered internal bleeding into my abdomen, run a 50 mile trail race, and had two human beings cut out of me.

And yet, the thought of a bunch of (theoretically) harmless insects crawling over my skin is pretty much unbearable to me.

Have you ever wondered why people cut themselves? Here's a truth I've not yet shared with you, loyal followers: I used to be one of them.

At my worst, when the yarns of my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder wove themselves into a cloak of misery that hid who I was, that threatened to swallow me up in darkness...

...I cut myself.

I cut myself to feel a pain I could label. I cut myself to feel a pain I could explain, a pain that made sense.

I cut myself to feel anything besides the mental and emotional pain that was just too much to bear (like the thought of thousands of cockroaches crawling all over me).

This is the same reason I starved myself for years. I wanted control. I wanted distraction. I wanted an empty stomach, something that could be both a literal and figurative black hole, something that could suck up all my feelings of pain and inadequacy.

Fear, anxiety, depression: They are real, and they are terrifying. They are so terrifyingly real that most people who deal with them would gladly embrace physical torment if it meant a reprieve from the emotional pain inflicted on them by their own minds.

So, I know this post is a little hodgepodge, and I've gone from being funny to being painfully honest and vulnerable, and I know that fire ants are a poor analogy for self-harm, and that cockroaches are nowhere near as destructive as mental health issues like depression.

BUT. The mind is a funny thing. A powerful thing. A scattered thing, and a scary thing. And so are the thoughts and words it manufactures. (Hence, the nature of this post.)

So yes, readers, my husband's stupid question about bugs led me here, reflecting on mental health issues. And while I'm here (and you are too, if you're still reading), I'd like to make a request:

Please stop making light of mental health issues.

Sometimes I hear people make cavalier jokes about cutting themselves, or starving themselves, or making themselves throw up, or even killing themselves. And it makes me cringe.

Because those aren't things to joke about.

Because they're not funny.

Because there are REAL people having those REAL thoughts, everywhere, everyday.

And they're hurting.

So please, think before you speak.

And look before you sit.

(Unless you want to end up on a mound of fire ants, like myself.)