Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Difference Between a ‘Sheltered’ Life and a ‘Simple’ One

It’s a running joke among my husband’s coworkers that we are a “modern Amish family.” The nickname has less to do with how we dress (I could not rock a bonnet; also, I’m not aware of any Amish who wear Star Wars T-shirts), and more to do with the fact that they mistake our simple life for a “sheltered” one.

I don’t consider my family sheltered. We own a vehicle (two, in fact), use cell phones (smart ones, even) and rely heavily on electricity (coffee maker = Mom’s lifeline). Heck, we even use that Interweb nonsense to keep in touch with friends and family via The Facebook. We are not socially reclusive, nor do we keep our kids on constant lockdown in order to protect them from the big, scary world beyond our humble home.

However, some of our choices—like staying home to watch movies on the weekends, or considering a trip to the playground a social outing—tend to be viewed as hermit-like in today’s go-go-go society.

We rarely go out to eat. We don’t travel much. We don’t have cable or Wi-Fi in our home. And the latest technological gizmos? Forget it. Our largest single annual expense is our cumulative grocery bill, because food is—you know—a basic necessity. We live simply—frugally, you might even say—not because we have to, but because we choose to.

I don’t believe that kids need to be exposed to a million different things, or own all the trendiest gadgets, in order to get the most out of life. Nor do I think that I’m an irresponsible parent for making our home their primary source of recreation and entertainment.

In my experience, when you’re constantly busy, you don’t have time to slow down and reflect on what you’re doing. You don’t have time to take the experiences you do have and weave them into memories that will last a lifetime.

The phrase “Less is more” is a cliché for a reason.

When I think back to my own childhood, I remember simple moments. I don’t remember the details of our annual Cedar Point trips or the expensive toys I got for Christmas, but I do remember digging for worms with the neighbors. I remember sitting on my mom’s lap as she read me Little Golden Books.

Like diamonds forged from coal, my most treasured memories are born of the seemingly ordinary and mundane, but they sparkle, and their clarity and value are undeniable.

Those are the kinds of memories I want for my own children.

Memories like these:

–Sneaking fruit snacks from the pantry when Mom isn’t looking and sharing them with siblings in an elaborate fort constructed out of blankets.

–Throwing a bunch of stuffed animals on a bed and pretending it’s a pirate ship. “Walking the plank” to land in a sea of pillows, while Captain Hook prods you with the clothes hanger he has shoved up his shirt sleeve.

–Brewing “witch potions” in the backyard: using a stick to stir water, mud, leaves and bugs in a plastic bucket while muttering random incantations—then seeing the look on Mom’s face when she’s asked to taste it.

–Using broken tree branches to draw creepy-looking characters in the gravel driveway.

Me and My Little Bro, circa 1999

–Staging picnics in the backyard, telling creepy stories over a campfire, and waging hedge-apple wars with the neighbors (then showing off the bruises like they’re battle scars).

–Putting on fashion shows while wearing Mom’s old bridesmaid dresses, and strutting down the hallway like it’s a runway.

–Playing marathon games of Monopoly with siblings on a snow day, then sipping hot chocolate topped with rainbow-colored marshmallows.

–Lying on the concrete while a friend traces the shape of your body with sidewalk chalk, and laughing hysterically when Dad sneaks around the corner of the house to spray you with the hose.

–Licking cake batter off beaters and begging for just one more bite of raw cookie dough.

–Setting up a sprinkler in front of the swing set on a hot summer day, or splashing each other in a cheap plastic pool in the backyard.

The Minions, circa 2015

–Turning the basement into a movie theater and personalizing brown paper “popcorn bags” with stickers and sharpies (and taking advantage of Mom’s free refill policy).

–Staging wrestling and boxing matches—Dad’s old socks serving as makeshift boxing gloves—and selling family members construction-paper tickets to the show.

–Picking out stacks of books to read on a rainy day, or going outside barefoot and dancing in the puddles.

–Catching fireflies in old iced tea jars and smiling when they light up inside the glass—then shrieking hysterically the moment one lands in someone’s hair.

–Taking long bike rides in the sunshine, and reveling in the reward of a well-earned slushy at the local ice cream shop afterward.

–Helping Papa plant his garden, even if it’s just an excuse to play in the dirt (because what kid doesn’t love playing in the dirt?).

The Minions and Papa, circa 2015

I don’t want my kids’ childhood memories to be a blur of fancy hotel stays, nice restaurants, itinerary-driven vacations or expensive birthday gifts. I want them to remember what it was like to really be a kid—to be able to find the uncommon in the common, the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the beauty in simplicity.

Because once you become an adult, life becomes unavoidably—irreversibly—complicated.

In my eyes, I’m not sheltering my children from the real world with the lifestyle we’ve chosen.

I am showing them all it has to offer.

© 2015 Samantha Wassel, as first published on The Mid at Scary Mommy

Thursday, March 24, 2016

21 Things to Do With Your Kids If You Want to Screw Them Up

It was recently brought to my attention by a few blog commenters that baking cookies with my kids is an unhealthy choice of activity. Actually, I think the exact word used was “destructive.” Basically, I’d shared a post recounting a “fat day,” on which the shadow of my eating disorder was being a particular bitch. Instead of allowing the critical self-talk to send me back into a spiral of unhealthy behavior, I’d chosen to focus my energies on bonding with my kids. I mentioned that we baked cookies.

BIG MISTAKE. Apparently, I wasn’t just baking cookies with my kidsI was setting a poor example for them by not “loving myself” or “taking care of myself and my body.” I was teaching them that it’s OK to ignore the inner critic inside of you, the one that tries to goad you back toward destructive behavior. I was letting them believe that — gasp! — it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a damn cookie every once in awhile.

Thank God someone pointed out my misguided thinking. I would hate to continue to set a poor example for my children. They should probably know that baking and eating cookies is irresponsible and could land them in the same position as those hyperbolically overweight humans riding around in hovercrafts at the end of Wall-E.

This refreshing revelation got me thinking about some of the other “fun” things I do with my kids, and how those activities might negatively affect them in the long run. It seems I’ve been parenting irresponsibly for quite some time now.

What can I say? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And, apparently, cookie dough.

For those of you looking to join in on the destructive parenting trend, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of ways to do so. Here are 21 activities you should do with your kids if you really want to screw them up.

1. Bake cookies. If you want them to be fat and lazy.

2. Take them to the zoo. If you want to teach them that captivity and bondage are amusing concepts. You might as well just start reading 50 Shades of Grey to them at bedtime.

3. Fly a kite. If you want to instill a disrespect for nature. What if it gets stuck in a tree? BOOM. Littering. Or, worse, what if a bird flies into the string, strangles itself, and dies? You’re basically raising animal abusers. Before you know it, they’ll be throwing plastic six-pack rings into the ocean to murder all the dolphins.

4. Push them on the swings. If you’re really stupid. I mean, whoa. You’re doing two taboo things here: (1) teaching them that it’s OK — fun, even — to push people, and (2) encouraging them to be “swingers.” Bullying and sexual promiscuity for the double-win.

5. Allow them to race their Hot Wheels down one of those plastic racetracks. If you want to bail them out of jail for reckless driving someday. On that note:

6. Hit up the McDonald’s drive-thru while you’re out running errands and split a milkshake. If you want them to think it’s cool to drink and drive.

7. Draw with sidewalk chalk. If you want to raise graffiti-loving hoodlums. If they’re not incarcerated for the reckless driving or a DUI (see above), they may end up in the slammer for defacing public property.

8. Build a fort. If you want to mold them into deranged sociopaths by encouraging seclusion and unhealthy antisocial behavior.

9. Take them to the library and let them pick out a few books. If you want to raise shoplifters.

10. Play dress up. If you want to lay the foundation for a life dedicated to sleazy identity theft.

11. Take them to a fast food place with a play area and allow them to hang out in the ball pit. If you want them to know it’s cool to play with someone else’s balls. IN PUBLIC.

12. Play a card game together. If you want them to end up in Gamblers Anonymous.

13. Play tag and/or hide and seek. If you want them to learn to hide or run away from their problems.

14. Start a (leaf, stamp, rock, etc.) collection. If you want to see them on Hoarders: Buried Alive one day.

15. Play with puppets. If you want them to think they have the right to speak for someone else.

Note: If you have a son and pretend it’s a girl puppet, you’ll be raising the quintessential anti-feminist, male chauvinist. You’ll also be implying that it’s perfectly acceptable to shove his hand up some random girl’s hoo-ha.

16. Exercise together. If you want them to develop an unhealthy exercise addiction and body image issues.

17. Push them in the stroller. If you want them to grow up to be lazy bums always looking for a free ride.

18. Play Simon Says. If you want to raise little dictators. Better yet, just change the name of the game to Adolf Says.

19. Plant a garden. If you want to inspire them to start their own marijuana plantation. You’ll want to really focus on the weed-pulling aspect.

20. Go for a bike ride. If you want them to join a motorcycle gang when they’re older.

21. Write a bitchy, satirical article exposing the ludicrousness of some random sanctimommy’s unsolicited advice. If you want to teach them not to give a f*ck about what other people think.  (This one won’t actually screw them up … I hope.)

© 2015 Samantha Wassel, as first published on Scary Mommy

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I Smile at My C-Section Scar

It spans across my lower belly: a thin line of translucent white, fringed with red, curving slightly upward on either end. It stretches and contracts with the gentle rise and fall of my breathing, widening like a smile.

And I can’t help smiling back.

Because when I look at this scar, I don’t see a flaw.

I see perfection. I see a portal to another world: a place filled with love, life, security—a nourishing utopia, where you formed your perfect little nose, your perfect little cheeks, the perfect little wrinkle between your eyebrows, all ten perfect little fingers, and all ten perfect little toes.

I don’t see deformity.

I see beauty. I see a tattoo that extends all the way to my heart and connects it to yours. I see your soul, your vibrancy, your life—carved into me.

I don’t see the mark of someone who had it “easy,” someone who “didn’t really give birth.” I don’t see inferiority.

I see a literal birthmark. I see the spot where they slit me open while I cried and prayed, hoping that I would hold your tiny living body in my arms when it was over, yearning to feel the warm touch of your skin against mine and the familiar rhythm of your heartbeat against my chest, sensations that I’d grown to know so well internally. I see the mark of quintessential motherhood.

I don’t see weakness.

I see strength. I see the jagged edge of love and fear, protruding from my skin like braille. It says life. It says perseverance. It says you and me—we’ll be together at the end of all this—whatever it takes.

I don’t see failure.

I see triumph. I see a battle scar, marking the ground where we fought—together—when you decided to come 10 weeks early. I see will and determination. I see victory.

I don’t see the cold cut of surgery.

I see the tender swell of life. I see a landmark, a historic site where you breathed your first breath, cried your first cry, opened your eyes to the outside world for the first time. I see the precise latitudinal line of where you went from simply living to being alive. I am forever marked by your coordinates.

I don’t see regret, or the disappointment of having a nontraditional birth. I don’t feel disconnect.

I see a property line, extending to my heart, where you first staked a claim, and where you continue to rule today. I feel the memory of the gentle tug as they lifted you from my body—your grasp on my heart never wavering— and the familiar pull on my heartstrings whenever I picture your fragile, red little body rising to meet me. I remember the warmth of your cheek against my lips, and I feel the unique, undeniable magnetism of a mother’s love. I feel connection.

I don’t see detachment.

I see intimacy. I see a doorway, housing the first chapter of your life, locking in the memory of every kick, every hiccup, every flutter of your tiny, miraculous heart. I see devotion. I see it etched in my skin like a signature on a contract, a promise of love and responsibility. A promise of motherhood.

So I will not be ashamed. I will not be made to feel inadequate. I will not feel insecure or embarrassed.

I will not drape a towel or wrap over my bikini line at the beach. I will not turn away from the mirror when I step out of the shower. I will not cover the mended flesh that brought so much beauty into this world.

I will not mask my pride.

I will not be told that I “had it easy,” or that I “didn’t do any of the work.”

I will not feel weak. I will not feel like less of a woman. I will not feel like less of a mother.

I will not allow the loose, slightly puckered skin surrounding this scar to make me feel ugly. Because it is beautiful, and I am beautiful, and you are beautiful.

I will not feel marred, or “butchered,” or broken.

Because I am whole, and it is this scar that has made me so. It is a poignant paradox, a line marking the spot where I was both ripped apart and put back together; and when I look at it, I will remember the day when you were both taken from and given to me.

And I will be grateful.

Because this scar made me a mom.

© 2015 Samantha Wassel, as first appeared on Mamalode

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Pain of Motherhood

Sometimes when I’m with you, little one—watching you, holding you, loving you—it hurts.

Sometimes it hurts to have this abundance of love—this all-consuming, overpowering, intoxicating and soul-crushing love—and not have a space large enough to keep it. It’s infinite. I feel it when you whisper “I love you, too, Mama” after I tuck you in at night and when you wrap your skinny arms around me. I feel it tingling in the tips of my fingers when they trace the soft line of your jaw, your head resting on my lap as you drift peacefully off to sleep.

And that time you pressed your little lips tenderly to my forehead? I think my heart almost erupted inside my chest.

Sometimes it hurts when I lift your little body up in my arms and realize that I won’t always be able to—that you won’t always want me to. It’s a pain of balance and a pain of paradox: The lightness of you in my arms is counteracted by the heaviness in my heart. You’re getting so big, so fast. And though I love seeing the little boy you’re becoming, I also miss the little baby you once were.

I miss your smallness.

Sometimes it hurts as I witness you break out of your tentative toddler shell. You explore your surroundings with a burning curiosity that fills me with both pride and a little heartache. The more of the world you discover, the less of your world I become. And while I am proud of your burgeoning independence—of your determination to play an active role in your own life—it pains me just a little to know you won’t always need me by your side to guide you through it.

There is a comfort in being needed.

Sometimes it hurts when I can’t find the words. I can feel them there, inside me, desperately trying to form, but there’s no language both strong and delicate enough to capture the essence of you. So sometimes all I can do is stare in silence, marveling at your tiny personhood, trying to memorize every piece of you, every movement, every intricacy:

Those tiny feet that carry you across the playground. Those miniscule fingers that artfully craft Lego trains and dig itty bitty tunnels in the dirt. Those bright, animated eyes that peep at me through the hole in your bagel at breakfast. That delicate little brow that furrows when you sit on the couch and flip through your favorite book. That nearly-imperceptible chip in your front tooth from the time you fell at the playground, a tiny flaw that somehow only adds to your perfection.

 Sometimes, I watch you, and it hits me: All those things—those things that make you YOU—are a part of me. You are a part of me. You—and all of your startling perfection—were born of me.

I live in your heart, and you in mine. Your soul was nourished by my own, and I will always carry a piece of it with me.

You have changed me in the most profound, complete, and beautiful of ways. You have altered my body, my mind, my heart, my soul.

And sometimes, little one, it hurts to love you so.

But it’s a beautiful kind of pain, and I wouldn't trade it for all the comforts and security in the world.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Called My IVF a Sin

First of all, I never asked you.

You, who were raised Catholic (like me), brought up to believe in the healing power of love and sacrifice, do you know how much I sacrificed for these children? How many needles I faced? How many procedures I endured? How many times I went to the ER convulsing in unbearable pain? Do you know how many tears I shed?

You, who conceived your first child because you “forgot the condom that one time,” have you ever even considered what it’s like to walk the proverbial mile in an infertile woman’s shoes?

Do you know what it’s like when your body breaks the very heart it harbors, refusing to indulge its deepest desire?

Do you know how it feels to cry over another negative pregnancy test, only to dig it out of the trash an hour later, praying that a second line has magically appeared?

Do you know how much love contributed to the creation of these children? That they are born of the love between a husband and wife, between parental hopefuls and an imagined family, between a mother and the mere idea of her future children?

Do you think the fact that they spent an infinitesimal portion of their lives in a laboratory before I carried them changes any of that?

Do you know that every time I felt them move inside of me, my heart was filled with gratitude?

Do you know how my body nourished them? How we shared the same nutrients, the same oxygen, the same heartbeat?

Do you know that our hearts fall into that familiar, synchronized rhythm when I hold them close to me now? That our hearts still speak to one another?

Can you imagine how much I love them? How much they love me in return?

Do you really believe something that brings more love into this world could be a “sin”?

You, who said my cyst-ridden ovaries were just “part of a bigger plan,” did you ever stop to think that maybe meeting the miracle workers at the fertility clinic was also part of that plan?

If you saw a child hit by a car while running across the street, would you neglect to call 911, chalking the accident up to “destiny”?

You, who said it was immoral to use “any means necessary” to get pregnant, do you realize that most cases of infertility are considered treatable medical conditions?

If one of your loved ones was suffering from cancer that could be cured with chemotherapy, would you urge her to decline treatment? Would you tell her it’s wrong to fight fate, and that she should die prematurely, at the hands of a tumor, even though there are gifted and compassionate human beings who could help her?

You, who accused me of tossing out “unused” or “weak” embryos like trash, do you know that I refused to discard even the lowest medically-graded embryo?

Do you know that any embryos I didn’t have transferred back to me were treated with the utmost care, and that they are safe in a medical facility, tiny glimmers of hope with the potential to gift us — or another struggling couple, should we decide to donate — a beautiful baby?

You, who accused me of “taking life for granted,” do you know that I cried over every single egg that didn’t mature?

Every embryo that formed but halted in its development?

Every transferred blastocyst that didn’t “stick”?

Every blood-stained pad that meant my womb wasn’t enveloping the child I’d so desperately yearned for?

Do you know that I lit candles? Laid out prayer cards? Wept until I no longer knew what it was to have clear vision and dry cheeks?

Look at my children — my beautiful, vibrant, born-of-love miracles. Watch them light up a room and bring a smile to even the most somber of faces.

Listen to the way the word “Mama” dances off their lips, like a precious secret, a verbal love letter addressed to the woman who gave them life.

Watch them gaze upon the world with wide eyes, finding joy in the mundane, laughter in the silence, love in the emptiness.

See their eyes sparkle when I ask them if they want to go for a ride in the wagon. Watch them point out the airplanes overhead, mimic the sound of a passing train, laugh at the dandelion seeds that float through the sky and tickle their noses.

Hear the wonder in their voices when they catch a rare glimpse of the moon in broad daylight, their cries of excitement reminiscent of a barnyard, as they turn people’s heads with boisterous outbursts of “Moo! Moo!”

See them wave to the mail carrier, shout “Hi!” to the UPS driver, and smile at the garbage man.

Watch their brows furrow with genuine concern when they see someone get a “boo boo” at the playground.

Listen to them sing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” out of key but full of life.

Let them take your hand in theirs. Feel their tiny, dirt-caked fingers embracing yours in a grasp of unadulterated trust.

You can call me a sinner, and I won’t deny it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no saint.

I am human. I am flawed. I have made mistakes, and I have plenty of things to apologize for.

But being a mother is not one of them.

© 2015 Samantha Wassel, as first appeared on Scary Mommy