One of our favorite things to do is to go to the store. It can be a Target, a Home Depot, the gas station … whatever. Thomas LOVES to meander through the aisles, looking at and touching each and every thing. And I LOVE to watch him take it all in. It occurs to me often that this is potentially literally his first time seeing a certain type of bottle or a box of popsicles, and watching him make discoveries is one of my favorite things of being a parent.
On Saturday, we were enjoying a few minutes at the grocery store while Jake picked up groceries. We were walking through the clothing section, when some gray t-shirts caught my eye. I kept half an eye on Thomas as he knelt next to a shelf and perused, and I tried to assess what size I was in Freddie’s latest v-neck fashion.
An employee, maybe in his early 20s, came rushing down the aisle with a cart full of broken-down cardboard boxes. Thomas, of course, took this moment to stand up and start running towards me. “WAIT!” I yelled, and the cart driver came to a screeching halt.
I grabbed Thomas’s arm and pulled him closer to me, while the employee rolled his eyes. I felt my defensiveness rise.
“I was watching him,” I said.
“Right,” he replied, as he took off again down the aisle.
I felt my face immediately flush and my anxiety heighten, and looked around my immediate area. No one was there to see me being a bad parent. No one noticed my paying more attention to a t-shirt than my flesh and blood. After a few minutes, my heartbeat slowed and my breathing returned to normal.
My anxiety has encouraged me to mentally return to this situation multiple times, to replay, to reassess, to reanalyze. Is he still annoyed? Did he go back and complain to his friends about the woman who couldn’t keep her kid under control? The mom who thought shopping was more important than her toddler?
The answer? Likely a “no.” He probably, like a lot of people, completely forgot about the situation about 30 seconds after he walked away (or maybe not … if you’re reading this, Freddie’s employee, I’m sorry!!).
I remember, many years prior to being a parent, reading a Facebook post where someone was highlighting how whenever she’s at the park with her child, she’s surrounded by moms on their phones. While I don’t agree with completely blowing Thomas off for Instagram (although it has happened), I do wonder, when did society decide that a mom can’t take a breath even for a minute? When did our culture decide to promote perfection? I remember playing at the park while my mom read a book or, god forbid, closed her eyes for a second, and I turned out ok. Who decides what is (or isn’t) frivolous and unforgivable when it comes to taking your eyes off your kid?
I know I am just one of many voices starting to rise, but we need to be easier on ourselves. Could something have happened? Could Thomas have been crushed by a cart in front of hundreds of Oregonians, this 22-year-old kid’s life ruined forever? Yes. But more than likely, it would have been more like the situation we found ourselves in a few weeks ago.
Thomas kept walking up to the Macy’s store and slapping the window, as toddlers are prone to doing. I kept asking him to stop, walking him through the consequences and how someone might not see him and squish him with the door.
I walked away, anticipating Thomas was continuing his trek right behind me. About three steps later I turned around and saw him back at the door, slapping away, right as a woman opened it into his face.
They both yelled in surprise. She apologized profusely (as did I), and then she laughed. Thomas was fine and, as she put it, “he probably won’t do that again!” And she’s probably right.
What oversight “errors” have you made that turned out to be a good lesson?
There are a lot of times we just don’t like each other. Quiet glares in the hallway. Downcast eyes. Yelling. Like any relationship, we have the highs and the lows. We have the moments where we want to quit and the moments where it all makes sense.
I’m reminded of why I’m thankful for him tonight. It’s 9:40p, and instead of watching a movie or sleeping, he’s curled up around an iron, a laptop case, and Cricut vinyl, trying to find the perfect temperature to make this whole thing “go” and help fill a merchandise store with goodies so we can get the show on the road.
In the words of Thomas, “go go go!”
I could wait to get back from San Francisco. It’d been a long three days, and as the plane touched down in Portland, I started tapping my feet and upping the antsy-ness. At three days and two nights, it wasn’t the longest I’ve been away from Thomas, but it was close.
I jumped off the plane and bolted through the airport, swerving around meandering passengers. I love the new arrival area at PDX … you walk through glass doors into a bright, wide-open space filled with expectant parents, grandparents, friends and, if you’re lucky, your kiddo.
He didn’t see me at first. He was sipping on a pouch, and walking around the Starbucks tables. As he made a right turn, we locked eyes, and he went into what can best be described as a 20-month-old panic. “ALL DONE ALL DONE!” he yelled, trying to stuff the cap back on the pouch. “MAMA!”
I dropped my suitcase and walked quickly to him (running in airports always feels dangerous to me). Mere seconds later I had the sweetest reward for a week of hard work … a sweaty hug, a little drool, and a sticky hand patting my back as he said, “mama, mama, hug?” I was home, and literally nothing could be better.
Nothing, that is, until you fast forward 90 minutes. Everyone is hungry. Everyone is tired. And maybe, just maybe, we’ve spent a few too many hours at Joann’s buying stuff for the forthcoming merchandise in the shop. It is at these times that genius usually strikes, and tonight it did. My husband and I decided tonight was the night to take Thomas to his first round at Shari’s.
We snuggled into the booth with two menus and a kid’s drawing pack, and Thomas immediately set the coloring the paper. And then the menu. And then the table. It’s during these moments that the flashbacks occur, where you remember every time you’ve glared at another parent who should “just control their kid.” When the waitress took our drink order, I turned my head for two seconds. When I turned back, the window was colored in stripes of green.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We have stuff that will take that right off.”
But I can’t help but worry about it. This is a learning moment, and a moment to control. I turned to Thomas, and gently said, “we don’t color on windows … if you don’t color on the paper, we are done with it for tonight,” and redirected him to the paper. Task complete, until mere seconds later, he picked up the crayon again and splashed more color across the window.
I picked him up swiftly, and swung him over my lap so he’d be on the other side of me and away from the offending window. In doing so, my child, who I swear grew at least three inches in the three days I was gone, sent my water glass flying with his kick. The entire restaurant went silent, except for Thomas who was yelling, “mine!” as he thrashed in the booth. Jake said, “do you want me to handle it?” My look could’ve killed.
In that moment, I truthfully hated myself. All I had done was pine for my kid for three days, and not two hours after we saw each other, I already wanted to go back to San Francisco, my quiet hotel room, and my newspaper before bedtime. My internal monologue was ugly. “I’m a failure. I’m impatient. I’m failing him. He’s a kid and I can’t keep my cool to make this a learning lesson. I’ve embarrassed everyone.” And so on and so forth.
It was MILES from what I expected my evening to be. Landing in Portland, I fantasized about this evening being full of sweet moments. I pictured us happily “frowing rocks,” hanging with the dog, and snuggling up to “be book.” That fantasy, however, was not to be.
My hormones, my anxiety, my depression, they all spin stories for me about what should and shouldn’t be for myself, for my life, for my family. I constantly have to recenter and remind myself that one transgression doesn’t set a whole day’s (or even a whole hour’s) path, and yes, we can bounce back. It feels impossible and scary in that moment to forgive myself, but taking a deep breath is often enough to help at least get me started.
That’s what I did tonight. I told Jake I needed a second to settle. I hugged my child. Within seconds, he was happily eating croutons and talking in garbled sentences. We ate dinner, watched our neighbor leaf blow his yard, read a few books, chased the dog … it was a good night after all.
When my new boss asked me to come to San Francisco for training the day after Labor Day, I only batted half an eyelash.
Sure, my in-laws are in town. Sure, it’ll be insane because of day after Labor Day travel. But, with an 11am start, I could prioritize seeing my child, catch the 8:45a to San Francisco, and arrive by the skin of my teeth for my literal first day on the job. You know, assuming all the stars aligned.
My panic started on Labor Day itself. Pain in my stomach, random tears, hyperventilating panic. My carefully planned departure meant I could wake up, get ready, breastfeed, and spend some time with Thomas before disappearing from his immediate view for 72 hours. The Jess who made that plan, who was going to be an in-control mom and employee, had booked the flight without hesitation. The Jess of September 3, 2018, however, couldn’t breathe.
I assessed options, but none were logical. To buy an earlier flight outright was in the hundreds of dollars. To move to the earlier flight, I had to get on a waiting list from which I might get moved to the standby list. Knowing I was painted into a corner, I took a deep breath, and kept the original flight.
That night brought more anxiety of its own. In-laws, packing, teething. All of these completely manageable (and some even embraced!) on their own. But together, they made for a perfect storm.
Thomas, feeling the anxiety (potentially) or the teeth (more likely), amped up the clinginess. Mistakenly, I let him fall asleep in my arms. For the next two hours, anytime he was put down, he screamed. Many tears were had by both him and I before he finally fell asleep after 10p. I had a cider and a noble Coors Light to calm my panic.
Thankfully, we did all sleep. I got Thomas up, fed him, and left for the airport with a chorus of, “I duv do too.” In the car, however, I received the first of many alerts … flying to SFO in the summer brings the marine layer which, unfortunately, brought a substantial delay to my flight.
I didn’t just feel the panic of being late for my first day as a new employee. Nor of going to a new job after a disastrous end (and some actual PTSD) from my last. I also felt the guilt of what I have come to recognize in myself and my mom friends as, “the working mom syndrome.”
The guilt of prioritizing my bond with my child over a place of business. Fear over how that would reflect on me, especially on my first day. If I’d just taken the earlier flight, I would have rolled into San Francisco early (because of COURSE the 6:30a was on time!). Instead, I made a “selfish” decision to prioritize seeing my child, getting some sleep, and not pumping. And, for that, I paid the price in extra franticness and guilt.
Instead of being safely on the ground, on time, in San Francisco, I sat in the Portland airport trying to clear my mind. I quickly pumped in the bathroom because, with the delay, I now would feel even more uncomfortable making the ask to pump over lunch.
I stepped into the elite line to board over glares from the “general boarding” passengers. Yes, fellow traveler, I am utilizing my (hard-earned from so many miles away from my little guy) gold status to jump ahead. But I need you to understand … I can’t check my bag and I needed to pump. Can’t you see I am one breath away from completely crumbling?
What is the lesson in all of this? I am ultimately not sure. Either way, it feels like a lose-lose.
I can take the earlier flight, be on time (maybe?), but miss the curve of his cheeks, the way his in-person duck-like laugh is so much more satisfying than anything else, and one hundred more hugs. I can take the later flight and “know” that my employers are passing judgment for first day lateness, which is so tightly coupled with my identity of mother and woman and employee, and threatens my very core.
Even 36 hours later, I’m still trying to settle the internal struggle. The only real conclusion I’ve come to is that this, like everything else, will take deep breaths, many moments of practice, and some trust that some in the world are more understanding than credit is given.
Yesterday, I landed in San Francisco under a blue sky. My Lyft arrived at the terminal in literally one minute. Traffic to the downtown office was clear. And, upon arrival, I found out that the kick-off had been delayed until 1p. I had that moment to breathe, and, it turns out, no reason to worry.
Thomas’ birth, like many, was anything but ordinary. He came quietly into the world, gray and barely moving. My midwife, Lydia, shoved the scissors into Jake’s hands as the blue lights went off in our room, and he cut the umbilical cord as the pulled Thomas out of Lydia’s hands.
We were lucky. Thomas was a meconium birth and, the longer we know him, the more we realize that assessing first and reacting second is a cherished part of his personality. In the moment, though, I have never known such fear.
After 10 minutes, and stabilization of my son, the hospital took him to the NICU. Jake followed Thomas down as I stayed behind, paralyzed from epidural and from fear.
An hour or so later, a doctor called me from the NICU asking me if I wanted my son to have donor milk. I didn’t know how to respond. Everything I’d read talked about skin to skin and breastfeeding, and the first experience I had looked forward to with my child out of uterine was now no longer a possibility.
I asked the doctor what she suggested, since I was still being stitched up (what a birth it was!) and wouldn’t likely get to see him for a few hours still. She reinforced the good work of the milk bank, and reinforced that giving my son donor milk was both healthy and safe, and would keep him on the path to good health. I said yes, and the first food he had was a gift from someone else.
I can’t say that I was thrilled in the moment (in fact, I was completely confused, numb, you name it). But once I saw him with my own eyes and realized he was in one piece, I started to ask questions. The NICU nurses told me about Northwest Mothers Milk Bank (NWMMB), and I filed it in the back of my mind for the future.
Fast forward three months, and I am back at work, and pumping more than I will ever need. I knew this was a possibility based on my oversupply throughout much of the fourth trimester, but I didn’t realize how much milk I would have! I had several other friends give birth around the same time as me, and they weren’t as lucky with supply. I decided then to call NWMMB and undergo the screening needed to donate my breastmilk for babies like my own. The donations I was making to both NWMMB and my friends who needed it helped me through the angst and annoyance of pumping. Almost 1.5 years later, I still make enough milk that I donate 200-300 oz a month to NWMMB.
There are milk banks across the United States. If you’ve donated, please share your experience below. If you’d like to learn more, send me a note or contact your local milk bank.