becoming your mother

I didn’t become your mother the day you were born, nor the day you were conceived.

I become your mother bit by bit as we muddle our way through life together. Little by little. Day by day.

It’s when I let go of an unreasonable limit I was clinging to for the sake of consistency; when I finally see you and see in your face that the limit is not doing its job. It seemed like a life raft in a turbulent sea. If I hold on tighter things will get better! Except when they don’t.

And it’s also my unwavering commitment to the limits that really matter, no matter what.

I become your mother when I overcome my distaste for frolicking because you need me to frolick with you. And I realize that sometimes there’s nothing in the world better than chasing you through the grass. Your face is open like only a child’s can be. I see your love for me. It awes me and I grow a little more into motherhood.

It’s when I take time for myself while still looking you in the eye and acknowledging that it makes you sad when I won’t play with you because–in that moment–I value what I want more.

It’s singing bedtime songs about the conflicts we’ve had that day, using the well worn tunes to tell you how much more complicated my feelings are than I was able to show in the moment. And how sorry I am when I hurt your feelings.

Perhaps most especially it’s when people ask me how my mother’s day weekend is going and I say “pretty great” even though there have been several meltdowns, no sleep, half the naps needed, and nothing went according to plan. And it’s not a lie.

The story of my motherhood is also the story of your son-hood. Of how this year, for the first time, you’ve been really excited about the day–for me. Your love for me shines through everything we have done the past few days. How you wanted me to watch a show with you, but I wanted to visit the garden. I left and a few minutes later you came bounding out to sit in the clover and pick flowers while daddy mowed a circle around you. You picked an enormous bouquet of fragrant white clover blossoms and got your Grandma to help you find a vase. When I came to find you, you beamed up at me. “Mama, these are for you, for your special day!”

It’s mother’s day eve and like all days, I’m more a mother–more your mother–at the end of the day than I was at the start. When we got home from a long day out you went to find the picture you made for me. The one you’ve been talking about for a week. The one I told you I didn’t want you to give me until mother’s day. The one you hid somewhere upstairs where nobody would find it. But it wasn’t where you had left it.

Daddy quietly asked “did you find a rolled up piece of paper in the corner of the closet?” My throat felt dry. That’s the precise spot where I roll up your immense body of artwork to photograph and then recycle. I had just cleaned it out. I had grabbed a single item and, in a hurry, put it somewhere. I went through all the recycling. I went through the disgusting poopy diaper-filled trash. I looked through every pile. It was simply gone.

And it was past your bedtime. You refused dinner. I saw you unraveling. It was the biggest unraveling you’ve ever had. It was tiredness, hunger, and a deep feeling that I didn’t value your love for me and the effort you had put into my gift. Eventually you retreated upstairs to make a new drawing for me. I heard your sobs. They were heart-wrenching.

The meltdown had terrified the baby, who was nursing and recovering from his own tears. I started crying. I walked to the kitchen and handed your brother to my husband. He was still attached and objecting. I looked him the eyes and told him “your brother needs me. Listen to him. He’s very sad. I need to go to him.” He understood because you are the sun that rises and sets on his days.

I knocked. You were sobbing and holding the paper behind your back. I couldn’t keep back my tears and I wrapped you in my arms and told you how sorry I was. My sadness jolted you out of your own. You patted my head and said matter of factly “Can I show you the new one? The other one wasn’t actually very good. This one is better. It’s you. And there’s Ron, and Hermione, and me, and you know him, with the lightning scar.” We admired the new portrait and hung it on the fridge. We headed to bed and on the way in I saw, folded beneath a pile of outgrown clothes, a piece of brown butcher paper. I showed it to you.

“See, I told you the new one was better.”

I listen to your breathing. Your sadness is gone; your trust restored. I felt broken, but I’m not. I’m just a little bit more a mother than I was when I woke up this morning. And so it goes.

Following my bliss, inspite of myself

When I was young my mother used to talk to me about “following my bliss.” It was eye-roll worthy in the most adolescent way. I was a pragmatist and a realist and cynical and tough. I did not do bliss-following. I didn’t care if Joseph Campbell was some sort of genius. If my mother suggested it, it could not possibly be a good idea.

I still have a slightly allergic response to the phrase, perhaps because it just sounds so…mushy. I do not do yoga. I do not meditate. I do Useful Things and am Very Efficient. I am a planner; I always think wayyyyyy ahead. Following your bliss sounds like something a long haired hippy does while wandering barefoot through a field of wildflowers. The very image makes me itch. Who does that? There are chiggers and ticks and copperheads and how do you plan for health care needs or retirement just chasing bliss (whatever that is) wherever it leads?

Yet when I sat down to write this post about gardening (yup, that’s where this was headed. We get there eventually), I was surprised to find I had misrepresented my own story…to myself. My biggest and best life-altering decisions had, in fact, been made by following my gut when it was in sync with my heart, which is really the crux of what Campbell meant about following your bliss.

When I was 21 my then-boyfriend and I planned to walk the Camino de Santiago during the summer. Five hundred miles in 28 days across northern Spain. He was from the Basque Country and had walked parts of the Camino with his own father as a teenager. We trained together, walking 15 or 20 miles in a day along the roads and paths in our town. Then he found out he couldn’t get the time off from his lab. It was terrifying, but I decided to go by myself. It had become something I needed to do.

On the way to Spain I was robbed of everything I owned except my backpack of clothes and gear for the Camino. After a harrowing adventure securing a new passport and ticket with no identification and no money, I finally arrived…and promptly came down with the worst stomach virus I’ve ever had. I was forced to seek refuge with my boyfriend’s family, the only people I knew in the whole country. After 5 days in bed I had  lost all the stamina built up from months of training. His mother nudged me out of the house to walk around the village and I was exhausted and ready to crawl back in bed after ten minutes. But there was no more time. I had to go or not; I couldn’t postpone indefinitely. The trip had an end date.

I convinced my boyfriend’s sister to drop me off at the tiny village of Roncesvalles at the French border with no money, no cell phone, no credit card, and my insides glued together with Fortasec. I got up at 5am and walked 15 miles the next day. Other pilgrims offered me food because they thought my diet of plain bread was due to lack of money, which was also true. The first day a couple from Barcelona saw my feet and showed me how to sew a loop of thread through a blister after treating it with iodine in order to keep walking without getting an infection.

Going alone was the best thing I could have done. I saw in ways I would not have with a partner and interacted with others in ways I would not have, had I gone with company. The people I met became dear friends. Those 28 days remain the most formative of my entire life. It was–literally and figuratively–a moment of choosing a path, and one that would have been so, so easy to say no to.

Three years later, I made another unlikely, uncomfortable, path-shifting decision. I was about to move to Chicago to work with an amazing scholar in a PhD program I was deeply excited about. I had found a roommate and we were apartment shopping. But I had just fallen in love with a hometown boy. After two weeks dating we knew. He was going to commute between North Carolina and Chicago to be with me while I was in graduate school. I was on my path!

And then one day I was out for a run and, on the side of a busy road, I just stopped. My life with this person was the path. Why was I continuing on the old path as if nothing had changed?

I decided in that moment to stay in my home town and not go off to school. I felt my brain doing somersaults. All my plans and expectations shifted in the blink of an eye. A week later we moved in together. He was so excited he promised never to eat fast food again–a promise he has mostly kept (except on our wedding day when his friends kidnapped him and took him to Bojangles).

I thought everyone would think I was crazy. Mostly they did. I had to arrange a meeting with my most beloved professor and tell him why I wasn’t going off to school, despite the wonderful letter he’d written me and all his advocacy on my behalf. He encouraged me to apply to the local R1 universities and find a way to make it work if graduate school was still what I really wanted (it was and I did).

I worried that my mother would worry about me giving up my life plans for a man. It was just about the least feminist thing a girl could do. But I should have known. My mother smiled and hugged me and said “I wondered whether you might consider staying.” She for sure figured I was following my bliss, but probably knew better than to say it.

I do not look back on these experiences and tell myself I should be a more impetuous and spontaneous person. They do not make me want to buy an open ended ticket to somewhere wild and hope it works out. Most of what has gone well in my life has been the result of good planning and research. But when it came to getting the really big, scary decisions “right,” planning and research only got me part way there.

There have been big decisions since then: choosing to have a baby while in graduate school, asking my family to uproot itself and travel with me for my dissertation, choosing to finish my program even after realizing that I did not want a career until after my children were bigger (if then), choosing not to work for money, having another baby…but all of these life choices were less loaded because the overall trajectory seemed “right.” The stakes were lower because of these pivotal moments where I gave myself permission to find out how strong and capable I really was and take a chance on what I really wanted.

What got me thinking about my mom’s well worn advice to follow my bliss was my gardening problem (told you we’d get here eventually).

Today I went to visit the backyard of our old house, which I fenced off when we let go of the house and moved further out of town. My gardening makes no sense. It is a liability. I spend way too much time on it, and when I am honest with myself I know this to be actually, truly true. My partner is more supportive than I could ask for and only periodically complains that on the weekends he doesn’t see me. I don’t need him to point out that paying for childcare so you can grow food is inefficient. Or that when I say “I just need to go grab a couple of herbs for dinner” it is for sure going to be at least half an hour. Or that maintaining a second large garden 15 minutes away from where we live is ridiculous. I tell myself and everyone else that it’s to save money, to be more self sufficient. None of that is untrue, but well, it kind of is.

What is real is that I don’t listen to the radio when I drive out there because my mind needs empty space. When I open the fence and stoop under the branches of the huge magnolia and into my secret garden, full of song birds and color, everything else disappears and my burdens fall away. Today I worked for three hours in a drenching rain. I worked until my fingers hurt. I didn’t think about anything except pulling weeds and planting sweet potatoes. It’s rare that I get alone time in the garden because I’m with my kids full time. When I head home after gardening alone it’s like coming up for air after being underwater for a long time.

I am not a religious person, or even especially spiritual. I find dirt and stars amazing and that’s enough wonder for a lifetime. I still don’t do yoga or meditate. Campbell suggests that doors will open to your path when you find your “sacred space” and give your mind uncluttered room to connect with your soul. I find it hard to get past all the mysticism, but once I do I can see the moments in my life when I’ve been in that place.

The long hours of solitude on the Camino were a concentrated dose of what I’d attained in fleeting moments throughout my childhood. Dancing vigorously. Doing physically arduous yard work for my dad. Sitting in the silent woods behind my mom’s trailer in winter. Playing hide and seek with my sister in the corn field across the road. Nights around a campfire in the mountains. The natural world and empowering physical effort were clearly at the heart of this. But now I’m busy so often I no longer make these opportunities for myself. Except that I’ve found a way: in my garden.

I’ve been “following my bliss” without realizing it, in spite of my disdain for the concept. I would call my mama to laugh about it together, but I think she already knows. Maybe I will anyway.

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This is the year

To the boy who made us parents:

You have completed six years of life. It was a special birthday for both of us, though we couldn’t really put our finger on why. You told me “this year feels more important,” and it did.

As a scholar I’d say it was probably our completely average timing of entry into middle childhood, which is really a much more dramatic stage than its name suggests. The age when archaeologists tell us most children were finally weaned. When baby teeth begin to fall out. When, in traditional societies, children would be expected to start taking on roles with responsibility in the home and community. The precursor to the precursor of adolescence.

In our home it was just a special year, no more and no less.

This was the year that you completed the transition from wanting only me to none of me at all, if there were other children to play with. Even though you felt guilty for not wanting me, I didn’t mind. I’ve been wanted enough for several lifetimes.

This was the year you began to offer to do helpful things when you saw me struggling, and make a point of letting me know you were sorry when I didn’t get enough sleep or had a bad day.

The year you stopped napping. The year you started reading. The year you stopped being nervous at the idea of being dropped off for an activity without me. The year you started seeing your baby brother as a person and appreciating his potential as a playmate and friend.

This was the year you stopped being afraid that anyone who came to play would take All. Your. Things.

The year you started helping me in the garden, and did the work to make your own bed. And decided you wanted to make your own birthday cake (phew).

The year you learned to save your allowance. And started choosing your own clothes (unfortunately, as we’ve got you covered for the next year but now all bottoms must have belt loops).

The year you started exploring the woods alone. And I didn’t know where you were or what was happening. And it was okay. Better than okay. It was good. Really good.

This was the year you asked big questions about your big disappointments and sadnesses and then paid focused attention to my answers, knowing that I would take you seriously and that if you stayed still you’d find out what you needed to know…like why your brother gets more of my time. You sit perfectly still as I explain about the development of small humans, and how you were when you were his age, and how it won’t last forever. And you take it inside you and put it away in the places it needs to go. Figuring out what you need to be okay. A brunch date, please, a few hours just us? Yes. I can’t wait.

There will be other amazing years. Or perhaps all years will start to look amazing. Maybe the pace of change will remain fast and this will just seem like the first year of the new normal.

I don’t expect to know anymore. To have any idea what lies in store. I don’t care. This is good. You are good.

Happy birthday.

 

Doing what works

I don’t believe in The Mommy Wars. The overwhelming majority of parents I’ve interacted with are generous, humble, and restrained in their assessment of other people’s parenting. There’s an unspoken code of conduct that you just don’t s**t on what people do differently from you because it’s so hard, no matter how you slice it. It took me a long time to learn that and it still takes mindfulness. I’m always impressed with people who are good at this without trying.

Even those of us who have to work at humility learn pretty fast once we are out of the newlywed stage of parenting–that heady moment around 2 months when they don’t poop at night anymore and you slept for 5 hours once, so you have a lot of advice to share. If you have a second kid, the pace of humility acquisition picks up noticeably. Lo and behold you are a different family, you have to do a million things differently because it turns out your first kid isn’t who you thought they’d be and you have to factor them into what you do with the next one. Your kids are totally different from each other. You remember the (maybe a smidge self righteous) advice you shared early on with other moms with such certainty, and cringe. Because those things worked on kid #1, and now they don’t.

That’s all just life. It’s not a war. Parents forgive each other for these universal sins of beginner’s hubris.

Even when folks are visibly taken aback by something about my parenting, I’ve never had anyone be mean. Yes, it happens, I don’t want to dismiss the bad experiences people have. That is real. But our own insecurities about parenting can create a thick filter through which we see judgment lurking behind every attempt to connect. I know I’ve carelessly said things that hurt people when I didn’t mean to (especially when caught off guard), so I try to assume that’s what’s happening when I feel judged.

This attempt to think well of others is not always successful. But I’m a perfectly mediocre parent in plenty of ways, and am still surprised at how positive I feel about the mamasphere at the end of the day. In fact, it’s the overwhelming generosity and support I usually feel from other parents–friends and strangers–that spurs me to be more mindful and less judgmental of others. The very best of paying it forward.

But if the internets are to be believed, parents are just being judged to death, left and right. And it’s not just a straw man so we can justify our feel-good blogs; parents do seem to feel constantly scrutinized. Yet how to reconcile this with the fact that most folks I know walk on egg shells around sensitive parenting topics and really believe different is ok?

Surely it’s a combination of all of us needing to practice mindfulness in how we treat others’ parenting choices (and unavoidable realities), as well as taking some responsibility for not interpreting everything as an attack. Since we can’t control other people’s behavior, the latter has always felt like a more realistic place to start.

So what’s the key to building an immunity to feeling judged? When I look back at the times this has worked best for me, it’s been when I was doing what worked for my family and was confident in my decision. When I’m most likely to feel judged it’s when I’m uncertain whether I’m doing the right thing. I’m not saying one can just flip a switch and feel confident about parenting. But as a sensitive person who worries a lot about social relationships, it was empowering to figure out I had something to say about how I felt.

So often we do what we think we are supposed to do without ever stopping to ask ourselves whether it works for our family. We disregard our own instincts because of what someone else said was required for good parenting, even if it makes our life miserable.

My 20 month old sleeps in the jogging stroller. It’s where he goes down for nap. It’s where he goes down for bed. He practically climbs in by himself, opens his mouth for daddy to brush his teeth, and conks out while we jiggle the stroller in the middle of the living room. He stays there until he gets squirmy. At nap time it’s usually 45 minutes. At bedtime more like 2 hours. I’d leave him there all night if he’d stay. It works.

It wasn’t always this way. Our house has three rooms total and one of them is dedicated to sleeping humans. Except this new, fourth human does not believe in sleeping and never has (especially not in a bed, that is for losers). There was the first year when he slept in a carrier perhaps half his total sleep hours. Neither of us remember anything of that year. It was a fog of utter and total exhaustion. Luckily the elder child just slept right through it all.

I remember a former neighbor commenting about our back yard “getting out of hand this past year.” My eyeballs rolled around as I tried to focus on what she was saying. I think I stuttered something about it having been a tough year. I couldn’t even fathom yard management being anywhere near the top of the list of things that weren’t getting done, but should be.

The stroller was a discovery of necessity because our one year old weighed as much as a 3 year old and my partner was developing back problems from wearing him in the carrier so much. At first we took him on uncomfortable walks in the dark and all kinds of bad weather. Then one muggy, mosquito ridden day I tried just circling the porch. Then just jiggling. Then just jiggling inside. It sounds ridiculous, but it worked. It’s been working for 6 months. Heaven help us when it stops working, as someday it surely will.

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I wouldn’t hawk this as as a stroke of parenting genius, but it gets as close to getting the job done as anything right now.

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my kids would die without cheese. In 5 lb blocks.

Then there’s our nearly six year old who eats cheese toast for breakfast, cucumbers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and pesto cheesy rice for dinner. Pretty much every day. Breakfast and lunch have shifted at various moments, but this is the dinner he’s been eating for about 8 months now. It became his go-to when he figured out he could meet my criteria for a green vegetable without having to eat something separate from the rest of his meal.

Yes, I know about the French and how their kids eat whatever is put before them. That doesn’t work for us and I really don’t care. He doesn’t want to eat what we are eating and I don’t want to eat the boring thing he wants to eat.

I look at the big picture and ask myself what my deep priorities are for his health. What I care about is that he get two greens a day and some good protein; that his diet primarily be real, whole foods without chemical nast and added sugar. On that, we are golden. He thinks a protein bar is a fancy treat. Does it matter if there’s very little variation right now? Not to me. Someday there will be. All of a sudden one day he asked for my hard boiled egg and now occasionally he eats one.

We fight about important things like tooth brushing. This was not worth a fight. I made a thousand pounds of pesto from my own garlic and basil last summer and froze it in ice cube trays. I make vast mounds of rice cooked in bone broth and freeze it. If one wants to consider the assembly process “cooking multiple separate meals” to appease a whiny kid, so be it. I love to cook and make delightfully creative meals that the rest of us eat–including the toddler (for now). This is what works for our family. We will run out of pesto in about a week and there won’t be any more until May. Soon something else will have to start working. C’est la vie.

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When I realized we were about to run out of pesto I started experimenting with winter greens in the garden. Dandelion chickweed pesto was not a hit with anyone.

But here’s the rub with all this. After seeing a silly video of my toddler double fisting his brother’s leftover pesto cheesy rice, a friend of mine asked what he was eating. When I told her, she wondered wistfully how I get my kids to eat such healthy food. I almost snorted my beer because it was so ridiculous, given that this one food is the only food he’ll eat. But she didn’t know that. Her kids eat carrots and tomatoes and sweet peppers. Mine only eats pesto cheesy rice.

If we all knew everyone else’s ridiculousness, our kids would inevitably seem more well-rounded. But who cares? This works for my family. Any time I find myself feeling envious of someone else’s seemingly perfect family, I think of all the times I’ve been shocked at someone who can only see 2% of my life saying something like that about my family.

Why not just do what works for ourselves, be inspired to try new things when we see others doing something different that we think might be better, and hold on to the reality that no one has it all figured out.

I’m not advocating laissez faire parenting. I’m sure some people think beating the crap out of their kids “works” for them. I hope it’s obvious that’s not what I mean. I know what empirical evidence actually shows to be the range of things that are healthy, safe, and normal. So do a lot of parents. It’s a big range, even if you have strong feelings about particular aspects of parenting (which most of us do).  But all that information is far less definitive than we like to think it is. The reason it’s easy to get conflicting messages is because most of it isn’t all that certain. Admitting uncertainty is not the academe‘s strong suite, so that can be your starting point the next time someone tells you “the experts all say…”. Except climate change and the superiority of Swedish social democracy, those are settled ;).

When we are confident in our own critical thinking skills, our own judgment about what is best for us, our own wisdom about our own families …if we can get to that place, then all the perceived judgment just starts to run down like water off a duck’s back.

I know parents who planned to “do” attachment parenting and their identity as parents was very tied up in this plan. But it turned out that it didn’t work for them. Whether because breastfeeding didn’t work the way they had hoped, their careers didn’t cooperate the way they thought they would, their support network turned out to be not that supportive, or they just weren’t the same person as a parent that they’d been before…it just didn’t work. They felt everyone was telling them that was how you had to parent to be a good parent. Mostly they judged themselves. But there are a million ways to deeply love and bond with your kid. You have to do what works for your family.

I know just as many parents who never planned to parent “intensively,” but once in it found it to be, quite simply, what worked for them. Often they had no support at all–be it cosleeping, breastfeeding, or wanting to stay home and not put their kid in daycare–sometimes even from their partner, which is the toughest and loneliest divide.

I am inspired by the parents who take their reality and perform an acrobatic combination of figuring out how to cope with what is and pushing through on what is central to who they are, even if it seems too hard. That process is never pretty and is often what we judge so carelessly from the outside.

Because we live in a country with zero public policy support for most families to have true freedom to choose “what works,” just focusing on ourselves is only part of the story. You never know what someone else is going through. The majority of parents in this country struggle to have room for choice, so these Mommy Wars are like an elite sparring match with no applicability to the lives of those parents struggling the most.

Judging and feeling judged are interconnected.

At the end of the day I find that thinking the best of others, taking different approaches as inspiration and food for thought (rather than comparison), and tending my own nest in the way that works for me has made me better at being generous and understanding of others. It’s a work in progress, but it’s what works.

Leading with your head

The toddler looks like he’s been in a bar fight. He has a huge black bruise on one cheek where he fell down onto the 2×2 piece of kindling he was carrying around the yard. Then, he insisted on accompanying me to do yard work, and I accidentally hit him in the face with a dead pokeberry branch. So opposite the black bruise he has two bloody claw scratches that look like he got in a fight with a two-toed cat. Then somehow he got some scratches on top of the kindling bruise. And then when his big brother was swinging him around, per his request, his mouth somehow ran into his brother’s knee and is now bleeding. He points to it “bum.” This is what he says when he gets hurt. Unfazed, like he’s commenting on the weather. The kid is a rock. In the day it took me to tap out these lines, we’ve added a quasi-black eye. After an hour and a half running in the yard with no mishaps, he tripped on his wheel barrow on the way inside and the edge hit him under the eye.

My mother the retired pediatrician tells me no, no one will think I am abusing my kid. At least no professionals. They learn what to look for. Like that time I caught him by the arm when he was about to fall out of the carseat? That one looked like child abuse, she explains. Thanks.

This never happened with our elder child (except the time when he was 4 and tried to run and jump teeth first onto a pillow on our concrete floor and missed, which was dramatic). But the toddler leads with his head. The number of busted lips, broken glasses, and near concussions my partner and I have suffered at his hands–well head–are too many to count.

All parenting hubris comes back to bite you in the tuchus, people. I would coo in wonder at how our active (by active I mean barely-containable-nuclear-reaction level energy) first child never seemed to get injured. Well, he was so wild I always harped at him about being careful. As far as I can tell my words are now like the muted buzzing of a bee in his ear, but he had some instinct of his own for spacial awareness. Neither the toddler nor the 5 year old get parented that way much anymore. The elder because keeping the toddler alive means I’m just not paying much attention. The toddler because he’s a second child and did I really used to worry about a little blood? The human race would not survive a world of only children (and not just for the obvious reason).

I’m pretty sure my parenting makes little sense to the casual observer. I let my kids take what the American mamasphere probably considers excessive personal risk. My toddler in particular causes gasps of disapproval on a regular basis. I take my cues from him now and find he’s more aware and in control of his experience than I ever would have expected. But stray into the world of respect for the personhood of others (or the cat) or consent around physical space and I’m a regular helicopter mom of the first degree. Because I’m raising some unavoidably privileged white boys. Sure, they are just kids. But when he answers your inquiry as to why he didn’t stop whatever it was when he could tell his sibling was hurt with “I stopped once he started screaming”…well. It’s normal, yes, and it also needs to be met with a consistent message about what is and isn’t ok, and how it would feel to be on the other end of it.

My parenting makes sense to me, and seems to work pretty well most of the time. So when faced with an actual emergency situation yesterday (tornadoes, in February, in North Carolina), and having to hang out in a bathroom (with the cat litter, but no tub) with a 5 year old and 20 month old for nearly an hour, several things took me by surprise.

First, I thought I would be more together, since I’m a pretty together person and actual odds of us getting hurt seemed low. But that was before the wind was throwing down branches and the news showed actual tornadoes close to us. I am pretty good with blood and staying calm when something bad happens, but my adrenals were pumping and I did not feel ok. I started down the rabbit hole…”how can I protect them both at once? ” What if…what if…I had cushions to cover our heads, shoes to cover our feet, and blankets for shelter from breaking glass. I tried to keep it light.

But as soon as everyone was in there they were hungry. Like some visceral evolutionary response to danger. Like they thought maybe there would be no more food soon. I had to ask my elder child to hold on to the toddler while I quickly went out to get pirate’s booty and bananas as branches crashed on our roof. It’s very dramatic on a tin roof, where the daily squirrel circus sounds like machine gun fire. I hadn’t brought in food, hadn’t brought a flashlight. I called my husband who, because his office wasn’t in the warning zone had received no alerts and didn’t even know what was happening. I was even more at loose ends realizing how big the gap was between how prepared I had thought I was and the reality of the moment. And I thought being in an emergency would make me not disgusted watching my children eat sitting next to the kitty litter, but no. And then, what kind of mother is thinking about cat poop at a time like this?

Second, for some bizarre reason I thought my children would be different people in an emergency. I am betting this is a common mistake. At least I hope it’s not just me. So you think your headstrong 5 year old who never does anything you ask without questioning it and won’t do it at all if it doesn’t suit him will behave differently if you declare it an emergency? Buahahahahhahaaa. Wait, let me get my breath.

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“Honey, if your brother wants to hide under the blanket with you, this is a time where we have to share.” And doesn’t everyone need an abacus in an emergency? It’s the only toy I brought in. It just seemed right.

We read all the preparatory instructions the day before so that he’d be ready to help and cooperate when the time came. He promised he would cooperate. When the time came, we were outside playing in the yard and my sister in law’s phone bleeped an alert. Mine didn’t. Why didn’t my phone do its job? Clearly I am deficient. We headed inside to seek cover and I asked my dawdling child to please move just a tad quicker. He ignored me. He did announce that he was scared, but he still moved at a snail’s pace, while the toddler got fidgety in my arms as I waited for his older brother to catch up. It was the very first post-emergency-declaration-request I had made and I was 0 for 1. Surely it wouldn’t continue this way?

Basically, it was just like our normal life. He listens half the time but because he so thoroughly disregards me the rest, I feel like he didn’t listen at all. He was thrilled to be put in charge of his brother a couple of times, which I never do, and that went about as well as could be expected. And I tell you what, when there are no good windows and you can’t see, it’s really hard to judge outside conditions for yourself. And no, you can’t sneak out to look out the window because there is no way they will let you walk away from them.

My lesson from all this was that preparing for a natural disaster means assuming that my children will be their normal selves and I will not be. I may think I am an organized and capable mama who leads with her head, but that’s for the day to day of normal routine. My gut was in charge today and it was not nearly as well prepared as I had hoped. Luckily everyone is fine, not just here but in our community. I would kindly request that there be no more tornadoes until my children are older, thanks.

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“But why doesn’t anything happen when I swipe?” Enjoying the play by play at Grandma and Grandpa’s house while mommy decompresses.