Identity Shift

Two months before Tim and I were married, I changed jobs. It was a different type of role than I had held previously. Though I was excited about it, I felt myself overwhelmed by the transition. It was more than the job, of course. It was a career shift as well as a new job; it was becoming a wife and a stepmom; it was moving out of my walkable, downtown life and into a house in the suburbs; it was leaving behind my routines and creating new ones that incorporated children and a longer commute; and it was moving into a house where people were living, a house full of stuff already. It was quite the transition and it all happened over three months.

I recall saying to my incredibly understanding new coworker, “You would like me better if you knew me before all of this transition.” She laughed and assured me she liked me just fine.

But I knew it was true. I liked the woman Tim fell in love with and married. But Tim’s new bride? I had no idea who she was. And she seemed like someone who just couldn’t get her act together.

On the Struggle Bus

I couldn’t get my new bedroom closet situated in a way that made sense. Never mind finding the right places for things in a kitchen that two different people used for cooking. So getting dressed in the morning was unnecessarily frustrating and I struggled to create a good routine for meal prep, coffee making, or even food storage in the kitchen. Then there was the merging of two households full of stuff, two different morning routines, two different ideas of what constitutes a clean kitchen, and two ways of handling conflict (the last two are sometimes related).

The transition was tough. Eventually enough time passed that logistically, it felt more like home (but we’re talking months). I was then left to navigate what it meant to be a stepmom and a wife. And I’ll tell you what, just as soon as I thought I had one of those figured out, something would blow up in my face. As an organized, list-making, Type A personality, that is a hard thing around which to fully wrap my mind. (Spoiler alert: 5+ years later, unexpected things still happen! Who would have guessed?)

The Eternal Balancing Beam

In a conversation with a friend who is a teacher, we bemoaned the challenge of work-life balance.

“I’m a great teacher right now,” she shared. “Which means that as a wife and a mom, I’m average at best.”

Something clicked with me when she said that and on the other end of the phone, I nodded. That’s just real life.

Reality Bites

I no longer demand perfection from myself in all areas of my life. It’s just too much.

That doesn’t mean I’m not aiming for excellence, but it does mean that I’m not going to see it as a personal failure if I leave the kids at after-school care a little longer in order to run to the grocery store alone or if I’m washing gym uniforms at 10pm the night before they’re needed.

And neither should you.

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Baby Brain Boosted my Marriage

I have always acknowledged that it’s hard to be married to me. I mean, when you marry for the first time at 35 and haven’t co-habitated with anyone since basically your sophomore year of college, it makes you a little difficult to be around. Not only was newlywed Molly attached to her way of doing things, but also Type A to the nth degree.

God, in His wisdom, sent me a laid-back husband who was generally happy to go along with my decrees of the “right way” to do things. But when a Type A marries a Type B, there is inevitably conflict. How could he forget that I asked him to do “x” task? Why didn’t he write it down? How could he not be as laser focused as I was on the tasks at home or dinner prep or the shopping list? I was baffled. There were days I would just be in disbelief that his approach to getting things done was so different–inferior!–to mine.

Cue Baby Brain

And then I had a baby. And developed baby brain. I could NOT get my act together. I couldn’t remember anything that wasn’t written down, and I couldn’t find the list where I wrote the important things down. I experienced what I imagine is a bit like ADHD, minus the hyperactivity. And all of this was exacerbated by post-partum mental health issues. I was a hot mess.

Things have improved somewhat over time, but more than once I day I happen upon a task that I started earlier but did not finish. On one particularly difficult day, I turned in frustration to my gentle-spirited husband and asked, “Is this what it’s like to be you? You get mad at yourself because you forget so much but you can’t help it?” He gave me a sad but understanding smile and nodded. And suddenly, I was overcome by waves of guilt at my lack of empathy. I have such rigid expectations for myself and others, I wasn’t allowing any grace or gentleness to soften my edges.

Blessing in Disguise

Baby brain has humbled me, and in doing so, has not only improved my marriage, but made me a better human. I still like things done a certain way (because it’s the best way, obviously) and I will always want our house to be cleaner and tidier than it is. But I’m learning to extend grace and forgiveness and have been delighted and humbled to receive it in return.

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Harry the Toddler

Harry recently turned two. The jumble of emotions that statement creates in me is dominated by one: relief. Relief that we are through two of the worst years of my life.

But, really?

Whoa, that’s a pretty bold statement, you may be saying. Sure. It is. And it’s true. We had a baby who didn’t sleep. Turns out he was in chronic pain from the miniscule amount of dairy in his formula and constipation from the formula we tried without dairy.

Oh and the ear infections. He didn’t go longer than 3 weeks without an ear infection from the time he was two months old until he nearly two (even with tubes). Seriously. Right now we are at a streak of four months without an ear infection and it feel miraculous.

These challenges combined with those of just generally having a baby and then the having a baby late in life stuff really took a toll. I have struggled with depression for 20 years and anxiety for 5 years. These elements added up to one hell of a post-partum experience.

Hermit

For two years I haven’t wanted to leave the house. I have made it to work and performed the minimum of what’s expected. I’ve canceled many lunches, demurred after work drinks, ignored coffee invites, and declined evening events. But suddenly, right around Harry’s birthday, it was like a switch flipped and I felt so much better.

Why now?

I was sharing this with friends at a recent dinner out. They asked to what I attributed the change. Before I could respond, my husband cut in and said, “She’s eating better and drinking less.” I paused. He was right, but until this point, he hadn’t really commented about those choices I was making. He is so patient and so tactful and had never suggested I do either. But when I arrived at the conclusion that I needed to do those things in order to improve my mental health, he was supportive. And it was very unlike him to even comment on the conversation about it. By weighing it, he delivered the message loudly and clearly that he had not only been supportive of my choices, but he had been concerned about my well-being and that he was relieved that I was on the upswing. I nodded. The choices to eat better and drink less were a critical part of my recovery.

Concentric Circles

Medication played a role in my recovery. And saying no played a role in my recovery. In the book Present over Perfect, Shauna Niequist explains the concept of concentric circles as it relates to saying no. She writes,

“Picture your relationships like concentric circles: the inner circle is your spouse, your children, your very best friends. Then the next circle out is your extended family and good friends. Then people you know, but not well, colleagues, and so on, to the outer edge. Aim to disappoint the people at the center as rarely as possible. And then learn to be more and more comfortable with disappointing the people who lie at the edges of the circle—people you’re not as close to, people who do not and should not require your unflagging dedication. To do this, though, you have to give even the people closest to you—maybe especially the people closest to you —realistic expectations for what you can give to them. We disappoint people because we’re limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I have this much time. I have this much energy. I have this much relational capacity. And it does get easier. The first few times I had to say no were excruciating. But as you regularly tell the truth about what you can and can’t do, who you are and who you’re not, you’ll be surprised at how some people will cheer you on. And, frankly, how much less you’ll care when other people don’t. When you say, This is what I can do; this is what I can’t, you’ll find so much freedom in that.”

Consequences

For me, the concentric circles were my husband, my kids, my parents and siblings, and my job. That was all I could handle. And to everything else, I said no. I alienated people by doing that. I pushed away casual friends and I irritated close friends. But for me, it was a matter of survival. I needed to manage my household, I wanted to be there for my parents and siblings, and I needed to keep my job. I sacrificed some relationships by doing this. That hurt, but I had to survive and that meant squashing down my own disappointment and fears.

Now that I’m out of the two years of the fog, I’m intentionally reaching out to friends I have lost contact with. I’m being more choosy–and that’s okay. I have after work time for socializing with the deadline of having to get Harry by 6pm from daycare every day. It’s been an adjustment. But the Year of Saying No has helped to prepare me for this. Things have changed–and that’s okay.

So this is both an explanation and an encouragement. An explanation of where in the world this blog has been for a year and an explanation for friends of where I have been, both literally and figuratively. But let this be an encouragement, whether you’re in a post-partum fog or just a fog: do what you need to do. Say no to things and to people. Identify your concentric circles and give yourself permission to just focus on those. It may take longer than you think–and that’s okay, too. One hour at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. It all adds up.

 

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A milestone–but whose?

Tomorrow Baby Harry turns one. As I reflect on the last 12 months, I realize that I am approaching this day much more soberly than I anticipated I would. The last year has been so. very. hard. I have been pushed physically to a brink I didn’t know existed. There are entire weeks–almost months–I have no recollection of living. I have been forced to sacrifice my pride daily, and sometimes multiple times a day. Not only have I gone to Target in leggings and with no makeup, but I didn’t even care that I did. I buy prepackaged everything for the big kids’ school lunches. I have even paid DoorDash an outrageous sum twice just to bring me a Starbucks cafe americano with five shots of espresso when the baby was asleep and I couldn’t leave the house.

This is my new normal.

I’ve learned I’m not so much a newborn baby person as I am a “call me when they’re sitting up and babbling” person. The last six months have been so much more fun than the first six months. Undoubtedly, this is due to us finally getting Harry off of all dairy products and then sleep training him (DO IT. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE). We laugh more now and have something approaching a routine.

I am grateful. I am grateful that his health challenges of chronic ear aches and digestive issues are not more serious. I am grateful for his siblings who show him so much love — and how his face positively lights up when they enter the room. I am grateful that Fergus, our senior rescue dog, who clearly does not like Harry has not resorted to being aggressive and thus forcing me to relocate him. Because that would be traumatic–but I would do it.

I still don’t really know what I am doing. But with the help of frantic phone calls to my mother, texts with friends, a really good baby chiropractor, and amazing day care staff who never make me feel dumb when they have to teach me basic childcare concepts and milestones, we have survived. And as I contemplate what to buy my son on this milestone birthday, I can’t help but feel like I should be the one receiving gifts for keeping this precious child alive all of these months!

I just want you to know that being the mom of a baby is hard. So if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. If you see perfect photos and hear adorable anecdotes from friends, just smile and nod and know that there is always more to the story.

This weekend, as I scoop damp Cheerios off the floor before the dog can grab them, wrestle the baby with fingernail clippers in my hand, and wash another half dozen dirty bottles, I will toast this little bambino who has changed our lives so drastically and thank the Lord for choosing me to be Harry’s mom.

 

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Destination Disney: Before you go, you should know

An avid Disney fan before there were children in my life to justify a trip to the theme parks, I have spent a lot of time reading various Disney articles and tips. As I reflect on my last two trips to Disney, and those two did include kids, I realized I have learned some things that will influence our future trips. So, allow my (many, many) hours on the internet and dollars spent on Disney to save you precious resources if you are planning, or hoping to plan, a trip to Disney.

Disney Travel Agent: I was surprised to learn that I could plan a trip with a Disney-certified travel agent at zero expense to me. Though I am Type A and like to control my own destiny (and everyone else’s), I decided to give this a shot. YOU NEED TO DO THIS.

We worked with Elizabeth at Destinations to Explore. She was a rockstar every step of the way. She reminded me of deadlines for booking restaurant reservations (which she booked for us) and Fast Passes (which I booked for us). When we had (perceived) problems with our Disney PhotoPass, she was immediately on the phone with Disney to ensure we didn’t miss a single photo (which we didn’t). She sent us a great pre-trip package that only fueled our excitement. And best of all, when the cost of our trip dropped slightly after our booking, she ensured we picked up those savings. You have nothing to lose by relying on an expert.

PhotoPass: On our first trip with the kids, which was a single day trip, we impulsively bought the PhotoPass option. It felt extravagant for one day (about $100), but we decided to give it a go. Best. Decision. Ever. We were so thrilled with the opportunity to have family photos without the dreaded selfie look. When we planned our 2017 trip, we knew we would get it again.

We were pleasantly surprised to find that for the entirety of our 3 day trip, it was about $169–and that by purchasing it in advance we only paid $149. TOTALLY worth it. I know it may feel like you’re getting nickel and dimed on extras, but this was money well spent. I encourage you to consider adding it to your trip…

Read the rest of this post on Indianapolis Moms Blog.

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…and baby makes five.

Last week we shared the exciting news with Ana and Yoseph that our family is growing by one–we are having a baby in the spring!

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As the news sunk in, there were LOTS of questions. I think the most heart-melting one came from Ana.

“So…what will we call the baby? It won’t be our stepbrother or stepsister, will it?” she asked uncertainly.

“No,” Tim and I answered in unison. “Just your brother or sister.”

Tim and I exchanged a look and a nod above her head. No discussion of half-siblings will be had. We will be full on brothers and/or sisters. Period.

But Yoseph also asked an interesting question as we began to wrap his mind around the idea that I would now be someone’s mommy and what that means for the mommy in his life.

“So wait,” he asked thoughtfully. “If Molly is the baby’s mommy, what will Mommy be? She won’t be the baby’s stepmom…will she just be the baby’s friend?”

“Yes,” Tim answered. “She will be the baby’s friend!”

It reminded me that there is still a lot of internal navigating that our kiddos do for their blended family situations. Just because I feel reasonably well-adapted most days doesn’t mean they always do and this was a good reminder. There’s always something more going on in those little brains and hearts than I can see.

Thank you, Lord, for the reminder to be sensitive and compassionate with these precious children with whom I share a life.

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In Defense of Mother’s Day

For the last two years of my stepmotherhood, we have tried to figure out a good way to celebrate Mother’s Day. Tim took the kids to pick out fresh flowers, one of my favorite things. They signed sweet cards. But it always felt a little bit awkward.

When Yoseph’s class hosted a Mother’s Day tea, his mom immediately invited me to participate. But I declined. The kids should not have to share a special tea or art project gift for Mother’s Day. Splitting that specialness between me and the woman who raised them for years before I was ever in the picture just isn’t right. One can’t compare my role in their lives to the woman who traveled to foreign countries to bring them home, the woman who stayed up late with them while they were teething or colicky, and the woman who spent days potty training and helping them learn their ABCs.

Recognizing the Role

That is not to minimize the role that I play. On the contrary I believe I play a significant role in their lives–but let’s recognize what that role is. It is a supplemental, bonus role. Well we may strive for mother/father time to be divided 50-50, mother and stepmother roles are not and should not be 50-50.

Don’t get me wrong; I love them like crazy. And I believe they love me, too. I am the one they want when they wake up in the middle of the night with a nightmare. I am the one they ask about staying home when they’re sick (I no longer have any squeamishness about being vomited on). I am responsible for keeping school uniforms clean and healthy lunches packed. I make sure the socks and underwear in their drawers don’t get too ratty and that bathing suits fit. I am also responsible for making sure every fun movie is on the calendar and that we attend all of the opening weekends that we can. I plan family vacations to the beach and to Disney. And I make sure there are always sprinkles for the ice cream in the freezer.

Rethinking the Recognition

Mother’s Day is not for me. It shouldn’t be. But that’s not to say that I don’t serve a mother-type role in their lives and that I shouldn’t be recognized for it. But why compete with the day on which they should be recognizing and thanking their mom? Therefore, I propose a new holiday…Stepmom Day. I suggest that it be today, the Sunday after Mother’s Day. It gives moms their own special day and takes the heat off of kids who may feel pressured to share school art projects with handprints or to create two hand-drawn cards.

Let’s recognize the very different roles that moms and stepmoms play in their children’s lives and celebrate them accordingly. So on Mother’s Day, I will celebrate my mom and her incredible example of devotion, commitment, altruism, and more. And I will celebrate my mother-in-law, who raised a man who is completely devoted to me and our kids and who has shown me love from the beginning. And today, Stepmom Day, we celebrated with thoughtful gifts, a lunch of my choosing (cheeseburgers on the grill), and sweet cards. As a matter of fact, Ana’s card declared me, “The funnest stepmom I ever had”. Enough said.

Ana

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