I didn't bond with my baby.

Our youngest turned two last week.

There are a million things about sweet Caroline that I adore.  I love her ringlet curls, long eyelashes, inquisitive nature, free spirit, gravelly voice, and willingness to try any food put in front of her.  I love the weird habit she has of chewing the noses off of her favorite stuffed animals.  I even love that she loves to make messes.  I could go on and on.  If you know Caroline, you could, too.

I fell in love with my daughter the moment that she was born.  Not a moment before.

I didn't bond with my baby while I carried her.

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I couldn't say that out loud for a long time.  

I so wanted to feel some sort of attachment to the little wonder inside of me like my friends did with their babies.  

But I didn't.

When I found out that I was pregnant with Caroline, the feeling was euphoric.  However, my elation settled after a few days and was replaced by an underlying worry that all was not well.  Because so many things had gone awry in the previous 4+ years of infertility, I was sure that disaster would strike this baby.  Subconsciously, I distanced myself from my growing fetus in an effort to shield my heart from disappointment.

As a former gymnast and recovering calorie counter, I struggled to accept my ever-changing pregnant body.  The desire to care for my unborn child constantly grated against my fear of gaining weight.  Often, I gazed into the mirror and cried, resenting the babe who was making me "fat" (a lie straight from the devil himself).  I continued running, if you could call it that, throughout my pregnancy, but I was frustratingly slow and angry that my body could not obey my mind.

Furthermore, I never was able to reconcile how such a tiny clump of cells could cause me to be so ill that I vomited over the kitchen sink multiple times a day for 20 weeks and hated coffee and prime rib.  I knew that I should be grateful for the opportunity to carry a child, and I was, but pregnancy itself was a generally unpleasant experience.

I thought that discovering Caroline's gender and giving her a name would help me to bond with her.  

It didn't.  

I continued to see her as a miracle and a blessing, but I could not see her as the person that I knew her to be in my head ... until I could.

On August 4, 2015, at 1:38 a.m., I fell in love with the daughter who I had carried for 40 weeks.  The idea of her became a reality, and as I took in her tiny toes and full cheeks, I thought I might explode with joy.

I am a visual and auditory learner.  Much to my husband's dismay, I connect very little through physical touch.  This explains how I could feel Caroline's kicks and hiccups in my belly and simultaneously feel nothing.  It also explains my lack of enthusiasm toward breastfeeding.  (Maybe more on that another day.)  But show me my kid's face or let me hear her tiny baby noises, and I'm undone.

I'm not less of a mom because I didn't bond with my unborn baby, and you're not alone if you don't, either.  No need to fake attachment or carry guilt over a feeling that isn't there ... yet.  Love will come.  

It may just need a face.

 

Daycare is not the devil.

My daughters' last day at their childcare center is next week.  After that, our oldest will be in "big school", and our youngest will stay home with me.  Though I am eagerly anticipating our family's new adventures, I am also sad and nervous about the days to come.  With a few short exceptions, my children have stayed at this preschool since they were seven and nine weeks old, respectively.  It will be strange to walk out the doors of the facility that became their home away from home for the final time.

Some people see daycare as a detriment to children.  While I don't believe that every childcare center is quality or that anyone can be trusted to care for kids, our girls' preschool has proven that exceptional care can be found.  This place has been a blessing beyond words.  

For primarily financial reasons but also some personal ones, I have needed to work throughout the past four years of our kids' lives.  Thankfully, I have not had to worry about their well-being for a single day after I've dropped them off with their teachers.   

Piper and Caroline have blossomed at their center.  Their development and character are ultimately my responsibility, but both of their teachers have partnered with us to help them become the spunky, curious, sweet, smart, and loving girls that they are.  

Teaching (because that's what it is, not babysitting) at a childcare center requires skill.  The average four-year-old asks 400 questions per day, but even the little ones who don't ask questions yet poop their diapers, fuss, refuse to take naps, spit their food out, destroy things, and engage in other similar sorts of mischief.  Not only are childcare workers simultaneously dealing with all of this times eight to ten, but they are also training the children to be kind, to play with toys appropriately, to identify all of their letters and numbers, and to make wise choices.

At times, I am impatient with my own two children.  Our girls' teachers perhaps become impatient with them, too, but they do not show it by raising their voices or inflicting punishments not fit for the crime, as I do embarrassingly often at home.  I can also be lazy about teaching them important academic and life skills, while the girls' teachers are tirelessly intentional and persistent.  And people say that anyone could do their job.

Though I have paid for childcare, payment alone does not entitle me to the extraordinary standards that I hold.  Yes, their teachers have been required to check their diapers every hour, to make sure that their classrooms never exceed the established student-teacher ratio, and to follow a specific curriculum and schedule.  

They didn't have to bend over backward when my kids have had rough adjustments to new classrooms.  They didn't have to read books on the floor with them, hug them as I dropped them off the in mornings, send me pictures of their days while I've been away, or volunteer to babysit them outside of school hours.  

They didn't have to love my girls.  But they have, and they've done those parts for free.

Piper and Caroline may never remember Miss Barbara, Miss Sierra, Miss Michelle, Miss Shelby, Miss Nicole, Miss Tamara, Miss Eliana, or Miss Tracey, but I will.  Our family is forever indebted to these ladies who have made it possible for me to leave my precious little ones for a few hours each day, knowing that they will be happy.  

If your child attends a daycare, hug her teacher.  Daycare workers do a big job.

SAHM Status

I did it.

Last Friday, I officially handed in my notice and will be joining the ranks of stay-at-home moms (with the exception of night classes) when our oldest starts school in August.  

Photo by  Kate Bernard

Photo by Kate Bernard

I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified.

I left the teaching profession at the end of last school year so that I could spend more time with our family, but our finances still necessitated at least part-time work on my end.  My ultimate goal was to spend the kids' "little years" at home, and my husband's recent job promotion will allow me to do just that.  

Obviously, I won't arrive at the end of my life and wish that I had spent more time working.  However, the "terrified" part of me wonders if I will miss having an outlet for a few hours every day.  I worry about money.  I'm intimidated by other SAHMs, who appear to do all the things with all the kids and stay perfectly put-together in the meantime.   Will I fit in?  Will I be fun?  Will I share the "right" opinions with other mommas?  (Lord knows moms are never short on opinions.)

The "thrilled" part of me has been reminding the terrified part that I can do hard things, that I am bigger than my fears.  God gave my girls to me, and I have the unique opportunity to shape their hearts and minds like no one else can.

Above the other feelings, I am free.  For the first time in years, I'm free to say "yes" to all kinds of opportunities that a job outside the home never allowed.  At least for one year before I start my dental hygiene program, I get to live this dream that I've had since I was my daughter's age.

I've been wanting to say this for a long time: I am one of the lucky few.  I am a stay-at-home mom.

Stay tuned for our next adventure(s).  Big things ahead for Team Fenrick. :)    

They need me the most.

We wore the heat that day.  

Despite the reapplied sunscreen, tank tops, liters of ice water, and handheld fans, the three of us exited the zoo with tears and sweat streaming down our faces.  

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

Approximately 15 seconds before meltdown central commenced.

We were supposed to leave for our adventure at 9:30, before the Oklahoma sun began beating down in full force, but our friends had car trouble.  Forty-five minutes after our planned departure, I finally piled my girls into our Santa Fe.  Our friends would meet us at the zoo after their car issue was resolved.  The heat index was already over 100, and my 11-month-old had not taken her morning nap, a sure sign of impending disaster.

The diaper bag ran out of snacks, and we all ran out of patience before our friends were able to leave the car dealership.  Determined, at the very least, to see them before we headed home, I bought an expensive and tasteless zoo lunch and coaxed my girls to "eat and have a good time, dang it".  

When the actual temperature reached 105, our friends arrived.  I unenthusiastically pushed my melting babes to the flamingo exhibit, where everyone (including me) completely fell apart.  Screaming ensued, and we made a beeline to our overheated SUV, but not before my two-year-old unbuckled herself from the stroller and crashed onto the concrete.

"At least they'll nap when we get home," I reassured myself.  They didn't.  They were both too traumatized to calm themselves down, and my own hysterics were definitely not soothing.

***

Going to the zoo was a horrible idea for many reasons including the heat, the ages of my kids, and the day's already-thwarted plans.  I knew that it was a horrible plan, and I went anyway.

I wanted to go to the zoo more than my kids did.  I just wanted to be a "good mom".  But I wanted it at their expense.  

Social media does this thing to us, but we also do it to ourselves, this placing of expectations and definitions upon us of what it means to be a good parent, or even a good person.  We see others' best moments through a filter and determine to make them our best moments, too.   

I longed to create an amazing summer for my people last year.  In my mind, this meant going to as many "experiences" as possible.  The zoo was one of them.  The splash pad was another.  My oldest HATED the splash pad, but I was determined to change her mind about it, so I kept taking her.  Everyone cried every time.

This summer, we've mostly stayed home.  We did go to the zoo, once, for an hour, and that was after rescheduling twice with my friend (which I should have done last year).  No one cried.  Even with the same Oklahoma heat that we all endured in Summer 2016, I would go so far as to say that this year's zoo trip was enjoyable.  

I've learned a few things in the past twelve months.

One.  At their young ages, my kids really can't handle much.  They like being home, and they like their little routines.  Often, they're okay with doing activities that I consider "boring."  Maybe I'm the one who isn't.  But I think I can learn to be.  I probably need to lower my expectations.

Two.  The moments between the "Instagram moments" are often the most precious.  Obviously, I take and post pictures at our bigger events.  I rarely ever post pictures of myself doing a floor puzzle with my oldest or reading my youngest's favorite book for the 87th time (today).  There are a thousand little things that we do as a family every day that don't get documented.  So no, I'm not "cool" in terms of giving my kids the most extravagant experiences.  In the "small great things" that we do, though, they're happy.

Three.  There is no better way to crush your spirit than by playing the comparison game.  This is true in all areas of life.  If you're scrolling through your social media feed, as I often do, and feeling as though you're not attractive, not a good parent, not well-dressed, not adventurous, not a foodie, etc. etc. etc., I dare you to turn off your phone and begin to consider the things that you are.  You cannot compare your own life to what you see of another's through a filter.

Four.  It's okay to say no.  As a mom of young children, I frequently feel as though I'm in a never-ending season of "no".  No, we can't go do that today because it's during naptime.  We've had a rough day, so I think we are going to stay home this afternoon.  We haven't had much time as a family recently, so we'll take a raincheck on dinner.  Be a Nap Nazi.  Take a deep breath.  Cancel your plans.  You might have FOMO or FOHOF (Fear of Hurting Other's Feelings), but I can almost guarantee that your kids don't and that your friends will totally understand. 

Hopefully my daughters won't remember that horrendous zoo day last year.  Maybe they'll remember this year's good one.  Either way, I want them to remember a mom who gave them herself, because they need me the most.

A Tribute to Single Parents

I saw you walking your kids into my Pre-K classroom every morning.  They appeared to be well-rested, but you looked exhausted already ... and it was only 8 a.m.

I see you in the grocery store, pushing your cart through crowded aisles and trying to get your son to just sit down without smashing the bananas.

I see you at your job.  You're often the first one there and the last one to leave.  It's killing you that your baby has been with someone else all day, but the bills don't pay themselves.

I see you at soccer games, at parent-teacher conferences, at church, and at other activities that are important to your little ones.

I don't often see you at concerts, at the nail salon, at sporting events, or at adult parties.  I don't see you at activities "for you".

I love my daughters so much that I think my heart will burst at times, so I understand why you do what you do.  It's because you have to.  Because you wouldn't have it another way.  Because their happiness matters more than your own.

I flew solo with my youngest on potty training this past weekend.  It was mostly a disaster, and I couldn't wait for my husband to come home at the end of The Longest Day in the History of Caroline.  When he walked in the door, I could finally have a moment to breathe and I came to the realization, for perhaps the ten thousandth time, that I couldn't do all of this without him.  But, single parent, "without him" or "without her" is your life - every day, every moment.  

I need to apologize.  I used to look at your kids and blame you when they misbehaved in my class.  "Their mom doesn't spend enough time with them," I thought.  Not long ago, I would see your daughter with boogers in her nose and wonder why you didn't grab a tissue on your way out the door.  I noticed your children falling apart in Wal-Mart but failed to see the helpless look on your face because sometimes, kids will just be kids.  {Also, doesn't everyone fall apart in Walmart?)  I had no sympathy for you because I didn't take time to listen to your story or care about your circumstances.  Then I had a baby of my own.  I get it now, and I'm sorry.

I'm alone with my girls for about six hours each day before their daddy comes home.  There are days when those hours are pure joy, and there are days when they scream and live in their little worlds of seemingly perpetual disobedience.  On the tough days, I can't wait for my husband to walk in the door.  He lets me go for a run, grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or get a pedicure.  I know that those aren't usually options for single parents, bless you.  I'm run ragged half the time, and I'm not in this alone.

Your infant is never going to thank you for changing his diaper.  Your daughter probably forgot to give you a hug after you took her to dance practice.  Your son didn't show his appreciation that you took off work early to be at his football game.  Your child's teacher didn't realize how much you had to sacrifice to be at that meeting.  Your boss didn't care that you stayed late ... again.

So to the military wife, the single mom working two jobs, the husband whose wife travels for business more than she's home, and the widower who wakes up at 4:30 to get it all done, I hope someone looked you in the eyes today to say, "Thank you."  And I hope you listened.