My little daredevil

93320996-4CFE-42A0-9ED4-A82B32634F71.jpegThe running joke in the Maffeo family is that Mike was a tentative kid. There is a picture of him jumping into a pool along side a bunch of other kids, and he is wearing arm floaties, a inflatable tube and I think goggles, whereas the other kids are just wearing their bathing suits (it was three feet of water). When he would ride the merry-go-round, he would only sit in the benches and never on the horses that go up and down, because, in his mind, they couldn’t be trusted.

Meanwhile, yours truly would walk around the neighborhood barefoot, climb the highest tree, talk to anyone that would listen and basically had no fear.

People have been saying for all 10 months of Ben’s existence on this earth that he looks exactly like Mike. Which he does. His big happy grin. His eyes and eyebrows and ridiculous lashes are exactly like his dad’s. Which makes me very happy since I think his dad is pretty handsome. However, it fails to take into account the parts of me that may have glommed onto Benjamin. I mean, I did carry the kid for 9 months. I should have some influence right?

It turns out, I may have snuck in there somehow. My sweet, funny, smart boy is a total daredevil. He has no fear. For a new parent this is a blessing and curse. It means we have to be on constant patrol. There is no turning our backs for one second without fear that he may have crawled over to the stairs and is now making his way up them. Or that he is now trying to climb up onto his toy chest or onto the coffee table. Oh, what’s he doing now? Standing up in the tub and trying to climb out of it naked? FAN-FRICKIN-TASTIC

His favorite is when he is going fast in anything with wheels. His walker, a grocery cart, the stroller. His face lights up and he laughs and laughs. Mike can often track us down at Target by listening for the sound of a cart moving too fast and laughter coming from a few aisles over.

I know that this is something that may not translate well when it is time for Ben to get his driver’s license. I may regret instilling this fearlessness in him that allows him to feel he can climb on top of anything or go anywhere. But for now, I love watching him explore. I love seeing him learn something and get better at it. Watching his face light up from laughter or recognition that he has achieved his goal.

Because here is the thing, I am always right behind him. Making sure he will be ok. My little daredevil doesn’t know it yet, but my hand is hovering right above his head or around his waist making sure he doesn’t bonk his head too hard. Or if he falls, it is only a little bit. Just enough to teach him that he might fall, but never enough to truly get hurt.

Or maybe he does understand that. Maybe he knows that we are right behind him all the time. And he is learning that he can go explore and make mistakes. He can discover the world around him. He can fall down sometimes, but we will make sure it doesn’t hurt too much.  I have learned in the past 10 months, as parents we will spend the rest of our lives trying to find that balance between letting our kids be the daredevil, letting them fall down and making sure they know they are safe.

And to all the parents out there, from the veterans to the newbies, may you always find the joy in watching them explore the world.

 

Fears I Didn’t Plan For

I was a senior in high school when Columbine occurred. At the time it felt like this incredibly scary, unique, unheard of event that would never happen again. I remember our yearbook that year, made a conscientious effort to embrace the unique cliques that walked the halls. To try and make every one feel that they belonged.

But it turned out I was very wrong. It was not an isolated incident. It was not a one off or something that I would hear about again.

Many years later, Sandy Hook happened. Right where my husband had lived for many years. Those tiny little lives taken. Not much bigger than my son now. At the time my heart was broken, but now I cannot think about those parents pain without crumbling into a million pieces. My love for my son is so over whelming that it can bring me to tears just thinking about him. I cannot fathom what those parents felt that day and feel to this day.

And now this. Now Parkland.

People are angry. And the students are angry and demanding action. And the parents are angry and demanding action. And I am angry and demanding action.

The students are standing up for their right to be safe in school. The right not to die when they go to math class, yet for some reason they have been told to sit down and be quiet. The adults will handle it. But here is the thing; we haven’t handled it. Things have not gotten better, they have gotten worse. Telling our kids to be kinder to their fellow students or smile at each other isn’t going to solve the issue. It is a red herring. Telling kids that they should have stood up for the kid being bullied before he walked into their school with an AR-15 is a misdirection because no one should have access to an AR-15.

In a few years, I will send my little guy off to school, and there will be the inevitable tears (from me) because it is his first day. And I will have the typical mommy jitters. Will he make friends? Will he love his teachers? Will he love class or hate it?

But now there is a new one. Will he be safe? Not from stranger danger, or the flu, but from a school shooting. Do I have to live in fear of a phone call from the school.

Will I get a call or a text like the parents of:

Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jaime Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup,  and Peter Wang

received on February 14th from their kids, saying they loved them? Did they know that would be the last time they spoke to their children?

Because that is something my heart couldn’t survive.

The whole wide world

No you don’t know

I was very lucky when I was pregnant. I loved most of the doctors in my practice. My main doctor was just about my age and had recently had her first baby. She thought the concept of a “geriatric pregnancy” (anyone over 35 and pregnant) was stupid and hated the term, which made me love her even more.

The front desk staff was great, the nurses were funny and attentive. All in all it was a great experience…..until the end. At the end you end up going to the doctor once a week, whenever you can find the time. You fit these appointments between your work, peeing, panicking about all you haven’t gotten done, peeing some more and your exhausting schedule of cookie eating. This also means you see whatever doctor you can within a practice. Any office also asks that you see every doctor in the practice so whenever you go into labor you are familiar with whomever is on call. I was lucky and had my regular doctor deliver Ben, but in the moment Elmo could have delivered Ben and I wouldn’t have cared.

At one of these last appointments I finally met the only male doctor in the practice. I had no qualms about having a male OB. I figured he would be just as great as the other doctors. Then he opened his mouth. He asked how I was feeling, which is fair, but still a dangerous question to ask a 9 months pregnant woman. I answered honestly and said I was pretty tired and could barely get out of bed because of my huge belly (see photo from last week). He laughed and said “I know how you feel, I have a big belly too and can’t get out of bed easily either”. Uhhhhh no you don’t.

Ahhh it only got better from there, when I predicted I would go into labor before my due date (May 27th) he remarked “we have due dates for a reason”. Listen, my expertise in medicine is limited to my late night searches on WebMD, but I had been living with this little creature for the last 9 months and had a feeling. I knew what I knew, and it turns out I was completely correct. Ben was born over a week earlier than his due date.

You know who had no experience being pregnant with my son? This doctor. When people impart their words of wisdom on you during pregnancy or during child rearing, they think it is because they are being helpful. This doctor, who more than likely was actually getting a full nights rest and did not have a 7  pound baby playing a very convincing version of In the Air Tonight on his bladder all day, did not realize that I was veeeerry close to hitting him in a blind pregnancy induced rage.

Pregnancy is a very unique feeling, and being a parent is an even more unique feeling. Everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion about how you are behaving as a parent. Even those that have never parented. That appointment was the first time I felt like saying you have no idea what I am feeling and would best be served by being quiet.

My advice to anyone that is a new parent or soon to be parent is to forget the din. Trust your instinct. You will be right more often than wrong. You will find your path with your child in tow. You will definitely make mistakes, but you will always correct. For those that feel like doling out some unsolicited advice to parents, I highly recommend you keep it to yourself. If you ignore this advice, I cannot promise you that the force of a 1,000 very pregnant ladies will not come down on you as punishment and frankly, that image alone scares the bejesus out of me.

Kenny Rogers

Teaching Ben how to gamble……what? Whaaaat???? No one will ever see it coming.

 

 

 

Counting Down

When you first get pregnant you start counting. Counting how many weeks pregnant you are. We have a picture for every week. From week 5 to week 38.

Every one tells you to start banking your sleep. Which doesn’t work, by the way. Try telling a woman in her third trimester to enjoy her sleep, she may hit you.

The other thing they tell you is that you need to savor these early days, really remember them, record them, because they fly by.

But then, when the baby is born, you  start counting again. You count dirty diapers, hours between naps, hours between feedings, days between showers.

You count how much he weighs, how long he is and how long a baby can possibly cry for (3 hours).

Eventually, I started counting away the days. Days until I had to go back to work, days until he might start to grow out of his colic. Days until Ben might start hitting milestones, sitting up, rolling over, babbling.

Then I started secretly wishing.

Wishing for him to just be a little bit older. Because, I thought, it will get easier. I will feel better, he will be able to communicate more and maybe stop peeing on me. I will feel more confident in being his mama and everything will just be a bit easier.

I think a lot of parents feel that way. Those first few weeks or months, especially with your first baby, are a whopper. You just don’t know what is about to happen and are walking right into the fire.

And then, without warning, I stopped counting. Because all of sudden Ben started to grow so fast. He was crawling, teething, standing on his own, laughing, babbling, communicating with us, and I finally understood what people meant when they said it goes so fast. We are still so early in this journey to raise our little peanut, but already I know time is moving so quickly. Everyday he learns something new, whether it is learning to feed himself or discovering another thing in our house he should definitely not be playing with.

So I recently pledged that I will stop counting away the days, hours and minutes and simply sit back and savor the silly, smart, wildly energetic, sweet, little boy that is growing faster than I ever thought possible. He has so much more growing to do and so does his mama.

The 38 weeks pregnant photo realllly captures how I was feeling. Ben was born 6 days later.

Watching the world pass you by

I think as myself as incredibly lucky when it comes to the women in my life I count as friends. They come from all different walks of life, have different stories, different passions. They are all kind, compassionate, thoughtful and funny people.

Since life often gets in the way of us actually all getting to see each other we use things like Facebook and text messages to check in regularly.

One is a group text that is named “Girls Rule, Boys Drool” and the other is a Facebook chat. Both of these have been in existence for a while and the occupants of these different chats are women from different parts of my life that hold large parts of my heart.

When I first found out I was pregnant, these were the women I first told beyond my family. When Ben was first-born these women received some of the first photos.

But when I found myself suffering in the dark place of Post partum I didn’t tell anyone.

For some reason I quietly took up residence in my own head and never thought to reach out to these women and say what was happening. I would watch the texts go by as they planned summer outings, and politely decline offers to meet for drinks. Ben was always invited, but because my anxiety had gotten so out of control, I couldn’t fathom leaving the house with him for a social event.

I saw funny videos pass me by that I never watched because I couldn’t or didn’t deserve that. I read the incredibly inappropriate but hilarious comments made by some of my friends that would normally make me cry with laughter, but those didn’t process. Didn’t they know that having a baby was serious and anxiety ridden?

Everything was like touching an electric fence. All my emotions, good or bad, I felt ten fold, but I felt more comfortable in the dark places. At least the dark places made more sense. I even remember taking Ben for walks in the lovely summer weather and the sun feeling too bright. Returning to the relative darkness and safety of the apartment felt better. Even now, thinking about that time, I can feel the anxiousness start to creep up behind me.

As the fog began to dissipate though, when I finally started to realize there was something going on beyond my control and sought help, I also realized I had been watching the world go by. I finally understood that I wasn’t just missing my world go by, I was missing getting to see the world through Ben’s eyes.

As I began to share with these wonderful women what was going on, everyone reacted with kindness I could not have anticipated. I don’t think they know how much it means to this day.

So, I sought help and Ben and I continued to go for our lovely summer walks on the prairie path by our house. Ben Sky HighEnveloped by the trees, dozens of cardinals and the understanding that I was not alone, I was finally able to look up, listen to the summer leaves rustle, feel the rays of sun on my cheeks and appreciate the brightness that I was surrounded by.

 

Leaning into it

The fear of being a parent starts the minute you think about maybe becoming a mom or a dad. I can only speak to the mom part, but I know the minute that my husband and I decided to start trying to actively get pregnant (what a mind bender that is, since I have spent the vast majority of my life trying to NOT get pregnant) I was scared.

I immediately started taking prenatal vitamins. I started researching. I started thinking about where we would live. Should we move? Were the schools good? Could we afford it? How would I handle maternity leave? I started being more cautious in general. I started to dream. I started to get my hopes up every month. I went to my doctor and discussed all of my migraine medications and possible interactions or birth defects.

This was all before I ever even missed a period.

It took us about 6 months to get pregnant and I knew immediately when I was. But then the real worry took over. It was not just: am I getting enough sleep, can I eat this, is my stress stressing the baby out, but it was greater than that. I was now responsible for this child getting here in one piece. In my head I would be responsible for all the bad that may get passed along too. I know, I know, this seems pretty harsh. But this is what we do.

In my eyes my husband is pretty fantastic. When I look at him, the things I choose to criticize are that he drinks too much diet Coke and cannot get his socks into the laundry hamper. Whereas with me, I see how my anxiety can cripple me, I see how depression has played a role in almost every one of my family members lives. I understand that alcoholism has run on both sides of my family and is something my entire family is accuately aware is a disease and not to be taken lightly. But I attribute this entirely to myself and feel as though I will automatically pass this on, and my child is almost entirely ruined already, what was I thinking?

I was speaking to someone I care about very much about this subject the other day and reminded her that, although we have these fears and they are very much legitmate, we live in a different time. We live in a time when it is all right for kids to admit they are worried or scared. We live in a time when children are getting properly diagnosed with autism or ADHD rather than being displined because no one knows what the hell was going on with that child. We live in a time when children have car seats and people don’t smoke in cars with the windows rolled up while their children roam around the back seats. Shit, we live in a time where a mother can openly talk about her Post Partum Depression and isn’t automatically shunned or put in a room to “deal with it”

When we decide to start a family, or in some cases the decision is made for us, it is easy to let the fear of life get in the way. Life has sometimes swallowed ME whole, so how can I possibly stop it from engulfing my small, chubby, soft, sweet little innocent that has no concept of the big bad world out there? Simply, you can’t. All you can do is to lean in to being a parent. Lean into being scared and make sure that you are aware of how you are feeling in those moments. Recognize all the things that make you shirk from the world and teach your child how to face those same things head on. Whether it is depression or anxiety or things we have not named, we need to teach our children that it is ok to feel those things and how to tackle them, how to process them, and then how to take the next step.

So you change the dialogue a bit. Instead of me noticing that my child may inherit the “bad” in me, I choose to recognize that he may inherit my tenacity, my ability to sympathize, my ability to laugh at the really absurd and my strength. I choose to recognize that Mike and I are raising this child surrounded by so much love, he will more than likely get annoyed. He will always know that and will never doubt it. And hopefully, when he really needs to, he will be able to really lean into that too.

Benjamin Leaning in

 

The perfection of being imperfect

Ben is on the move. Not quite crawling but definitely army crawling and he is speedy about it. He is determined to get to whatever item is in a room that I have determined is the least desirable for him to get to, and he does so as quickly as possible.

This has resulted in several near misses as we adjust to the fact that we can no longer walk out of the room for a few seconds or just leave him on the floor. In fact, last night I went to fill up his humidifier for about 45 seconds, which apparently means that Ben can now get across his entire room to his bookshelf. Walking into the room and not immediately seeing him was an out-of-body experience and made me realize we have really dropped the ball on child proofing.

We didn’t childproof before he was born because we knew we were moving shortly after he was born and when we moved we figured the hazards of not having the counter top attached to the island was a greater priority to fix than getting cabinet locks installed and then well….life happened.

Now that means we will have to spend Ben’s college savings on things like drawer locks and gates and table corner covers because we haven’t gotten our act together. It was when I walked into his room last night that I realized Mike and I are truly making this up as we go along. We ask a lot of questions, of everyone. We ask our parents, our siblings who have raised our beautiful niece and wonderful nephews, our awesome nanny, our aunts, friends, everyone.

In the end though, we are coming up with solutions in the moment, and quite frankly getting it wrong sometimes and discovering fun facts like you should NOT play horsey with a baby immediately after they eat and should definitely go up a diaper size before they need it.

But the other thing we are discovering? Our child is pretty darn happy and still basically in one piece. He scratches the heck out of the back of his head because I somehow gave birth to baby Wolverine and his nails grow like crazy and his reflux makes me so sad when he spits up. Whenever he accidentally whacks his hand or head or foot and looks sad for a moment I re-dedicate myself to my baby bubble wrap onesie idea.

As he starts to move and explore the world around him I love that he feels safe to do so, despite our many parental fails. He is starting to adventure out a bit on his own, army crawl a few feet away from us, but he always turns back to see that we are still there.

In the morning when I put him in his high chair and he is happily to looking out the window at the birds and snow on the ground and gnawing on a measuring cup (a new favorite in our house), I will call his name and he will turn and look at me, throw his head back and grin his big toothless grin and let me know that despite our completely imperfect parenting, we might be doing ok.

Grinning Ben Xmas Tree

Welcome to being a mom

I was talking at work about how unattractive my PJ’s are these days. I mean we are talking a mix of sweatpants from high school (making them 22 years old), a Marquette sweatshirt that my eldest brother purchased for me when I was in 8th grade and t-shirts I have worn on and off for the past 20 or so years. During this discussion, my friend, a single mother of two, declared, “welcome to being a mom”

I came home from work yesterday and our nanny, Carolina, asked what I had on the boob of my shirt. I had no idea whatsoever and simply said, “I don’t know I have a six month old”

I have had spit up, pee and poop on me almost every day since Ben was born. In fact when he was born the first thing he did was poop all over me. It didn’t even phase me. I barely noticed until the nurses took him off of me to go clean him (and me) up. One of the first things I hear when I tell other Mom’s this story is “welcome to motherhood”

Being a mom, especially a new mom, means that things you previously took for granted fall very far by the wayside. Like a lost french fry in between the seats of your car, wayside. Roots grow longer, shirts stay unwashed for longer, nails chip, beds remain unmade and floor unvacuumed. Why? Motherhood.

You re-prioritize everything in your life. Some mom’s may look like they are always pulled together, but I almost guarantee you their laundry isn’t done and they do not care if their underwear is on inside out. Some mom’s may look like they have found the perfect balance of work and family, but I promise you they go home at night and struggle with their mental check list of making sure they got everything done for their family AND their work and haven’t let everyone down in the meantime.

Today, I found myself in the grocery store and saw a new mom in the store, all 6 feet, 100 lbs of her and instantly felt bad about myself. One of the things I have not been able to figure out how to reintroduce into my life is working out. But then I reminded myself; I have no idea what this woman’s story is or where she is coming from. She could be looking at me thinking “Man, that woman got to have a lunch, unaccompanied by a baby, and has definitely showered today.”

Because caring for our babies, whether they be big or small, becomes number one above everything else. Most of us struggle with finding a reasonable balance of caring for ourselves, mainly to prevent slowly turning into real life mug shot, and making sure our children always know they are loved, safe, and that we have their backs. When my son is a grown man, if he should turn to me at any point and say that he always felt that way growing up,  I will know that all of the sacrifice, the lack of sleep,the missed hair appointments, the canceled eyebrow waxings, and the chronic insomnia will have been well worth it. Because…That is Motherhood.

 

NolteMug-tightcrop_400x400

(ACTUAL PHOTO OF ME IN THE MORNING)

When your heart breaks wide open

Anyone who knows me understands that I am prone to crying and emotion. It is usually due to happiness, sweet life moments, commercials involving dogs, or when someone eats the last of my favorite foods, so you know, reasonable responses to such things.

But the thing I have found the most interesting is watching my husband’s heart expand so much since we have had Ben. Mike is one of the kindest souls I know, achingly so. He is not wimpy or weak, but he is thoughtful and dedicated to his family and friends. I often find myself reflecting back on his careful consideration of how someone else may feel in a situation and thinking “wow, that was incredibly kind for him to think like that” Sometimes it forces me to temper my response, which, in the heat of the moment really steals my impulsive thunder, but I appreciate longterm.

However, one thing I rarely saw him do before Ben was born, was love with such obvious and raw emotion. He was always fairly reflective about how he presented his reactions to the outside world, but since May 19, 2017 that has completely been thrown out for him.

We cannot watch anything involving children without feeling it intensely. His happiness when he walks in and sees Ben is so sweet my teeth ache and his sadness when he cannot say goodnight because he is working late breaks my heart. Ben’s joy has become his joy and Ben’s distress is his.

But this is the thing of parenthood. It cracks you wide open. Your heart expands beyond your wildest thoughts. It makes you vulnerable like you never imagined. The pain of the world becomes something you want to shield your child from forever, and the happiness and joy is all you want your child to be exposed to and see. The simple fact is we can’t always decide what our son will and will not see or be exposed to. We won’t always be there to protect him from the good, bad and in between. But I am fully confident that my husband will always be there to thoughtfully explain all of it to him.

Ben and Daddy

My favorite time of day

Before Ben was born I had these wonderful, albeit unrealistic, fantasies about the quiet times I would spend with my son. Quietly looking at the sun rise, or stars while I fed him and rocked him back to sleep, holding him in my arms, all while smelling the sweet scent of baby that lingered on the top of his head.

The truth is, that I spent the first 6 weeks of his life in a sleep-deprived, colic-induced, packing the apartment to move, postpartum depression based fog. I barely remember the first 6 weeks of Ben’s life. It all seems like it was a distant memory. That coupled with my postpartum meant that I can look back on that time as an almost out-of-body experience.

The thing about PPD for me was that I knew I wasn’t enjoying what I should have when I should have. I had this sweet, chicken legged, little boy who occupied ALL of my thoughts, but it didn’t live in my heart and soul yet because I couldn’t open myself up like that. I was too vulnerable. I was still so weak physically and didn’t understand that my chemical makeup had altered so much that I could no longer control the anxiety I had spent the first 30 or so years managing on my own.

It wasn’t until I was at the top of the stairs yelling at my husband about something totally inane, that I had this sensation that was almost ghost-like, like I was floating above, that I knew I needed to get help. I knew I hated the way I was feeling and that this was not me. I was also very determined that this would not be me for the rest of my life, for the rest of my marriage or the rest of Ben’s life. Angry, scared, worried, anxious, most of these are normal to feel as a parent, especially a new parent, but to feel them all at once, 24 hours a day is not normal. It is hard and it is scary.

And I did get help. It has now been over 3 months since I started seeing someone to help and began taking a low dose of anti-anxiety medication. And I feel like myself again. My husband has me back. My son is getting to know his mom. I laugh again, I smile. I remember conversations and my anxiety is the good old-fashioned, what if my son DOESN’T grow up to be a neurosurgeon, rather than, what if my son doesn’t get the right length nap in, then he might be ruined for life (yes that is what I was thinking most days).

So last night, as I sang a very off-key version of a Dixie Chicks song to my son, as is our tradition, changed his diaper, fed him his bottle, rocked with him in the glider, said our  good night poem, and smelled the top of his head, before kissing him, telling him I love him and laying him down for the night, I realized I was looking at the stars with him, while quietly living out my now, realistic fantasies.

Ben Sleeping