The Perfect Myth

Over the last year and a half I’ve had a good, long laugh at my pre-kid self and all the things I said I would absolutely, never in a million years, ever, do. As an example, Logan and I have taken a certain amount of pride in being anti-TV for nearly a decade. Yet here we are today, reciting the lines from Masha and The Bear from memory because that’s what happens when you watch all 17 episodes 47 times each with your kid. Thanks, Netflix. No seriously, thank you so much Netflix, I love you. There’s a long list of unplanned for transgressions but there’s a really big one I need to address today.

Myth.

I call it The Perfect Myth and it lives on Facebook. Have you noticed? My hair looks awesome, I’m wearing actual eyeliner, and my clothes are astonishingly unstained. Pearl is beaming with dimples that will make your heart soar and somehow, my husband looks oddly pleased to be in a field or grassy expanse in the middle of a work day. This is not real life, this is The Perfect Myth.

Myth.

Before our daughter was born I had grand plans, I was going to be a real mom, honest and genuine about all of it. And that’s the beauty of real life, I get to be that real mom every day. Turns out real life is tough, messy and immune to my controlling tendencies. So Facebook is my perfectly manicured lawn, my award-winning rose garden, the calm, beautiful facade I maintain as a reward for the reality I tend each day. It contains those moments that happen either purely by accident or in that five-second window where preparation, prayer, and bribery pay off with the help of a professional photographer. I feel like I’ve earned this carefully crafted social existence. By now, we’re all in on the social media joke, aren’t we? We know that Facebook is whatever we want it to be and the punchline doesn’t actually matter which is why I’m not sorry about The Perfect Myth, not even a little bit.

 

Fact.

 

Fact.

Fact.

Dear Kara

Pearl spent more than a year under the watchful care of Emma, Megan, and Katie. Together, these women shaped my daughter’s life. I see their influence everyday. When Pearl offers a hug on instinct to a crying kid, there’s Emma. When she stands on our coffee table, creeps toward the edge, and yells “JUMP!” with pure mischief in her eyes, there’s Megan. Seconds later, when she smiles and climbs down carefully, there’s Katie. Sure, Logan and I played a role and the genetics are undeniable, but Monday-Friday from 8-5 plus countless Saturdays with Emma, that was probably the best thing we ever did for our kid.

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Pearl was a flower girl in Emma’s wedding and on the big day, mentally, she was kind of a wreck. She’d scream to be put down then immediately scream to be picked up. Toddler emotions are complex exhausting. Maybe she was dealing with her own brand of grief as she watched Emma get married and start a new life on her own. Unless she was in the arms of an Engbrecht, she was truly inconsolable. They’d spent a lot of time together, their bond was so second-nature your teeth about ached with the sweetness. Still, I was fairly convinced some type of magic was involved here.

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So strong, reliable, and nurturing, I often forgot Emma was more than a decade my junior. Whether dealing with the 12th schedule change of the day, or Pearl’s first six months of endless spit up, or gently pointing out that my shirt still had a tag on it, she never let on that I was the raving lunatic I felt myself to be each day. She shared Pearl’s triumphs and sorrowed in her minor slip ups, so much so that I never felt like I was missing out on the months that were slipping by so quickly. Because Pearl was in safe hands, so were our hearts.

Moments before the ceremony began, the tattered remains of my patience were fading fast.  Shoulders slumped and toes pinched in ill-advised heels I asked Emma’s mother Kara what type of magic she used to subdue my daughter and could I get it on Amazon Prime? Without missing a beat she said, “Hey, if your kid is sweet to everyone except you, you’ve got to be doing something right.” Immediately I felt an odd lightness in my shoulders and realized, just like that, she’d worked her spell on me too.

So, thank you, Kara. Thank you for raising daughters that were not only sweet to me but were also 100% with their love and adoration for Pearl. Thank you for teaching them grace. Thank you for teaching them honesty and selfless love. Thank you for all the important lessons you taught me through your amazing daughters.

 

How to Dress a Tornado in 17 Easy Steps

For the past three weeks, I stood by and watched while family and friends held Pearl, cuddled her, hugged her, tickled her, and loved her in all the ways I couldn’t. This was easily the most difficult part of my cancer experience which means, actually, I’m pretty damn lucky.

Since being reunited with my daughter, we’ve had an extended moment of incredibly sweet, excessive devotion to each other. Every night in that small space between fighting the inevitable and dreams of nutella sandwiches (that’s what they dream about too right?) Pearl likes to make sure I’m still around. She jerks wide awake, takes one long concentrated look at my face,  gives me an enormous dimple-cheeked smile, and passes out on my shoulder.

Stop and smell the dandelions

In turn, I give in to her tiny demands regularly. I know there’s an entire industry devoted to avoiding this grave parental misstep but screw it. In her entire life these days, the ones where she’ll grab my hand and pull me around the house to squeal with delight at the existence of windows, will seem like a flash.

I feel good, really good, and it’s unlikely that I’ll need any more treatment. It turns out doctors don’t like to throw around words like “cured” with cancer patients no matter the clever verbal traps you set for them. So I’ll wait impatiently but in the meantime I have a long list of blessings to count.

And because it’s rude to advertise your parental brilliance on Instagram and then not deliver…

How to Dress a Tornado in 17 Easy Steps:

  1. Stop buying anything even remotely white, just stop it
  2. Sign my petition to end the total nightmare that is baby clothes with buttons, together we can stop the madness
  3. Remember this counts as a workout, good for you!
  4. Offer to let the tornado choose her own clothes
  5. Spend the next 30 minutes putting all the clothes back in the drawers
  6. Allow an additional five minutes to apologize to the tornado for not letting her eat the rhinestones off her tank top
  7. Time for a distraction, sing a totally made up song about monkey butts
  8. Chase the tornado as she runs across the living room with her eyes closed and only half her pants on
  9. Wonder if this will be the day you have to explain to the ER nurse how your tornado gave herself a concussion
  10. Oops, the tornado just crapped her pants, start over
  11. It becomes clear at this point that tornados prefer to be naked
  12. Distract the naked tornado, almost anything will do but I highly recommend a cell phone insurance plan
  13. Take a 5 minute break, let the tornado loose on the tupperware drawer, you deserve coffee
  14. Offer to let the tornado try to dress herself
  15. Remember this always results in a screaming match when you eventually try to help
  16. Bribery exists for a reason people, have you heard of these things called yogurt melts? What a world!
  17. Realize that a diaper is perfectly acceptable attire for a tornado on any occasion

365 Days of Pearl

On the first day she had no name.

On the third day, somewhere between exhaustion and adrenaline, she was Pearl.

On the 12th day I made final notes in the most absurd and meticulous journal I’ve ever kept. I deemed Pearl’s bowel movements normal and vowed, once again, to never read internet mom advice.

On the 21st day she rolled over and Grandma and Grandpa Haifley were our FaceTime witnesses. Coincidentally, this was the same day I tested the shriek factor on Grandma and Grandpa’s speakers.

On the 52nd day I took 287 photographs and in the haze of naivety known as new motherhood, was certain I would print all of them, the next day. I can’t even tell you where those photos are saved today.

It's a good day when you've got cake on your feet

It’s a good day when you’ve got cake on your feet

On the 97th day we found that of the many benefits to having a daughter, the impromptu dance parties are our favorite. No matter the time of day, the food in front of her face, or the mental torment of a choking hazard being removed from her grasp, turn on some tunes and this girl can shimmy shake like nobody’s business.

On the 129th day Pearl discovered that Lefty, in addition to being a chihuahua with obvious mental issues, was also a pretty good playmate. Our dog has never been fond of tiny humans charging him but on this day they bonded over a game of tug-of-war. We decided he could stay when he knocked her down and she giggled for two minutes straight.

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On the 183rd day Pearl mastered the bear crawl and the running tally of all the “I would nevers” came to an official end as I squealed and hooted watching Pearl scamper across the house and took more photos that I also cannot find to this day.

On the 268th day we discovered that if we laughed every time Pearl shuddered at a pureed, so-called food, she would laugh. Consequently, the second and third bites would go over much better. Laughter is responsible for her love of green beans and squash.

Little cupcake

On the 301st day Pearl took her first shaky steps and turned our world upside down, legitimately, this is why our house is always a mess.

On the 324th day she started playing favorites with her books making her mama’s english major heart nearly burst with pride. After the 700th reading of BINGO was his nameo, the aforementioned english major heart developed a slight twitch.

On the 365th day Pearl had her very first taste of the wonder and beauty that occurs when you combine cake, chocolate, frosting, and sprinkles. It is only now that I realize, none of us thought to give this poor kid any milk.

These 365 days of Pearl have been filled with smiles and tears, chaos and giggles, a healthy mix of parental terror with a dash of toddler fearlessness, and a whole lot of sparkle.

Pearl & The Case of the Chaos Tornado

“I swear I turned around for one second,” Logan said, panic saturating his pores. I don’t doubt this. Pearl is fast. To give you a reference point, she’s somewhere between a snake and a mongoose, and a panther. She had closed the door to our bathroom and opened the nearest drawer effectively barring anyone from getting at her.  We stood staring at the door, mentally calculating the life-threatening dangers locked inside the bathroom with our daughter, united in dread.

Sass for days

Baby blues

Logan used logic to determine breaking the window was our best option. I utilized a mother’s expertise for nonsense and casually suggested to my 10 month old, “Pearl, babe, close the drawer.” Voila. She closed the drawer. Multiply impossibility and subtract reason, these are the mathematics of motherhood. Today I will admit she was probably just excited to hear my voice. Years from now, as my maternal induced psychosis worsens, the story will evolve. I will proclaim my daughter followed precise instructions given to her in fourth century Latin and upon opening the door, gave us the square root of pi. Enjoy this time of partial sanity my friends, it is merely fleeting.

Borderline heart failure induced panic followed by baffled laughter, a shoulder shrug, and onto the next chaos tornado, parenting defined. Ultimately it seems, with a little luck, resolutions to life’s most earth-shattering moments can sometimes be swift. Similar to my recent thyroid cancer diagnosis which had us equally flabbergasted, the solution will be simple and relatively easy. A few weeks from now I will trade my thyroid for a scar but, like our bathroom window, I will remain intact. More importantly, I will be happily exaggerating Pearl’s intellect for many, many years.

Best. Hugs. Ever.

The Day She Didn’t Choose Me

Today my daughter chose the babysitter. Normally I come home for lunch and Pearl’s eyes light up, her arms reach out to me and the love she shows is undeniable in that display of pure need. Today, none of that happened. Instead she held tight to Emma, snuggling into her neck and refusing to let go. I would never hold this against Emma, she is an incredible blessing to our entire family. But I nursed the pangs of heartache and guilt throughout the day, blaming an eight month old child for my destruction. She did not intend to shatter my heart. Pearl is just a baby, I repeated this to myself several hundred times.

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Everyday I worry. Everyday I question my decisions and choices. Am I really doing the absolute best for my family? Some days yes. Some days I am super-mom, I am invincible, untouchable, unstoppable. If the apocalypse crashed down upon us at dawn, we’d be just fine, we’d kick apocalypse ass. Other days no, just no. And that two letter word contains more than enough defeat, additional explanation unnecessary to any parent.

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At 7:35PM I forgave my daughter her unknowing indiscretion. I forgave her as we swayed together, nearly inaudible coos escaping her tiny perfect body as she drifted off. I forgave her as my feet sank into the carpet, my toes imprinting our love on the world below. We swayed much longer than necessary. Feeling her warm, even breath on my shoulder, her fingers gently squeezing my arm and releasing, squeezing and releasing, her entire body eventually falling into a peaceful, heavy, relaxation. She is safe, and warm, and loved. She is innocent and I do my best and so we are granted equal amnesty.

Tonight we conquered emotional cataclysm, tomorrow is another day.

A youth well spent

I hear this question a lot these days, “Do you ever wonder what you used to do with all your free time?” The first few times I fell right into the deep hole of despair this question, perhaps unknowingly, implies: the agony of a wasted life.

Yes, I miss sleeping in. I miss the days when my body wouldn’t automatically come to life five minutes before Pearl wakes up. I miss staying up late for no apparent reason, safe in the knowledge that I would feel wonderful the next day regardless. I miss the freedom to just read all day, the freedom to spend days agonizing over a single blog post. But it’s not these little moments seemingly filled with nothing that I mourn.

To answer the question, no I do not wonder how I filled my time. I remember fondly, I spent it doing things like this:

Machu Picchu

 

Baja

 

Rhino

Pardon my humble brag, but I’m happy to say my youth was not wasted.  Life did not begin or end with Pearl. She found us mid-way through the story; well developed characters with an expansive history rich in self-discovery. And even though our time is now spent doing this like this:

Pearl

 

Pearl

Happily, it was our past that got us to this present, and what a gift it is.

Lovey Dovey

One of my greatest fears while carrying Pearl was my ability to express my love for her in the tender way you see so many mothers and daughters interact. Touchy-feely is just not my thing, PDA makes my brows furrow, and even if we’ve been friends for years my hugs are stiff and as brief as humanly possible. These facts tormented me for nine months, I feared we just wouldn’t connect.

At three and a half months old Pearl is rolling, gabbing, grabbing, and smiling. She shows an immense enthusiasm during storytime (that’s my girl!) and is one heck of a charmer in a crowd. She zeros in on me if she’s not in my arms, following my every move with her bright eyes which light up if she hears my voice or spots me across the room. She is thoroughly irresistible which is why I take a particular pride in yesterday’s milestone: giggling.

Bookworm babe

Bookworm babe

Sitting on the living room floor, she swung her arms in my direction and flashed a gummy grin, the one that often makes me think I’m on the verge of a very serious heart condition. I scooped her up and planted no less than one hundred smooches on both cheeks and she erupted, her tiny body wobbling and swaying with the effort of her very first giggle. I lost count of the kisses that followed in an attempt to replicate the most incredible sound known to man.

Smooches

Smooches

When it comes to Pearl it turns out I’m 100% soft. Like an untapped mine of blazing devotion; I’m a snuggler, kisser, hugger, I’m downright lovey dovey. And nothing in my life has ever felt so natural and right. I know she won’t always giggle at these expressions of pure affection so I intend get my fill while the gettin’s good.

 

Analog Memories

Sometimes I find myself racing ahead, even by decades, in life. When Pearl takes an enormous breath, the lung-filling kind an infant only uses to wail, I think of how she’ll be as a teenager. In her tiny, adorable face I can see the pain of hormonal rage 13 years down the road. One day she will say terrible things to me, things I recall saying to my own mother much to my adult shame. She may develop a routine as I did; sobbing, gulping for air, pounding deafening steps into the stairs and thundering my door shut so hard I’m sure I tested the physical structure of our house on several occasions. She will tell me I just don’t understand and she will believe it too.

Pearl Aideen

Pearl Aideen

Treasure

Treasure

It’s in these future moments that I know I will lovingly recall today and think it’s such a shame she’ll have lost the memory of our present by then. At four weeks old, Pearl has stolen my reality, nothing matters but her. I exist in a time warp, I lose hours and entire days. People ask what I’ve been up to, here’s a list: we have staring contests that last hours, I study her eyelashes trying to determine the science of their length, I agonize over her fingernails, I wash her hair far too often, sometimes she screams but then snuggles into my neck and promptly falls asleep to the thudding of my heart, we go on walks and she sleeps, we run errands and she sleeps, we read Game of Thrones and she sleeps, we go to bed and she is ready to party Andrew W.K. style.

He needed a little sugar & spice in his life

He needed a little sugar & spice in his life

When I suggested to Logan that Pearl would never remember these days of total, earth-shattering love between us as she grew he scoffed and replied:

Hold onto your hat sweetheart, Pearl just got started loving you.

The beginning of a new love story

The beginning of a new love story

The sweetest

The sweetest

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

Growing a human being is no simple task, I thank you for your patience and understanding while I flit about the house ranting about your muddy boots and coffee stains on our white cupboard doors. While I often feel justified in these moments of pure, seething, indignation I know I am sometimes in the wrong. Key word: sometimes. I want to apologize for two moments where I confess, I was wrong.

About six months in, on a Saturday morning, all I wanted was a breakfast burrito and we were out of potatoes. A breakfast burrito without potatoes is just a weird burrito that happens to have an egg in it, don’t kid yourselves people. You refused to go the store at 9AM because you hadn’t showered yet. I remember watching our friend Elliott literally jump from the couch to get his pregnant wife a glass of water when she vaguely mentioned she was thirsty. You need a shower? A shower to go to the one grocery store in our population 2000 town that no one will be at at 9AM? Cue the insane, hormonal water works. I had successfully guilted you into the shower but I was not nearly finished being crazy. Dripping wet you found me in the kitchen frying the potatoes I had managed to purchase and return with before you even reached for the conditioner. And you said nothing, you let me relish my “take that!” moment with a quiet, confused apology in your eyes.

Much like the time you stomped through our house in your boots in mid-winter and I asked you to please, please, stop doing that. I spent the morning plowing through laundry, painting the nursery, and watching our roomba struggle to pick up the dirt clods and stickers littering our floors. Hours later you returned, boots still firmly planted on your feet, and terrorized our house yet again like Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-pen come to life. Arm-waving was now in play, high-pitched pregnancy induced hysteria on full throttle, “I spent the WHOLE DAY using the robot vacuum to clean up after YOUR mess. And now I have to turn it on again and start ALL over.” Yes. The robot vacuum, the vacuum that automatically cleans our house with the push of a button. How dare you? Again, you said nothing, removed your boots, and let me rave like a too early released lunatic.

Honestly, I think you got off pretty easy over the past nine months. However, I recognize and apologize for these two incidents where a perceived justification turned out to be totally uncalled for nonsense upon later reflection. If we learn anything from these moments it’s that sometimes it’s best to say nothing and other times you should just go buy the damn potatoes. And I think we should both be thankful I didn’t have a pregnancy like this lady.

XO

Your Loving Wife