My dad

If I had to sum up my relationship with my dad in one story it would be this.

When I was a senior in high school, I made several trips to colleges and universities who were recruiting me to run cross country and track. I went by myself on several of these visits, but for the ones that weren’t far away enough to require an overnight trip, my dad accompanied me.

High school track meet with dad, Cassie, and Aunt Viki. Notice he's wearing a TCU hat already...
High school track meet with dad, Cassie, and Aunt Viki. Notice he’s already wearing a TCU hat..

We probably made 4 or 5 roadtrips, but our visit to Texas A&M stuck with me in particular. We drove down to College Station for the day to watch a home meet and see the campus. Sitting in the bleachers, my dad and I talked about the runners, what kind of school I wanted to go to, and what my goals were for competing at the college level. Running was the source of a number of fights we had that year, but on this day, we chatted easily about some pretty big life decisions I was about to make.

On the way home, I wanted to play some new CD I had bought, and my dad obliged. I’m pretty sure it was some terrible pop-punk album and my dad razzed me about my music preferences and reminded me about “good” music like The Eagles, Heart, and other classic rock bands.

A few weeks later, the scholarship offer from A&M came through and it was much lower (read: insulting) than I had hoped for, especially compared with those from other universities. On top of that, the coach was an ASS to me on the phone. Yes, he was an ass to a shy, 18 year old young high school senior. I was beside myself. I promptly ripped off the A&M bumper sticker on my car, donated my shirt, and never once wore my baseball cap emblazoned with the school logo again. Instead of telling me I was overreacting or hiding in a corner at my rage, my dad listened to me cry, called the coach a wide variety of colorful names (we swear a lot in my family), and told me to forget about it, that something better was on the horizon. Of course he was right.

In the years since, my dad has continued to have my back, blindly at times, and is my go-to person when I need to know what to do next. He not only provides the emotional support I need during the low moments, but he gets shit DONE. The man is in logistics, it’s what he does. He’s also a total softy, don’t let the gruff exterior fool you–he once sent me a “We’re so darn proud of you” email and copied ALL of my friends by accidentally hitting reply all on an email I had recently sent about my address¬† change. He called me every day the first week I left for college because he missed me even though he didn’t say it outright. We’re pretty different in a lot of ways. And yet, I find myself striking up conversations with strangers in weird places, one thing my dad is known for, and immediately thinking, “Holy crap, I’m my dad.”

Growing up, my dad was goofy and fun and he’s exactly the same as a grandpa, eagerly making faces and pulling up funny videos on his phone in hopes of eliciting a smile from Lena. I love watching them together. Happy Father’s Day Poppy, you sappy cornball, you.

Love,

Heather

Babcia, Poppy, and Lena

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing and I don’t trust anyone who says they do

Parenthood brings up all kinds of questions and often has you feeling woefully unprepared to deal with situations related to basic human functions like eating, sleeping, and pooping. Parenting a high spirited kid feels like that, all while sitting in a bunker waiting for a bomb to drop.

Simply put, a high spirited kid is MORE. All kids are challenging from time to time, but high needs/high spirited littles are more intense, more alert, more energetic, and more emotional than the average tot. Spiritedness is something parents ascribe to their own children, so the way it looks varies greatly from kid to kid. Since Lena is our first, we just thought that all babies cried incessantly, never slept, and wanted to be held all the time. I mean, she’s a BABY, of course she’s needy. But when she started daycare around 10 weeks old, we observed other kids her age happily sitting in swings and sleeping in their own cribs.

Shortly thereafter I came across Dr. Sears’s The Fussy Baby Book* and for the first time, I thought, YES!!! THIS! This describes my girl. I had been feeling so guilty that we had done something wrong, that those advice-giving old ladies were right–you can in fact spoil a baby by holding them too much and nursing on demand. I read lots and lots of things about sleep and development. Like this, this, and this. We hadn’t done anything to make her the way she was–we had adapted our parenting style to fit our baby’s needs.

I recently realized that over the last 14 months, I’ve developed a sort of informal parenting manifesto that’s guided me towards a happier and more balanced life. I’m about to formalize it, yo.

Don’t read parenting books. Someone is always trying to sell you something, even if it’s not immediately obvious what that is. I’ve found them irrelevant at best and anxiety-inducing at worst. Instead, get to know your kid and trust your instincts. Studies and “experts” be damned.

All kids are different. So are their parents, their families, their cultures, and their communities. Unless you’re harming your child physically, mentally, or emotionally, you’ll find no judgment from me. Do whatcha gotta. (Also, I really don’t have time to care what you’re doing cause I haven’t slept a solid 8 hours in 16 months.)

We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing most of the time. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the next stage looks like and I don’t really care. I’m trying to get through the day here. I’m following my kid’s lead, talking with my husband, and doing what feels right.

Stop it with the labels and the categorizing. Humans have a desire, a need really, to classify the world around us as a way of understanding the mess. I get it. But the world is gray and more gray, not black and white, so cut this shit out. Especially when talking about “types of moms.” These are not real people, they’re caricatures. It’s patronizing, misogynistic, and most importantly, predictable and unfunny. WE’RE OVER IT.

Get outdoors. My kid, and many others I know, are totally likeable creatures outdoors. It’s like a switch gets flipped once their lungs fill with fresh air and they hear birds chirping. If your kid is whiny and losing it, pick ’em up and go outside. Build a yurt and move in until your kid is 18. Everyone will be happier. You can thank me later.

Remember that this too shall pass. Try to find the joy in each phase while remembering that it all ends, even the bad parts. That doesn’t mean you can and should enjoy every minute, but if you keep wishing for the next phase when it gets “easier” you’ll wish away your next 20 years. Right now I’m working part time. I won’t be forever–I’ll have a career again. Right now my kid shits in her diaper–in 1-2 years she’ll be able to better regulate her bodily functions. Life moves forward.

Try to be flexible. Learn to bob and weave, because just as you get comfortable, life will punch you in the fucking ear. I don’t trust you if you say you know what you’re doing. Maybe you know what you’re doing today. If so, kudos. I will raise a glass to your awesomeness. Enjoy it, truly. (I’m secretly hoping your easy baby is a hellacious tween).

Seriously, LOSE THE JUDGEMENT. Yes, this necessitates a second mention. Listen to your friends and family who have kids. Don’t try to fix the situation, they don’t need that. They just need someone who can listen and not be a dick.

Find your tribe. There are people out there who are dealing with similar situations and who can provide gentle advice and support. It doesn’t mean they do everything the exact same way, but they get it and they’re there for you. Maybe they’re online, maybe they’re at the local tot lot. But they ARE there. Keep your eyes open and maybe say hi to that frazzled parent at the grocery store. Tell them they’re doing a good job, and you’ve been there. You were there yesterday and probably will be again tomorrow.

I hope this doesn’t sound sanctimonious. I don’t know what I’m doing beyond this moment and I wouldn’t even pretend to know how to parent your kid. You probably have your own list and probably it looks different from mine. But if having a high spirited kid has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t make assumptions about what others are going through.

Stay strong, friends. And stock up on the coffee.

The most intense always come in the cutest, most unassuming packages.
The most intense always come in the cutest, most unassuming packages.

*I am not particularly a giant fan of Dr. Sears, but in this area, he got it right in my opinion. Delayed vaccine schedule? Not so much…

The Hole in my Heart

Before having kids, I considered my cat to be my baby. I mean, I knew he wasn’t human obviously, but I enjoyed doting on him, taking pictures of him, and buying him new treats and toys. Of course unlike a human baby I could leave Toots for hours by himself and for the most part he was self-sufficient.

One of my biggest pet peeves was parents who insisted that people couldn’t POSSIBLY know real love unless they had a child of their own. I scoffed at this condescension which was usually followed by some story of martyrdom about how much they sacrificed for their little cherubs. I not-so-secretly judged people who rehomed their pets after their “real babies” were born. “Who could give up their pet like that?!” I wondered in disbelief.

I’ve perused parenting forums enough to know this is a major topic of contention. The question of “Do you *really* love your pet like you love your kid?” is floated around all the time. There’s the side that says, “No way. I thought I really loved my pet but then my kid was born. I birthed this baby, it’s a human, and it’s much more responsibility than an animal.” The other side insists they love their furbabies equally, that they are dependent upon them just like their kids and having children hasn’t changed those feelings.

When Lena was born, I’ll be honest, I probably fell more squarely in that first camp. I still loved my cat, but I mean this was my child. And man did he make things more difficult sometimes. He would meow (loudly) as we tried to put her to bed, attempt to eat all the food from her plate and the floor below her high chair, and sometimes at night when he wanted to snuggle, I was just touched out and wanted to be alone. Then Toots got sick. When things went downhill last weekend and we weren’t sure he was going to make it, I did my best to stay at his side, offering my presence when I couldn’t offer anything else. The night before he died, we spent much of the night, just the two of us, cuddled together on the floor. It was the only part of the night he wasn’t crying out and I could have sworn I felt a faint purr. I am SO thankful we had that time together.

The next day we made the decision to put our kitty to sleep. He was suffering and we were in agony watching him. I lost several childhood pets over the years but my parents were always the ones who had to make the grownup decisions and handle the hard parts. This was the first time I had to be the grownup. I wondered how I could watch such a thing happen. Then I imagined the only thing worse than being there would be for him to be alone. So Scott and I held our baby and each other as he went peacefully to sleep in the most dignified way we could offer. ¬†It was literally the last thing I could do for him and although it may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done I would do it again in a heartbeat. He wasn’t alone and we were right by his side, loving him.

Now that I’m dealing with this loss, I’m refining my view on the baby/furbaby debate. No, Toots was not a human baby. I didn’t carry him in my body for 9 months. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising him to go out into the world. When I adopted him, I fully expected that one day he would die and I would have to say goodbye. This is not something we plan on when we have human children. In fact, it’s one of the worst things imaginable. So yes, it’s different. But he was the first thing I got to name, the first life that I had the great task of nurturing and protecting. He was wholly dependent upon me and needed my love and affection in much the same way as Lena. And for that, he will always be my first baby. When he passed, he took a piece of me that I’ll never be able to share with anyone else in the same way.

I am beyond grateful that we had 11 wonderful, loving years together. Toots taught Lena how to say “meow.” (She literally learned the word from hearing him). He came into my life when I felt broken and lonely and remained one of the few constants in my life over the next decade. I carry some guilt that I didn’t spend as much time with him this last year, that I should have been more patient with him. But I’m trying to take the long view–he had a comfortable home and a dedicated kitty mama who did everything she could to provide for him right until the very end. Every fiber of me hopes that he knew how much we loved him, at least in the way cats can know these things.

Losing Toots has left a huge hole in my heart and my daily life. The house feels emptier and I feel sad every time Lena says “meow” or I see his food sitting on top of the refrigerator going uneaten. I’m also a mom who needs to take care of her kid, so I can’t ball up on the couch and cry all day, as much as I might want to. While the sadness is big and real and hard, I’m afraid of it going away, too. Like all of this will start to seem normal and it’s just not normal without him.

Toots, I miss you buddy. This sucks. Thank you for letting me love you and take care of you. While I don’t know what happens to us on the other side of this life, I hope with all of my heart that we’ll find each other again and catch up on our couch snuggling. Until then, we’ll think about you and all the silly, wonderful memories we have.

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My boy.
–Heather