It can be hard to feel like yourself when you are busily parenting all day every day.
You are always YOU. Yet there are different versions of you. Mommy Kerriann doesn’t do all the same things that Just Plain Kerriann does. She doesn’t always like all the same things.
For example – Mommy Kerriann loves the beach, but might opt out of a beach trip under certain circumstances. Mommy Kerriann might decide that the amount of preparation and gear and attentiveness involved with bringing a baby and a pre-schooler to the beach might fall into the category of Not Worth It.
But, Just Plain Kerriann? That girl will NEVER EVER EVER pass up a beach trip. It won’t happen. A spontaneous beach trip that makes no logical sense in the grand scheme of life is one of the things that makes her Just Plain Kerriann.
I often reference one of my favorite podcasts, The Girl Next Door, in my blogging. One of the co-hosts of The Girl Next Door, Erica Ladd, sometimes mentions the times she asked herself this question as an overwhelmed new parent: What makes me feel like myself?
I love this question. It forces you to think back to B.P. – Before Parenthood. What were you like? What were the things that made you who you are? I think a lot about the kind of mom I want to be, but I sometimes forget what makes me feel like Just Plain Kerriann. I have to squeeze my eyes shut and remember – when I was in college, when I was doing AmeriCorps, when I worked at an outdoor ed center – those times in my life when I felt very Kerriann – what specifically was it that made me feel like me?
I feel like myself when I get to spend time at a coffee shop all by myself with my journal, a book, and my laptop.
I feel like myself when I am wandering around a used bookstore.
I feel like myself when I am being silly, playful, and creative. Like when I make up funny and nonsensical stories to make Edgar or Tamara laugh out loud. Or when I turned Edgar’s bedtime routine into a treasure hunt. (The treasure was a library book we’d read 30 times already, but he didn’t seem to mind.)
I feel like myself when I’m reading a really great book, one that I have trouble putting down and want to prop up and read while I eat my breakfast or read frantically while I’m stopped at a stoplight.
I feel like myself when I blow dry my hair. Like, all the way blow dry it so that it feels and looks healthy.
I feel like myself when I spend time with an old friend.
I feel like myself when I have energy! For me to feel energetic, this usually means I’m running regularly and eating well.
This list is a work in progress, as are most of my lists! I hope to add to it whenever I discover something else that makes me feel like Just Plain Kerriann.
What makes YOU feel like Just Plain You – not Mommy/Daddy You or Work You?
Who I am as a mother is also who I am as an individual.
I also have REALLY not been checking things off on my bucket list. Like, I really haven’t. There are only a handful of items checked off, and they are mostly things that are simple and close to home, like hiking and playing at the creek on our property.
And that is 100% okay! I love having a list of activities to look into when I’m feeling like we need an adventure or an activity. But when it comes down to it, I’m not really a bucket list kind of person. I like to take each day as it comes, and I like to have as much spontaneity as possible. I have been enjoying quality time with friends. I’ve been coming up with creative crafty things to do with Edgar. I’ve introduced Special Time with Edgar, which is the hour or two when Jonas naps in the morning, when we can do things that are challenging to do while Jonas is awake, like painting, yoga, or making rainbow rice. Edgar loves it; I’ve been noticing lately how much he benefits from having one-on-one time with a parent, without that parent having to make sure Jonas isn’t crawling upstairs or trying to eat crayons.
I’m still going to try to check off a few items, and I’m still going to make a bucket list for fall if I can get around to it. I’ll check in on my progress again at the end of the summer.
When I was an Adoptive-Parent-In-Waiting, before Edgar came home, people would tell me, “You should go out and do all the things you won’t be able to do after you have a baby.”
It was never that simple. And I would never say that to anyone who was a parent-in-waiting like me, true as it may be. Yes, you probably should go out and do all the things you won’t be able to do after you have a baby, like staying out late or taking great trips. The problem is, if you’re like me, you don’t want to do any of those things; you just want a baby to love and snuggle for the rest of your life.
The only time when I was able to appreciate my status as a childless parent-in-waiting was when I was sick.
I hate being sick. I know, everyone hates it. But I really do. I hate feeling limited. I dislike the pain and discomfort.
Additionally, I have a couple of weird mental habits that arise when I’m sick. First, I always think that I’m ‘making it up’ – that I’m either not sick at all or not as sick as I’m feeling. I don’t trust that my stomach actually hurts or that I am actually experiencing fatigue. That’s why things like a fever or a strep test are incredibly helpful for me. When there is a calculable measurement that can be used to pronounce me Sick or Not Sick, it allows me to stop questioning things and just rest.
My second hang-up about being sick is even weirder: I automatically think that if I’m sick, it is somehow my fault. I haven’t been eating well enough, I’m not exercising the way I should, I don’t wash my hands as consistently as a mom with two young kids should.
It all adds up to me becoming a little down, even slightly depressed, whenever I get sick. But Pre-Kids Kerriann would just sink into it all. Not the depression, necessarily. But Pre-Kids Kerriann was really good at just saying, “I’m sick today. Shut it all down,” and then watching Netflix while eating trail mix for the rest of the day.
During the adoption wait, when I got sick, I was very aware that I was “enjoying” my sick days in a way that would not be an option after I became a parent. Once I had kids, I would not be able to spend the entire day on the couch watching old episodes of Veep. Once I had kids, I would not be able to eat all my meals on the couch and have “all my meals” consist of mostly Skittles, which to me are medicinal because they are practically cough drops. Once I had kids, I wouldn’t be able to put off any and all household responsibilities until I felt better, because dirty dishes can wait but dirty diapers cannot.
It was a strange thing to be grateful for during that stressful and painful two years that I was an Adoptive-Parent-In-Waiting. But I was grateful. Every single time I came down with a head cold or a stomach bug, I thought to myself, At least you can just be sick right now. This is the one thing in life that definitely will NOT be better when you have a baby.
Fast forward to 2019, when I am a happy mom with a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old, and I am currently on the mend after experiencing a super-annoying stomach bug for the last three days.
You guys – parenting while you’re sick is the worst. I am not the best mom on sick days. I am disengaged, and I lack creativity. I woke up one day, tired and nauseous, and I knew I had seven hours to get through until Edgar’s nap time. We watched a few episodes of Daniel Tiger, which is a pretty rare treat in our house. I stumbled through making them breakfast. I allowed Jonas to pull every book and every puzzle off the bookshelf. Then I looked at my watch and it was 7:45 a.m. SEVEN FORTY FIVE! It felt like I’d been awake and mommying for 19 hours by that point, and I wasn’t even two hours into the day.
Sometimes I do wish I could magically have one of those Pre-Kids sick days, when I can 100% focus on resting and recuperating. But then – my kids are pretty awesome, and I’m a pretty happy mom. So I will power through my sick days with as much grace and gratitude as I can muster.
There are two boys under three in my house. Once the second kid’s eyes are closed (or, in the case of the two-year-old, once he is safely stowed away in his room, rolling around on his bed talking to himself), I race downstairs and I immediately engage in a preplanned naptime activity. Usually, this means writing a blog post. Lately, it has meant packing for trips. Sometimes I spread out note cards on the floor and I work on my novel.
The important thing is that I immediately get going with something productive. And, to be clear, I have a pretty broad definition of what is productive. Sometimes what I want to accomplish is watching a soccer game or taking a nap. But even relaxing activities require some prep on my part – like queuing up the game so I don’t get distracted by dishes or limiting my morning caffeine intake so that I can crash while the boys sleep.
Then there are other days. Days when I’ve been so busy running around after the boys that I haven’t given any thought at all to what I’d like to accomplish during naptime. That never feels as good to me.
Those unproductive days end up being okay too. Things get done or else they don’t, and it’s always just fine. But I’m still amazed at how much planning it seems to take just to be a functional human and adult compared to my spontaneous twentysomething self. That girl liked to not plan anything, and it was delightful.
It’s the middle of the afternoon as I type this, and it’s naptime – and it’s one of those naptimes that I didn’t fully plan out ahead of time. I did make arrangements to go for a run while Tamara got Jonas down for nap, so that got done right away. Since I got back from running, I’ve kind of been puttering around – straightened up a little, wrapped a baby shower gift for a friend, read a few pages of Fleishman Is In Trouble. While I love being productive, I also enjoy puttering around. It’s relaxing, in a way, to have a piece of my day that’s a little bit aimless.
Today, I rate my naptime productivity at about a 6, because I wrote this ENTIRE blog post (woohoo!) and ran for thirty minutes. No dishes were done, but you know what? I recently retook the Enneagram test and it turns out I’m a 4, and we’re really bad at getting things done if we’re not feelin’ it. So it could not be helped, clearly.
This post makes me laugh, because it’s as aimless and meandering as a naptime full of puttering around. In Typical Kerriann style, I am going to seize control and turn it into a list of tips for Naptime Productivity right now:
Step 1: Plan ahead!Typically nap time is not long enough to allow for spontaneity.
Step 2: Keep your commitments. If you decided to spend the kids’ nap time reading, don’t let the dirty laundry boss you around.
Step 3: Be realistic. It is RARE for me to write an entire blog post during a single naptime, and my blog posts are pretty short. I feel better when I make a goal like Read a little of my book rather than Read three chapters. Because Edgar and Jonas have no idea how many chapters I’ve read when they decide to pop open their eyes and start Mommying me.
Step 4: Give yourself permission to NOT be productive.Though I haven’t done it much lately, I love napping when the boys nap. I do feel like Step 1 is EXTREMELY important if you want to nap while your kids nap; you need to be mentally and physically prepared ahead of time so you don’t end up too wired or stressed to nap.
That’s all I’ve got, and I can hear Jonas starting to babble. Time’s up!
I was chatting with two other mothers, a few months after my first son was born, and the conversation shifted to a topic I’ve always found strange.
“Thomas is already engaged to Elizabeth,” one of the mothers joked. Her son, Thomas, was three, and the other woman’s daughter, Elizabeth, was just a few months younger. “They’ve been betrothed since birth.” They laughed together and I smiled awkwardly, the way I do when I’m feeling uncomfortable but don’t want to cause unnecessary conflict.
I have always found this habit – joking about babies or young children dating or flirting or marrying – weird and awkward. I’ve gotten a lot more uncomfortable with it since becoming a parent myself. It might have to do with not wanting to adultify children when they’re little, which I (unfortunately) see happening all over the place. Like when a mom at the library saw her toddler son smiling at me and asked him teasingly, “Are you flirting, Jacob?”
What is the follow up to this comment? I smiled awkwardly (yet again), and then I started thinking about my other concern, other than adultifying little kids. My other concern is about the assumptions we make about the sexual preferences of our kids from a very young age. I wondered if the Library Mom would have teased her son about flirting if I was a man. I don’t know this woman at all, so it’s impossible to guess. But my experience has been that people make these kinds of flirting jokes only in a male/female interaction, and to me that’s a sign that our society (or at least my neighborhood) is still a pretty heteronormative place. I don’t hear a lot of jokes about boy babies being betrothed to other boy babies, or about girl toddlers flirting with other girl toddlers.
There are so many assumptions that we make about the people our kids will grow up to be. We make assumptions about the things they’ll like and the things they’ll do. And when I say the assumptions WE make – I am including all the woke progressive people in the world as well.
Let’s take Thomas, for example, who is (jokingly) betrothed to Elizabeth. Let’s fast forward fifteen years to Thomas dating.
Why have we already decided that Thomas will be dating a female?
It’s 2019, and the world is more accepting of the LGBT community. The two mothers I mentioned in my opening story are both straight, and they have been welcoming and supportive of my same sex marriage and our adoption of two children. They are open-minded, welcoming, progressive, and loving.
But they are assuming that their children will be straight. And there’s a thirteen-year-old gay girl, ashamed and scared, inside of me that wants to cry when she realizes this.
One of the things that made being gay and coming out painful for me was that the world assumed I was straight. There was a default sexual preference, and it was straight; to be anything other than straight required me to “come out” of a closet, even if I hadn’t realized I was in a closet at all. Having to come out implies that there is a “norm” sexual preference and that you have to identify yourself as other if you don’t share that preference.
When I think about my two sons and their potential romantic lives, what I want is for them to never have to worry about “coming out.” They could be presumed straight, and then come out of the closet in adolescence or young adulthood, like I and many others did. But – should they have to? Why, in 2019, would we still be making assumptions about our children’s sexual preferences?
I don’t want to make any assumptions about my sons, but it’s a natural thing that we do. It’s human. We have to be extremely conscious and intentional if we want to not make assumptions about others. I catch myself caught up in it all the time when I meet an adult my age who is great with kids who doesn’t have any children of their own. I start wondering if they want kids, or if they’re hoping to grow their family. It takes intention and effort for me to remind myself that wanting to be a parent (a feeling that is intensely strong for me) is not something that every adult in the world feels.
It takes effort. It takes intention. It takes change.
We’re all learning and growing, as individuals, as families, as societies. During my experiences as an LGBT young adult, the world learned to accept, and to respect. The federal law for same sex marriage came into effect four months after our wedding day. The next step, in my opinion, is for us to move from accepting to not assuming.
Now, rewind back to my awkward smile after Thomas’s mother and Elizabeth’s mother were laughing about their children getting married someday. Remember how I often just smile awkwardly at these moments?
Well, that day, I sort of didn’t.
“What if your kids are gay?” I blurted out gracelessly.
I wish I could say that this conversation evolved into a courageous talk with me expressing my thoughts and feelings eloquently and the moms hearing it. But it didn’t. They kind of laughed and nodded, agreeing with me that this was possible. I didn’t say much else to follow up.
But I asked the question, and I asked it out loud. That’s big for an introvert and overthinker like me.
The main point of this post is that my sons, Edgar and Jonas, are not yet available for betrothal. They’re too young, and too unwilling to bathe, for any marriage arrangements to be made. They also haven’t decided yet if they want to get married, or who they’d like to be boyfriends or girlfriends with someday, if anyone. And my hope is that, rather than a big, significant coming out talk, what they experience is an ongoing, accepting, and loving conversation with their parents and their community about who and what they love, with nothing assumed and everything on the table.
They’re adorable and lovable. They’re also irrational, illogical, and exhausting.
Our older son, Edgar, is two years old, and I truly love this age. He is cuddly and sweet. He loves to learn and to be independent. But MAN – when he gets thrown off by something, whether it’s hunger, needing to poop, or the fact that his favorite bulldozer shirt is in the laundry, it takes an enormous amount of patience to help him through it.
The tone for our day is set during the first moments of the morning, and on weekdays, our day starts early. Edgar has to wake up by 6 a.m. at the latest if we’re going to get him to school and get me to work on time. Usually, I am downstairs, getting dressed and gathering my things for work, and I hear Edgar start to toss and turn on the baby monitor. Sometimes he’s still sound asleep at 6 a.m. and I have to wake him up. No matter what the situation is, I can expect some resistance on his part. It might be just some mild wrestling with his pajama shirt because he doesn’t want to take it off, or (worst case scenario) every single step of the getting ready process is a struggle – Edgar struggling against every task that needs to get done, and me struggling to keep myself calm and composed.
I have found a trick for helping our mornings to go smoothly, and I think it’s a metaphor for one of my overall parenting strategies. It also has almost nothing to do with actual parenting.
The trick is: Get your coffee first.
Brewing the coffee is one of our morning tasks, and either Tamara or I usually get it going soon after we wake up. But, even if Edgar has been rolling around and calling out “Time to wake up?” to me for a little while, I make sure that I have a steaming hot cup of coffee, turned brown paper bag color with half-and-half, in my hand when I climb the stairs to get Edgar’s morning going.
I found out by accident that this was something I needed. I noticed that my voice was calmer and I felt less rushed to get him moving if I had already just done this tiny thing for myself. I think that sometimes, as a mom with young kids, there are times when we can only realistically engage in tiny moments of self-care.
That’s why there are days when I hear Edgar starting to fuss and roll and wake up, and I ignore the mommy instinct to go cuddle him immediately, and I wait until the coffee is ready. I pour it into my favorite mug, I add half and half, and I climb the stairs to Edgar feeling like I can take my time and enjoy our first few moments together. I can enjoy them – and I am the best at enjoying them when I get my coffee FIRST.
My big picture parenting strategy is: you have to give yourself oxygen first. You can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself. You also can’t teach your kids to live a calm and happy life if you’re not living that way yourself.
So get your coffee first – whatever that means for you. Then you’ll be able to exude the endless amounts of patience, silliness, and wit it takes to navigate life with kids. Or at least, you’ll give it a pretty good shot.
Today, on what would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, Edgar played ‘organized’ soccer (laughing out loud at calling any toddler activity ‘organized’) for the first time.
This was ordinary, and it was extraordinary. I got emotional last weekend when I first realized this coincidence – Edgar starting out with soccer on Dad’s birthday. I felt a little in awe of the universe at the timing of things, and a little bit like laughing hysterically. (“Seriously, Universe? I needed a reason to get MORE EMOTIONAL on Dad’s birthday?”) I cried for a while, and then, while Edgar wandered around the farm kicking a soccer ball, I followed him and I thought about my dad.
The inscription on my dad’s grave reads: HUSBAND, DAD, & COACH. Because that is who he was. From the moment when my mom signed my dad up (without asking him) to coach at Holy Child Soccer in Staten Island, NY, he coached. He coached my sister, my brother, and me on various teams, and he coached hundreds of other kids. He ended up running Holy Child Soccer, and then serving as president of the Staten Island Soccer League. I did not ever know my dad not as a soccer coach.
Every parent involved in Staten Island soccer when I was in grade school called my house at some point. I know this because I was my dad’s unofficial secretary. His responsibilities as a leader in youth soccer in Staten Island are the reason why, to this day, I have an EXCEPTIONALLY friendly and polite phone voice. The coaches would call about fields, referees, schedules, uniforms, and I’d take their message and promise that my dad would call them back. When my dad eventually talked with them, I’d hear him laugh and say, “yup, that was my youngest on the phone,” and I’d beam with pride. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize just how much my dad did for youth soccer in Staten Island – and he did all of it after a long day or week of full-time work. We don’t realize how much our parents are doing for us, I think, until we grow up and are exhausted adults or parents ourselves.
I have countless memories of my dad as a coach – from him leading my team at practices and games to the thousands of quiet moments he had with me and my siblings, helping us to learn life lessons on the field and off. This year, there are two stories I can’t get out of my head. They both involved my dad as coach of my grade school soccer team, the Holy Child Crosskickers.
We had a heartbreaker of a game one season, when we came in second place in the league after a 1-0 loss to the Notre Dame Academy Sweethearts. The other team’s goal was the result of a long ball that hit a weird bump and bounced awkwardly over the head of our flustered goalkeeper. A fair loss, to be sure – but a real bummer after a hard-played game and season.
A week or so after this game, my dad showed up to a team gathering with a large cardboard box. He explained that a stranger had left this box of T-shirts on our front porch; they were red and white (our team colors), and the text read: “CROSSKICKERS – SIMPLY THE BEST – ONLY ONE SWEETHEART OF A BOUNCE CAN BEAT US.” We all smiled and laughed and put on our shirts and questioned nothing. It was YEARS later when I realized that my dad (who made T-shirts for our entire extended family every summer, so it’s not like there weren’t clues, Kerriann) had ordered the shirts himself because he knew that it’s important to acknowledge our defeats, laugh if we can, and move forward with determination and a smile.
The other story I can’t get out of my head is about my dad selecting the team all-stars from the Crosskickers for the end-of-season league all-star game. That year, we were allowed to pick two players to represent our team in the game.
There were a lot of strong athletes on our team, and I was certainly one of them; my sister, my brother, and I all played soccer well, with passion, hard work,and talent. However, it never once occurred to me that my dad would choose me as an all-star for the game; he was not the type of guy to engage in nepotism, even at the level of a youth soccer game. He was harder on me, at times, and he was diligent about coaching our team in a fair and supportive way.
I remember asking my dad about who he would pick for the all-star game, and he sat down with me and explained that he really wanted to reward the players on our team who had worked especially hard and performed exceptionally well that season. I instantly understood that he wasn’t going to pick one of the three or four other “stars” on my team; he was going to reward players who had shown exceptional spirit and effort even if they weren’t the top goal scorers. We talked together, and he asked me to guess who his picks were; I thought and I talked through our season, and I guessed two players who had improved tremendously that season, moving from being average players to essential starters as the season progressed. I remember my dad beaming at me when he told me I’d guessed correctly – maybe because he was happy I understood his logic, or because he learned that we thought in similar ways.
That was my dad – he wanted to acknowledge when he saw young athletes working hard and improving. He knew that youth sports was about cultivating talent while also teaching important lessons about effort, disappointment, teamwork, and grace.
There is no pressure on Edgar to play soccer. Yes, he owns six soccer balls and only two of any other kind of ball, and yes, I’ll be thrilled if I get to coach his teams the way my dad coached mine. But really, truly, he doesn’t need to play, and I don’t need to coach. However, watching him run and kick today – watching him listen to his oh-so-patient coach talk to him about respect and fun and how to dribble – watching him run to me with a huge smile, telling me how much fun he had at “soccer school” –
Those were pretty good gifts.
Happy birthday to my dad. Keep the lessons coming, Coach.