All You Need Is Lovey

Orange ShirtA story of a boy, a shirt, and a mom on a mission.

What I’ve found most absurd about motherhood are the things I will do to keep my children happy.

“We can’t find orange shirt.” These five simple words sent me into a panic when I received this text message from my son’s daycare.

I texted back: “I’m on it, bringing back up.” I dashed out of work, as quickly as one can dash eight months pregnant, into the volcanic July heat. Speeding towards my sister’s house halfway to Denver, I looked at the clock. I had 45 minutes. Only 45 minutes until that special time of day, that mothers all over the world both treasure and dread. Naptime. Without orange shirt, there would be no napping.

“Orange Shirt” is my three-year-old son’s lovey. A lovey, (binkie, wubbie, num num) is a transitional object, transitioning the child from their mother’s love to self soothing skills. Our ancient monkey reflexes make us fall asleep easier if we hold onto something (i.e. a mother, Iphone, tree branch, or an orange shirt.)

My nephew’s lovey was known as ‘stinky ducky’ because he sucked on it until it reeked like bleach, mold, and cat pee put together. I’m still stunned that he held it so close to his face without vomiting. After my husband met stinky ducky, he was over loveys. He hadn’t used a lovey, and he determined our children (not even born yet) would not need loveys. I failed to tell him about my own history with loveys–my good dream pillow that I loved from age three–now a shred in a box in my mother’s garage, and my soft down pillow from college, called “softest softest” that is still in our bed today.

There is no stopping those who want a lovey. At four months old, my son attached himself to my orange maternity tank top that said “expecting baby” on it. And it was lovey at first sight. He called it “dootch” when he couldn’t say shirt, and now it was called ” Orange Shirt.”

When he was two, we cut it in half. The “expecting baby” half was “home orange shirt” and the other half was “traveling orange shirt.” When traveling orange shirt had been left at my sister’s the night before, home orange shirt, in a rare moment, left the house, and went to daycare with my son, where they had (carelessly I might add) lost it. We had gone from two orange shirts to none in less than 24 hours. A missed nap would not be good, but if we didn’t have an orange shirt by nightfall, I shuddered to think what would happen.

I arrived at my sisters at thirty minutes before naptime. She said she had left orange shirt in the barbeque grill outside her house, before her early morning plane flight. . I confidently lifted the lid, and saw only black wire racks and old coals. I felt like I was in a reality show, designed to make pregnant women freak out like hyenas on camera.

I checked every window and door that a pregnant woman could safely reach. I looked under every rock, plant, rug, welcome mat, all the likely places for a hide-a-key. Even though I knew they were on a plane, I called my sister and mom. Don’t you know this is an emergency? I screamed to their cheerful outgoing messages.

Luckily, there was still Bob. My stepdad Bob was the one you call when your computer isn’t working, or you’re locked out of your house, or your hemorrhoids have gotten so bad that you can no longer drive (which was me a month after this story). I called Bob’s home and cell, but he had forwarded his two phones to each other, rendering them both useless. I looked again for hidden cameras.

Naptime was approaching faster than a whore on roller skates.

I called my sister’s neighbor, Kathryn. I called her eight times and finally got through. I tried not to cry, but you know when you’ve been trying to call everyone else in the world and they are all abandoning you like your dad did when you were three, and every guy you dated till you met your husband, and you finally reach someone who is alive and has an ear, and you’re eight months pregnant and it’s 108 degrees outside and you’re in a desperate hunt for a half an orange tank top that will probably save your child’s life?

I cried. A lot. To this day this woman probably thinks I’m a total lunatic. Calmly, she talked me through how to find the key to my sister’s house. Inside, in a plastic baggie next to the door, forgotten in a rush and looking like trash waiting to be taken outside, was the slightly less-preferred version of my son’s lovey. I grabbed it and got back in the car.

I drove to my son’s school, and burst through the gate like Mercury. My son had skipped nap entirely, but strangely seemed fine, playing outside in the sandbox, confused to see his mommy’s red tear streaked face. Then his teacher said, “I think we know where the other one is.”

She explained the morning’s adventures, while my mind raced. How could they let him take Orange shirt to a park? Would you take the Mona Lisa to a day at the beach? I suppressed my rage and disbelief through a pursed-lip grimace. I thought of reporting them to social services, but I couldn’t waste the time. Orange shirt was out there… somewhere.

Now I really was on reality TV. I waddled out of the gate, and heaved my sweaty mass of pregnant self into the car.

I pulled up to the nearby park, as a homeless man was walking away with a small red wagon full of stuff. For one crazed moment, I imagined he had definitely stolen my son’s lovey. Why wouldn’t he? It’s very soft.

Trying to remain calm, I rolled down the window and said, “Excuse me?” I wasn’t going to be this close, and fail. “Excuse me, sir. Did you happen to see half of an orange tank top?” I was trying to be cool, but my red eyes, and shaky voice betrayed me. He stared at me blankly for a moment, and then said “yeah, I think it’s in the gazebo.”

Cue chariots of fire theme music. I ran across the park, my big belly bouncing. Looking like an old pair of underwear, abandoned on the cement, was Orange Shirt. I held it to my face, inhaling that sweet stinky-lovey smell–familiar and warm.

I felt for a moment, what my son must feel when he holds Orange Shirt. Like it was all going to be okay. Like this crazy shred of fabric, worn by me with my son in my belly, and loved by him every night, was a soft fabric umbilical cord of love between us, connected once again, never to be broken.

Someday I’m sure he will lose something I cannot retrieve for him, his innocence, his first heartbreak. But that crazy July day, I had caught his fall. I saved his Lovey, that symbol of my love, to take with him out into the world. The world might eventually fail him, but not his mother.

The Top Ten Ways Becoming A Mom has Changed My Life

BEFORE:  trouble1

AFTER:  davidschlatterphotography-4464

Here they are, the top ten ways becoming a mom has changed my life:

1.  My boobs are longer.

I’m embarrassed that it’s first on the list, but this one is the most striking. Before my children came along, I had tiny little barely-A-cup gymnast breasts. After my first, the boob fairy granted me a Double D Deluxe set which shocked everyone, including myself. But the boob fairy’s gifts are not forever.  As I now come to the end of nursing my second, we are settling in at a soft and gently elongated B cup. Kind of like water balloons that have been filled and emptied a hundred times.

2.  My love is stronger.

The greatest surprise for me has been the pure sweet love that has come through my heart. Before my kids, if a bear had attacked someone I loved, I would have gone to get help, or maybe used bear spray. Now, if a bear attacked one of my children, I would be sitting over a dead bear with blood on my hands before I actually realized what happened. This love is a whole new level. It’s physical, visceral, and undeniable. And truly unconditional.

3.  There are a lot less pictures of my cats.

catsOkay, this one is a little sad. It’s not just the pictures (which there used to be MANY- cute xmas cards with Sandy and Booda, pictures of Sandy lounging around, pictures of Booda looking neurotic for no reason), it’s the rank. My cats have fallen so far down the totem pole, they’re not even on it anymore. These feral beasts that still call our house their home used to be the vessel of all my displaced maternal love. Now they make me crazy. They are on Prozac (literally) which is helpful. But at least once a week my husband will say “hey, did you know so-and-so is looking for a cat?”

 

4.  My house is messier.

Okay, this one might not actually be true. My house used to be a wreck in a certain, creative, costumes all over the place, dishes in the sink, ‘I’ve-watched-an-entire-season-of-Alias-this-weekend-because-I- can’ kind of way. Now my house is a tornado of toys, legos, sponge bob, stuffies, train tracks, diapers, socks (I think my son goes through 4 pairs of socks a day) and other people’s underwear. I think the main difference is before when my house was a wreck, I’d usually avoid having anyone over until I got it mostly cleaned up. If I did that now, I’d have no friends. I’m amazed at my tolerance for mess while nannies, friends, and family members come over and join blissfully in my chaos.

5.  I have a whole new concept of time.

When I think back on my ‘pre-baby’ life, I can’t believe I ever thought I was busy.  What was I so busy with?  Now, the idea of wasted time (a movie that I don’t like, or a bad massage) is an abomination.   I can write a blog post in 20 minutes or less, shower in two minutes, and eat a full meal in under 5 minutes (probably not the best thing for my digestion, but necessary sometimes). A wise person said, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person.’ Or just give it to a mom.

6.  I get to play with LEGOS!  (again)

IMG_1737This one might be my favorite. My son calls me a ‘master builder’ as we work for hours on a space station that covers six different moon plates (won by me in an intense Ebay showdown-probably with another mom).  It has seven spaceships, sleeping areas, a rocket launching pad, a mobile space lab, and a hanging planet earth hanging from the curtain rod near the lego table. Sometimes I think… “this is why I became a mom.” To do the things that brought me so much joy as a kid and call it “parenting.”

 

 

 

7.  I love my husband way more.

There is something about seeing a tiny human being with a mix of facial features matching myself and a man I love that is beyond words. When my almost two year old daughter wrinkles her eyebrows in that same earnest way that my husband does. Or when I tossle the curls of my five year old son, and smell his sweet little boy smell of sunshine, sleepiness and peanut butter and think of a picture of my husband at the same age, my heart just opens. Not to mention that he’s seen me inside and out, both physically and emotionally over the last five years. I’m pretty sure no one knows me or loves me like he does.

8.  I have a lot more anger. And I express it.

Even as I love more, I also get a whole lot more pissed. I’ve screamed “HONEEY!!!” across the house in a way that was not the least bit tender or endearing. And towards my beloved children, I’ve heard such phrases leave my mouth as “I’m going to swat your behind!” Or “Do you want me to call your father!” Or when I have the wherewithal “mommy needs a time out.” I’ve hit the wall- more than ever before, and at least once physically. I’ve felt the deep soul rage that can only come from that special blend of sleep deprivation, constant body molestation and total lack of self care for months on end.

9.  I’m less self- centered and more present.

So even though I’m less in love with my cats, I’m more in love with and love taking care of a lot of other people. I delight in cooking a beautiful meal for others (something that used to offend my feminist hide). I feel a sense of calm strength staying up all night with a sick kiddo on my chest. And I love making my son laugh in the bathtub more than making an entire audience laugh at Improv Olympic in Los Angeles.

10.  I love who I am becoming every day.

I think most moms would agree with me when I say I’ve had two different lives. One from the day I was born until May 12, 2009 at 2:02am, and one from that moment on.  When I felt my son’s warm slippery body on my chest, after working for days to get him out, and my heart sang as I looked into his perfect, wet, open eyes, I knew life would never be the same.   Since that day, I’ve let go of perfectionism, and welcomed the philosophy of “good ’nuff.”  I’ve let go of thinking I can do it all myself, and opened up to my place in the grand village of life.  I’ve stopped trying to ‘look like I have it all together’ and learned how to live more fully in my skin.  And I have my children to thank for this.  Even if I would like to get a little more sleep.

Traveling with Babies and Children, or: Katie’s Ridiculously OCD Packing List

Okay, so by request, I am posting my overly obsessive compulsive packing list.  After a few near disasters (forgetting the binky at a friend’s wedding with our 10 week old, forgetting the car seat on a plane trip, forgetting to pack underwear for myself)  I created this list.  Please modify it as you see fit for your trips.  And please don’t judge my control-freak nature.

Here are a few of our favorite travel tips as well:

1.  When boarding an airplane, have your partner get on first, wipe down the area with clorox wipes, every inch.  Remember, your child will touch everything and then put fingers in their mouths.

2. Offer to buy the people next to you a drink on the airplane.  They may not take you up on it, but they will appreciate the gesture

3.  Prepare your children for whatever style of travel you will be doing.  If they are older tell them stories about the travel leading up to the day.

4. for road-trips, use rest ares.  Let your little ones run around.  Add enough time that you’re not in a rush.   For every four hours of expected drive time, add at least an hour per child over one years old for random ‘stuff’  and two hours per baby.

5.  Remember the boy scouts motto:  BE PREPARED.  And for parents, this is no joke.

6.  Remember also, there are no vacations, only Trips.  Change your expectation from relaxation to adventure.  You are taking this difficult care giving routine on the road.  It may not be easy, and there will be breakdowns.

7.  Enjoy the ride…

KATE’S GRAND PACKING LIST

Before leaving the house:
Empty trash
Turn off wipe warmer
Empty diaper pail
Fill kitty dish and water fountain

Travel Time:

In the Car:

Mobile Mobile:  An amazing contraption that attaches to anything, and sings a super annoying song while bugs move around in a circle. Saved us on a road trip through Montana
Diaper bag
ergo carrier
blanket
Your child’s backpack (with lovey inside, stocked with age appropriate toys)
iPhone apps
toys
lunch and snacks that are not a complete mess (avoid the freeze dried raspberries in a bag. disaster)
books
books on tape
older kiddoes love a DVD player

For Airplane travel:

Clorox Wipes

many of the above items from the road trip list for entertainment (only compact versions), PLUS:
CAR SEAT (hopefully your less new one, since it may get beat up)
stroller to check (snap and go works great for reclining car seat style)
umbreller stroller for older kiddoes- ideally that folds down easily, with a reclining seat for mobile napping
new never before seen toys for each hour of plane ride
something to suck on for take-off and landing, especially if not nursing anymore

Diapering:

Diapers
wet bag
Cloth diapers
extra wipes

In Diaper bag:
Little squares (3):  these are little waterproof cloth squares that help with public restroom dirtiness.
Portable changing pad and Purell
Diaper cream
sunscreen
Wipes in case
spare outfit

If Potting Training:
training pants
three potties
Underwear
treats for potty

Nursing/eating
 
If nursing exclusively:
“Hooter hider”
Burp cloths (3)
lily pads
Mastitis remedy (wishgarden happy ducts)
hand or electic pump
bottles, nipples and caps

If begun solids, in the beginning:
spoon
food grinder
bibs (2)

If eating everything we’re eating:
Bibs (3)

Gear:

For sleeping:
Noise machine
nightlight
monitor (cheapie from target)
extra 9 volt battery for monitor
blankets
sheet for pack and play
Pack N Play
dark blanket and push pins for windows to make darker

For hiking:
Hiking backpack or ergo
Rain gear for all

For Bathing:
Too hot turtle- temperature monitor
rubber duck
inflatable bath
bubble bath/shampoo

For baby-proofing/house:
gate for stairs
stool

Clothing

Clothing for kiddoes:
4 sleep outfits (2 feetie, 2 non-feetie)
4 pairs shorts
5 t-shirts
1 pair jeans
1 pair sweats
Sweatshirt
one party outfit
Sunhat
swimsuit
swim diapers
Warm hats
Hoodie
Shoes (running shoes)
Boots (rubber boots)
Sandals (keanes or crocs-wear in the car to slip on and off)
slippers
warm jacket
windbreaker
rain pants

Clothes for you:
3 Nursing bras
5 pairs Underwear
Socks:  2 warm, 3 light
3 cute tops
Sleepy outfits:  3 bottoms, 4 t shirts
Party outfit (if going to a party)
jeans
cargo pants
2 pairs shorts
Bathing suit
Sunhat
sunglasses (in purse)
Hoodie
hiking shirt
Running shoes (blue)
Flip flops
sandals
pillow for me

For entertainment

Books for me:  parenting and pleasure reading
Journal
Baby book to add milestones
iPhone and charger
Camera and charger
board games (whonoo, balderdash, apples to apples)

Toiletries

For Me:
hankies(3)
Face lotion
Cleanser
Shampoo
conditioner
Pads and tampons (if your cycle is back)
Deodorant
Hair oil
Hair brush
Barrette
Ponytail holders
Sunscreen
Lotion
Massage cream
Baby oil
Nail file
Clippers

For kiddoes:
hair brush
Thermometer
First aid kit
bandaids
Colic ease and/or Mylicon Drops
Motrin and/or teething tabs
Sting stop
Antimicrobial salve
Kiddo sunscreen
Kiddo bug spray
Aloe vera gel

Please feel free to add, comment and let me know if I’ve forgotten anything (I’m sure I have!)  I love to learn!

Danger

The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone of safety back together again. We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones safety, which are always falling apart.”  -Pema Chodron

Through my work, and my community, I am constantly in the conversation of motherhood.  And that conversation usually is:  Who is doing what to better the life and well-being of their child?  What book have you read?  What is your kid doing faster than anyone else?  Slower?  What are you, as a mother, doing wrong? right?   Recently, I noticed a theme.

Danger.

What is a healthy amount of danger?  Our own childhoods would be considered ridiculously dangerous now.  Sleeping on our stomachs as infants, riding in the back of pick-ups, wearing lap belts in the back seat, if at all.  We had teeter-totters, gravel filled playgrounds and death-defying, butt-burning, sheer metal slides.  It’s wonder we all survived. So how do we let our children grow and play, and keep them safe at the same time?  What kind of mother do you want to be?

Let me compare two moms (names changed of course):

Mom number one we’ll call Jo:  this mom is fun. Her house is full of toys, laughter, swings, home made slides, forts, rope swings and enough plastic light up toys to make a Waldorf mother faint.  She lets her kids play rough, she lets them get the chicken pox, she bikes them all over town in a Chariot.   At least one member of her family (often her), has a visible injury of some kind.  She is a tough, earthy, fun mama.

Jo and I were talking about choosing a day care for her daughter, and she described a place in her neighborhood.  An older couple run a play group in their back yard.  The woman there told Jo “This place is not for everyone, kids fall off bikes, get sun burns, we all pile into a big van… ‘ as Jo was speaking, I could hear myself saying, “whoa, I would never take my son there.” And although I should know Jo by now, I was still delighted and surprised to hear her say, “I just told the woman,  sign me up!”

Later in a conversation with a student, we’ll call this mom Kimmie, I felt much more kinship.  Kimmie was talking about how she doesn’t let her husband use the cell phone while her two year old daughter plays in a kiddie pool.  And the nanny isn’t allowed to have the girl in the  kiddie pool at all.  Kiddie pool use is mostly with Kimmie present, and on the rare occasion with Daddy. Hallelujah. These are my people.

But then I thought, where would my son rather be?  Falling off a bike in a fun back yard full of kids, or playing in two inches of water with me one foot away, staring nervously at him?  There is clearly no right or wrong here.  Just as my husband will inevitably play rougher with our son than I do (to my son’s delight!), there are many ways to parent.  But how do we remain diligent with our children while still letting them have a childhood?

Have we baby-proofed the fun out of their lives?

When I was pregnant, I pictured the sweet little baby girl I would give birth to.  I saw us taking trips to the library together, and coming home to cuddle on a safety-tested hammock, reading together in the dappled sunlight of an overhanging tree.  We would have tea parties, and play with stuffed animals, and bake muffins.  Instead, I am shocked to find myself the lucky mother of a highly physical, energetic, exploratory BOY.  When my husband wants to really get me, he’ll tell me stories of his childhood exploits using phrases like ”tree-climbing, rock-climbing, building-climbing’ and my favorite: ‘bicycle polo.’  The words immediately tie my stomach in a knot.  These are not things that little girls do!  We do arm tickles, back scratches, and maybe the occasional seance at a sleepover.   Not boys.  Boys have a ton of ideas, most of them terrible.

Watching my son play is a constant mixture of delight and terror.   My anxious mind is a projector of could-be horrors, all the things that could happen if. Other times, I am able to let go and really enjoy his play, his exploration, testing of his boundaries.  If he climbs to the top of a slide, one part of me fills with pride at his act of bravery, while another wants to run up there and slide down with him, just in case.  And often, I do.  Yes, I’m that mom, sliding down any new slide with him at least once, or maybe ten times before I let him do it on his own.  I don’t want to spend his childhood with an ulcer and a frown, only to see him graduate from high-school in the blink of an eye.

Play and Freedom are essential to our kids.

There is research suggesting now that playing in the dirt actually helps children heal, builds their immune systems, and prevents allergies.  And here we are, Purell in one hand, baby wipe in the other, trying to sanitize their very existence.  Google ‘the Value of Play’ and you will be showered with articles about the importance of play, and Time last year featured an article on Helicopter Parenting and the ways in which we are stifling our children’s experience of the world.

So how do we learn to love our kids, and let them be, without panicking about their well-being every minute?

There is nothing safe about having a child.  To have a child is to come face to face with the tenuousness, and vulnerability of everyday life.  The minute we see two pink lines on a stick, we have signed a contract to risk complete annihilation.  The love we have for our children is immense, visceral, and heartbreaking.  Some choose to try to manage this love by reducing the risk of losing the object of the love.  There is no way.  Every mother wishes they could sign a contract with God, saying simply “Take me first.” But here we are, the imperfect world, watching our preciously perfect children step out into it, and feeling the lack of control.  There is no other path, no workshop, no meditation practice, that can help us evolve, and break down our anxiety like having a child.  I watch my son, with awe, with hope, with fear, and with the greatest love I have ever felt.  I see his little pinkish scar on his face from an incident with a dog leash (my fault, of course).   In that scar I see the lack of control, but more than that, I see that he can heal.  That his childhood may not, no will not, be without some bumps and bruises, no matter how good of a mother I can be.  But ultimately, we will both be okay.  We will live this life, day by day, and play together, for as long as we are so blessed to do so.  And hopefully, I can actually enjoy him, more and more, learning to let my mind be in that place of uncertainty.

And I will look to the other mamas, for compassion, and for inspiration.  I can see myself, as I watch Kimmie carefully play near her daughter.  And I will go to Jo’s house, delight in her wild kingdom, as a tourist enjoys a trip to Florida.  I may never be her.  But I can celebrate the fun she’s having, and the fun my son has at her house.  Oh wait… He’s climbing up the slide… I gotta go!