Monday, April 21, 2014

In Defense of Mothers Who Succeed

Apparently, I'm a mom people love to hate.

That's according to some random Internet article, "10 Types of Moms That Suck." I found myself on the list as #6, The Always Chipper and Well-Dressed Mom (I flatter myself), which is followed by the author's explanation of her derision:

"I hate you. No really, I just... hate you. I'm 100% sure you sold your soul to Satan, or maybe Martha Stewart. Nope, don't even speak to me, I feel more disgusting and unworthy the closer you get."

Ouch. I shudder to think what the author would say about me if I also told her that my house is pretty much always tidy despite having three youngsters, I have a giant box of busy bags I put together for my son by hand when my twins were less than a month old, I cook dinner from scratch about five days a week, and I'm now 5 lbs. away from my pre-baby weight just three months after I gave birth to two babies, without hitting the gym once.

Why do I share this with you, my friends and anonymous readers, when to do so opens me up to much ridicule? The very point is that it DOES open me up to ridicule, and I want to go on the record to say that I'm sick of it.

To be clear, I don't care what people say about me personally. My skin is incredibly thick, I like myself, and a person's hate speaks more about them than the person at which they aim their vitriol.

And I also don't care what another mom does or doesn't do. If you find yourself wearing the same yoga pants three days in a row, without showering or changing, then so be it. If you use TV as a babysitter more often than you feel is good for your children, have at it. We all do what we have to do to survive motherhood. In this game, I'm quite certain no one is capable of their best even most of the time, and who am I to judge what someone must do in order to make it through this madness.

What I do care about is the constant bickering and trash-talking that make up the so-called Mommy Wars. It's bad enough to carry around the mommy guilt that comes with the territory, not to mention the near total sacrifice of self that happens when you become a mother. But it's even worse to be a mom in the kind of culture that puts self-loathing on a pedestal while tearing down anyone who dares to succeed and be proud of it.

It always bothers me when the kind of mommy blogs and articles getting all the attention are the ones that, as one author so eloquently described, manage to be both self-flagellating and smug. They speak of their inadequacies and failures as though this is as good as it's ever going to be, with the kind of woe-is-me bravado that elevates one to the status of Tragic Folk Hero. Don't get me wrong — in my dark motherhood moments I feel as much need to bemoan my situation as the next girl, and as women we feel consolation in the bearing of our souls when our burdens are compassionately received.

What I DO have a problem with is this: the idea that the dark moments and parental failures ARE as good as it's going to get, and anyone who dares rise above them is someone to be reviled.

Where is the camaraderie in that? Where is the support, the encouragement we so desperately seek in the midst of our failures? What's more, where is the incentive to ever dust ourselves off and try again when to fail is to be glorified and to succeed is to be vilified?

I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be. More importantly, I don't do the things I do to put myself on a pedestal, to show off or make other women feel inadequate. I do them because I want to create a happy family and a happy home, and this is how I set out to achieve it. Moreover, I feel a great source of satisfaction in a job well done, in setting the bar high and accomplishing what I set out to achieve. It's just the type of person I am, and always have been — and hopefully always will be.

I also don't feel the need to lower the bar to make my life more palatable to others. On the contrary: I would love, more than anything, to inspire someone else to try a little harder, in any way that's meaningful to them. I want this because I've been inspired by so many other moms who, like me, refuse to give into the insecurity and sadness that can so easily creep into the life of a stay-at-home mom.

When I was a first-time mom I was hit pretty hard with postpartum depression. There I sat, in my ratty old pajamas and in tears, desperately trying to soothe a baby who screamed for hours and hours on end. I looked at my new life and thought, "Is this really all there is?"

If I had only listened to the woe-is-me voices who said there is nothing more to aspire to, I would still be stuck in a fog of depression, dirty yoga pants and all. But luckily, I met some mothers who said no, this isn't the end of your life. You can do more, when you're ready, and you can have a full, happy life as a mom. So that's what I set off to achieve, in my own way and in my own time. And I am happy — yes, happy, with a crazy 3-year-old boy and sweet but demanding 3-month-old twin girls. And I'm proud of that.

Just for the record, I am always chipper because I have chosen to embrace my role as a mother, not bemoan the ways my life has changed. I am chipper because I have battled my way out of a depression that doctors told me would rule my life, and there is no way I'm going to let momentary frustration derail my progress and take me back to that deep, dark place. I am well-dressed because fashion is a hobby I've always had, and dressing with my own sense of style (even when I have nowhere to go) helps me remember the person I am, not just the mom I've become.

My house is always tidy because a clean home makes me feel at peace, and so I work my butt off to keep it that way. I put together busy bags for my son as a labor of love, because I wanted to ease the transition from being an only child to a big brother to twin sisters and give him something to look forward to when Mommy can't be with him. I cook dinner from scratch because it's healthier and cheaper, and it's also probably why I was able to keep my pregnancy weight within a healthy range as well as slim down so quickly after the birth of my children.

Still, this is only part of the story. Although my house is clutter-free, it's been weeks since I've cleaned a bathroom and even longer since I've vacuumed because I simply can't do it all. After the first week or two my son hasn't touched his busy bags and spends most of his days whining for more TV, and would probably sit on the couch all day every day if I let him. My home-cooked meals are incredibly simple and even a little boring, and if I had the money I'd be eating out a lot more than is good for me. And even though I'm almost to my pre-pregnancy weight, I am still about 20 lbs. heavier than is healthy for my height, not to mention the fact that I have the stretch marks and sagging skin that prove I carried children to term, and more than one at a time.

But that's the last you'll hear of my shortcomings — not because I don't want anyone to know the dirty truth, but because I choose to focus on my successes, not my failures.

And anyway, it really doesn't matter what I do or don't do. These are just the things I choose to do for me and my family, and everyone's priorities and strengths are different. Our particular talents should be what make us unique and help us take satisfaction in our motherhood, and our differences should allow us to stand as an example to other mothers who want to try things a little differently, not as a target for those who are less than happy with their own stressful situations.

So, bickering mommies, hate me if you must. Choose to stay at your low points and use your energy to tear down others instead of building the life you really want for yourself and your families. I choose to ignore my flaws and be proud of my strengths, and no amount of trash-talking is going to stop me from doing my best.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Whole Lot o' DIY

When I'm not being Mommy, I like to gussy up the house a bit with some DIY projects. That's mostly because DIY is all I have the budget for. In my wildest dreams my house would be far more colorful and polished than it currently is. But, not being one to mope for long, I forget about the fantasy and go about making my home as beautiful as I can with the limits that I have. And in the end, isn't it better to work with your hands than pay someone else to do it anyway?

I had always intended to make each of these projects a single post. But since children currently take up most of my time, I'm just gonna get them all out of the way here. So here it comes, a whole lotta DIY.

Front Door

My front door was less than welcoming.

Like everything else in this house (the carpet, the cabinetry, the walls) the door and the door jamb were brown. A dark, depressing, soul-sucking brown.

Last spring I had finally had enough, so I set to work painting it a bright, happy color. I'm sorry to say that for about six weeks, it looked like this.

That's what being newly pregnant with twins will do to ya: Put everything else in your life on hold. But once I got over most of the morning sickness, Aaron took the door down and we finished the job. He also replaced the brass door handle for brushed nickel, and added a fancy knocker.

The color was mixed wrong and I had to go back to the store to get it fixed. When I came home with the wrong color AGAIN, I said forget it and just went ahead with the shade, a bit deeper and bolder than I had initially chosen. Still, it does the job. Welcome!


A while ago my aunt and uncle were giving away some old furniture. I remembered this gorgeous dresser from when I was a child and jumped at the chance to take it home.

It has a stunning shape and beautiful details, but the poor thing had seen better days. Because the piece was not solid wood, sanding and re-staining it was sadly not an option.

But not to worry. I busted out the paint again and made it a happy mint green.

Here it is before the hardware, at home in the kitchen where it stood in for a sideboard or hutch and held table linens and the like.

And after the hardware, with a slightly different vignette adorning the top.

Now, it lives in my baby girls' room.

Pendant lights

While perusing a furniture store ages ago, I saw this fun and funky pendant light.

With a price tag north of $80, taking it home with me was out of the question. But the image stayed with me, so a few months — maybe even a year — later I came across these bird cages at a home decor store.

At just $10 apiece, I knew I could finally afford the pendant lights I had envisioned to hang above the kitchen island. I just had to convince my husband to get on board with the project, since I have no electrical knowledge and needed him to take things from there. Luckily, he's awesome and agreed.

We bought two pendant light kits from the hardware store at around $17 a piece, and a length of chain. The kitchen has dated track lighting already installed above the island, which I don't love.

But it actually turned out to be the easiest thing for this project, because the pendant light kits simply snap into the track.

Here's how we assembled the light: Aaron cut the top part off the cage to make room for the lights. He spray painted the cord and the chain black to match the cage, then threaded the cord through the chain. He attached the pendant to the top of the cage, then we added Edison bulbs. He plugged the light into the track, and voila!


It almost makes me forget about the golden oak cabinets that one day I WILL paint white. One day...

Rustic Mirror

For the longest time I had this mirror, long and plain and boring. Probably a relic from my dorm days. I don't have a before photo, but it looked a little something like this, minus the frame.

While watching HGTV one day I saw a rustic mirror with a wooden frame and heavy hardware, and I was inspired. But credit where it's due: My husband is entirely to thank for this project. I did nothing but buy the hardware and tell him what I wanted the mirror to look like. He did the rest...

Spray painting the carriage bolts...

And the flat L-brackets.

He distressed and stained the wood for the frame, cut it to size, and attached it to the mirror using more flat brackets.

Behold, the finished product:

(Pardon my poor camera work, but how do you photograph a mirror decently?)

 Once again, Aaron created a finished product that perfectly matches my vision. What a gem.

Master Bedding

Remember the stunning pallet wall my husband installed a few years ago?

I absolutely love it, but the bedding was just not doing it any justice. I adore the faux fur bedspread, but with the new wall it just added to the sea of brown that covers my house. I tried to mix things up with various pillows, but I just couldn't figure out how to get away from that awful brown.

At least Evan liked the bed. 

(Look how little he is! And I never thought I'd miss that blasted binky on his cute little face.)

I even bought some ikat hexagon fabric I loved, which matched the wall ... just a little too well. The brown was too much.

And then I found this. I'm no camo-loving hunter by any means, but this stag print spoke to me. It struck me as sort of funny, though I'm not sure why. So I took a total departure from the brown.

I enlisted the help of my talented grandmother, who sewed some new pillow shams to go with the green bedspread I bought for a steal.

And now I LOVE my master bed!!

(Psst, notice the bench? It's the sister to the mint green dresser, only in its original state. We got the best of both worlds.)

That's it for today's DIY roundup, which was three years in the making. There's only one more before-and-after to share: the twins' nursery. It's a big one, so I'll save that for another day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

All I Need to Be

Most days, I just don't want to be a mother.

It's not all the time, not all day long. But truthfully, hardly a day goes by that I don't at least once, at least briefly, wish I were anywhere but here.

It's hard to put my finger on why, exactly, though a strong case could be made for the screaming, stomping, toy-throwing tantrums my 3-year-old frequently engages in. It's not the lonely, boring, isolated life as a stay-at-home mom, for I've always done quite well on my own — maybe even better than when I'm surrounded by others. It's not even the monotony of the same old jammie changing, dishwasher loading, bum wiping, sandwich making, toy cleaning, errand running, dinner cooking, never-ending daily routine that is motherhood.

It might be that the payoffs seem few and far between. It might be the jealousy I feel when my son is pure sunshine, an absolute joy and delight, for everyone but me. It might be the frustration that no matter how hard I try or what I do, ultimately my children will grow up to be who they will be, for better or worse, making my constant efforts feel like a waste of time.

But I think that most likely, it's the inexpressible weight of being needed, truly needed, every minute of every day. While my twins have been infinitely easier than I imagined, having two babies is still so very much work. Now, there are three human beings who depend on me for survival. Unless fate smiles upon us and I manage to get them all napping at the exact same time, there is not a moment in the day that I am not called upon to do something for someone, with some tasks more crucial and urgent than others. Some moms may handle this better than I, but I'm not there yet. To say it's exhausting is an understatement. It is utterly draining. Everything I am and have are given away, every single day, without fail.

And yet...

Something happens when I look into my children's eyes. Something magical.

It's so potent but so hard to describe. There's an energy, a powerful, life-affirming force that flows from my children in their peaceful, quiet moments. And when I look in their eyes, they are sending it directly into me.

When I hold my little ones and cuddle them close, they look at me and say without words, "You are everything." In them I can see such infinite love it is almost too much to take in. This love tells me that just being there, in that moment and in their lives, I am all I need to be. At the same time, it also tells me of the limitless potential I have and can yet grow to attain as their mother. It is as though God is in their eyes speaking to me, saying, "You are where I want you to be. Stay here, be present, and you will become all you ever wanted to be and more."

I wish I knew how to make that feeling last. Perhaps the answer is to cuddle them more and do dishes less. Or maybe I just need to truly believe what I see and hear when we are in that moment, to trust that this love is always there even when toys are flying and screams are plentiful — that my love is there, and that it is enough.

"To love another person is to see the face of God."