Spider Man in an Anna costume.

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My daughter Annie turned 5 in August. Since people often ask what your child is into before buying a birthday gift I made sure to ask Annie what she likes. She said she likes:

- unicorns

- Spider Man

- rainbows

- cars

- Legos

So the field of gift giving was pretty wide open. And our friends and family obliged, giving her everything from an Anna costume from Frozen, to a Spider Man mask, a headband with a unicorn on it, a Lego set or two and more. The gifts ran the gamut from what is traditionally “boy” to what is traditionally “girl” and she loved it all. Somewhere I have a picture of her in her Anna costume wearing the Spider Man mask and holding up a box of Legos. I’d show it to you, but it’s lost in the cloud.

As summer turned into fall I kept thinking about Annie’s birthday, and how it was so much better than birthdays past, where all the gifts were definitely girly, even verging on overdone. I was thinking that the era of feather boas and plastic high heels might be over. If that’s your daughter’s thing, then that’s great. I’m not judging, but with the exception of the 70s, when every kid I knew of every age and every gender wanted Star Wars action figures, I think it’s been a long run of uber girliness.

Growing up, I loved Star Wars. And Legos. And science fiction movies, and digging for worms and catching toads. I also loved my Barbie doll that got a tan when you lay her in the sun (how??) and my dollhouse. But my first two daughters seem to have been little girls in what I think of as Princess Time. As in, the only thing worth thinking about or playing with or dressing up as was a Princess. But Annie is different, and maybe that just comes down to personality and it’s all my imagination.

But here is what happened when school started. She took her Batman lunch box to school – the same one from last year that she was very excited to get out of the cupboard and carry again. About two weeks into school I was packing lunch in the morning and she said, “I don’t want to take that lunchbox! That’s a BOY lunchbox!”

Okay.

A few days after that she wore her favorite Spider Man shirt to school. I threw it in the laundry and about a week later pulled it out one evening to see if she wanted to wear it to school the next day.

“No, I am not wearing that. The boys said it is a BOY shirt!”

I know, I know. It’s only two incidents and she is in kindergarten and probably will continue to like Spider Man for years to come. But it bothers me.

It bothers me that kindergarten-age kids are telling her what is a “boy” thing and what is a “girl” thing. It bothers me that she listens. It bothers me that I can’t tell if she even really cares or not. Maybe she is just in a phase where she’s exploring different things, like pink socks and blinding me in the early-morning darkness of the car with a rainbow sparkle light-up lunch box. Perhaps one day I’ll turn around and she’ll be wearing her Spider Man shirt five days in a row without giving a thought to what the boy at her table has to say about it.

What I’m hoping for is that even if clothes, or shoes, or cars, or fashion accessories are labeled as “boy” or “girl,” my girls will be confident enough to not give a crap. I hope that I will remember to be careful myself about labeling things so that they have an idea something is or is not for them just because they are a girl. I won’t pretend that our society will become gender neutral, because it won’t. So instead of aiming for gender neutrality, I’m aiming for confidence in choices. Like this choice of a Brandon Marshall Bears shirt and pink butterfly face paint:

Bears rule, butterflies too!

Bears rule, butterflies too!

Because that’s my girl.

Writing update: I am re-reading one of my all-time favorite books about writing, Stephen King’s On Writing.

I love Stephen King, so even if he wrote a 2,000 page book about picking up dog poop I’d probably give it a go. But this is way better than that. If you’re a writer, a reader or just curious about how that dude’s mind works this is an excellent read.

I want to be a writer.

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When I was in second grade I wrote a story called “Sheets and Pillows.” It was about a set of bed linens that were sold at a garage sale and had to meet all the bedroom furniture in their new home. My mom still has the original copy and I have to say that I’m a little impressed with the imagination of my seven-year-old self. I can also pinpoint the writing of that story as the moment when I decided I want to be writer when I grew up.

Since then I’ve worked in retail, been a psychology major in college when I got the idea that writer’s don’t make any money, and then come back to writing to work as a newspaper reporter/editor, public relations assistant, advertising writer, associate creative director, video producer, and then back to being a writer at my own advertising agency. All in all a pretty good deal. Expect for the part where owning your own agency turns into managing your own agency. Which is not that fun, at least if you’re a writer. Plus the agency business sucks now. So I opened a retail store.

I’m 20 years into my professional career and now I find myself at a crossroads, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I love my store. I love talking to the people who come in. I love choosing the merchandise and the puzzle of figuring out what’s moving and what’s not, and how to either make it move or replace it with something else. I love using my marketing powers for good, to promote my own business.

But I still want to be a writer. And I think I’m pretty good at it.

So I’ve been hard at work trying to launch a freelance writing career. This can easily be perceived as spending lots of time on my computer in yoga pants, but in actuality it’s hard to start from scratch. I feel like that whole advertising writer thing never happened; as though, no matter how well I can write a brochure about electronic residential locksets, no one will ever give me the chance to write a feature article for a magazine or a little column for the local newspaper. I’m sure that’s not true. I want to believe that if you are are actually a good writer, you will find a place that will – eventually – publish your work. In fact, I’m sure this is true because I’ve seen plenty of published work that was written by people who were not very good writers.

Here’s another exciting tidbit: I finally have what I think is a great mystery idea.

All writers want to write a book. I have friends who have done it and I hate them. When you are working in advertising and also raising a family, your creativity – and energy – is pretty much tapped out by the time you have a chance to work on your own stuff. But now I find that my schedule at the store and my significantly reduced advertising workload has freed up my brain in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. So I’m going to start working on this book, but mainly with the goal of actually finishing it. I feel like it will probably not be that great, but I need to do the hard labor of getting it done. The trick is to just keep writing.

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

A horrible letter from future Heather.

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Dear Heather,

Happy 16th birthday! Only 30 days until you get your license. Don’t worry – mom will let you drive her convertible. And you already know you’re getting your own car because there is nothing mom would like more than having someone else pick your sister up from gymnastics. So you’re all set on the car situation. Enjoy the 87 cents per gallon gas while you can.

Here are a couple other things you should know: 1) your zits may seem magnified to you, but 99 percent of the time nobody else is really noticing them. 2) You should skip that whole episode where you major in psychology your first year of college. You’re a writer. Just BE a writer and then you can skip that god awful stats class.

The real reason I’m writing is to tell you all about your 41st birthday because you are not going to believe what you think is fun in the future. I know that it’s really hard to imagine even being 41. Here’s the deal – you have some wrinkles, a weird brown spot on your cheek and much better hair (although there are some greys in there, which sucks). You can also buy any shoes you want at any time. So all in all it’s a fair trade.

The good news on your 41st birthday is that your kids are old enough to go downstairs and watch TV for a while so you can sleep in. And by sleep in I mean get up at 7:45 and take a shower with no one else in the bathroom. This is a fantastical thing on a Saturday morning. You’ve got a busy day ahead because you and your husband are loading up the kids and going to pick up the second load of furniture you bought from an estate sale on Friday. You’ve just invested in your first vacation rental property and your husband, who reads CraigsList like you read Harry Potter, has found the mother of all estate sales with exactly the kind of furniture you would want to buy. What is CraigsList you ask? Who is this Harry Potter? You’ll have to find that out on your own.

Since you have to take two cars to the estate sale anyway you’re going to divide and conquer. You’ll get the Panera breakfast sandwiches and your husband will get the Starbucks and you’ll meet at the estate sale. You will consider this an outstanding start to the day. You’re going to spend a couple hours loading up furniture into your horse trailer (hold your questions please) and then it will be time for you to head over to your middle daughter’s roller skating party. Even though you are using your birthday to celebrate an 8 year old’s birthday, you are actually kind of excited about it because you will love roller skating. You’re not as good at it anymore, but you still like it. This statement also now applies to water skiing and staying up past 10 pm.

The roller rink is a total throwback to your 6th grade skating party days and you notice that all the parents seem to be having just a tad more fun than the kids, who don’t actually know how to roller skate. As much as you’d like to start cruising the rink to the dulcet tones of the J. Geils Band, you will spend most of your time skating with your 4 year old daughter, who will hold your fingers so tightly that they will turn purple. In the middle of the skating party you will have to leave to drive your oldest daughter to a dance workshop. Then you’ll head back to the skating party for a piece of pizza and roller skating limbo, which you will not even attempt.

When the skating party is over you will have about an hour to kill before you have to go back to the dance studio to see the dances the girls have learned in this weekend’s workshop. So you and two out of three of your daughters (yes, you will have three children and they will all be girls) go home to watch TV and have a snack. You will have to set a timer because once you sit down you will fall asleep and if you miss the sneak peak at dance you will be dead. Ooops! Sleepy time’s up! Back in the car, over to the dance studio. You will watch your daughter – who looks exactly like you, by the way – perform a beautiful dance that you can’t believe she learned in what amounts to about six hours. Her grown upness will bring tears to your eyes and you will not mind for one minute the endless trips back and forth to the studio, the long competitions or the constant dancing in the living room because it is her passion, and if it’s her passion then it’s your passion. (Only not in that weird, living-vicariously-through-your-children way. More in the you’re-just-so-proud-and want-to support-her kind of way.)

After just 15 minutes of sitting down at the dance studio you will, again, be back in the car, heading over to your new vacation rental to unload the rest of the furniture. While the girls play dance school in the empty dining room, you and your husband will schlep bed frames, mattresses, dressers, mirrors and lamp shades into the house. It really doesn’t take that long, and all those days mom woke you up to help rearrange the living room will pay off because you are freakishly strong for your size.

By the time the trailer is unloaded you will be tired and starving, and since it’s your birthday and you get to pick dinner you will decide to head to Hacienda. Yep, that Hacienda. Same one you and your friends used to order carryout bags of chips and salsa from. (And here’s another note from your 41-year-old self: at 16 you are not eating those chips and salsa. I don’t know why. You should start. Yes, that salsa is, in reality, not even actually salsa. But for some reason it is strangely addicting and you’re wasting a lot of years not enjoying the Hacienda chips and salsa.) When your family gets the waitstaff to sing their dumb birthday song to you and put a sombrero on your head for dessert, you won’t even mind because part of the fun is looking like a dork.

Back at home, pajamas on, the whole family will flop down to watch TV and you will fall into a near-coma state by 9:45 pm.

When you wake up from the couch to actually go get into bed you will feel that this has, strangely, been one of the most fun birthdays you can remember.

Your friend and self,

Future Heather

P.S. This letter is not a joke.

P.P.S. Don’t be afraid, you don’t become this lame overnight.

Lice, lice baby…Part 2

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Part two of my lice-ridden tale of woe is much less lengthy. I have done more loads of laundry than I care to consider, but very few of them have included the clothes we need to wear. Instead I am constantly washing towels, pillow covers, blankets, stuffed animals and jackets, and tossing backpacks in the dryer to try to cook any remaining nits out of them.

Three times Annie has been dismissed from her afternoon childcare because of a stray nit or four still on her head. I’m grateful for their zero-tolerance policy, but at the same time I’d like an afternoon in which I can actually stay at work. Of all my children, Annie is the closest to mutiny. Every time I come near her with a comb she ducks and runs, and I don’t blame her. I’ve also had lots of conversations with people about lice, treating lice, how long they live and how much it all sucks. Every piece of paper that has come home from school and/or childcare has slightly different information. Based on this ever-changing parade of information I decided to operate on these, my personal principles of lice:

1. Some things are not worth cleaning. Throw them away. This includes hair brushes, decorative pillows that adorn the beds of preschoolers and washcloths that were already past their prime anyway.

2. Nits/eggs can sit around for about 10 days before hatching. After that, they’ve got to have blood within 72 hours or they’re goners. Not 24 hours. Not 48 hours. 72. Minimum, because I’m not taking any chances.

3. Combing hair every day is a pain in the A, but I’m doing it anyway, and will keep doing it until I go three consecutive days (72 hours, see?) without finding anything.

4. One thing I will not throw away is my awesome lice comb. More on that in a minute.

As we approached the second treatment day I started thinking that I’d like to do something other than pour toxic waste on my kids’ heads, as well as mine. A friend recommended a product called ClearLice. I LOVE this product! It’s naturally based and smells a thousand times better. The process is quite a bit different than using Nix or Rid, but somehow seemed less difficult – probably because I was not having a total freak attack this time so my adrenaline levels were on normal instead of Def Con 5. Here’s a slightly blurry, but still funny, photo of all of us mid-treatment, taken by my Angel Here on Earth, Brandi.

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The ClearLice family kit easily would cover two treatments for all of us, so I’m saving my leftovers in case I’m ever touched by this scourge again. However, if you get the family kit you only get two plastic caps, obviously not enough for an actual “family” so stock up ahead of time. These ClearLice people also sent me the greatest lice comb ever; a comb so great that I carried it around the next day showing it to people. You can see it here:

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Now THAT’S a heavy duty, stainless steel lice comb. None of that chintzy plastic crap for me! This one’s a keeper.

So far we’ve gotten our first nit-free day under our belt. I’ll be combing again this evening.

And yes, that’s what my life has come to – carrying around my lice comb to show people how cool it is.

Lice, lice baby… Part 1

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Having lice and having a miscarriage are much the same experience. No one wants to talk about it, it’s somewhat embarrassing, definitely upsetting, and it’s happened to lots more people than you know. I’ve had both experiences, so I feel qualified to make this judgment.

I also feel qualified to say that, in my experience, lice is worse.

Hold your horses now. I’m not saying it’s not traumatic to lose a pregnancy. It is. But then again, that particular pregnancy wasn’t meant to be, nor did it involve multiple lengthy and costly trips to the laundromat.

Our story begins a week ago Wednesday, at which point my head and Annie’s head had been itchy for a week at least. But I tend to have a dry scalp in the winter so I didn’t think much of it. We had also had a sleepover with a cousin, and me and all three girls – plus the aforementioned cousin – had shared beds and a hotel room during a family reunion for three nights. Prior to this trip I had asked my Dad (aka The Hamster Whisperer) to check my head because the itching was intense. But that same week I discovered that both of my dogs were covered in fleas. So before the trip I dropped them off at the vet for boarding and a flea dip, set flea bombs all over the house, then ran to the car and drove away. During the trip the itching subsided so I chalked it up to the fact that my small dog likes to lay in the same spot I do on the couch, and that I must have been bitten by fleas. Gross. I know. But whatever.

We’re home from the trip, it’s Wednesday and now all three girls’ heads are itching. We go to The Hamster Whisperer’s office after school and voila! There is a LIVE LOUSE on Annie’s sweet little scalp! Grace started completely freaking out, which always drives me into a state of intensely projected calm in an attempt to keep hysteria at bay. I should note here that Dad was not buying my “intensely projected calm.” And wisely so because I was FREAKING OUT. As in holy fuck we’ve ALL got lice and it’s a school night and I don’t even know where to start and what all could all of us possibly have laid our heads upon that is now covered with bugs not to mention our clothes and jackets and a billion stuffed animals and Chad is in Mexico and I can’t do all of this by myself and holy crap in a trap!

What I didn’t know was that dealing with everyone’s hair would be the easy part. My Angel Here on Earth, Brandi, came over, we started washing hair and applying what looked and smelled like complete poison on everyone’s scalp, and the nit-picking began. Lauren’s head took nearly three hours. Annie was bribed with candy and at least three episodes of Sponge Bob. Grace was the biggest complainer and no amount of bribery could make her stop moaning. By the time we started my head it was 10 0’clock. Brandi’s arms were tired, I was exhausted from traipsing up and down stairs with laundry, remaking beds with clean sheets and not even eating dinner because I was in such a panic. I mean, I’ve given birth three times, cleaned up all manner of bodily waste from both people and dogs, shoveled poop in a horse barn… nothing grossed me out or gave me the heebie jeebies like the night of October 30, 2013.

Here are a few photos for your entertainment:

As I stripped the beds the laundry pile got bigger and bigger. And as things came out of the dryer I became paranoid about where to set them that wouldn’t result in the accidental acquisition of more nits and/or live lice. Thank god I have a lot of stair railing at my disposal.

Believe it or not, it took me a couple of hours before I realized that it would make a lot more sense to go to the laundromat and wash everything all at once. Also, with so many blankets and comforters, I was never going to get anything dry in my own dryer. And frying these bugs to death was definitely a part of the plan. So I packed up my belongs in giant lawn-and-leaf bags, loaded up the Suburban and we hit the laundromat after school on Thursday, Lauren still in her Halloween costume.  Evidently we don’t get out much because both Grace and Lauren were enthralled by adding quarters to the machines, pouring the soap and fabric softener into the little compartments, rolling the laundry from washer to dryer in those metal carts, and watching through the round window as the laundry spun wildly in a fizz of soap and water, then hot hot air.

By our second hour Lauren had tired of her costume and gone out to the car to change. Her makeup was still on and, of course, she had to continue to wear her “high” heels. Frankly, I found her outfit a little disturbing.

I also did the responsible thing and called both the middle school and elementary school to report our infestation. And here’s the thing – when I called the elementary a friend of mine was subbing for the school nurse. Our daughters are in the same grade and I didn’t want to tell her about the lice because I didn’t want to embarrass Lauren. (Obviously I could care less who knows that I had lice or I wouldn’t be writing this.) So I called directly to the principal’s secretary and told her. That’s when I got to thinking that I wish lice wouldn’t be kept so secret. Sending a note home is fine, great, but I want to know who has it so that I can talk with them, share ideas about how to get rid of it, and talk about strategies for keeping it away. Like, stuff your kid’s coat in her backpack instead of piling it on the hooks with all the others.

Why is lice such a big dirty secret? For one thing, lice prefer CLEAN heads. And for another, it can happen to anyone no matter where you live, how much money you make, how often you vacuum or how long your hair is. That’s why I’m writing this post. Well, I’m actually writing this post because it’s a funny story, but also because I’m not at all embarrassed about it. I want to laugh about it, I want you to laugh about it, and if you have any helpful tips for dealing with the kids’ hair, or how to reduce my paranoia about pillows and stuffed animals I would love to hear it.

Your head is itching now, isn’t it?

My kids are so much cooler than me.

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Example number one – they are not wearing velour knickers. (If I ever find the picture I’ll post it. I promise.)

Example number two – they do not have bowl haircuts. (Leading people to believe they are boys, even when they are wearing earrings, which boys most certainly did not do in 1979.)

Example number three – they take people for who they are with little to no assessment of issues or concepts that are present in the minds of previous generations. Like, Grace has a friend with two moms. She knew this for a long time, but I don’t think it even occurred to her that they were gay. They were just two moms. It wasn’t for a year or so of being friends with this girl before she started figuring out that there might be a little more to it – like, that they are homosexuals: two moms, instead of a mom and dad. But once I explained that sometimes women love women, and men love men, she just kind of said, “okay” and shrugged her shoulders. No big deal.

Lauren got a new student in class this week. She came home on his first day and told me his name, that he was really nice and that he got cupcakes the first day because it was someone’s birthday. I asked what he looked like, mainly because I have daughters, so I don’t know the boys as well. They’re all about the same size and with the same sticky-up hair, so I can’t always keep their names straight. Here’s her description: “He has brown skin, black hair and he’s fat.” Okay. I know she means he’s a black kid, but I also know that she doesn’t know that word. Black. She has other black students at school, and in her life. But it seems to me that she doesn’t really think of that. They are just people who look a little different than her uber-white blondness.

This is how I wish the world could be. In my experience, there are a lot of people who look at things the same way as Grace and Lauren – their first thought is of someone’s friendliness or something like that, not that they are black, gay, or whatever else. But there are also a lot of people whose first classification of people is black, gay, or whatever else that is different from them. I’m a white girl – what do I know about racism? Not much, other than that it still exists. I wish it didn’t. But all I can do about it is teach my children that people are people. It seems to be working. So maybe not only will my kids continue to be cooler than me, but the whole next generation will be cooler than the one before it.

My 12 Truths of Motherhood

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I’m on a trip by myself with the kids this weekend. Chad and his brothers are in Cancun, treating their mom to a vacation with her sons in celebration of her 75th birthday. (Remember that girls!)

Driving nearly six hours by myself while the girls watch movies with headphones on gave me time to listen to things on the radio I don’t normally listen to, especially if Chad is in the car. Things like Oprah Radio on XM radio. One of the shows I listened to today was an episode in which mothers got to confess all the dirty little secrets of motherhood. One of my favorites was a woman who said she had packed her child’s lunch entirely from snacks she had in the car. Another woman said that when she ran out of diapers in the middle of the night she and her husband crafted a diaper from a maxi pad. It worked so well that they didn’t even rush to the store the next morning. But the best one by far was the woman who had been traveling alone with her very small children, who had fallen asleep in the car – the holy grail of the road trip – but she had to pee and did not want to stop. This genius of a woman pulled out a diaper and peed into it. Brilliant, I say!

I listened to the show with greedy ears. It’s a relief to hear other mothers admit that this job sometimes really sucks. There are all kinds of things that no one tells you, which is probably good or no one would ever become a mother. Either that or you would not believe them anyway because I think we all have utopian ideas of how we will be as mothers.

The whole thing got me thinking of my own Truths of Motherhood. Lucky for you I’m going to share them right now. Believe me or don’t.

1. You will never again poop alone.

The opening of the bathroom door is like a siren song, irresistible to children. Even my 11 yo comes to talk to me while I’m going to the bathroom. She, at least, does it from the other side of the door. My 4 yo occasionally tries to sit on my lap. While I’m pooping.

2. You might not love your baby immediately and that’s okay.

You know that moment when your child comes forth, is laid in your arms and the angels start to sing? No? You’re not alone. When my first child was born I was thrilled and fascinated, especially by her puppy-like head that wrinkled up when I wiggled her scalp. But it wasn’t an immediate rapture of love. It was more like an immense sense of responsibility and awe, which was followed by love over the next couple of weeks.

3. Baby showers are boring.

But you should still invite me because A) I will come and B) I love giving gifts. Just please don’t ask me to play games.

4. The older your children get the later they will stay up, and the more you will want them to go to bed so you can be alone for god’s sake.

5. Breastfeeding is not for everyone and that’s okay too.

People are nuts about breastfeeding. And for the record, I am strongly in favor of it. As the mother of a premature baby, about the only thing I was able to do for her was pump breast milk that would help her grow and nurture her immune system. But breastfeeding doesn’t always come easily. Babies don’t latch on. Mothers don’t produce enough milk. Your nipples bleed. Or you feel a crushing desire to have your body back to yourself and the endless amount of milk you are producing makes you feel like you can’t leave the house, which is extremely irritating.

If you can breastfeed, great. If you love it, great. But if you hate it or it’s not working then just break out the formula and leave it behind, because in the long run it’s more important to enjoy the quiet time feeding your baby than to dread feeding your baby because it’s painful and hard. Happy mom = happy baby and that’s all there is to it.

6. Everyone has an opinion.

You don’t have to listen to them.

7. Even if your child will only eat pancakes and spaghettios they can continue to grow and thrive.

8. Playing house is excruciatingly boring.

Seriously. I can read to my kids, play ball, watch movies, do puzzles, cook, take walks, ride bikes, etc. But ask me to play tea party or house or restaurant and I will say no and get really busy cleaning the kitchen just to escape.

9. Nobody cares if you actually baked the cookies for parent-teacher conferences.

10. You will be tired forever.

When you have a baby you are so tired you almost can’t speak. I remember feeling like the most boring person in the world because either I had nothing to say or the only thing I had to talk about was what happened on Oprah (there she is again). My kids sleep through the night now, but see item #4 – you wind up staying up later than you’d like so that you can either A) have some freaking peace and quiet, B) have a conversation with your husband or some other activity, C) read a book, watch your favorite TV show or do whatever other thing you’ve been wanting to do all night long. But then you have to get up and get them to school. It’s an endless cycle of torture.

11. It never ends.

12. Loving your children is easy. Loving motherhood is not.

This is not my idea, but I heard it on the same Oprah episode that got me thinking about these things, and I think it’s a mantra worth adopting and reiterating. As mothers we all feel that if we complain we have to add the caveat that, of course we love our kids, but blah, blah, blah. Well of course we love our kids. That’s the easy part. And fortunately, loving them goes a long way toward raising reasonably well-adjusted, well-behaved and purposeful kids. But loving motherhood is a different story altogether. It’s the ultimate sacrifice of self and at some point we all find that we are trying to figure out who we are now that we’ve added these people and this role to our identity.

 

These are my truths. The key word there is my. They may not be the same as yours, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is sharing them so that instead of feeling judged as a parent you feel embraced and not alone. Every complaint you’ve made, every feeling you’ve had, every decision you’ve faced has been experienced by countless mothers around the world. We just don’t talk about it much. But I’m putting it out there, dead hamsters and all.

P.S. The idea of developing your own set of truths also is not mine. It’s something I read on one of my favorite blogs, The Happiness Project. Check out her Truths of Adulthood – it’s a good read.