- It feels good to be wanted. Since I can remember, my mother has always told me she wanted “a red-headed little girl named Sarah.”
- The unconditional love of grandparents can make an ordinary childhood feel extraordinary.
Hi. I'm Sarah. I blog about parenting, politics, and the personal. I live in Kentucky with my husband and 2 sons.
I’ve taken a long walk on the beach every day since we’ve been here.
Every day I walk and I think. I think about how I got to be in such a desperate state. I think about what is at the base of my fears, my anxieties, my stress.
The first day it was obvious. I was tired. The second day and each day after I unpacked the less obvious – laying down each burden one by one – my fear of failure, my longing for a daughter, my regrets, my grudges, and my struggle with control.
Today as I walked I just felt quiet. I didn’t hear a chatter of emotions competing for my attention. I didn’t feel as if I was untangling a complicated knot of sadness trying desperately to get at what was bothering me.
I just felt calm and peaceful and so, so grateful.
Those are the words that kept running through my mind. Thank you to my dear friends for sharing their parents’ vacation home with us. Thank you to the babysitters we brought along so that I could actually have a vacation. Thank you to my husband for letting me disappear and write every day.
And ESPECIALLY thank you to all of you. Every day - Every. Single. Day. – since I first confessed I was struggling there has been a steady stream of support pouring in from all you. People reminding me I’m resilient and strong. People calling to me from the shore – saying they made it safely to the other side and so can I. People struggling to stay above the surface just like me - people who thanked me for giving voice to what they were feeling.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I’m not foolish. I know it can’t stay like this. I have to go back to reality and try to keep ahold of some of the peace I’ve found here. Some days will be better than others, but no matter how bad the day gets I will never forget this journey. I will never forget how wonderful all of you have been.
I’ll be tired again. I’ll feel sad and vulnerable and even overwhelmed.
But I’ll never feel so alone.
Thank you for that.
Several months ago I wrote a post about how I was a secret perfectionist. I wrote about my desire to be a perfect mother and some of those words I wrote are still true. I’m hard on myself and I need to practice more self-compassion.
However, I’m realizing that my issue isn’t with perfectionism. It is with control.
The situation doesn’t have to be in perfect as long as I’m in control of it.
I LOVE to be in control. My family calls me the cruise director. A marriage counselor once looked at me and stated matter-of-factly, “Well, you clearly steer the ship.” Friends often put me in charge of projects and activities. Even my kids will tell you, mommy is in charge.
Perhaps it comes from being an only child. I had complete and total control of my environment. No siblings messing with my stuff. No competing agendas or priorities. I wasn’t necessarily the center of my parents’ world but I was most certainly the center of my own.
You would think being married for twelve years and parenting for six would have loosened my death grip, but no. If I can be, I still want to be in control.
When I feel out of control is when I suffer the most. When I lost the baby. When I’m taking care of a baby. When I’m exhausted. When people are being mean or unfair.
When something is not going my way and I can’t do a DAMN thing about it.
I hate it. I feel powerless and vulnerable and stuck. My word of the year is vairagya. It is Sanskrit for non-attachment. The idea that you don’t become attached emotionally to things you can’t control.
Clearly, the universe is teaching me the first lesson of that which is “Hey, Sarah, YOU CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING.”
And there is nothing I can do about it… which even as I type those words makes me a little nauseous. It's easier to cede control while on vacation when I have unlimited free time and babysitters and ocean waves to inspire me.
Alas, I can't stay here forever and I can already feel myself ramping up for the return to real life. I can feel the part of my brain that manages and schedules and prioritizes and CONTROLS getting louder and louder the closer we get to departure.
I don't know how to quiet that voice and keep the calm I've found over these past few days. I know writing and exercising and meditating are all a part of the equation.
But I also know that some days won't go as I planned and there will be LOTS of things I can't control either way.
And instead of feeling like that is a challenge to be tackled maybe I need to see it as a reality to be accepted.
We’ve been at the beach for four days now. More times than I can count I’ve dove in the ocean or the pool only to kick my way to the surface seconds later. The moment I break the surface of the water and take a breath always feel a little magical.
It’s how I feel right now. I feel like I’m breaking the surface of this funk. I’m coming up for air.
It feels so, so good.
It feels like I’m letting things go. It feels like I’m moving on. It feels like I’m finding my balance.
Of course, JUST when you get your balance life has a way of shoving you off your feet. Yesterday, at the pool, I had pulled Amos with me into the deep end to practice his swimming. He has been fighting us tooth and nail all summer, but we’d forgotten his floaties and I decided now was my chance.
He cried and hollered. I told him he knew how to blow bubbles and hold his breath that I’ve seen him do it all summer. I dropped his underwater a few times and sure enough he did exactly what I thought he would do. He held his breath and blew his bubbles.
Still, he’s a stubborn kid and he kept fighting me. I stayed calm. I told him I could stand here all day and that his friends were having fun and he could join them if he tried. I told him he was a big strong boy and I knew he could do it.
He calmed down a little but the second he’d go underwater he’d freak out again and grasp for me. I never let him go. He never choked, but he still kept fighting me.
Finally, a lady came over and said, “If you dunk him one more time, I’m going to report you. I’m a licensed reporter. That is not the way to do it and everyone is watching. I’m DISGUSTED.”
I just stood there. Speechless. Amos in my arms. Then, I went to the steps and kept practicing with Amos, who finally agreed to go under water if I went with him.
Meanwhile, I was in a full blown shame spiral. I felt terrible. Maybe I was pushing Amos too hard? Maybe I was going about it the wrong way?
I wanted it to be simple. She was a bitch and I was doing nothing wrong and that was the end of it.
I’ve had a lot of confrontations with friends and some strangers over the past few years. Confrontations that still haunt me when – like now – I’m feeling vulnerable. They’re old wounds I like to reopen when I’m feeling sorry for myself. Broken friendships. Hurtful comments. Tokens of my failings I spread out on the table to prove I’m actually as terrible as I feel.
I want my own personal brand of closure for each one. I want the person to sit down and apologize for hurting me and it has taken me so, so long to realize that is not EVER going to happen.
It wouldn’t matter if it did. It’s almost never as simple as they were wrong and I was right. I wish it was.
In an interesting twist, it was a book on organizing that finally helped me see the light. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo states simply,
Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those special people even more.
I want every friend to be my best friend. I want every stranger – including the lady at the pool - to see my parenting and think I’m the BEST.
Alas, it doesn’t work like that. Some people are only around for seasons. Some are meant to teach you valuable lessons.
The biggest lesson I need to learn is forgiveness - whether I get my cathartic closure or not. The first thing Annie says every time I come to her complaining about the latest insult or insensitivity is "Have you forgiven them?" I know she's right and I know it will be a struggle.
Forgiveness is so hard because I'm unforgiving of myself. I've beat myself up all day about the pool fiasco. Telling myself I was wrong. Telling myself I traumatized Amos.
Instead, I should acknowledge the complexity of the situation. I was not at my best and neither was she I'm guessing. I'm still a good mother and she's probably a good person.
I can't control anything about that woman or anyone else who has hurt me in the past. All I can do is choose to learn a lesson, practice forgiveness, and move. on.
I’m going to be 34 next week. I always thought I would enjoy aging. When my grandmother and mother would complain about growing older, I would roll my eyes and ignore them. No one wants to get gray hair or aching joints, but confidence and wisdom and self-acceptance? That always seemed pretty great.
I owe my mother and grandmother an apology.
Suddenly, turning forty isn’t some far off fantasy where my life has sorted itself out and I’m enjoying the fruits of my labor. Suddenly, forty is SOON and I don’t feel sorted out at all.
I’m still not 100% sure of what I want to be when I grow up and I know no one would describe me as anything other than grown up. My body shows the effects of four pregnancies and three births. Even my red hair (which thankfully hasn’t gone gray yet) doesn’t make me any less invisible to most people I pass on the street.
Or at least that’s how I feel sometimes.
When you’re in your 20’s, everything is so full of promise. Mistakes only occupy the past. They don’t define you, because you have so many years to figure everything out. You have time to start over. You have time to change paths.
Now, mistakes suddenly take up so much space in the future. It’s not just that you screwed up. It’s that you wasted so much valuable TIME screwing up and time has suddenly become a precious commodity.
Listen, I know I still (hopefully) have lots of time left. Women in my family tend to live into their 90’s, which means I still have two more acts.
But … THIS ACT... This act is over and I worry that I made all the wrong choices.
I see my friends who have spent years accumulating promotions and raises and I wonder if I’m made a huge mistake by staying home. I see careers I envy. I see jobs I would enjoy. I worry that I put all my eggs in the wrong damn basket.
I realize that there are things I really want to do but I am so, so scared to try. I am so scared that I will fail and it will mean more time wasted.
I was just expressing these fears to my friend today when only a few short hours I ran across this little shot of amazing courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert.
Then, I remember aging isn’t awesome because you’ve figured it all out. Aging is awesome because you realize that NO ONE has it all figured out and that figuring it all out isn’t even the point!
I love being married but not because I’m perfect at it. I love it because it’s hard and rewarding and frustrating and magnificent and I’ve picked the most awesome person with which to take that journey.
I love being a mom but not because I’m perfect at it. I love it because it forces me to fail and then to pick myself up and try again. I’m so scared all the time as a parent, but it doesn’t matter because the momentum of life carries me forward through a million hugs and runny noses and temper tantrums and my fear wears itself out along the way.
Like I’m always telling my kids everything great in life is a little bit scary and I suppose that includes life itself.
Aging is HARD. My fear and regrets aren’t going anywhere. Neither are my mistakes. But I’m still here. I don’t know if I can envision my True Crone quite yet but I can envision Sarah 20 or 30 years from now. The version of yourself Tara Sophia Mohr calls your Inner Mentor.
I can see her. I can see her smiling with gray hair and lines around her eyes. I can hear her urging me on – past the fear, past the regret – into future where there might be less time, but there’s still plenty of hope.
This is the post that makes me feel like an asshole.
So, let me get this out of the way. I fully understand that what I’m about to say makes me sound like an asshole. I have people in my life – people I really really love – who want what I have and can’t have it. People who just want healthy, happy babies. People who want healthy bodies. People who want happy marriages.
I have those things. Yet, here I am feeling sad about what I don’t have.
I know people will call me an asshole, just know it’s nothing I haven’t called myself.
I want a little girl. I’ve always wanted a little girl. When I was growing up – when I dreamed of being a mother, I envisioned a house full of little girls. I thought a little boy would be fun, but it was almost an afterthought. I would be Marmee with a house full of Jos and Amys and Beths and Megs.
My first ultrasound confirmed what I knew to be true. I would have a daughter.
Well, we all know how that story ended. I wonder now if I would feel differently had I known from the beginning Griffin was a boy. If I wasn’t forced to grief the little girl I named and dressed and dreamed of over and over and over again.
But it doesn’t matter. That’s not what happened.
When I’m tired and stressed and overwhelmed, this is the pity party I throw for myself. I wonder about the baby I lost. I wonder if that baby was the daughter I’ll never have or proof that I only make boys.
But it doesn’t matter. We’re done having kids. It’s hard and expensive and I’m getting too damn old.
The little girl I dreamed of will never be and it breaks my heart.
I do not want to feel this way. I would literally give anything to be a woman who says, “I really never cared if I had girls or boys” and MEAN it. I feel petty and small and ungrateful.
I have to find a way to let it go. I’ve been thinking a lot about what is at the root of my sadness. I know logically it’s not about “missing out” because having a daughter is no guarantee of anything. She could be a tomboy. She could be transsexual. She could choose to remain unmarried or childless or hate all things feminine.
It’s about fear. I’m afraid that my boys will move away and not call. I’m afraid that I’ll reach old age and no one will care. I’m afraid they will marry and belong to another woman and will no longer have room for me in their lives.
Deep down I think that sharing a gender with a child means we will always SHARE something.
I’m afraid that I won’t always have a connection with my boys. I’m afraid being their mother won’t be enough.
What I’m realizing with some sleep (and several long walks on the beach) is that my fear of the future is making me miss opportunities in the present. I’m missing chances to connect with my sons RIGHT now because I’m so worried about losing them down the road.
That has to end.
I have to let go of this fear. I have to grief the daughter I thought I was going to have and let go of that sadness. I have to live the life I have and stop wondering about the one I don’t.
I have to learn about Minecraft and Star Wars and – God save me – even sports because I can’t depend on the shared the life experiences that pass between a mother and a daughter.
Or maybe I don’t. When I stop seeing what’s missing, I can’t help but notice everything that is there. I was literally writing this post as my friend painted her little girl’s nails only to have Amos join us on the porch with a giant grin because he wanted his nails painted too.
So, I stopped. I painted his nails. I held his little hand and he smiled at me and I smiled at him and we connected.
And nothing was missing.
Nothing at all.
I can remember the first time someone said it to me. I can remember where I was and what I was doing. I was a summer intern with a Congressman during law school. I had worked on a project until late in the evening and then brought in a freshly baked chocolate cake the next morning.
“You must have more hours in the day than the rest of us.”
I remember how it made me feel. I felt good. I felt strong. I felt special. It must be how some people feel when they do drugs for the first time.
I wanted to feel that way again. I might not always be the prettiest or the smartest but I could be the most capable. I call it hyper-capable and I define myself by my ability to do more, achieve more, be more.
There are worse things to be addicted to I suppose then your ability to squeeze the maximum amount of accomplishment out of every day. Most of the time, it serves me well. With three kids and a husband and a home and a blog and clients, I don’t really have much of the choice.
It works great…until it doesn’t.
During times of transition or exhaustion or illness, I am forced to slow down. As Bonnie Raitt says, “You can only go as fast as the slowest part of you can go.” The slowing down, the saying no, the resting does not come easy to me.
It doesn’t feel like the ebb and flow of life. It feels like failure.
As the mess stacks up around me, I feel so overwhelmed. As my list of want-to’s and need-to’s and HAVE-to’s gets longer, I lose myself.
If I’m not the girl with more hours in the day, then who am I?
Deep down, my fear of slowing down – of doing less – is about more than my identity. It’s about my worth. I can feel myself striving. I can feel myself desperately trying to prove that I’m worth the time, the energy, the love.
A dear friend recently encouraged me to take the DISC personality assessment and I scored a NINETY-NINE on the I for Influential – aka People Oriented. Not surprisingly, what others think about me is VERY important.
Since acceptance and approval by others is the main desire of I Personality Types, Rejection is their biggest fear.
I strive and I do and I go. I say yes to meetings and “opportunities” and cries for help because the relationships I have with other people – even mere acquaintances – are so important to me.
Meanwhile the relationship with those I’m closest too – and my relationship with myself – suffers.
And 200 more hours in the day won’t fix that.
Y'all, I am so so tired.
I don’t remember being anywhere near this exhausted with Griffin or Amos. I suppose I was, but maybe I don’t remember? Or maybe I wasn’t because I wasn’t chasing after two other kids? Or maybe I was just younger and had more energy?
I have no idea. All I know is sleep is important to me and I’m not getting enough.
When Felix was a newborn who just slept all day, I was feeling pretty good. However, once he transitioned to a more adult-like sleep cycle, the situation got real. One middle-of-the-night feeding became three. My sweet newborn became a cranky baby who wanted to hangout on my boob morning, noon, and night.
In a fit of desperation, we decided to sleep train Felix a few weeks ago – MONTHS earlier than we had trained our other two and with no bedtime preparation to speak of. We were ill-prepared and went cold turkey on the swing and swaddle leading to a disastrous couple of nights with everybody in tears.
Our lack of preparation and the wretched result left me in a full-on guilt spiral.
In the middle of the night, everything seems worse. In the middle of the night with a screaming infant, everything seems downright tragic. I just lay in bed and cry - feeling like a failure if I pick him up and reinforce bad sleep habits and failure if I don’t because I’m letting my baby cry.
And - for some inexplicable reason - I find myself crawling into bed either to go to sleep or to go BACK to sleep only to find sleep won't come.
I'm suddenly wired and scrolling endlessly through Facebook where everyone else's happiness feels like a million micro-aggressions. Or I lay there in the dark and the quiet on edge - my heart racing - waiting for the baby to start crying again or for my mind to just. shut. up.
Plus, I’m not exercising. I gave up yoga and running when I got pregnant and despite the occasional morning walk, I haven’t done anything with regularity.
I feel bad about my body but don’t have enough energy to do much but feel bad about my body.
Everyone says I have a five-month-old and sleep deprivation is part of the deal and I get all that. However, I think there’s more to it than that. I got pregnant one month after I lost our last baby. As a result, I’ve been in some type of extreme hormonal phase since November of 2013. Not to mention, I had two pregnancies and two years of breastfeeding in the four years before that.
Let’s do the math.
Over the past seven years, I’ve only spent 21 months NOT pregnant or breastfeeding.
I’m rafting a raging hormonal river and trying to do it with no sleep.
I’ve also been struggling with post-partum hypertension, which I didn’t even know was a thing until my blood pressure sky rocketed a week after Felix was born. Now, once a month, my blood pressure shoots up and I have a terrible headache for two days.
What makes it even harder is I was basically in the best shape of my life before I got pregnant in 2013 so the difference between then and now is hard to ignore. When I look back at pictures of myself, I don’t feel forgiving or grateful. I only feel frustrated and impatient. I know how good I can feel and look, which puts the current terribleness in starker contrast.
I know all the things I should do, beginning with showing gratitude for the amazing journey my body has been on over the past seven years.
And maybe I could find some space for gratitude if I could just get a little rest…