So here's me a couple weeks back.
I'm almost three months pregnant. My waist is disappearing. I have hemorrhoids (which is a really annoying word to have to figure out how to spell by the way) courtesy of pregnancy. As is customary for me during pregnancy, there's a lump growing in my left armpit. Nope. Not the big C. Just some excess breast tissue setting up camp along one of my milk lines. Yeah. That's right. I have a third boob (it's really a thing and before you suggest I go ahead and join a sideshow, I'm not alone). Oh, and then I got a cold sore on my lower lip.
"What happened there?" my little brother asked, pointing to my mouth.
"Cold sore," I told him.
"Oooooo. You mean herpes? You got the herps?" He teased.
And because I have no dignity left, I sighed. And nodded.
Just add it to the list.
I'm stressed because I'm due in July and in August the lease is up on our rental house and we have to figure out a place to live and I have to figure out how I'm going to contribute to household income whilst simultaneously caring for a newborn and rearing two other little people.
All I see ahead of me are lots and lots and lots of dark, scary trees. No forest.
What else? Oh yeah, I just started a long-term subbing gig team-teaching 8th grade science as a learning disabilities instructor. Several kids in my 8th-period study hall tell me they hate 8th-period study hall and that they just want their old and (infinitely more qualified) teacher back. They keep asking me if I'm going to quit. They ask me if I regret taking the job. I answer "no" to both, praying they'll hate me less as the weeks go by. I don't want to dread the 90 minutes I have to spend in study hall every other day. But I still kind of dread it.
So that's the state of affairs.
A couple weeks ago, I got home from school feeling kind of like a pilot whale that had been washed up on a trash-strewn beach and I found a box on my doorstep. Attached was a note addressed to me in handwriting that I recognized instantly. So tiny and perfect it should be its own font. It hasn't changed in the two decades I've known the writer, one of my oldest friends.
She and I had met for breakfast earlier that week -- only when she arrived she looked kind of grey and peaked.
"You feeling OK?" I asked.
She said her stomach was bothering her, but that she thought she'd be fine.
She ordered some toast and I ordered some apple cinnamon French toast (umm, it was as delicious as it sounds). But before our food even arrived I could tell she was going downhill quickly. I suggested we get the bill. Told her I could drive her car back to her condo. She protested for a millisecond and then agreed she couldn't drive.
I took her home, tried to get her comfortable and waited for Brad to come and pick me up. My friend apologized for the mess (her house has never not looked like a tidy, adorable Ikea showroom -- did I mention she doesn't have kids?) and seemed embarrassed about the fact that some underwear she'd just purchased was lying on her dresser.
I glanced at the pile 'o panties -– they were all lacy and delicate and ladylike in elegant colors. I told her I was impressed with her taste in undergarments. That she actually wore, like, nice grownup underpants, as opposed to me, whose underwear drawer more closely resembled my own children's (think lots of cotton. All the cotton. And also character themed. Whatever. Who has time for impractical underthings?).
She kind of brushed it off and said she hated pantylines and these particular drawers kept her work pants looking neat and professional (though she added that they don't do much for keeping her butt cozy. Score one for cotton!).
We chatted a little more before Brad arrived. I left my poor friend in a clump on her bed to get some rest with an empty trashcan and a glass of water nearby. I told her to call if she needed anything.
Flash forward to Wednesday and this mystery box she left on my front steps.
Once I was inside and settled, I opened the note in which she thanked me for a silly birthday card I had gotten her and for helping her out. Then she wrote this:
"While briefly discussing briefs, haha, I left out an important part. (Probably because I was actively trying not to vomit.) Classy, sassy undies do solve the dreaded pantyline problem, but they just make me feel good too. (Again, not in sub-zero temperatures or butt cheeks freeze. That feels the opposite of good.) At first, they made me feel a bit uncomfortable, not like myself, but then strangely confident and good. Not for showing anyone else, just for me. Give them a shot. Not for Brad, just for you. This is a carefully curated collection, by the way. I took note of your affinity for cute prints, then I picked a staple, a sensible and a Sue. I think you might like them."
I opened the box and nestled in some tissue paper was that aforementioned carefully curated collection of frilly underthings.
Then I started crying.
Like. Sobbing. Like the red-nosed, snot-dripping ugly variety of crying.
Her note and gift hit this nerve in me. The one that had long stopped feeling at all ladylike or feminine or fancy or confident or sassy -– all the adjectives I haven't applied to myself in forever. A long, long time. Years even. And here they all were in a little, lacy panty pile on my lap.
The truth is, I don't know that I even recognize the woman who would wear these things. I don't know if she's still in me. It feels as if she's sort of evaporated into the ether.
I spend so much time just kind of getting through the day, you know? Like, it's enough that I shower semi-regularly, right? It's enough that my pants are relatively stain-free. That maybe I put on mascara. Maybe the shirt I'm wearing is in a flattering color. That's enough, right? And now that I'm pregnant and my body is changing shape all over the place and erupting in hormones, my expectations for looking cute aren't all that high.
My reaction to my friends' gift kind of reminded me that, no, no it's not enough. It's not enough to just get by feeling quasi-presentable. Feeling like I look "not bad." That I've lost something in the translation of my life from young professional to work-from-home mom to whatever it is I'm doing now.
It's not really about underpants, of course, or physical appearance even. It's about that, somewhat, but it's more about confidence. About trusting my inner-compass and the direction of my life. You know, the tending of my person. That little glowing center of me. My soul.
Is anybody still with me here? Am I even still with me here? I don't even know.
What I know is that right now, I feel a bit lost. My soul feels adrift and life seems kind of a mess with all its unanswered questions.
And I haven't even dug into the elephant in the room, or rather the baby in the womb (see what I did there?).
What about this baby? You wonder.
Yes! Yes! This baby. We call him/her The Colonel.
This little, lemon-sized soul that's growing bigger by the day. The Colonel can squint and frown and grimace and grasp now. He or she can urinate, too!
"Wait," Lily asked me the other day. "You mean you have someone peeing inside of you right now? Gross."
Just add it to the list of gross things about me currently, right behind third boob, hemorrhoids and herpes, I thought.
People have asked if this pregnancy was planned. Which, seems a bit -- I don't know -- nosy or judgy, though I know it's not ill-intentioned. I think they ask the question in order to gauge my level of enthusiasm about the situation and so gauge their level of enthusiasm when congratulating me.
Brad and I have two other small people. By now we know the mechanics of baby making. Let's just say this baby was not, not planned and leave it at that.
And we are excited. Absolutely. I've wanted a third kid since, like, back before I had the other two. I've always wanted a big family. I'm one of six myself. The realities of parenthood have shaved off the number of children I think I can handle. We're not aiming for six (uhhh, Brad would probably like to point out he was never aiming for six). Two always seemed a little too neat, but three or four feels like just the right amount of chaos. So, yes. Yay baby!
But I also won't pretend this baby doesn't weigh on me. Because life has taken on a certain rhythm. It's been six years since I last had an infant. Both girls are in school now. I've been hitting a groove with this subbing business. We're still getting settled in Virginia (and will soon need to re-settle in another house ... somewhere. Where, exactly? Who knows?).
I feel as if I've been playing this careful game of metaphorical chess and some obnoxious 7th grader just ran by and flipped over the board (obnoxious 7th grader is redundant. Also, can you tell where I spend my days now?). For the record, The Colonel isn't the obnoxious 7th grader. I think in this scenario it's life. Life is the obnoxious 7th grader.
I feel like I've gotten one area of my life on task only to find out that the other 90 percent has been sending SnapChats of my ass to the rest of the school for the past 20 minutes.
Like, what the hell am I doing, even?
The answer is, I have no idea.
I'm hormonal. I'm tired. I'm trying to keep Lily and Jovie alive and raise them to be good humans. I'm trying (and I'm pretty sure I'm mostly failing) at being a good wife. I'm trying to be supportive to various family members and friends who are also struggling through their own lives. I'm trying not to panic about what housing or work will look like in the next year.
I'm dealing with this cold that has turned me into stuffy nosed mouth breather.
I'm growing another human inside me and that human is peeing in me.
I'm trying not to feel guilty that I don't feel like that pregnant lady in Johnson & Johnson commercials who spends her days folding little clothes and humming to herself, the morning sun lighting up her perfectly contented maternal face. There is no morning sun casting a warm glow on my life. Nope, these days I feel like my life is lit up like an Old Navy dressing room– all Unflattering and fluorescent.
What am I doing? I'm surviving, that's what.
And l don't mean to whine. I really don't want anybody to feel sorry for me or anything like that. Really, truly, I have the means and desire to care for this one as I did the others. I know it's not like that for all pregnant women. And there's no judgement on those who learn they're pregnant and feel only despair.
For me, this baby is a gift. A little burst of hope. I know when he or she comes sliding out into the world I will feel joy.
The reason for my (over)sharing is that I have to believe there is at least one other woman out there who has gotten pregnant with her third (or second or fourth or seventh) child and maybe isn't feeling as doe-eyed about it as she did with the earlier ones. And she probably feels like crap about that, too, right? And to that person I say, you're not alone. I feel you.
And also, because sometimes it just feels better to lay out all the little broken bits of your brain and stare at them for a minute. You know, take stock of all the clutter. Sometimes doing this kinda helps me get my arms around it all.
I texted my friend to thank her for the panties. I told her she was really sweet for thinking of me and they were really lovely, but I'd probably hold off on wearing them ... you know ... until my undercarriage was a little less ... grotesque.
"When you're ready," she wrote back.
Right. When I'm ready to be the lady in the fancy pants.
I'm still dubious about that day ever arriving.
There's this student in my third period class. This girl is beautiful and loud and strong. Attitude for days. Her aura fills a room. And she's perpetually messing with her hair and her face tweaking her eyebrows, fussing with her false eyelashes, braiding her long, dark tresses. One day she was on her phone when she wasn't supposed to be, I told her to put it away. "But I have to finish contouring," she told me. Her phone was on selfie mode and she was using it as a mirror as she brushed on powder. Of course, I thought.
So she walked into class earlier this week and looked over at me.
"Your hair looks really good today," she said. I'd worn it down and put some product in it so it was curly. I.E., I made some effort.
We were chatting during some downtime later in the class. She told me she'd been talking to kids in the other science classes. "They really like you," she says. "They think you're really pretty."
She was shocked to learn I was married with two children.
"How old are you?" she asked (not entirely appropriate), but I answered anyway.
"Thirty-six." How could she not see that in the lines on my face and the bags under my eyes?
"What?! I thought you were like, in your early 20s," she said.
OK. So I know this girl is only 14 or 15. I know her perspective on age is probably a little off. And I don't really need anybody thinking I look 10 years younger than I am- I'm totally fine with being 36. But it still felt nice, after feeling like a bit of a dumpster fire for the past couple weeks, for someone to compliment my appearance.
More than that, it was having a student take the time to talk to me as a person rather than glaring at me from across the room or ignore me completely. She wasn't the only one who made conversation.
One of the students in the honors class who hadn't said two words to me in the three weeks I'd been in the room all of the sudden called me over and wanted to tell me about auditioning for the school play and the Disney Cruise she was going to go on. In another class, one of the boys was clearly frustrated about something. He wanted to cool off so I took a walk with him. I asked him what was going on, not at all expecting him to share, but suddenly he was telling me all about a fight he'd had with his new girlfriend.
Another kid had been looking down for a couple days, so when we had a minute I asked him about it. He told me his dad was at a hearing that day to find out if he was going to be deported. His parents ran a family business- his dad doing construction, his mom cleaning houses. His dad had been living here for more than 20 years and was really respected by his clients. I could feel the weight on this kid's shoulder. His face was etched with agony. I told him how sorry I was that he was facing such enormous stress and that I'd keep his family in my thoughts.
And I did. I prayed for them on the drive home from school and before I went to sleep. And when I woke up in the middle of the night because my nose was stuffy and my mouth was dry, I prayed some more.
At school the next day he came into class -- a little more swagger in his step. "Did you get any news?" I asked him. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. "We're good," he said. His dad can stay.
Gosh our lives are messy, right? All of them. We're all carrying these unwieldy burdens– even the kids. And we can't solve them all, right?
I wish I could make sense of the piles and piles of mental clutter laid out before me. But again, no forest. Only trees.
Of course, it occurs to me as I'm reading that last sentence that I actually like trees. How they both burrow down deep into the earth and stretch up, up, up into the sky. How their bare branches look like arteries and how they break up the sky into stained glass. How they're so strong and steadfast and wise. How each one is so unique. How their flaws and scars only make them more interesting and more beautiful. How they weather this world and all its tumult so gracefully and graciously.
Maybe I need to think of my clutter as trees. Each their own milestone on my walk through this life. An opportunity to grow deeper and stretch higher.
Maybe it's fine that I don't see the whole forest right now. Maybe it's OK to be down here under the canopy alongside all these other lost and searching souls, stopping to appreciate each masterpiece in front of me.
Brad says it would also be helpful if I listened to what the people around me were saying. Like the girl who told me my hair looked good or my friend who still sees the potential for me to be a fancy underwear wearer. The students who open up to me. My sisters who tell me I'm wise or my mother who tells me to keep writing. Or, god forbid, Brad who tells me pretty frequently that he thinks I'm an awesome person.
It's always been much easier for me to deflect other people's positive feedback. To change the subject or say something self depreciating or to assume that they just aren't seeing the whole picture. The whole disaster. The whole forest.
Of course they're not. We rarely get to see the entire scope of any one individual. We're not meant to, I suppose. We take in only what's in front of us. What our eyes choose to see, our ears choose to hear, our hearts choose to feel.
I always tell my sister that the parts that speak mostly loudly to me about her aren't the same ones that speak mostly loudly to her about herself. When she looks in the mirror, she only sees her shortcomings– her varicose veins or her graying hair or her impatience and failures. I'm aware of her flaws but mostly revel in all her best parts. Those are the ones that sing to me. Her compassion and her beautiful cheekbones and her warmth and her freckles. Her infinite wisdom. The depths of her empathy for the downtrodden. To me, she's a perfect specimen.
If I'm to follow Brad's instructions- and maybe I should given the scourge hormones have laid on my mental health in recent months- perhaps I'll just have to stop looking at the mirror with my eyes and try borrowing someone else's.