Choosing to Transform

Choosing to transform. That is what life is all about! Right, Paige?

When Jarrod started his taekwondo journey several years ago, I was a very naive martial arts mom. I had no idea. I imagined that like anything else, it was one lesson a week and I even thought to myself, “OK. He’ll get his black belt in a couple of years and then we’ll move on to something else.”

Insert picture of martial arts instructors rolling on the floor, laughing out loud.

What I didn’t understand then was that gaining a black belt is only the beginning of one’s martial arts training, not the end. The black belt signifies that that person is finally ready to become a true student of the art, that they have put in the hard work necessary to truly immerse themselves in the finer techniques. It really is a three-dimensional art form. The muscle memory required and the control necessary to perform at a peak level is amazing. And you don’t get there until you earn your first black belt.

Jarrod receiving his second degree, level 4 black belt from Senior Master Bowen, 7th degree black belt.

And I know this because I have now started my own taekwondo journey.

I have not only watched Jarrod for many years now and how he has transformed from an awkward little kid to a controlled martial artist, I have watched other children, teens, adults, and their instructors work toward higher and more difficult goals. And to see their kicks get more precise, their punches more controlled, is incredible. Jarrod is now a second degree, level four black belt and he shows no signs of stopping or slowing down. In fact, he has his eyes on the prize–a high-level black belt and his own taekwondo studio just like his instructor, Ms. Bowen.

Amelia receiving her level 2 green belt from Ms. Bailey, 5th degree black belt.

Meanwhile, Amelia has begun her own martial arts journey. She, too, has watched her brother and although she is a much different martial artist, she is determined to make her own mark in the sport. I watch her make the same mistakes Jarrod made at this early point in his classes and I see her consciously correct herself, working to perfect the movements that will make her a very special martial artist. I love watching Amelia and Jarrod work together, Jarrod giving Amelia pointers and Amelia practicing her form or her one-steps. It warms my heart to see them working together, not against each other as so many siblings do.

As my children took up and perfected this sport, I began exercising in earnest. See, I’m 47 years old now and I can feel my body slowing down, my metabolism working against me, and the aches and pains increasing. It’s frustrating, but I realize that I need to work harder AND smarter to keep myself in shape. Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey started a fitness boot camp at the beginning of the school year and even though I found myself most Monday and Wednesday mornings wanting to puke, I could feel my stamina improving. I began running again. Overall, everything is going swimmingly.

My first class was full of black belts and… little old me. Thankfully, they were gentle and encouraging!

Paige is not only a fellow taekwondo mom, she’s also a martial artist herself. She is a student of Ms. Bowen and Ms. Bailey and just received her first degree, level 1 black belt. The day she received her belt, she and Ms. Bailey both nodded toward me in the crowd and after many, many months of waffling, wondering, and stewing, I knew that they had just given me the signs I needed. I took the plunge the next day and started my own martial arts journey.

Many people talk about their 50th birthday in terms of purchases or trips. “I’m saving up for a Corvette!” or “I’m going to go to Bali!” Rather than buying a sports car or going to the end of the Earth, I’ve decided instead to prepare for my 50th a few years early. I want to welcome in my 50th birthday with a black belt around my waist and a new sense of self-respect. I want to face down my 50th by showing my kids that you can choose to transform yourself at any age, at any time, that you don’t have to be young to try something new or different, and that age is just a number and not a state of mind.

I want to prove to myself that through the aches and pains, I can still round kick the crap out of a punching bag.

And so, it is with great personal pride that I announce Bowen’s Tiger Rock’s newest white belt… ME! As Ms. Bowen is fond of saying, “A black belt is just a white belt who never gave up!” Well, this is one white belt who isn’t going to give up, Ms. Bowen! Let’s do this!

I had the honor of receiving my white belt from Ms. Hughes, 4th degree black belt.

Back Off My Breast Friends

There's a dairy food theme here, isn't there?

There’s a dairy food theme here, isn’t there?

I remember the day well. It was March 18, 2006. For six months, I had made a vow to myself, and that vow was, If I can breastfeed these kids, day in and day out, for six months, I will declare victory in the Milk Wars and wean these little hoodlums. Six months, I decided, was my hard limit. I was done being the Dairy Queen. In real time, I had done this gig for six months. In twin years, that’s one whole year. (Note: This is called “Twin Math.” In “Twin Math,” you double everything. Two kids on two breasts for six months is equivalent to one kid on one breast for one whole year. And even if it isn’t logical, shut up. You did not push two babies out of your body on the same day. The only thing that trumps “Twin Math” is “Triplet Math.” Those women are goddesses and can say and do whatever they damn well please.) I was done. I started weaning the twins the month before, cutting off a feeding here, two feedings there, and replacing said feedings with bottles of formula until, on March 16th, on their six-month birthday, they were on straight formula. Two days later, a Saturday, I left the house around 7AM, waved to Tyler and my mother as they held the twins, and spent the entire day shopping with my sorority sister.

I. Was. Ecstatic.

More dairy references, you say?

More dairy references, you say?

For me, breastfeeding wasn’t a bonding experience. It was a chore. I was absolutely determined to breastfeed because I was convinced that if I didn’t pass on my immunities to my preemie twins, they would become gravely ill. And if I fed the first two that way, then the third needed it as well. It was a chore I did, without complaint, for one whole actual year. (I lasted six months with Jarrod. That’s an actual six months. No freaky singleton math going on there. But, technically, with Twin Math in place, I like to think I lactated for a whole 18 months. Don’t judge me. It was hard, ya’ll!) I don’t want to go into too many details, but let’s just say that my mammary glands aren’t the most… functional in the lactation department, and without help (read: nipple shields) I was in a lot of pain. A lot.

But, here’s the thing. I did it. It is possible to breastfeed even if you don’t want to or aren’t really built properly for the job. And even though I did it, I didn’t have to. I mean, I was raised on formula and I turned out just fine. I have a pretty bitchin’ IQ, no behavioral problems, and my weight is OK. Tyler was raised on formula and has, to my knowledge, never gone off the bend. My mother breastfed me for six weeks before the same dysfunctional mammary gland design that plagued me stopped her cold in her tracks. Shit happens, people. And it happens a lot when you’re trying to feed those feisty little ones.

But here’s the other thing. If I had put my foot down and said, “NO! I will NOT be breastfeeding my children!” should I have been made to feel guilty? As this mother was made to feel? Absolutely not.

I hate that we, as women, feel it necessary to judge other women on how they are feeding/clothing/bathing/teaching/disciplining/raising their children. Get off the Judgy Train, headed for Fort Judgerson, with a stop at Judgjunction. You take care of your kids as you see fit and I’ll take care of mine as I see fit and stop thinking that your way is better for everyone. Your way is just better for you and yours. And that’s just fine and dandy as long as you don’t shove your way in my face. Then, we might have a problem.

Now, here’s where I’m going to make… a suggestion. Any time I see a pregnant lady, I just want to hug her and ask, “First time?” and if she says, “Yes!” then this is pretty much the soapbox from which I want to stand and share my incredible wisdom of moderation, ease, and frequent breaks.

Just one more. I can't help myself.

Just one more. I can’t help myself.

There are lots of people out there who talk about “nipple confusion” and “breast is best” and “formula will make your kids fat and stupid” and blah, blah, blah. But, here was my reality. I had premature twins who NEEDED the calories that formula could provide. They spent their first 20 days in the NICU and since I couldn’t be there all the time, I pumped my breast milk and carted it over there every day. Since my babies needed to gain weight, the nurses and doctors at Northside Hospital supplemented my breast milk with preemie formula and bottle fed them. And they had pacifiers. When they came home, I continued with the one-bottle-a-day routine so that I could get extra sleep, they could get extra calories, and Tyler, Nana, Grandmama, et. al. could get extra baby cuddles. It was a win-win. I continued the tradition with Jarrod. Tyler got the late evening, “Let’s bond over Enfamil and Magnum, P.I!” feeding. So, this is my Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy You Are Gonna Kiss Me When This Is All Over Feeding Guide For New Mothers. Use it or not, it’s up to you. But, it seems to me a common-sense approach to feeding your babies and keeping your sanity.

  1. You have absolutely decided that you don’t want to breastfeed. It turns you off, the thought of it makes you sick to your stomach, and you’re done before the baby is even born. That’s fine! You stick to your guns, give that precious baby some formula, and don’t let those Lactation Nazis make you feel guilty for your choice. And if they harass you, kick them out of your hospital room.
  2. You decide to try breastfeeding and it doesn’t work out. No worries! As long as baby isn’t starving, you’re good. Get out the Enfamil and have a party! And tell those Lactation Nazis to take a long walk off a short pier.
  3. If you are successfully able to breastfeed your baby, give your baby one bottle of formula a day. Wait… hear me out.
  4. One bottle of formula a day gives you a break and allows you extra sleep and allows your significant other/relatives to also bond with the baby.
  5. Having that bottle of formula allows the baby to get used to the taste of formula so that if something happens and you have to unexpectedly wean them, it’s not a battle getting them used to formula. (I can tell you that after watching a friend try to force her baby through an emergency weaning onto formula, it’s not pretty. Your precious wee one will reject that bottle and put you through a couple of days of heck. Trust me on this one.)
  6. Also, having a bottle of formula a day gives you a chance to get out of the house. Guess what? It means you could actually have a date night/night out in those first six/eight/whatever months! You’re not so tied down that you can’t leave your child! Go out and have a great time! And realize that your baby is fine because they’re used to a bottle nipple and acclimated to the taste of formula and you are your own person and can take a break if necessary.
  7. And finally, give your child a pacifier. There is nothing wrong with pacifiers. They soothe your baby and, again, get them used to sucking on something other than you. It gives you a break and a rest. You can start to wean them from the pacifier any time you like, but definitely keep it around for the first year. Trust me, it’s a life saver. If your breast is the only thing soothing them, then you’re probably going to have a lot of sleepless nights.

I guess mainly what I’m trying to impart here is don’t be so hard on yourself. Pictures and media and ads make breastfeeding look very easy. I mean, it should come naturally, right? Not really. It’s a learning process for both you and the baby and if neither of you is enjoying it, you don’t need the stress. Do what’s best for both of you while at the same time giving yourself some elbow-room. Trust me when I say you’re going to need it.

Stepping down off my soapbox. Tune in next time for “Pampers versus Huggies versus Luvs: Is it really all about the diaper or is it more about penis position?” where we discuss leakage and little boys. Or not. Cheerio!

Sick and Twisted

"Looks like a Bataan death march." -Brad Finn

“Looks like a Bataan death march.” -Brad Finn

No one gives you instructions on how to be a mother when you’re sick. Oh, sure. You receive tons of advice about feeding them and changing their diapers. Everyone scrambles to help you snap up those onsies and cuddle the cute, wittle, sweet, BABEHS! You give birth and there’s a multitude of opinions about sleepless nights, growth spurts, and the sometimes endless crying. “Sleep when they sleep!” they all chant to you. And then those sages of advice eventually went home and I was left with one twin who slept like the dead and another who was so colicky that sleep was only something I read about in magazines. And when the third one came along? Sleep became an extremely rare commodity. They all had competing schedules and I, somehow, kept three children and myself alive and fed for six months with just a few hours of sleep each night.

In retrospect, that’s nothing. What’s really hard is being a mom while you’re sick. Nobody tells you how difficult that is. It’s like this huge secret, a motherhood initiation. When I finally experienced it for the first time, I imagined all the other mothers giggling and snorting behind my back, whispering, “IT’S HAPPENING! Let’s watch the carnage and see if she makes it!” As I imagined them pulling up their chairs and digging into buckets of buttered popcorn, I bitterly dove head-first into my first-ever “sick with kids” episode.

The twins were three months old and still latching on to me at all hours of the day and night. Not only was I exhausted, but my throat started feeling scratchy, and then I couldn’t talk, and then I was using up every tissue within a six-mile radius of the house, and then I was hacking up both lungs.

There’s nothing more miserable than breastfeeding twins while surviving a nasty upper-respiratory something-or-other. And the worst part? I was on my own. Tyler had to work and none of the grandparents wanted to catch what I had. So, there I sat, at home, alone, and wondering why in the world I decided to have kids and wanting nothing more than for my mommy to tuck me into bed and bring me warm soup and Sunkist.

The above picture was taken last Wednesday, during the kids’ “Walk To School Day.” It was an official event, full of county deputies directing traffic and hordes of kids and their parents, converging (on foot) onto the school. Heck, the Chick-fil-A cow was even there! (Do we Southerners know how to do up an event, or what?) The kids had been looking forward to this morning for a week. And I started experiencing my tell-tale scratchy throat and low-grade fever the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I looked and felt like death warmed-over and knew I had nothing but misery ahead of me. That quote? Up there on the picture? Actually kind of apropos considering how awful I felt. It was 1.7 miles of speeding up, slowing down, stopping, chit-chat, and trying not to trip over those new-fangled rolling backpacks.

Yeah, I was miserable, but I was also surprisingly content. I had 45 uninterrupted minutes of my children’s time. We talked about school and friends and the cars passing us. We paused to smell late-blooming gardenias and observed a golden orb weaver spider on its web. I sipped my coffee, more for the soothing effect of the warm liquid than for any caffeine rush. And we made it. Tyler picked me up at the end and I collapsed into his car happy, yet thankful to the stars above that it was over.

In the nine years I’ve been a mother, there’s only been a handful of mornings I’ve woken up and said to Tyler, “I can’t do this. I’m too sick. You’re going to have to take over today.” No, being sick and being a parent is no fun. In the beginning, the kids don’t care. They will still expect meals and answers and activities and your undivided attention. I learned early on how to just lie on the floor as they played. They would treat me as a wall for them to climb and tumble over. I felt useless, but they would giggle and have the greatest of times. I would get up from time to time to feed them and change diapers, but I adapted. I realized that when I was sick, I was allowed to be less than myself. When the twins started first grade, I spent two bronchitis-filled weeks on the couch, with Jarrod, watching the London Olympics. And that was OK.

Now that my children are older, they are able to empathize and take care of themselves. When I say I don’t feel well, they back off, they let me have that rest, and they demand less of me. They are able to pick up the slack. All that stuff we’ve been teaching them? It’s finally paying off and it’s an amazing thing to see happen after so many years of dependence.

I decided, quite a long time ago, that if any of my children have children of their own, and they find themselves on the receiving end of a cold or the flu or some other nasty illness, I will be there for them. I will fix them soup and Sunkist and fluff their pillows, stroke their foreheads, and wish them rest and wellness.

And then I’ll tiptoe downstairs to my grandkids and take them out for ice cream, water gun battles, and Legos. Because I’m thinking that’s what all the cool, hip grandmothers will do sometime around 2030.