Almost a Mother

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Almost a Mother 

By:  Christy Wopat

There was a time when my motherhood was invisible.  I did have some tangible pieces of evidence, two tiny urns: one blue, one pink.  A white note card with four smudged footprints, and hospital bills piled on the counter.  Two matching cribs, lying in pieces, hidden underneath a sheet in the garage.  

I walked around, my motherhood invisible, while grief waged an all-out war on my attitude.  Pregnant bellies caused an eye roll and a huff, while double strollers induced an all-out tantrum.  A pregnancy announcement would cause a night of tears, my husband holding my hand, desperate to help.  I sat through stories at lunch about first steps and first words  Really? I’d think.  My babies are still dead.

I was still in the hospital when the first relative tried to comfort me.  “Hey, you’ll have more kids,” she said.  “And besides, those two definitely had something wrong with them, or God would have saved them. They probably would have been serial killers.”

I wish I were making that up.

I wanted to scream the words. “I had two babies!  I am still their mom! Can’t you see?”  That failed, and so I whispered, “I had two babies…” But when I whispered, people still looked away. They  shuddered.   Don’t talk about it, their eyes commanded.  Shrugged shoulders and tilted heads told me what I already knew-move on.  We already have.

For months I tried to move on.  ‘What are you even so upset about,” I’d ask myself.  “They lived for like a day.  You didn’t even hold them until they were dying, and then that was it.”  So all the nursery furniture went up on Craigslist, and out it went.  Memories were shoved in a box.  Reminders would make it worse.

My heart insisted, “But they were your children!  She wrapped her whole hand around your finger.  You carried them for months.  It was only your voice they knew.  You can’t just move on!  Their memory is yours to keep alive!”

It went on that way for a while, the back and forth.  And then, it was Mother’s Day. We were headed to a family cookout. Surely, everyone would remember I’m a mother.  

Instead, we arrived and instantly the averted eyes and silence told me this day was not meant to celebrate me.   “You’re a fool,” I scolded myself.  “You should have known better.”

Later that day, I found myself out shopping with my mom, and my 6-year-old nephew.  I tossed my items on the conveyor belt so that they’d get charged to my mom, and I ducked out of the way, grinning.

The clerk looked up as she scanned.  “Hey,” she said.  “Isn’t today Mother’s Day?  Shouldn’t you be buying this stuff for her?”

“Oh, that’s my daughter for ya,” my mom laughed.  

The clerk laughed, too. “I hope you remember that someday when you are a mother.”

I sucked in a breath.  

My nephew piped up from behind me, ”Aunt Christy was almost a mother,” he told her.  “But then she wasn’t anymore.”

I turned and ran out of the store, the tears burning in the corners of my eyes.  I made it to the parking lot, my sobs now uncontrollable.

“What is the matter, Aunt Christy?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing, buddy,” I choked out.  “I’m ok.”

I got into the back of the car, feeling the grief work its way in, and around, curling itself into me like tendrils of smoke.  Silence surrounded me, once again.  

I went home that night, and I started a blog, which I titled Almost a Mother.  The very first line read, “Contrary to the title of this blog, I am a mother.”  I spent night after night writing our story.  Writing while I was crying so hard that I could barely see the screen.  Writing through anger that made me feel insane. Writing through my next two pregnancies that were fraught with anxiety and straight-up terror.  

Today, my motherhood is more apparent to the people around me.  They can easily see Avery and Evan, my six- and four-year-olds.  I try to be honest about the fact that motherhood is amazing, like when your kid is star of the week and all they want is for YOU to have lunch with them, and how sometimes it is so NOT amazing, like when they throw up all over your bathroom counter, or when they break your TV by “surfing” on the TV stand while you’re cooking dinner.

But, I won’t let the OTHER part of my motherhood be invisible.  So, I continue to say their names.  Sophie and Aiden. They are my children, too.  I will honor their memory forever, in anyway that I can.  I truly do not know who I would be if this hadn’t happened to us.

In the end, I know that my sweet nephew had NO idea that his words would carry such meaning.  He was looking at it in the most black-and-white, six-year-old kind of way.  But, he was just saying out loud what everyone else was thinking.  I am forever grateful that he did say those words because they made me realize that I was not ALMOST a mother.  I AM a mother.

“Life is too short to…

see yourself as anything but beautiful.”

A friend of mine sent this quote to me recently.  I saw it and my heart sank.  My first thought: Ugh, I’m talking about how ugly I am too much.

So many of my friends are so beautiful.  They wear gorgeous clothes, and they are thin or they have beautiful hair and skin, or they have picture perfect athletic bodies, complete with abs.

I have spent so much of my life thinking about how ugly I am.  In 4th grade, I had a pool party at my house (we had an in-ground pool that my father later paid someone $100 to bury with a BobCat, but that’s a story for another day) and I refused to take my t-shirt off.  In all the pictures, I have my soaking, drooping t-shirt hanging off me, looking ridiculous.

In my journal from 7th grade, I wrote, “This week I am starting my new diet.  I will not eat any desserts and also I promise to walk around the block at least 3 times a week.”

In high school I was voted homecoming queen, and I ran right to my friends and asked them point blank if I was voted in as a joke.

It wasn’t anything anybody said made me feel less than beautiful, though.  It was in college, when my friends wanted to go to a frat party that I suddenly realized just what it meant to not be “hot.”  I realized that I was the girl that literally no one would look at.  What is that called, the designated fat friend?

Let’s be real:  I did NOT want to be at those frat parties.  I never wanted to.  I didn’t even really want to go to the bars drinking.  I’m one of those people that just never got into the party scene-I always had way more fun doing something silly, or watching movies, or whatever.

But I would go, because my friends did, and I would leave there hating myself.  I would leave there feeling like the most disgusting, awful person on the planet.  No guys were lusting after me.  I was 30 pounds overweight and wore jeans and t-shirts and no make-up and I was definitely not a girl you “took home.”

So many times I went to the bars with my girlfriends, but walked home alone.  And when I got home alone, I would lie in bed in wonder why nobody wanted me.

I am SO happy with my life.  I have NOTHING to complain about.  I am truly so, so grateful.  But still, every day…and I mean EVERY DAY, I think about what I look like.  How much I weigh.  I watch all the skinny people at work eat all different ways-some healthy, some all junk, and I just want to be them.  I want to be able to fit in the clothes at Gap.  I want someone to tell me they like my shirt!

A couple of times, a stranger has asked me when I’m due.  I carry a lot of my weight in my belly, and I do look pregnant if you don’t know me.  But, when it happens, I get so depressed.  All I want to do is not look like a giant when someone takes a picture of me.  All I want to do is have the fat magically disappear into nowhere.

I think people are so vain.  I’ve never worn make-up because I honestly think it’s dumb.  I think it’s ridiculous to cover up our faces and try to look like someone else.  I think it’s totally annoying how much time people spend buying clothes and shoes and fretting over outfits and trying to make themselves look like a (fake) magazine.

But…if I’m even a little more honest…if I dig a little deeper, I don’t do any of that, because then people would notice that I tried, and that I do want to look “beautiful,” and that I failed.  Because, in my mind, when you are fat, you just look like a fat person trying to wear fashionable clothes.  Or someone will tell you, “You’d be so pretty if you just lost weight.”

I will never know what it feels like to have a man give you a second look.  Men don’t even hold the door open for me (except my husband!  love you, babe!), they’ll wait for the skinny, pretty girl to arrive.  I won’t know what it’s like to have men fighting over me, or know that someone secretly wishes I was theirs, just because I’m beautiful.  I will always be the one that is overlooked at face value.

I won’t be able to wear a gorgeous dress for a night on the town without worrying about chafing and spanks and sucking it in for pictures.  I will always try my hardest to get to the back row so no one sees my stomach.  I am hardly ever in the pictures with my kids, even though I read that one article just like everyone else did about the mom that got sick and wished she had been in more pictures.  If I’m not in them, I can’t spend all night with a pit in my stomach, hating myself.

I don’t know what it takes to heal, or to learn to love myself.  Body positive, right?  Or is it fat shaming?  I feel disgusting.  Hideous.  Un-worthy.  Like I don’t quite fit with everyone else.

Here is what I know:

I am a loyal, caring wife and friend.  People love me for ME.  My husband loves me unconditionally, and he thinks I’m beautiful (well, he better!)  My heart is bursting with love-from my friends, my family, my kids, my students.  This has to be enough.  What I have is something SO many people would give their arm for.  I am so freaking lucky.  I do not need to have it all.

I can’t really understand why I think it’s so stupid to think about looks, yet it’s really something I also do, all the time.  I’m on high alert, relishing if I notice a weight gain on someone else (yes, I do realize that is despicable, but honesty is where I’m at, yo).  I look at the other women at Zumba, or while I’m running, and I think, I’m working just as hard as they are, why am I still fat?

I think what I’m getting at, is that being thin and pretty is just the one thing I don’t get to have.

All of us, there is at least one thing that we just don’t have.  The one thing that feels out of reach.  I can’t make my breasts larger, or my nose smaller or my waist smaller, and so I want it.  I work and work and work at it, but I fail, over and over.  My body wants to be fat.

What is it that you want, that is out of reach for you?  Have you tried and failed?  Is it a good relationship, friendships, career-oriented, or something with your family?  I’d love to hear!



The Hate U Give (or don’t)

the hate u give

As a 35-year-old, I am old enough now that 1) my knees creak when I walk up stairs, and 2) I can really start to look back and reflect on my life so far.  I’m a serious reflector.  I over-analyze and I think a lot (too much) about who I am and if I am where I should be.

My life has definitely not been perfect, but it has been pretty freaking great.  To clarify, here’s what I classify as pretty freaking great:

My kindergarten teacher was the best ever.  We got to play in the sand and water table whenever I wanted, and I had my first kiss that year.  I even got married, I’m pretty sure.  I fell and broke my wrist trying to be a ballerina and missed my first music program, but we made it to school in time to play in the sand box (I guess I must have really loved the sand, you guys).

Throughout elementary school, I had a best friend who went to a different school, so we were able to be BFF without people fighting over us at school.  This friendship lasted through middle school until she humiliated me by putting my underwear in the freezer at a sleepover with her “school friends” and I got pissed and stopped going to her house.  I loved having her has a BFF, and even though it ended, I’m so glad I had her and she taught me about a lot of things.

I had THE BEST friends in high school.  There were 6 of us, and we did things like play mini-golf, watch movies, cook dinner together, and try to pretend like we were adults.  The worst thing we ever did was buy cherry flavored Swisher Sweets and smoke them behind the tennis courts. And by smoke them, I mean, I put it in my mouth, declared that I looked awesome, took one puff, coughed for 5 minutes and then we were done.  I’m beyond thankful that I could come into my own without my friends pressuring me to drink or do drugs or do all the other things I never wanted to do.

Also in high school, I got to travel the world, experience books and theater and music, realize that I had NO idea what I wanted to do with my life, or where I wanted to go to college.

My first love treated me with respect.  He taught me what romance is, and what it feels like to be put first, before anyone else.  Truthfully, I was totally in love with one of my friends (who was not in love with me) when I met him and shouldn’t have started dating him, but I totally fell head over heels.  We danced in the kitchen, walked along the railroad tracks in the summer, went to cheesy country music concerts, and cuddled in his parent’s basement.  I lost my virginity in a loving, calm, respectful way and was never forced or pressured in any way.  Sure, he cheated on me and lied to me a bunch when I went away to college, but no one’s perfect, right?

College started off rough (see above) but I had gotten into several schools and ended up transferring.  I was in marching band and met a ton of people and got to continue all the things I loved.  I found AMAZING friends.  We drank, but (usually) not too much.  The only trouble with law I had was a disorderly conduct ticket for dancing in a fountain.   We mostly went to Perkins late at night to write papers and dance and laugh and annoy everyone in the restaurant.  We duct-taped strings of lights to the top of the car and danced at stoplights to make people laugh.  We went on a crazy road trip and watched Friends every Thursday night and ate too much ice cream.  My parents were getting divorced, but it was what they needed to do and even though my dad and I were fighting and stressed, I made it through.  I worked a lot, but had the money I needed.

I got offered the first 3 jobs I applied for.  I met my husband when I was 20, and I am telling you there is NO better husband on this planet.  We lost my father-in-law to cancer shortly into our marriage, and battled infertility.  But we did it together, and grew stronger.  My first two babies, twins, were born at 24 weeks and they died.  That pain is like nothing I ever imagined feeling.  But again, we grew closer together.  We are best friends, and the worst thing he’s ever said to me is that the carrots I made were disgusting.  For real.

I have a fulfilling job, if we save up we can take a vacation, and we can take our 2 kids to the movies every once in a while.  My 6 and 4 year old are beautiful, wild, strong-willed, and loving and they make me so proud I can’t handle it.

Ok, so, if you’re still here, you’re probably wondering, um, are you done bragging yet?  What the heck?  Get to the point, yo!

So, here it is.  Lately, I’m lost.  I’m full of despair.  Is it all because I’m white?  Born into a working-class family?  Born in the mid-west to parents who weren’t college educated, but knew the value of college and never questioned when or if I would go and helped me get the loans to do it?

Is any of it because I’ve made great choices?  Because I worked really hard?

But…even though I worked really hard, would it have even been possible without the white, class part?

Should I feel guilty?  Guilty is not the right word.  I don’t feel guilty.  But, I feel sad.  I worry that I don’t deserve it.  I worry that my luck causes other people suffering.

My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted was to love people.  I DO love people.  But, if I’m completely honest, my life has not been very diverse.  I don’t have much experience with people from different cultures (with the exception of the culture of poverty), and I don’t think I tried hard enough to get it.  I wish I had.

Things are getting rough out there.  Social media makes me squirm.  I feel so helpless, so unable to do anything that might make a difference.  I want to stand and scream, “Will everyone that’s hateful just pick a state and you can all go live there?”

I want to really, truly understand what systemic racism is capable of in our country and get to the core of why it’s not going away.

I recently read a book called The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas.  The story is from the perspective of a young black girl who is in the girl with her friend who is murdered by the police.  The girl must stand up for what she believes in, but she has all sorts of obstacles in her way.  Drugs, gangs, family structure, going to a private school and being treated different by both parts of her life.  Obstacles that I never had to face, simply because of the luck of the draw.

It’s a book written for young adults, but it gives this glimpse into a life that is so foreign to me.  This is what literature does.  It helps those that are seeking to understand.  It is why I teach.  It is why I write, and read every book I can get my hands on.

But, I read this book and I couldn’t imagine.  It’s tiresome to feel so helpless, but it pales in comparison to actually living it.  I feel like we’re in this never-ending cycle of knowing the problem, even knowing the root cause, but having no idea what to actually do to fix any of it.

The only thing that makes me feel like I’m doing anything at all is that I work so hard on building a community in my classroom.  I work on making each kid know that they are loved no matter what and no matter when or who.  But it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  What are you doing out there to battle for social justice?  Not just about race, but about any -ism that’s out there?


Kids, These Days

Kids these daysAround late September, a student put in a note in my mailbox (my mailbox is there just for them, in case they have something important to tell me that they don’t want to say) that said, “At lunch, *boy* was talking about penises and sex and other nasty things.”

I sat at my desk, folding the note back up, as if maybe if I couldn’t see it, I could pretend like it didn’t happen.  Of course, I had to figure out what was actually said, and let me tell you…I was shocked, to say the least.

Later in the year, another 4th grader at my school said at lunch that he wanted to “put his penis in *girl’s* butthole.”

The thing about being an elementary school teacher, at least for me, is that these little children become mine.  Not in a, you’re-a-freak-going-to-show-up-on-CNN kind of mine.  But I feel like they are a part of me.  I feel a responsibility to them, and a fierce need to protect them.

Contacting the parents for something like this, is never fun.  I prefer e-mail contact with parents, usually, simply because I’m better with written words.  I feel like I can get my point across better and not sound judgmental.

Having my own children has opened up a whole new world of compassion and empathy for me.  I have watch these little people that CAME FROM ME do things that I CANNOT UNDERSTAND.  My 4 year old?  He’s a hitter.  Like, everyday at daycare he hits someone.  I have tried so many things, but he still hits.

My 6 year old?  When she was 4 she went to pre-school and told everyone it was her birthday. She let them sing to her and give her a sash and she got a special prize and when she pulled up on the bus everyone was yelling, “Happy Birthday!”  Her birthday is in July!

Now, these are small things, I know, but we have a LONG way to go.  What I”m saying is, parents play a big role in children’s behavior, but they still are kids and do kid stuff.

As I sat there, I tried to figure out if this was kid stuff, or if this was a problem.  The biggest question in my mind was, “Did this kid KNOW what he was saying?  Did he know what all of that meant?”

When I was in 4th grade, I played with barbies. Sometimes I’d make them kiss and live in an apartment together.  I still remember the day in 7th grade when I found out what French kissing was when I saw my friends do it in the hallway outside our lockers.  I walked home slowly, trying to french kiss my hand, wondering how in the world that would even feel good.

I was a junior in high school, talking to one of my friends in the band room when I found out you were supposed to TOUCH someone’s penis.  I sat there and gaped at the girl who told me, my mouth hanging wide open.  “You mean….you touch it?” and she answered, “Yep.  It does totally weird things!  They really like it!”

Now, I didn’t have brothers, and my friends and I were the group that played mini-golf and watched movies and made dinner together, so I’m positive that this puts me in a category all on my own, and most of you are thinking, you probably should have known that, girl.  But, still.

What I didn’t have, though?  What I didn’t have was the internet.

We have strong filters on our internet at school, but still when my students research for their projects on extreme WEATHER, ads pop up with naked women or little character people simulating sex.  Ads pop up in their google drive and in their email with links to nasty things.

My students can go home, and spend the night largely unsupervised, clicking on WHATEVER THEY WANT on the internet.  They watch “YouTubers” who tell them all sorts of things.  They play Xbox Live where they hear older kids talking about penises and buttholes.

Then they come to school.  These babies are coming to school and they are using words correctly, in context, to describe awful things.  And it’s hurting them. These kids, they are knowing things that they shouldn’t know yet.  They are seeing things that confuse them, make them feel unsure and probably sad, and even angry.

In my class, we talk about things as much as we can.  I’m very up front with my students, telling them that even if THEY know about these things, they shouldn’t say them because the rest of the class doesn’t, and they probably don’t want to.

Of course, this is my first time as an adult, and maybe I just lived this totally sheltered life.  I mean, I know people hid Playboy magazines under their mattress or whatever, but did they do this when they were 9?

Maybe.  But at this point I would take a booby magazine over the words and images that these kids are seeing and hearing.  They are singing along to songs on the radio with lyrics like, “I didn’t know that I was starving ’til I tasted you.”

I am frustrated.  I am a little scared. Everything feels so heavy lately in our world, doesn’t it?  

I know that I sound like the older people when we were young, talking about Elvis gyrating and the “Rock” songs and I know time moves on.  But for some reason, this feels bigger. We have had SO many issues with kids this year, having these dirty conversations and I just fear it will continue to get worse.  Shouldn’t we at least try to stop it?

I’m interested in your thoughts.  Do you try to supervise your child’s internet viewing?  What age did you let your kid have a tablet?  What about a phone?  Do you have filters?  Do you see any of this with your own kids?

What’s next?  What do we do?