Some Days I Feel Like a Terrible Mother, But He Loves Me Anyway

I start putting a load of laundry in the washing machine when I hear the kids begin to argue in another room, no doubt over one of the many tractors that line the halls. “No, you need a time out! You go to your room!” my son yells. As soon as I hear it, a familiar sense of shame builds up in my stomach. I walk down the hall and calmly say, “Please don’t talk to your sister that way.”

Why wouldn’t he? He had obviously heard those very words before in this house.

 

To read the rest of my story, click over to my latest on Her View From Home.

 

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His Favorite Part of School

Last fall I dropped you off for the first day of school. By the end of summer, you asked every day, “Does school start tomorrow?” I would say ‘no’ as we counted down the weeks, then days.

We walked into school the first morning, your little hand clutched in mine. You walked behind me, peeking out from behind my legs. Who was this shy boy? I bent down, gave you a hug and said, “I’ll be back at lunch to pick you up, okay? You’ll have fun!” I smiled big and hoped my excitement would rub off. You wrapped your arms around my neck and didn’t want to let go.

The weeks went by. You clung to my legs at drop-off for a couple months.
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Although you never cried, some weeks I had to practically pull you off to get you to stay. Later, your teacher would tell me that within minutes of my being gone, your smile was back and you loved being at school.

Each day I would wait for you outside the classroom with the other moms.
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Without fail, you came barrelling out of the classroom toward me. You ran with your arms wide and an even bigger smile on your face, “Mom!” You locked your arms around my legs and looked up at me. “Mom, you came back!”

I tousled your hair, knelt down to meet your eyes, “Of course I did.”

Last night I brought out the chalkboard to mark the occasion of your last day of school. I began filling it in, asking you who your best friend is, and what you want to be when you grow up. In September on your first day of school you said you wanted to be a ghost. Now you want to be “an ambulance guy.”

I asked, “What’s your favorite part of school?”

I expected to hear:
Snack time.
ABCs.
Playing with my friends.

Instead you said, “When you pick me up.”

I asked again, to be sure. “Your favorite part of school is when it’s done?”

“Yup, and when you pick me up.” You looked at me with a big grin.

I thought back to all the times you ran to me and wrapped your arms around my legs.

I smiled, “It’s my favorite part too.”

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This post was originally shared on my Instagram, then was posted by Coffee + Crumbs.

 

Take Your Time

 

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“Okay, I just need to get a few things. After we’re done we’ll get lunch and go home, okay?” I said as I peered into the backseat of the car.

I glanced down at my list before throwing it in my purse: diapers, wipes, new socks for Rhett. Get in, get out. You can do this.

After unbuckling both kids from their car seats, with Allie on my hip and Rhett’s hand clasped in mine, we marched into Target. We went straight for the cart rack and I grabbed the behemoth cart, wondering how many racks I would accidentally ram it into before we left the store.

Rhett immediately started climbing into the bottom rack of the cart.

“No, Rhett. You need to sit IN the seat. Not underneath.”

I braced the cart with both arms and began pushing us down the aisle. Have you ever tried to drive one of those? You practically need a special driver’s license to operate it. After I managed to get the cart going in a straight line, we headed for the baby section. I parked the cart in the center of the aisle, hoping neither one of them could reach out and grab something from their side of the cart.

Diapers. Wipes. Check. Check.

As I pushed the kids through the rest of the aisles, I felt like an ant underneath a microscope. My parenting was on display, magnified for everyone to see. Allie began pulling shoes off the shelves and putting them into the cart, while Rhett begged for a snack. I looked around before lowering my voice to its stern, “I mean business” tone. “We are almost done. If you don’t stop pulling things off the shelves, you won’t get a snack. Do you understand?”

When my kids misbehave in the store, do people think it’s because I’m a bad mom? Do they think I have bad kids? Or maybe they aren’t even thinking of us at all.

I tried to squash any outbursts before they became too big. Too big for me to handle in the home goods aisle, at least. I glanced at my list to see if all the items were checked off, then made one last stop for an item not on the list: fruit snacks. I wondered as I opened the box and handed them each one package if I was doing the right thing by giving them a sugary snack to get through the checkout line.

As we were checking out, I’m sure I looked overwhelmed (that’s how I felt on the inside, at least). I didn’t notice the older woman that was checking out behind me. I don’t know what she saw. Had she watched me from a distance the whole time I was shopping? Or had she only seen us at the checkout line . . .  when each kid had a package of fruit snacks in hand?

As I was trying to wrangle my bags and contain both kids through the automatic doors, their hands now holding empty wrappers, she looked at me and said, “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

I was so taken aback, I’m not sure I even said thank you. I smiled and we walked out the door.

As I strapped my kids into their car seats, I kept replaying her words over and over.

I’d spent most of the time in the store rushing. Ramming the cart into the ends of the aisles in a race with myself to get out of the store. I wanted to cross all the items off my list and be back in the safety of the car as soon as possible—my jaw noticeably clenched, my face tight. My voice growling. Did I even smile once at my kids? Smile when Rhett helped his sister get into the cart? Smile as the kids pointed to books they recognized from our own bookshelf at home?

What gave her the impression I was a good mom?

As I drove out of the parking lot, I wondered, What if we told each other that more often?

What if we told ourselves that?

I left the store that day feeling a little bit better about myself. A little better about my parenting. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe when I wiped the tears from Allie’s face when she pinched her finger. Or me standing in the diaper aisle, scrutinizing over all the brands: making sure to pick the good ones, yet not the ones that cut into their college fund. Or maybe she just recognized a little bit of herself in me: a woman trying to be a good mom, but also acknowledging the challenge it is to shop with two young kids. Whatever it was, I appreciate that she saw my struggle. Saw me.

So if no one has told you lately: “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “We’re Better Mothers Together.”

The Best Kind of Surprise

whitneyriehlphotography-38“Do you know what you’re having?” My friend asked as she pushed her stroller along the path.

Gripping my stroller, I looked over at her and said, “A girl.”

“A girl?! Aren’t you so excited?” She exclaimed.

Two years earlier, with my belly swelling, I sat eating cake at my baby shower.

“Well, I think she’s definitely having a boy. Boys run in the family.” I overheard my sister-in-law say.

I put my hand on my belly and smiled. Girls run in the family on my side, although I suppose science would argue that doesn’t matter.

“It’s probably a boy.” I agreed. Part of me hoped if I said it enough, I would be okay if it was true.

“I can’t believe you’re not going to find out what you’re having! That would drive me crazy!” one of my best friends laughed.

I was well over halfway through my pregnancy, happy with our decision to not find out at the 20 week ultrasound what our first baby would be. Maybe I’d seen too many movies growing up: the woman on a hospital bed, the magical moment when the doctor held the baby up and announced, “It’s a boy/girl!” 

Before my baby shower, I walked the aisles of Target, scanning items for my registry. When I made it to the baby clothes, I paused when I reached the girl section. My fingers reached up to touch all the pink outfits: dresses, rompers, onesies. All the outfits looked so cute and I imagined years of dressing a baby girl. I kept pushing my cart to the boys’ section: everything looking dull. Nothing jumped out at me.

That night I came home and told Rich about all the cute girl outfits I saw when shopping.

“You do know it could be a boy, right?” He said, raising his eyebrows at me.

“Yes, I know. But I have no idea what I would even do with a boy! I never imagined having one.” I replied.

It was true. Having grown up with one sister, the thought of having a son never crossed my mind. I am one of two girls, my mom is one of two girls, my dad is one of two boys, and my sister had one boy, with a second one on the way. The way I saw it, I was bound to keep with tradition and would deliver a baby girl that fall.

Summer quickly passed to fall, and seeding time kicked off, keeping Rich out in the field most of each day. After months of Braxton Hicks, I found myself having what I thought were real contractions and thinking this might really be it. When he came in the house around 9 p.m. to grab something to eat, I headed back out with him in the tractor, knowing I would be unable to reach him (no cell service) if things really ramped up.

After uncomfortably bumping along in the tractor, I decided to sit in the pickup at the end of the field. After lying in the backseat and reading for less than an hour, the contractions were picking up and my excitement and nerves did too. I turned the headlights on and started flashing them: letting him know it was time to go. Fast forward to the next morning, when, after eight hours of unmedicated labor and two hours of pushing, the doctor held up our baby. Rich, beaming with pride, announced, “It’s a boy!”

My head hit the pillow, exhaustion taking over as the adrenaline wore off. When I think back, most of that morning still feels like a blur. Later that day with my new baby clutched to my chest, Rich hesitated as he said, “I was a little nervous to tell you he was a boy. After you’d done so much pushing, I felt bad. I didn’t know if you would be disappointed.”

I was shocked when they placed a seven pound thirteen ounce boy on my chest. I had really been carrying a boy for nine months? Even though I’d packed two outfits for the hospital, I didn’t really believe the girl outfit wouldn’t make it out of the bag.

Almost two years later, pushing the stroller with my busy toddler boy, I hesitated to tell my friend I was having a girl. We’d known for almost a week, yet had only told my parents and my in-laws. When we decided to find out the gender for that pregnancy, I assumed I would be elated to announce it to everyone I met. But the biggest feeling I had was guilt. I felt guilty that I wanted to be excited. If I acted excited, did that mean I didn’t love the boy I already had? Guilt washed over me, so much so that it took me weeks to get excited about having a girl.

Although I never expected to have a boy; I’ve never regretted or been disappointed to have him for a moment.

Since having a son, a few of the phrases I often hear are:

“He’s all boy!”

“Boys are so wild!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I have to admit, for him, they’re all true. Rhett will find any mud puddle to jump in or ride his bike through, even if it’s the only one for miles around. Slow is not a gear he has, he runs everywhere he goes. (My favorite is when he runs to greet me at preschool pick up. I’ll never tire of that.)

But.

He often tells me, with his arms wrapped around my legs, “Mama, you’re beautiful! I love you.” 

He plays hard, but he loves even harder. While I didn’t know what I would do with a boy, I’m thankful I get to keep finding out every day.

 

Photo by: Whitney Riehl Photography

// This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on “Rewriting the Script.”

The View From My Kitchen // On Coffee + Crumbs

In the kitchen, I can hear the kids yelling in another room. It sounds like my son is trying to get his sister to play and from what I can hear, she isn’t being compliant. I am about to call out for them to “play nice,” but think better of it and let them be. When I glance down at the floor I notice the flour dusted on the carpet. I can’t remember when I had the flour out last and suspect the kids might have had something to do with it.

I hear the hum of the fridge and the tick of the old oven as it heats up. When I turn toward the window I notice the crunchy snow that is still on the ground, surrounded by patches of brown grass peeking through. Out of the corner of my eye I see the dishes stacked beside the sink, and think it’s a never-ending cycle of cooking and cleaning. The snow on the ground is a lot like my kitchen lately. As soon as the snow begins to melt and I think I can finally shout “spring is here!” It snows again. In the same way I feel a satisfaction when I wipe down the counters at the end of a long day, tomorrow there will be another meal to cook and another sink of dishes to wash. Our dishwasher has been acting up lately, leaving me to wash all the dishes by hand. Surprisingly it hasn’t bothered me as much as I anticipated; it’s somewhat relaxing to have my hands in warm water and the feeling of accomplishment when the dishes are clean and dry.

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Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

Bringing Home Oscar

Over the years I have become a self-proclaimed, “Crazy Cat Lady.” (I figured I should jump on calling myself that before others coined me with the name.) A year or so after I finished my undergrad I would occasionally search the shelter website in Laramie looking for a kitten. I knew what I wanted: a Tuxedo cat. (Obviously I have fancy taste.) For those of you who don’t know, a Tuxedo cat is black and white. One day I was looking at the website and as I was scrolling, I knew found the one. I can still picture his little face, the white whiskers, white around the mouth, and four white paws. I told my co-worker, Kara, “I found my kitten!” After showing her the picture, she agreed I needed to go and get him.

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Skittles, no longer a kitten, at my apartment in Bozeman. Naturally he was sitting at the kitchen table.

Fast forward almost seven years, three moves, and a couple boyfriends, but I still had Skittles. He slept in my bed, often tearing up the sheets at the bottom. He was slightly annoying in lots of ways, but I loved him anyway. When Rich and I got engaged, I moved to town and into an apartment that didn’t allow pets. I brought Skittles out to live at the farm until we got married. One evening we let him outside, as he often scratched at the door (in every apartment I had he did the same) and wanted outside. We let him go out that night, not thinking anything of it. And we never saw him again. This was 10 days before our wedding, and I was devastated. Rich felt horrible. He searched all over, looking in fields and the shop, and even setting a live trap in hopes of catching him. Nothing. I would call him from town with tears in my eyes, “Have you seen Skittles?” He would quietly respond, “No.”

My mom told me a short time after we assumed Skittles was dead, “God knew you needed Skittles until Rich came along.” I responded, “Why can’t I have Skittles AND Rich?”

A couple months after we got married, my mom found a black and white kitten and asked if we wanted him. At first I said no, I wasn’t ready to replace Skittles. But eventually I said yes and we brought home our first baby (don’t tell Rich I said that).

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Welcome home, Fred!
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A side-by-side comparison of Fred and Skittles. Such fancy fellas!

The last few months Rich has said multiple times, “We should get a dog.” I have never been a huge fan of dogs: they smell, lick, need a lot of attention, and did I mention, they smell? Last Thanksgiving my sister was telling me about goldendoodles. I hadn’t heard of them, but after doing a quick Google image search: I was in love. Or maybe that’s a little extreme. Let’s say I was in definite ‘like’ territory. We were in Red Lodge for the holiday, and I was driving down the street and like fate would have it: I saw a couple walking a goldendoodle down the street. In a move totally unlike me, I pulled over. Then I took it a step further and called out to them, “Is that a goldendoodle? Can I pet him?” Which I did. I went back to the house and told everyone I met a goldendoodle and now I definitely wanted one.

Over the winter I had been following a woman on Facebook with doodles. She had two pups left from a litter and she kept posting that they were still available. I messaged her a few times, but the timing never felt right: potty training in the cold winter, calving season, did we actually want a dog? Last week I randomly contacted her again and she still had the two puppies. She told me someone was coming to get one on Saturday, but there would still be one left. I told her we would come on Sunday.

Long story short, we brought home Oscar on Sunday evening. He is six months old and is the quietist, chillest dog I have ever met. (He does smell a bit. Although he doesn’t shed.) He didn’t whine or cry once on the six hour drive home. He is supposed to be a petite goldendoodle, but he already seems fairly big for six months . . . I guess we will see!

I might have romantic ideations: picturing the kids running and playing with the dog this summer, skipping over the work that dogs are. But on the drive home with the puppy Rhett told me, “I’m real glad we have this dog.”

Welcome home, Oscar!

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Oscar and Rhett digging in the tree row. (Oscar is due for a grooming.)

Why I Write

Many years ago, I stood nervously behind a heavy gold curtain, waiting to go on stage at my first dance recital, it was right before Christmas. The lights dimmed, the curtains opened and the music started. All the girls began dancing around, but I just stood there. My black patent shoes frozen in one place, my hands at my sides. My mom whispered anxiously to my dad, “Should I go up there?” My dad, who was unsure of what to do said, “Let’s just wait.” And they did. I stood there frozen with fear the entire song.

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To this day, performing in front of a crowd is still not my forte. I’m a typical introvert and speaking in front of a group (heaven forbid: dance) is sometimes enough to make me freeze up like I did as a preschooler on stage. For many years I wasn’t sure where I fit in. In most situations I feel like an outsider looking in, even when I’m right there in the middle: leaving me feeling like that little girl once again.

When I became a mom four-and-a-half years ago, most of my wants and needs went out the window. I didn’t have time to think about my passions or what made me feel like myself. A year after I had my second baby, it felt like we were finally settling into a rhythm. One day I found myself constructing an essay in my head; itching to grab a piece of paper and bring my thoughts to life. The calling felt real; but I heard another voice in my head too, saying, “You don’t have time for this. You’ll have to wait until your kids are in school.” I listened to the voice for awhile, agreeing there wasn’t time. My writing would have to wait.

A few months later, after an extremely challenging day in town with my kids and an interaction with a kind older woman, it felt like the only way to process what happened was to write. I came home and turned the TV on for the kids and I wrote. I was able to express myself in ways I hadn’t in years. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, it felt like a direct connection was being made from my thoughts to the world. It was one of the most freeing moments of my life.

Several months after that first dance recital, we had our spring recital. I imagine my parents were nervous leading up to the program. Would I dance this time or stand frozen with fear again? But, they dressed me in my pink tutu, did my hair and sent me on-stage. My mom says now with a laugh, “The curtains opened and you were all over the stage! Your dad and I thought you were going to fall off!”

I would like to say as an adult I became that precocious and outgoing girl from the second recital, but really I am still reserved. There are days I wish I was the outgoing one, the one that everyone gravitates toward. My friend Danielle is this person: she lights up a room with her infectious smile and laugh, along with her easy going personality. She’s quick to hug and you can tell it feels natural to her. I tend to gravitate toward the wall, picking up bits of conversation and standing with sweaty palms, wondering how much more small talk I have in me. Sometimes I envy her; but that isn’t who God made me to be.

Feeling at ease in social situations will likely never be my calling, and I’m realizing that’s okay too. The way she connects with others isn’t the way I connect to the world. I find myself connecting to my feelings through writing: constructing essays in my head while I walk around. I use stories to process my feelings.

Sometimes writing and motherhood feel at odds with each other. Every time I have a thought I want to get out: the kids need a snack, or help in the bathroom. It can feel like they are holding me back. There are also times I feel like my writing is taking away from being their mother. The days I find myself stealing away time in my laundry room to write, I still feel that nagging in my stomach. You’re ignoring your kids. Shouldn’t you be playing with them instead of writing?

In reality, they give me stories to write about and writing offers me a way to process being a mom, wife and woman. I hope someday the stories I have written: from essays in publication to the journals I keep for them, will give them a true glimpse of my heart. My days still revolve around them, but now I’ve made it a priority to write in the margins of the day. Some days that is only five minutes. For now that is enough. Because when I’m writing, I channel my confident, second-recital self; using my words to make a paper bridge, paved with words between their hearts and mine.

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