Nice to Meet Me

Hello, my name is Jordan, and I am a sensitive human being.

Hi, Jordan.

Is that how that goes? Please know I am not making fun of any sort of organization. My intention is actually to cheer on anyone seeking self-awareness in any form or fashion.

I also need to own my own stuff to decide what exactly I want to continue carrying on this journey, and what I can shed on the side of the road.

I think I've decided sensitivity can stay. And I didn't even realize she was there until somewhat recently. Is that ridiculous? I am nearing my thirties, and I didn't refer to myself as a sensitive person until this past year. I am a deep feeler who subconsciously saw feelings as a weakness. So when my heart burst open after my first daughter was born, I was consumed by an internal battle between my love and fear for her and my need to control and be okay no matter what happened. I wanted to call myself level-headed, not emotional.

This played a huge part in our marital turmoil after baby, too. Before Edie was born, I wore this "it's all good" mask. It was a major reason my husband was attracted to me--I was able to hang out with the bros without drama or complaining. I did my best to just go with it and stuff down anything that may have upset me. We all do that in relationships, don't we? We put a certain version of ourselves on display--the one we think our partner will find most pleasant and easiest to handle. I don't think I'm the only one, anyway. 

If you've read anything I've written before today, you may be laughing at me right now. How could I not consider myself a deep feeler? Most of you probably find me extremely dramatic. But this is my journey, and it's taken writing it all out to this point for me to see myself for who I am, and (and this is the bigger point) to say that it is okay. I am okay to feel. It is okay for my earth to shake and for my feet to question the integrity of the ground beneath them in response, rather than to try to keep walking in a straight line. It is not a waste of time for me to hold my baby while she sleeps and cry at the miracle of her lips curling into a smile as she dreams of something I will never hear about. It is not the end of the world when I lose my shit and yell at my toddler and then drop to my knees to apologize and explain that I was having big feelings and did not stop to breathe through them like I should have. Big feelings in themselves are not the enemy, I tell her. It is okay to have them. How we grow to handle them is what matters.

I've been telling myself that lately, too. And I feel it, the growth. And it feels good.

Hello, I'm Jordan, and I am a sensitive wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend. Feeling things deeply shapes the way I see and write and take photographs and move my body. Sometimes it means I need to cry or yell or close my eyes in overwhelm. Always, it means I'm alive.

Nice to meet me. I'm excited to see where I go from here.

Dear Daughters

Dear Daughters,

I have something I need to explain. For a long while now, I have mothered you behind the belief that I have totally blown it. I have tiptoed and told myself, "We are starting over today," several hundred times. You have seen me cry, sometimes while I am cradling you in my arms. You have heard me scream and watched me clutch at my throat as I fold up on the floor,  trying and failing to take deep breaths. You have heard me say, "You deserve so much better," and "I am not fit for this," and "Look at me, I am insane!" I failed to shield you from the darkest moments of my life, and I thought that meant I failed. Period.

Tonight I drove myself to yoga and left you at home with your father. Earlier on in my motherhood, back when I felt guilt more than anything else when it came to considering myself and how I was doing, I would have never asked to go somewhere alone. What if you needed me, and I was not there? It would be just another failure to add to my running list. But tonight I got a spot right in front of a heater, felt that sacred sensation of toxins both physical and emotional leaving my body as I sweat all over my mat, and I just breathed. I expected nothing from myself, and it felt good. And afterward, I thought maybe I could try that outside of the yoga studio--not having any expectations, especially for myself. Maybe I can just be thankful that I am here with you now as one of you sleeps in the bend of my arm and the other just across the room, that I am breathing and so are you and I know it by the rise and fall of both of your tiny chests.

And as I go to that place, I find myself looking back on where I am coming from and seeing it differently. I feel the growth, which is somehow so uncomfortable and reassuring at the same time, and realize it is good. I am glad you were there to witness where I was and to watch me change, because maybe one day you will fall apart and you will recall seeing me do so. And you will know I was okay. You will know it got better. You will know it was a season, and seasons change even though a bitter Winter can feel never-ending when you are in the dead of it. Poor mental health will not be a stranger to you, and healing will not be, either, because you have seen what you've seen. 

And I do not think that is a failure. I do not think that is a failure at all.

I love you both with every fiber of my insane soul,

Mama

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What Else Do I Have to Give You?

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"Mama, can you tell me a story, please?"

You scoot as close to me as possible without actually crawling on top of me, because if you did you would crush your baby sister who is nursing to sleep on my chest. We are in our family bed, where you've slept since the night you were born. 

"Yes, sweets. What kind of story?" I try to detangle your wild hair with my fingers and take deep breaths. I love telling you stories and snuggling with both of my girls, but I am anticipating your next request and trying not to feel overstimulated by all of the touching.

"Ummm, how about a blueberry picking story with Edie and Mama?"

I love the way you word your ideas. You always name both of us so I know to make sure we are together.

But then, "I need some milk, Mama." 

I take a deep yoga breath and let it out before responding. The way you say it breaks my heart and tempts me to destroy our progress, but I know I would ultimately be going back on my word to you, and that would be even more confusing to your tiny soul. "I can't nurse you while I talk, baby. It's too uncomfortable for me. Would you like for me to tell you a story?"

You pause for a moment to think. "Yeah." You move your face off of my hand, which I've used to cover my breast until this little discussion is over. 

"Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Edie. She had brown hair and brown eyes and a biiiiiiig heart. One day..." All of our stories begin this way, and most nights you say it with me. My eyes are usually quick to fill with tears when you do. You are so big and it happened so fast.

Which is why I'm struggling to let this last thing go. You seem to need me for so little these days--you are happy to explore and build and read and create on your own. You wipe yourself when you pee, and pick out and put on your own clothes. You comfort your sister without me ever asking you to do so. You understand your feelings and tell me when you are sad and what you need to fix it, and most days you notice if I am feeling off, too and you make suggestions on how to "help Mama feel all better."

Once upon a time, you were what they called a "high needs baby." You cried more minutes a day than you didn't, and I never put you down. You were hungry and I didn't know it right away, and I am still digging out of that guilt and into a place of confident mothering. So when you do express a need for something tangible, something only I can give to you, I feel the need to meet it. 

But, I don't think you need me to be an irritable mama. And more often than not, I feel like jumping out of our second story window when I tandem nurse you and your seven month old sister. If I manage to keep my cool, I usually have to ask you to move off of me for a few minutes so I don't get mad. Worst case scenario, I yank myself away from you suddenly, you cry in shock and abandonment and wake up the baby, and I feel terrible about my ability to take care of either of you well and then we start the entire process over. This happens often.

But if I take this away for good, what else do I have to offer you? This question has kept us hanging in the in between for a long while--only nursing once a day for a few minutes before bed. This question has partnered with my guilt to lie to me and play on a deep insecurity of mine. What if I'm not a good mom without nursing? What if you actually just love the boob and not me, and if I take it away, we have nothing? What if I am just not a good mom?

Writing that out makes me see how silly and untrue it is, but somewhere in our ugly fight to make breastfeeding work and our eventual success, it became my motherhood identity. It became my pride, and then it became my crutch. 

You fall asleep with a big grin on your face as I finish my story about blueberries or new shoes or meeting Clifford the Big Red Dog, and I know you will be okay without this. The season of shushing you with my breast is over and I have to mom up and communicate with you in the ways you are obviously already so capable. And now, in this new chapter, a pretty beautiful way to do that seems to be through stories. You love them, and that is good. You are okay, so I will be, too.

But I do wonder if your earliest bedtime memories will be sprinkled with silly stories or the taste of "chocolate ice cream milk," as you affectionately called it recently. Because anyone can tell you a story. 


Deep down I know, either way, no one can love you the way I do. 
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He Should Have Left

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When we got married, I did all of our shopping at Walmart. We ate Poptarts and Hamburger Helper, and I loosely believed the whole organic thing was a fad. We lived in a rent house with all carpet, had friends come over with their shoes on, and I don't even remember what types of chemicals you used on our yard. I didn't care enough then to pay attention.

It's only been four years, but I may as well be describing a totally different person, a different marriage, a different life. Your first wife--I know you've had to mourn her.  She was easy-going and so badly wanted to please you. She left you sexy letters and bought your favorite beer and threw you surprise parties because she knew group social interactions filled you up. She had a full time job with a decent salary, coached a junior high soccer team, and no free time apart from you to spend money irresponsibly.

A year after you promised "for better or for worse," I birthed our first baby. Soon after, we were told she was unwell. I was staying home with her and no longer contributing financially, and in my panicked attempts to fix her, I began using our credit card on "miracle" vitamins and non-toxic thrush creams and all organic clothing. I could not convince myself to take her into Walmart, so we began doing all of our shopping at the local co-op. She got better but I had become convinced I had to keep up the routine and continue finding new ways to prevent her from getting cancer in order to keep her well.

I read and read and read while you were at work, so by the time you returned home to challenge my foreign new beliefs, I was already all in and panicking at your questioning. I already felt like a failure and it terrified me to have you calling me out that I still may not know what I was doing in trying to protect our child. I cried louder and longer than our baby, and you gave in again and again because who can put up with that?

The panic went on to possess my whole body whenever you tried to get through to me. Two years ago I collapsed on the bathroom floor, blacked out completely after hyperventilating and woke up to you cradling my body, your mouth gentle in my ear after you had been yellling at me just moments before. "It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay." You didn't believe it and neither did I, but you had said, "in sickness and in health," so there you were. But you probably should have left.

Because the next time I felt the swell of complete overwhelm radiate from my chest out into my limbs, I was holding my phone in the kitchen. I felt completely out of control when I threw it down on the tile, shattering the screen and scaring our daughter and myself before crumbling onto the floor with the tiny pieces of glass. I broke four phones, a glass, and a bottle of homemade all purpose cleaner in one year, and you gave me grace. You should have left. Instead, you bought me new ones. 

Sure, you withdrew from me. I wasn't safe for you, and you knew the feeling was mutual. Looking back, I just wanted your partnership in taking care of our fragile child. But I came at you as a total stranger--you had no idea how to work with me. You found your own ways of coping and freaked out in your own way when it became just too much, but you stayed. You watched me completely unravel until I was totally raw and just plain ugly, and you didn't run away.

We are in our fifth year of marriage, and as I look back at it up to this point, I know most men would have moved on to someplace lighter a long time ago. Although I've learned to breathe through my compulsions and you've given up some of your unhealthy habits, too, we don't have much of a relationship at this point. But here's the big thing--you're here. You're here because you stayed. You're here and so am I, and the dust has settled, so maybe we can find each other again. 

My dear husband, thank you for your grace. You've given me more of it than I thought I'd ever need. I love you, I'm looking for you again and I'm so happy you are here.

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