Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letters to Amaliya - two and a quarter


Every night, I read you stories.  It used to be three books, but these days it's one really long one, since you seem equally interested in words and pictures.  After, we snuggle up in the rocking chair, and I ask you what was your favorite part of the day.  At first you didn't understand.  You repeated the question back at me, so I told you all about my day, and you repeated my answers.  Suddenly, this week, you get it.  Monday night, you answered, "finding raisins in my oatmeal."  Last night, "playing with Daddy and eating shrimp." Then you asked me, and I answered, "playing with you, and going to the gym at lunch with my friend."  You looked concerned, turned to stroke my arm and said, "Mama very sore!"  Yes baby, I will be tomorrow.  Then we "blow out" your light, and you squeeze me tightly around the neck while I sing lullabies.  Two kisses and your blanket are requested before we say goodnight.

Two is a magical age.

You started Music Together last month, and while I knew you would enjoy it, I didn't expect it to be quite so transformative for all of us.  You love music, as all kids do, but your delight in gathering with the group to sing songs, experiment with tonal patterns, and explore new instruments surpasses my wildest expectations.  You picked up a dozen new songs in a week.  We've collected an ensemble of instruments for you, from sticks to a triangle and a tambourine, and you grab a different something to play with every song you hear. You sing loudly and confidently, no matter where you are.  You are quick to catch on to a beat.  Suddenly your days - and my days too - are infused with music from beginning to end and sometimes long after we put you to bed (when you really should be sleeping, but we hear you singing in your dark room instead).  It's amazing for you, and absolutely delightful for me, in a way I did not expect.  Watching you learn to love music and make music is helping me understand and love it in an entirely new way.  I am so grateful to share these experiences with you.

You have become such a complex human being, and grow more nuanced by the day.  Your vocabulary at times renders me speechless - walking to the stairs at bedtime, you put a hand on my leg and said, "I want to go first, mama.  Be patient" - and I can do nothing but laugh.  Communication at two is delightful, and so easy compared to how it used to be.  You can tell me what hurts and if you're hungry and who-pushed-who at daycare. Your tantrums (though frequent) are easily resolved when I look you in the eye, ask you why you're mad, and explain why the universe isn't working the way you want it to.   You've quickly become my favorite person on earth to talk to.

You're so mature in so many ways, you hardly seem like a two-year-old to me.  I feel bad about this, sometimes.  It's the curse of the first-born girl child, I think. We heap expectations on you and require more responsibility and patience than, maybe, one should expect from a child.  You handle life so beautifully, though.  You love to be in the kitchen with me, sitting on the counter and watching me cook, identifying each ingredient and asking for smells and tastes.  You help me make my bed in the morning and fold laundry, and you always put your shoes away in the proper place.  You like things just-so and thrive on routine.  With that said, you have also surprised me with your grace and flexibility.  We've been through some big changes and have dealt with hectic schedules this summer, and you adjusted seamlessly.  I am so proud of you, for how you handle yourself, and how patient you are with your sometimes-crazy parents.

This is not to say age 2 is without its challenges.  You have been extremely attached to me lately, and screams of, "Go away Daddy!" and, "Mama, stay with me!" echo after me if I so much as walk to the next room without you.  You must do everything by yourself, from changing your own diaper to brushing your own teeth.  And, my love, you are definitely not your best self when you are sleepy or hungry.  Keep that in mind for the future. 

Sometimes I feel like I can do nothing right.  You whine and cry and demand from the second we get home to when I finally put you to bed 15 minutes early, because I can't take it anymore.  Everything, everything is a fight some days - sitting in your high chair, putting on pants, applying chapstick.  You've burst into tears because I sang the wrong verse in a song that you requested.  You scream hysterically if you find one chia seed (out of hundreds) in your bowl of oatmeal that looks suspicious, and will not be mollified until I remove it. I am frustrated often, but mostly I find it hilarious, and can't help but laugh when you fall to the ground shedding bitter tears because I had to help you put your diaper on. 

You are a spitfire, so determined and independent and stubborn, and as much as it makes me want to tear my hair out some days, I wouldn't change you for the world. I love how gentle and nurturing you are, always feeding and changing your baby dolls.  I love that you are a thinker and an analyzer, rarely acting impulsively, slow to try new things until you are absolutely sure what you are getting yourself in to.  I love seeing you start to relate to other kids, playing with them at daycare and talking about them when you get home.  I love that you still eat basically everything (last night for dinner: shrimp, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes, half an avocado, and a little bit of rice - who wouldn't love that?!) and you sleep nights like a champ (though napping might be on its way out).

I just love you, that's all.  In this season of thankfulness, I am most thankful for you.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A home.

Now that all things marathon are behind me for a while, I'm stopping to take stock of the other craziness that happened over the summer.

For one, we moved!

New kitchen, with actual counter space.  Be still, my heart.

Perfect for blueberry muffin-baking.

This was not something I saw coming, necessarily, but became critical over the summer for a few reasons:

- The apartment we currently live in was raising the rent. While the main selling point of the complex used to be the price, especially given the fantastic neighborhood, the rent hike would put our monthly cost on par with other places in the same area.

- It was a second floor unit, and I was getting extremely tired of trying to guide a 2-year-old down the stairs in the morning, in heels, with my laptop, lunch box, gym bag, her backpack, etc.  It was logistically challenging, and dangerous.

- We moved into said cheap, second floor, two bedroom apartment in the great neighborhood with the thought that maybe, just maybe, that would be our home until we were in a position to buy a house.  It became abundantly clear during the year, once the reality of childcare costs and my impending student loan payments hit, that a house to "own" was probably not going to happen for us soon.  If we're going to rent anyway, why not rent a place we love?

Speaking of counter space, this is her new favorite place to be when mama cooks.

We shopped around locally and in neighboring towns, and quickly concluded that while our apartment was nothing special, our neighborhood is a treasure that we were loathe to give up.  Quaint old houses, quiet streets, proximity to downtown activities, the ability to run in the 5am darkness and only encounter elderly dog-walkers and the occasional possum?  We couldn't leave.

Lucky for us, a place across the street opened up.  We loaded up our belongings and settled in one block away from our former home.  And we are happy.  There is a bit more space, a functional layout, natural light streaming in, and friendly neighbors on all sides.  I can see us staying here for years and growing our family.

It's so nice to feel settled, even if our "American dream" is not quite textbook.  While 10 years ago the social pressures revolved around going to school, getting a job, and having enough money to go out on the weekends, now... now, as I'm approaching 30, the pressure is centered on having babies and buying houses. Owning your own house is the hallmark of stability, financial responsibility, and general grown-up-ness these days.  I have many friends who have made that happen, and I couldn't be happier for them.  It's not for us, though.  Not right now.  Honestly, a small part of me is glad that we are not in a position to buy.  I am an adult.  I am responsible. But I do not feel ready to take on the obligation that is owning a house.  I know what you're going to say.  "Equity!" "Independence!" "Security!"  I hear you.  We'll get there some day.

For now, I am in love with our quaint little rental.  You can never really "own" the things that matter, anyway. Evening walks, the smell of bacon sizzling on a Sunday morning, warm bodies to snuggle up with at night - these things are mine, with or without the mortgage.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Longest Run (part 2)

Alternative title: 26.2 thoughts on my first marathon.

I woke up at 4:30 to start the pre-run coffee/breakfast/bathroom routine, and we were out the door by 5:15.  We walked a mile to the start line, I used a porta-potty (no lines!), kissed the husband goodbye, and took my place near the 5:30 pace group to await the start.  I fought the urge to cry for no good reason, really.  It was one of those long anticipated moments, finally arrived - and yet, I still couldn't wrap my head around the reality that I would actually be running 26 miles.  Luckily I didn't have much time to stew before the horn signaled the start of the race.

1.  First mile!  Here we go!  Why do I already feel tired?  I'm not going to turn on my music for a while so I can soak this in.  How funny that I feel like a crazy person for doing this, but here I am, surrounded by more than 2,000 other crazy people!

2. Definitely feeling tired.  Probably the ~4 hours of sleep I got last night.  I need a distraction until the endorphins kick in.  NPR podcasts to the rescue! I catch a glimpse of the leaders after they round the first bend - how do they make it look so effortless?

3. It's kind of eerie, running in the pre-dawn light with the coastal fog rolling in, on streets with no cars. 

4. Time for my first Gu.  Espresso Love, I've been looking forward to you allllll morning.

5. Bacon.  Mile 5 smells like bacon.  Did they really need to have the course run behind so many good-smelling restaurants?

6. Gay For Good is running a water stop, so I take a mini break and say a sincere thank you to the volunteers. I spend the rest of the mile reflecting on how, out of all the various communities I have belonged to throughout my life - Catholic, ex-patriot, student, etc - the only two in which I have ever felt completely comfortable and accepted are the gay community and the running community.  I am so grateful for both.

7.  At this point I start doing funny mental math just to pass the time.  At 6 miles I was 23% done with the race.  7 miles,  26ish%.  Once I get to 8 miles I'll be almost a third of the way through!

8.  HELLO endorphins!  I was wondering when you were going to kick in!   With a runners high in full effect, I spend the mile running along the beach breathing the ocean air deeply and blinking back grateful tears for the beauty of nature and the joy of running (told you I was high).  I take my second Gu and pick up the pace, possibly a bit too fast.

9. Still feeling awesome.  Take a moment to appreciate the spectators along the beach with funny signs, including "run faster, I just farted," and, "hurry up, I have a Bronco game to watch!"

10.  This was a really fun stretch. At the mile market there was a big "30th Anniversary" balloon arch, tables upon tables with all sorts of food and beverages, and amazing loud support from the crowd.  I turned off my podcast and soaked it in for a while.

11. Heading inland now, no more ocean view.  The little beach houses are super cute though. I spend the mile pondering what annual income I would need to afford to life on the California coast.

12. I become very focused on getting to Cal State Long Beach, where I'll cross the 20 mile mark.  26.2 still seems impossibly long and my little brain refuses to accept it, but I know for a fact that I can do 20.  I pop a few Gu chomps.

13.  Half way point!  Why do so many men run practically naked?  I ponder why it would not be socially acceptable for men to wear sports bras, even though some of them have serious jiggling going on and would probably be more comfortable with some support.

14.  Only 12 miles to go... that's less than halfway... no big deal... oh look!  The bay!  Running next to water is so much better.  I turn on my AMR podcasts and listen to funny Ragnar anecdotes for a while.

15. Now we have entered the part of Long Beach that looks like the Inland Empire.  Not pretty, but also, familiar and oddly comforting.  I wave obnoxiously and smile at drivers, who don't look amused that the streets are still closed for the race.

16. Cal State finally comes into view!  As promised, I hear the cheering crowds of students before I even reach the campus.  I take my 3rd Gu, high five some wrestlers, and dole out plenty of "thank you"s to the phenomenal students, who by this point have been standing out there cheering for hours.

17.  Remembering the last time I was on this campus, for a state speech and debate competition in 2002.  I reflect on how far I've come, from that obese high-school kid who lied to get out of PE, didn't know how to commit to or work hard for anything, and whiled away every waking hour on the phone or playing video games.  Get teary again, thinking about humanity and our boundless potential for change.

18. The clouds have finally burned off and now the sun is intense.  I take 3 cups of water at the next stop, and dump two over my head.  It helps.

19.  Hot.  No shade.  We're running around the perimeter of the campus which is less distracting.  I start noticing some pain in my knee and groin, and hope it doesn't get worse.  I take a few more Gu Chomps, earlier than planned.

20.  We're leaving the campus now, and mentally I'm in a bad place.  It's funny, how fast things can shift.  My body doesn't feel different, but my mood is suddenly depressed.  6.2 miles isn't much compared to the 20 I've already run, but it seems practically impossible. I decide to turn off the podcasts and crank up the music.  Eye of the Tiger may or may not have been repeated several times.

21. Seriously contemplate jumping into every police car or ambulance that I pass and asking for a ride back to the hotel.

22.  Feeling better now.  Body hurts, but with only 4 miles left, I am fairly certain that I'm not going to die.  This gives me more confidence, and my spirits lift a little.  I focus on my music and plow ahead.

23.  I've been walking for 30 seconds - 1 minute for every mile since I started, but now when I walk the pain when I start running again is excruciating, so I just keep running.  Most people are walking, so I am passing people left and right.  Confidence is rising.  I suck down my final Gu.

24.  Out of nowhere, I feel a little pep in my step.  I keep repeating "2 miles.  I can do anything for 2 miles."  While earlier in the race I kept thinking about doing a second marathon some day, now I'm not so sure.  I ponder how similar marathons are to childbirth - the pain is good, cleansing, productive, but also so intense that it is slightly traumatizing, and it will be a while before I can think about doing it again.

25.  Almost there!  ALMOST THERE!  I feel like I'm running fast right now, but I know it's a shuffle at best.  Still, I'm passing almost everyone, and have to weave in and out.  The half marathoners are with us (and have been for a while, but I wasn't paying attention).  One old man cruises past me, looks back, and yells, "Vamanos!" so I pick up the pace and pass him.  This makes me smile.

26.  The 26 mile marker sneaks up before I know it.  Right before we get to it another marathoner yells, "there's the turn to the finish!  Right up there!"  I don't believe him.  I am preparing myself for the last .2 to feel like an eternity.  But suddenly...

.2. I'm in the chute, and it's over.  I might have cried if I were less dehydrated. Someone hands me a medal and a bag full of snacks, and I'm guided towards the exit with crowds of other wasted, sweaty runners.

I got to come home to my biggest fan (and my second biggest fan - my Mama!) which made the experience even more magical.

Was it hard?  Absolutely.

Was it worth the months of early wakeups and hot summer training runs?  Without a doubt, yes.

Was I satisfied with my time?  Yes.  I am competitive by nature, and it really is hard for me to be involved in an activity where I know, in no uncertain terms, that I will never come in first.  Or 10th.  Or even 100th.  I am always fighting against my childish inner monologue that says, "If I can't be the best, then why bother?"  Running is humbling, which is one of the reasons I love it so much.  When I'm freed from the need to win, I can look around and appreciate the journey.  My time of 5:23:50 was exactly what I trained for, and I am incredibly proud of myself for running a strategic race, acing my nutrition, staying hydrated, and finishing strong.

Will I do it again?  Most definitely.  I can't promise when, though.  I don't see myself doing more than one per year, and with a young family (that is hopefully not done growing yet) I do not know if I'll be training at this time next year.  But whether it's two or three or 10 years down the road, I guarantee I will see the starting line of another 26.2 one day.

Thanks for indulging me, friends  :)  I promise my next post will be on a different topic!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Longest Run (part 1)

Last week, I ran a marathon.

I wrote a (too) long post with the play-by-play that I will put up later, but for now, I just need to put it out in the universe in writing.  I haven't processed it yet.  It doesn't feel real to me.

Maybe there were too many emotions, too many highs and lows, to put into words?

Maybe I can't believe that I voluntarily put myself through that much pain?

Maybe I can't accept that,  hard as it was, as long and difficult as the training was, that it's all over?

So much preparation, anticipation, eagerness/dread, Gus and sunblock, sweat and tears, worn down shoes, and so, so many early mornings... all in the past now.  My first marathon.  I'll never get it back.

(Typing this, I realize it sounds like I lost my virginity. Funny, since during the race I couldn't stop comparing the mental game and various unpleasant physical sensations to childbirth).

Six days later and I can finally walk down the stairs normally. I still have a sharp pain in my right foot now and then, but it is fading every day. I have slept 8-9 hours every night this week, a rarity for me.  And I have been eating, everything, like it's my job.  Life goes on.  I am recovering.

I am thinking a lot, too. Thinking about that 240lb girl who, just 9 years ago, would get winded walking across the parking lot. So many years spent miserable, misdirecting my energy, filling voids with food, not realizing that feeling good in your body means much more than a pair of jeans that fit. It means nourishing yourself, not feeding yourself.  It means activity, not exercise. Doing what you love, not what you are obligated to do. Turning your passion and pain and energy into forward motion instead of standing still and letting it burn you up from within.

I did not discover these things through running. Knowledge and a willingness to change led me to running, and running has taught me to embrace all the best parts of myself.

My mantra over the last 6 miles:  Fearless. Free. Grateful.

Floating!!  And passing the guys, because I can   :)

Always grateful

Friday, October 10, 2014

One more hill to climb

I'm back.  I'm here.  I'm rounding the final turn towards the finish line of my summer-long work/school/run/move quadrathlon, and I am more than ready to collect my medal, collapse on the couch, and drink a tall glass of chocolate milk.

Anyway.  It is hard to get back to writing when you haven't done it in a while, you know?  I had a good rhythm going before my hiatus, all the ideas in my head easily coursed down my arms and out through my typing fingers. That part of me has been shut down, turned off, since July out of necessity. You cannot crank out page after page of case analyses riddled with corporate jargon and acronyms while also trying to harness your creative thoughts.  They are not compatible pursuits for me, they are separate lives of mine that fight over my body and time.  School is over now, though, and since one advanced degree is all I aspire to attain in this life, I am officially turning off the lights and hanging up the "closed" sign.  My formal education is complete.  I am free.

Forgive me if I'm rusty and appear to be chasing my tail here for a while.  I need to remember how to use this space the way I used to, the way that fortifies my soul and help me process life and connect and all those glorious things.  I'll get there.

For now I am focused on the last big event lined up for my summer: the Long Beach Marathon on Sunday, 10/12.  Training for a marathon initially seemed like a crazy decision.  When I started a new job and found out I would have to take two classes over the summer, it seemed like a downright stupid decision.  I plowed ahead anyway, and looking back, I accept that it was the best decision I could have made.  There were days when the 5am wakeups and long runs in the summer heat sucked, but there were many more days when the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment after a hard effort were all that stood between me and complete stress-induced meltdown.

I'll be back next week with a race report, and hopefully with regular new content and a fresh blog design going forward.  Until then, go check out Mixed Space, a blog created by the Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC).  I'm honored to have one of my posts up on their site.

Till next time, friends.

What have you been up to this summer?  Anything new and exciting to share?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On taking responsibility for my happiness.

 ***Originally posted on 05/08/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.  

Tea farm in Limuru, Kenya

I've been cranky lately.  Moody.  Stressed.  Mostly overwhelmed.  And I'm tired of it - life is too short and too wonderous to wallow in the negative. 
I've always been the kind of person who loves responsibility.  I take pride in being loyal and reliable, in keeping mine and everyone else's lives in order.  I come home from work and generally don't sit down until dinner is made, dishes are done, workout and shower are complete... and when I do sit down I pay bills, work on assignments for grad school, or blog (hi!).  I am not a person who enjoys relaxation on a daily basis.  Sitting on the couch and mindlessly watching TV stresses me out and makes me unhappy.

With a baby in the mix now, I find my energy levels are completely off the charts.  I'm doing what I've always done, but now I have the added responsibility of feeding her, the bedtime routine, prepping her food and supplies for daycare... then getting up super early to get her dressed and ready for the day (and yes, my husband is willing to assist with all these things... but what can I say?  Efficiency is my forte.  I do these things because I do them well).
Most of the time I get everything done, still have some time to devote to my personal interests, and end the day feeling on top of it all.... but sometimes, I get burnt out.  It's been happening more often lately; I've been constantly sick since Amaliya started daycare, and trying to go go go 16 hours a day when I really just need to lay on the couch is breaking me down.  I feel like every day is spent preparing for the next day, and I never get a second to sit down and breathe.
I know I need a reset, to refresh my mind and spirit.  Nobody is going to step in, force me to sit down, take away my responsibilities.  Nobody is going to go to work for me, finish my classes for me.  I don't expect the world to cut me any slack, and I don't really need it anyway - I've got this.  I just need to figure how to pause from day-to-day and smell the proverbial roses.  I need to take responsibility for my own happiness, for my own benefit and for my family, because they deserve the best of me all the time.  I've figured out a few things that work for me:

1.  Find inspiration.  TED talks on YouTube, really motivating music, poetry, people watching at the coffee shop.... all these things really give me energy and get my creative and intellectual juices flowing.  It's easy to get in a rut and simply survive day-to-day when there's so much on your plate.  Sometimes I feel like a pack mule, like I only exist to work.  When I feel inspired, I'm reminded that I have more to offer the world than wage labor.

2. Sweat.  I go for a run, I take a class, even just a long walk helps me to turn my head around.  Endorphins are my friend.  A good workout helps me stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future, and enables me to just be in my body, fully present in the moment.
3. Ignore the messes. This is a hard one.  I like a clean house.  I can't STAND waking up to dishes in the sink.  I scoffed at everyone who told me that my place would always be a mess after having a baby.  And it's true, it IS possible to have a very clean house and a baby simultaneously, even while working - the cost is your sanity.  I've realized that to be happy, sometimes I have to let go and embrace the chaos.  Sometimes, an evening on the couch is more important than filing, dusting, or scrubbing the shower.

4. Take a sanity day.  I took one of these today!  If you're lucky enough to have paid time off of work, well, use it people!  And use it in a way that's going to make you feel fantastic.  For me, that means dropping the baby at daycare, making an enormous list of projects that I want to tackle, and knocking them out.  For you, that might mean a morning with a good book and an afternoon pedicure.  If you don't work, or can't take time off, try and carve out a couple hours here and there to focus on you, and doing something that fortifies your soul.  No guilt allowed - a happy you makes a better world.

5.  Get help.  Now, asking for help is definitely not something I'm good at, but I am working on it.  Every time I start feeling resentful about my workload, I consciously pause and think, "did I ask for help?"  I never do, I just expect my husband to be a mind-reader, sense when I'm feeling frazzled, and do exactly what I need him to.  That isn't realistic.  I have to ask him for his help.  And you know what?  He has never once refused or even complained.  He is more than willing to assist with anything if I ask nicely instead of just expecting him to share my priorities.  Bottling things up, working myself to exhaustion, then unleashing all my frustrations on him solves nothing and just makes both of us feel crappy.

Life really is too short to be unhappy.

Did I miss anything?  What do you do when you need a mental reset?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Self(ish)lessness - Why I'm glad to be a working mother

***Originally published on 02/24/2013***

For the next few weeks, while I'm finishing school and settling into various other changes in my life, I will be revisiting some older posts that you may or may not have seen in the archives. I hope to be back soon with new content. In the meantime, enjoy! And feel free to find me on Instagram, @kathleenojo.   

Taking care of a baby all day is no trifling task.  On the surface they are not complicated creatures - keep them fed, dry, rested, and entertained - but oh!  The physical, but more importantly, the mental energy it takes to do this day-in day-out should not be underestimated.  Your child is just discovering the world, and can spend 20 minutes smiling at a red coffee cup.  You'd think this would be a great opportunity for us adults to cast aside our cynicism and world-weariness, rediscover our childlike sense of wonder, and delight along with our babies at all the mundane details of life. 

Sometimes it happens that way.  But let's be real - more often than not, I am not content to spend my afternoon holding up a spatula for my little one to marvel at.  I'm guilty of sneaking Facebook time on my phone while "playing" on the floor with my daughter.  I find myself occasionally hurrying through the bedtime ritual in order to get to the wine, novel, and couch waiting for me on the other side.  

Do I feel bad about this?  Sometimes.  Not too often.  I am doing my best, and I really do find myself pausing numerous times a day to be in the moment with my daughter. I see the world through her eyes, hold her close and smell her, and let my heart balloon with gratitude.

I am also happy to disengage now and then.  The 40-hour work week is taxing, but sometimes I enjoy being able to throw myself into the work that crosses my desk.  I love my family so much that when I am home, I am emotionally switched on, all the time.  It's sweet and intense and very, very draining.  It's a relief to pack my heart away for a little while every day, to engage in activities that come from a place of intellect or routine rather than love and dedication and selflessness. 

Selflessness?  Well.  That might be somewhat of an exaggeration.  There is so much pressure on a woman to be selfless - as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother.  Men are born free and live free until the day they decide to take on the responsibility of a family, and even then, their roles are clearly defined.  Men do what men are supposed to do, like ships that sail from port to port, one mission at a time.  And women?  We're the water, flowing in and around, filling in all the gaps and keeping everything afloat.  I don't feel remotely bad for casting off this role now and then and living just for me.   

It hasn't been easy to balance, for sure.  I will certainly not be running any more half marathons soon - after working all week, I have no desire to leave my baby for 4 hours on a Sunday to get a long run in.  The work day is draining, not only because of the work, but because my breaks are spent pumping breastmilk in a storage room, and my lunches, rushing home or to daycare to feed my daughter and trying to make it back in under 45 minutes.  I refuse to let dad take over the bedtime ritual so that I can make it to a class at the gym (besides breastfeeding, it's the only quality time we have together some days, and I regard that time as sacred), so between doing what I need to do for class and prepping everything for the next day, I often don't have time to exercise in the evenings.

And yes, I have had several crises of confidence since returning to work.  Especially when I have to leave Amaliya at daycare, instead of at home with her daddy or grandma.  Truth - I still fight tears every time I leave the infant room at daycare, and I reward myself with a Stell coffee each time I make it out without leaking a tear. Why do I have to leave my daughter with strangers?  Why do I have to be the one to work full time while my husband works part time?  Why can't we be financially stable enough for me to stay home with her?  Why why why....

Traumatized daycare face.  "Mama don't leave meeeee!"

The whining and fist-shaking doesn't last long though.  Because here's the straight-up truth, and what I believe many women feel but are not allowed to say:  I am selfish, and glad that I'm selfish.  I unapologetically put my happiness first, before that of my family.  And I know in my core that we are all better off for it.  I need to embrace, every day, that part of me that is not defined by the love of my family.  It makes me a better person, a better mother, more patient and gentle and present with my daughter and husband.  This is not to say there are not sacrifices - there have been sleepless nights comforting a sick baby, days where I'm so busy taking care of her that I forget to eat, and if it ever came down to a choice, my life for hers, I wouldn't hesitate.  But I am still a human, still a woman with an identity of my own, and just because my daughter is worth the absolute best that life has to offer, doesn't mean that I am worth any less.

So, I work.  I run.  I cook, clean, occasionally find time to blog, read books that are not even remotely related to babies or children, and indulge in a glass (or two) of wine in the evening while simultaneously patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on keeping it all together.  I don't do everything, and what I DO, I don't always do well.  But I do my best, my family is loved, and I am happy.

My teeny tiny 1-month old
 I'm ready for you, Monday...