Playing Pretend

Mae has loved pretend for almost half her life now. But in the past six months, from 2-2.5 years old, imaginative play has increased even more. It’s really all she does. I never know when she wakes up if I’m a mermaid or a baby for the day. Living with Mae is a little like tripping acid. The dog can jump in my lap and suddenly we are all dogs. A stick can become a fishing pole, and a leaf is a trout, and a storm is rocking our boat, and mommy is just trying to drink her coffee.

I love, love, love her imaginative play. I’m a creative person. I also loved pretend as as child and even had an imaginary friend.

But it is difficult for me to play pretend for long periods of time like Mae. I do not have her stamina for suspending disbelief, for ignoring the dishes and a dog that wants to go out. So I play with her in spurts, and coming up with new scenarios also helps me to stick with it. She could play “mommy and baby” all day long, every day, so I have to try and vary our pretend play.

Here are some of our “games”:

  1. Library. I put pieces of paper insides library books and we use Mae’s Melissa and Doug stamp kit to stamp the paper and “check out” books. I also give her a plastic card from my wallet to pretend is her library card. She loves this, and I do too.
  2. Cooking. I give her a big bowl and let her pour random ingredients in there. We have a learning tower, so she can “stand” at the kitchen counter. We mix water, sugar, spices, food coloring. This actually turned into a good way to start learning how colors change when mixed together.
  3. Doctor/Veterinarian: A classic. We have this kit and she’s loved it for a long time.
  4. “Turn You Into A _______”: We pretend to be fairies or witches with a wand and turn each other into different animals. Then you have to act out that animal.
  5. Fishing. Get a stick. We sit in the driveway and pretend to catch BIG fish or little fish or seahorses. She loves to name all the sea creatures that she knows with this game. We “throw them in the bucket!” or throw them back to the sea.
  6. Restaurant. She’s the chef and brings me pretend food. She especially likes to play this game at the playground. When other kids are enjoying slides and swings, Mae likes to play restaurant.
  7. Dress up: Mae has an entire wardrobe of dress-up clothes now, from Elsa gowns to firefighter hats. She has recently inherited a bunch of accessories from her MeMaw, so we are enjoying belts and scarves. She likes to turn a scarf into a tube top. Designing outfits is one of my favorite parts of pretend. Then she wants to have a dance party or “get married,” which means she kisses me or her daddy.
  8. Cleaning. Or any job. She loves to have a duty. I can give her a sponge or a paper towel, and she enjoys pretending to clean. Sometimes, she actually does clean, sometimes.

What types of pretend do you play with your toddlers? We need more ideas!


A Single Mom’s Postpartum Anxiety

This essay is a little different than the others I’ve posted. The point of view is first person. Instead of shifting the interview to third person, I’ve decided to blend direct quotations from Jessica and my own paraphrasing of her words. 

When I turned 35, all of my friends got pregnant at once, even the ones who said they’d never have children. I wasn’t distraught about this fact, but it got me thinking. I’d been on and other dating websites, and I’d had terrible luck. So I began casually thinking maybe it was time to look into getting pregnant. I thought I’d just make a phone call, nothing major.

I made the appointment at Carolina Conceptions, and I already knew then that I was willing to be a mother on my own, but I wasn’t planning on anything really happening right away. I was just beginning the process.

I had to go through three tests to check on my fertility, and then I could make an appointment two months before I wanted to start trying to conceive. Then my bloodwork came back from one of the tests and my AMH, a hormone produced by ovarian follicles, was low, very low, and this process went from something I’d just think about to something that had to be done right away. I remember asking the doctor, “Can’t I wait until April? What’s two more months?” And she replied, “We should move ahead immediately.”

So I was suddenly picking out a sperm donor, and I decided to keep my criteria simple: I wanted someone who had a lot of sisters (for the very unscientific reason that this would gave me a better chance of having a girl), and I wanted someone who I would want to have dinner with, a good person.

I got pregnant on the first try. So for all the worry, I was already pregnant in February of 2014.

My pregnancy was normal and besides some job stress, I was ready to have a baby and had a plan in place for family and friend support, and my dad came down from New Jersey even before my due date.

I ended up with a C-section due to blood pressure issues, and they didn’t do the anesthesia correctly, and I could feel the procedure, so they gave me nitric oxide as well, but the nitric oxide made me hallucinate, and as I lay there, I thought they said the baby was dying. My first thought in this drug-induced state was “God, save me.” When we would return to the hospital later, I was plagued with guilt for having this thought about myself, instead of the health of my child. When I woke up after the C-section, I thought I was dying and asked the nurse. Then I asked about my dad and my doula, and then the nurse had to remind me that I had a baby. This entire experience left me feeling a total lack of confidence, disoriented, and guilty from the beginning.

My panic began on the ride home from the hospital. When we were only a block away, I asked my dad to pull over because I thought Michelle, my daughter, was choking. Dad pulled over and checked Michelle and said everything looked fine to him. This was the beginning of my excessive worry about her health.

We got home on a Friday and I woke my dad up many times to ask if she was breathing and he would say “she looks fine” yet he got up every time to console me. The next day was Saturday and we had some visitors and then we were headed to bed, and I wish we had just gone to bed that night, but instead, we stayed up to watch the news. I was holding Michelle, and she just started twitching, like a marionette string. I asked my dad if this was normal. “Let me hold her,” he said. While he held Michelle, I picked up my iPad and began to Google. This led to more panic. I called the pediatrician, who went through a list of questions with me, and then recommend we take Michelle to the ER.

That was the longest ride. We were sleep-deprived, and I couldn’t drive due to the C-section and my dad wasn’t familiar with the area. Everything about that drive was terrible.

I stopped taking my pain meds the day we went to the hospital. I wanted to be totally clear and able to make decisions.  I remember a doctor coming in with a group of interns. I could tell we were something to see, an interesting case. This made me worry even more. I remember the cleaning lady, on that first day, came into our room, saw Michelle, and immediately began to pray and ask Jesus to lift her up. The second day, when Michelle was still hooked up to all the tubes and monitors, the cleaning lady wouldn’t even look me in the eye. From her reaction, I knew things looked as bad as I thought. However, everything came out fine. Michelle’s twitching was normal, and they sent us home.

But I couldn’t stop diagnosing her and thinking she was going to die. I didn’t believe them.

Eventually, my dad had to return to Jersey, so my best friend flew down to Raleigh and drove us back up to Jersey for the holidays.

In Jersey, I remember being on my phone a lot. I was googling or calling doctors. She would sleep with her head thrown back, way back. This worried me. She also spit up a lot. I was worried about all of this. I saw a pediatrician in Jersey three times during our month there, and I called my pediatrician back home at least two times per week.

While I was in Jersey during that month, I realized things were bad. My brother-in-law came to Christmas dinner sick, and he got my dad sick. Dad was bed-ridden for a few days, so I was completely alone with Michelle for the first time. And I just held her and cried. This isn’t right, I told myself.

I was scared to take Michelle with me to any of my appointments. I was a single mom, and I felt judged. What if they took her away from me? And even though my dad helped as much as he could, he didn’t understand. He would say “I don’t know what’s wrong. You have a beautiful baby.” And my first thought would be she’ll still be beautiful when she’s dead, because I really thought she was dying or sick. That was always on my mind.

One night, while still in Jersey, I called my dad at his girlfriend’s and said “I think she’s sick.” He came home, in the middle of the night. He was angry. He tried to reason with me: “This is not what a sick baby looks like. Sick babies don’t look this good.” And it clicked then. She was eating. She had good color. She wasn’t sick. This was me. “Maybe you have postpartum,” he said. I spent the next day trying to get Zoloft without success from my doctor in North Carolina.

So I went to an urgent care in Jersey. The nurse there was really nice when I started bawling uncontrollably. She printed me off all these resources in NC.

The doctor finally came in and said, “I can prescribe you one month of 50 mg of Zoloft, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll probably have to be hospitalized.”

So I didn’t take the Zoloft. It can’t not work if I’m not taking.  And I didn’t want hospitalization as an option on the table.

So I went back to North Carolina without much improving in early January, as scheduled, for Michelle’s pediatrician appointment. I had an entire list of questions, 30-40, for the pediatrician. I even had them grouped in certain categories, so that I could quickly refer to the list and not let her see how many questions I actually had. I began crying as I asked my questions. This was when our pediatrician gently and effectively intervened. She told me about Moms Supporting Moms, a local support group.

However, I still didn’t take any immediate action that day.

Two days later, I was talking on the phone with a friend who has always been there for me. I could call her at 1 AM and she would answer. She asked me what I was going to do. She said, “I’m not saying this because I don’t want to talk to you but we’re at the point when it’s more than I can help you with and you’re not enjoying Michelle.” This finally pushed me to take real action.

I called my OB and said I still wasn’t feeling well. They said they would call in Xanax while I waited for the Zoloft to start working, since I had just begun to take the Zoloft and it can take many weeks to work. However, the nurse warned me that due to the side effects “You’ll have to be really careful while taking Xanax because you might drop the baby.” This comment did not help my anxiety. And then they didn’t even call in the Xanax.

I called the warmline for Moms Supporting Moms and waited on a call back from them. I was just waiting, and it felt like forever.

Then they got the Xanax that day and the support group called me back and there was a meeting that next night. Once I got on the meds and started going to group, I got better.

A year later, I finally, fully believed Michelle was going to be okay. I didn’t think she was going to die that entire year, but I was always worried that something wasn’t quite right. I always had my eye out for something wrong with her.

But I’m a lot better, and I have Michelle to thank for that too. She’s just a great kid.

Grief with a Toddler in the House

We are grieving in our house this, and Mae gives zero fucks. This is the blessing and curse of having a toddler when you lose someone you love. She’s two, so of course I don’t expect her to understand any of this. However, this means we cannot wallow in our feelings for too long (or more than two minutes) because Mae tugs on your shirt and asks “Come play with me?” or demands “I need snack!”

On Monday, Jimmy’s grandma passed away. She was ninety and some people’s reaction to that is “Oh, well she lived a long life” and she did and we knew this was coming, BUT all of that doesn’t make us miss her any less. We miss her, and we can’t believe we won’t see her again. We are both walking around carrying a weight of sadness, and Mae still wants us to crawl on the floor and play horsey with her or dress up and have a dance party.


After the thunderstorm yesterday, Mae immediately wanted to put on her rain boots. We splashed in puddles and chased the steam coming off the street. There are so many metaphors in this….


I’ve really struggled with her this week. To be with her is to leave my grief. She lives completely in the moment, and it is hard to be in the present when you are trying to hold on to someone who has passed away.

When I’m in a good place, I embrace the moment and we dance in the kitchen and I just let myself go and try to remember Ms. Frances (who loved to dance). But that’s extremely difficult to do right now. I’m an emotional person. I have to remind myself that “feelings aren’t facts.” I can get side-swiped by sadness at any time. And a day with a toddler is a roller-coaster ride of their emotions, so when you mix that with grief, well, we are a real shit show to put it mildly this week.


If the music was on, Ms. Frances had to move.

But when I woke up this morning, my first thought was how thankful I was to be in my big, soft bed with a kind man beside me and I laid there for a while before everyone woke up and listened to my breath and felt grateful. Then I made myself coffee and really took in that smell. When Mae woke up, I brought her juice in bed (a special treat!), and she rubbed her sweet face against my arm again and again as a thank you. For this morning, I am able to sit in the present, but it is hard.

Later today, we will go to the funeral. Mae is going to daycare all day so that we can have an opportunity to fully experience the service and hold all the memories close without interruption for just a little while.

I wonder about your experiences with loss while raising small children. Did this help or hurt your grief process? It’s been a new experience for us to navigate.

Summer Fun List

I’ve mentioned it a few times, so I thought I’d make it public. Here is our Summer Fun List. I made it for two main reasons: 1. I love adventure and trying new things with Mae. 2. Playing with your toddler can be pretty boring, let’s be honest, so we need to get out of the house!

  1. Durham Life and Science Museum (completed and totally awesome)
  2. Airport Observation Deck
  3. Visit a farm.
  4. Prairie Ridge Ecostation
  5. 3 Bears Acres
  6. Aloha Safari Zoo (completed and loved it)
  7. Duke Gardens
  8. Go for a hike. (We went to Hemlock Bluffs in Cary. Recommend it)
  9. Go camping. (Pretend camping in our backyard was just enough)
  10. Volunteer/activism. (She came to the Climb Out of the Darkness Walk)

My neighbor has “catching fireflies” on her list, which I love. I also really want to do a lemonade stand!

I know for some that a list takes the spontaneity and fun out of summer, but we still have plenty for time and room for that kind of fun too. But without this list, I’d probably get stuck taking her to the same parks and the pool all summer.

What’s on your list?

The Born-to-Be-A-Mother Mother

I know these moms. The moms who seem to shine and thrive DUE TO MOTHERHOOD, like motherhood is the thing that fuels them.

I know women who have a baby and six months later are TRYING to get pregnant again.

I know women who can spend every day with their kids and actually live without taking them to daycare every once in a while.

I know women who can shower and put on make up every SINGLE day while caring for a baby or toddler.


I cannot understand these women.

BUT, I don’t judge them anymore. I used to judge them.

I used to think: they are full of shit and faking it. And some of them definitely are, but some of them are fucking real. And this thought, this denying of effortless mothers, was really to make myself feel better, wasn’t it? If I couldn’t be a put-together mom, on the inside and out, then no mom could do that.

Mothering/Parenting has slowly but surely broken down most of my ability to judge people. Our children teach us just how much we are each individuals and just how little control we have. And parenting just hands me my ass, again and again. But maybe for some, mothering is easier than it is for me. This could be because of our temperament, our children’s temperaments, our economic situations, our backgrounds.

But the good news is that on most days, I don’t want mothering to feel effortless. I don’t want to be like any other mother. I have realized I like this task to feel challenging and rewarding, to make me feel covered in germs and sweat and gratitude at the end of the day. It is making me grow and expand in ways I couldn’t imagine. I have to learn new ways of finding joy when I don’t have time for the ways I did in the past. I have to pay attention to moments because I rarely get an entirely good day with a toddler–I only get good (sometimes glorious) segments.

Motherhood will never be easy or effortless for me, like it might be for some women. In the past, I wouldn’t acknowledge that these women even existed, but I think they might actually exist, and that’s okay.

I have learned that these two thoughts can co-exist: I have a complicated relationship with mothering; I’m still  a wonderful mother.

And I’m okay with Mae seeing this struggle, the struggle of being a human and a mother and me. I get angry and sometimes Mae wears dirty clothes and sometimes we do what I want to do instead of what she wants to do, but I teach her about empathy and I let her stop as many times as she wants when we go for walks and we make fart jokes daily.

In fact, I can’t wait to show her this video of animals farting soon.

I hope you bask in your style of mothering today. I bet it’s pretty fucking awesome.




Photo Poems: Day 5

2014-06-22 09.29.24

Finally, in early June, I was able to enjoy you,

after three months of having to writhe within

my own body, unable to escape myself,

pinning and wrestling myself down just to sleep

for fifteen minutes at a time.

But early June, that’s really our birthday–

this is when I could start to feel your breath

on my cheek , lay you on my chest, and know

you belong there, delighting in the weight of you.

You were just beginning to see the world,

push with your legs, lift your head and look around,

smile and laugh. We were both emerging.

Sarah’s Story: The Plan versus Reality

Sarah is extremely self-aware, so self-aware that a constant low hum of anxiety is always present in her life. She was used to this anxiety, though. This was herself and her life.

However, anxiety during her pregnancy amped up when after attending hypnobirthing classes and planning a natural birth, her son was breech.

Sarah is smart and capable. She did all the research—there wasn’t a doctor in North Carolina that would deliver a first-time mother with a breech baby. Sarah did all the yoga moves and techniques she could to get her son to turn. It didn’t work. And during all this work and worry, Sarah’s anxiety increased.

She doesn’t like going to the doctor for even routine visits. She doesn’t like watching bloody or violent TV shows. She really didn’t like the thought of being cut open. But a C-section was inevitable if her son stayed breech.

Sarah became “very anxious and mad” as she continued to attend her hypnobirthing during this time, in hopes that her son might turn and she could still have a natural birth. Having a family-centered C-section wasn’t covered in the class. The only reading about C-sections was an article about all the risks, an article to instill fear in its readers and motivate them to birth naturally, but that wasn’t going to be a choice for Sarah. “I was in this weird place of trying to reconcile where I was” and what her birth was going to be. She felt “betrayed and invalidated” by her birthing class experience.

And while Isaac, her son, didn’t arrive on his scheduled date, Sarah’s C-section didn’t go badly, per se, not in medical terms. But she felt out of control and not connected to her body. Her doctor was “calm and experienced” but this didn’t matter. Sarah’s first glimpse of her son was through a photo her husband took on the other side of the curtain. In the picture, Isaac’s “arms and legs are splayed out and eyes wide open and he looks like ‘this is too much for me.’” It wasn’t until the recovery room that Sarah held Isaac. He was swaddled and put on top of Sarah, but she couldn’t feel his skin. There is a photo of her husband John holding Isaac by her head. Her first actual memory, not a photo, is of Isaac trying to breastfeed for the first time. He wouldn’t latch well, and it felt very unnatural to Sarah.

In the back of Sarah’s mind was a photo her mother had, a photo of Sarah’s birth: “she has that beautiful picture of mother and child. She has that moment. What I really wanted was the picture with my child. The bonding. Time to take him in. What I really got was being hooked up to an IV and feeling out of my body.”


But for the first few months postpartum and during Sarah’s maternity leave, she stayed in denial about her mental health. She was just trying to survive those days and weeks. Breastfeeding was extremely stressful for her. She felt “low and extremely isolated,” so she made every effort to get out of the house. She thought returning to work would help her mood.

However, “when I went back to work and it wasn’t the fix that I thought it would be, that’s when I recognized my PPD. I was so irritable. John and I were fighting. I was still very stressed out about breastfeeding and thinking about my birth a whole lot.”

Sarah works as a social worker, and she’d also sought help from a therapist before. If anyone knows how to find resources, it’s Sarah: “I’m a woman with insurance and resources, but I still almost gave up.” She found it very difficult to find a therapist who specialized in PPD and could see her in the immediate future. And when you are feeling depressed, “you don’t feel like anyone or anything can help you,” but Sarah kept pushing and finally found a good therapist.

She also found Moms Supporting Moms, a Raleigh-area support group for new moms experiencing overwhelm. Sarah said MSM helped combat what she called “the social media effect.” The way in which new moms and just women in general are inundated with photos and updates from friends about how wonderful and beautiful motherhood is. Photos of perfectly dressed babies. This isn’t the truth or reality. The support group helped Sarah hear from real women about real experiences with a variety of postpartum mood disorders.

With the help of a therapist, support group, and medication, Sarah still felt like she was “in it” and not yet recovered. Her medications were still being adjusted. And like many new mothers with a postpartum mood disorder, Sarah grapples with what is depression and anxiety and what is the normal overwhelm of new motherhood.

I struggle with identifying if it’s new motherhood or PPD. There are times with it is clearly PPD. Like the fact that I am so triggered by my husband simply walking around and asking me questions when I just want to be alone. That’s not a typical feeling for me. I’ve never had such a strong feeling of wanting to be alone. I adore my husband. We can have a great time together. So it’s very strange for me to just want to be alone.

Sarah’s first few months of motherhood were spent minute to minute. There wasn’t any time to develop confidence in mothering. Motherhood was just a “series of tasks” that she must finish and do, and at the same time, she must process and heal from a birth that was traumatic for her. Sarah is now slowly but surely trying to find that bonding time with Isaac, but Sarah, and all mothers, must first get themselves on somewhat solid ground, and that takes a different amount of time for each woman.

**I conducted my interview with Sarah within the first year of motherhood. However, her soon is now getting close to two years old and Sarah has now become a volunteer and helps mom who are experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. **