Your Name: Audra O’Connell
Children: Daughter, 2
Work: Lead Case Manager at The Guest House of Milwaukee
Favorite part of being a mom: Seeing my daughter’s eyes light up and her scream “Momma” when I walk into the room.
Least favorite part of being a mom: The feeling that I’m becoming my own mother.
Little known fact: My ancestors built a castle called Termon McGrath in Co. Donegal, Ireland in early 1600’s. I’ve been able to visit what’s left of it a few times.
Sometimes, we need reality checks. A bit of perspective to bring some calm to our lives. In parenting, I think we need that more than most people. We are constantly swimming in a sea of laundry, dishes, snack calendars, homework help and permission slips. Navigating days based on little to no sleep because we were up with a cranky baby, or trying to get the laundry finished so someone has a clean leotard for ballet class or putting the finishing touches on a birthday cake. It’s so, so easy to sink without even realizing it; we are down in the land where everything is a “chore” and stressful and overwhelming. It’s the place where no matter how much we try to breathe, there is no oxygen. It’s terribly difficult to get yourself out of there—to realize that this mundane, minutia of a life is part of this bigger picture that is rather beautiful, and therefore there is something beautiful about the ordinary. It’s so hard to see from that pit you’re in until someone throws you a line and you climb up, look around and say to yourself “Now I remember…”
That happened to me twice this week and I thought I’d share those two experiences with you.
In my post, I talked about the difficulty we’ve had with Rory this school year. A LOT of “suggestions” as far as things possibly going on with Rory were thrown around by people. Some of them, I had no problem saying they were full of crap and moving on. There were some, however, that kept me up nights, worrying if there WAS something wrong and if I had caused it and most importantly—how would it screw up her life? It was horrible. It all culminated in me taking Rory this week to be assessed by an occupational therapist. When we arrived and I was trying to fill out the 10,000 pieces of paperwork that sell my soul to them as well as ask me every question except which color of underwear I’m wearing—Rory is of course, running around the waiting room, being her usual rambunctious self. I was exhausted. There was a mom sitting there as well, holding a baby. She started talking to Rory, encouraging her to put away the toys she’d pulled out, asking her all sorts of questions; engaging her. She could tell we were new and probably a little afraid of what the occupational therapist was going to say to us. Then, her daughter came out of her session. Immediately, you knew there was something different. She had a hearing aid, she had a limp, and her mom was talking to the OT about how she was being hospitalized because she was having seizures constantly. She also happened to be the sweetest little girl ever. I was floored. Floored because here was this little girl that really had problems (not “ getting a call from the principal because she couldn’t focus on her work” problems). In the midst of it all, she and her mom were just seeping grace and love and kindness from them. I instantly felt ashamed that I even considered Rory’s behavior at school a “problem” in the midst of meeting these wonderful people. It put everything into perspective.
The second experience was the next day. People on Facebook started posting about this boy named Zach Sobiech. I hadn’t heard of him so I went to Google and this is what I found:
The summer before his freshman year of high school, Zach Sobiech was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bones. After years of treatment and no other options available, he was told in May 2012 that he had months to live. Zach turned to music to share what his heart was feeling and he wrote a song named “Clouds,” which last December went viral and caused quite a media frenzy, culminating in a short documentary as well as an outpouring of support. He was able to record his music, which is available on iTunes with the proceeds going to his osteosarcoma fund. Zach passed away on May 20th surrounded by family, friends and having shared his music- really his goodbye to those he loved - with the world.
When I watched the documentary on Zach’s life—I was floored. He had wisdom beyond his years and his message was simple: Make people happy; it’s the real joy of life. As much as I loved his message, the mom in me looked at his parents who knew they had days left with their precious son. They were brave; they were focused on giving Zach all the love they could with the time they had and making sure their other children were taken care of as well. They never raised their son thinking “he’s going to die at 18.” But he did. And they raised him the way we all try to raise our kids and he has changed lives around the world.
I was grateful this week after these two experiences because they reminded me of a couple things:
1. These moments with our children, even the ones that involve cleaning up sticky hands and potty pants and dealing with temper tantrums, are a gift. They may not seem like it in the moment—but our children are a blessing that not everyone receives and not everyone that receives them gets it forever. This is the moment. It’s all we have and we have to live in it.
2. Life won’t be perfect. Maybe it’seizures and hearing aids or terminal cancer or maybe it’s something as simple as bad behavior at school—it’s not perfect. None of us are and none of our lives are—and there is something beautiful in that. There is something beautiful in a mom loving her very ill and disabled daughter with total joy instead of questioning why this had to happen to her little girl. There is something beautiful in a mom loving her son who is dying and helping him to share his music and heart with the world—not focused on how she will feel when he’s gone and questioning why it happened to her son; but rather, making the most of his time here on earth.
Because of these reminders, when I was called to the principal’s office this week to pick up Rory for misbehaving and she looked at me, questioning why I wasn’t really that upset and asking “Do you still love me when I do naughty things and am bad, Momma?” I could without hesitation, without a “yes, but” statement, without thought, answer her with “Of course I do. I hope you’ll love me when I make bad decisions as well, Rory.” She smiled, held my hand and we walked out of there together.
When Rory was 10 months old she was beginning to walk and loved to pull herself up by the coffee table. One day, she fell, and hit her head on a piece of metal that was part of an end table. It cut her face open and as we all know—face wounds BLEED. Like, really bleed.
I was a wreck. Like, I couldn’t function for 10 minutes because I was crying harder than she was all while telling myself “You’re a failure! You let her fall! She COULD HAVE DIED!”
I believed it. Every single word. I just couldn’t function seeing my baby hurt. For the weeks that it took to heal, every time I saw it I felt a pang of guilt. At the same time I had to keep repeating to myself “She’s going to fall, she’s going to fall.” Meanwhile, my husband was sitting there looking at me like I should be committed. It was a simple fall and cut. No biggie in his mind and definitely not something to get worked up about.Now this isn’t to say that Dads don’t love their children—I see the love my husband has for his girls. I’ve seen him cry for apparently no reason because he loves them so much. It’s there.
Rory is three now. This year she’d had a really difficult time adjusting to her school. There’s a lot of reasons for this—being one of the youngest, having a new sister, leaving her old daycare. Plus, she just wasn’t mature enough to go—and we had no idea until about January that this was the case. I’ve realized in the last week or so that there are some people there that don’t really like her. I get it—she’s a handful. However, that’s MY handful. It’s my handful that I believe they haven’t tried hard enough to help succeed. It’s something I carry with me constantly. I worry about if I’m doing the right thing by making her tough it out.
Moms versus Dads are totally different games. We’re hardcore. When it comes to our cubs, we don’t mess around. It’s this insanely protective and fierce love; a love that has the ability to cause one to feel the need to rip someone’s face off. It’s a tough line to walk because part of you knows your child NEEDS to learn these lessons—the really, really tough ones. The ones that hurt. At the same time, your mom instinct is to rip the person limb from limb. This week it came to a head for me and I was ready to verbally rip their limbs off. It reminded me of the first time she fell and my crying hysteria and the repeating of “She’s going to fall” in order to keep what little sanity I had left. I started to really think about it and I came to a conclusion—I have to let her fall. It blows, but I have to do it. If I don’t let her fall, she’ll never learn how to get back up and it’s important. People are abused, neglected, banged up, battered and roughed around constantly in life. It’s the nature of life. If I don’t help her learn how to get back up she’ll always be stuck down there, in the pit of self-pity and despair. I’ve seen adults that have lived their entire lives down there and they’re not happy people. They are barely functioning people. I had to accept that the cocoon that is early childhood (pre-school, pre-day care, etc.) isn’t a great representation of how the 70+ years of her life after that period will go. I can’t protect her against everything. People will break her heart; I have to teach her not to let them break her spirit. I think at this point it’s been harder on me than on her because she really doesn’t know what’s going on. Just because I’m standing back doesn’t mean I’m not watching and don’t worry—if Mom sees anything too crazy I’ll be there to attack and protect, but for the time being I need to stand back and it’s quite honestly the hardest parenting decision I’ve had to make since becoming her mommy.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week.
Why am I talking about infertility on a website dedicated to Mommydom?
Simple. I lived it. I’m pretty sure MANY of us on this site (whether or not we have shared this information) have lived it.
Infertility is hard. For me, infertility was what I’d assume in some ways having a mental illness is like. There is this stigma that doesn’t seem to go away—like you KNOW people are looking at you and saying “There’s that couple that CAN’T have kids” much like I’ve heard people say “There goes that guy with depression.” Infertility is a medical condition—one that we have no control over. It’s a DISEASE. Please, please if you read nothing else on this page, read this: IT’S A DISEASE. Why do we shun or stigmatize those with infertility? Do we go to cancer patients and offer up sage advice like “If you just relax, your cancer will go away” or “You need to have sex more, then you’ll stop having cancer?” Seems pretty stupid, right? THAT’S BECAUSE IT IS.
We don’t need your advice. Or your pity. We need support, compassion and understanding. We shouldn’t be afraid to share our stories. Our stories are real. Unfortunately for far too long people have been so scared to share their trials and tribulations with this disease. Generations before us have taught that it should be swept under the rug, never mentioned, never fought head on—leaving a lifetime of wonder, regret and what if’s. People with infertility are strong. Some of the strongest people I’ve ever met—they’ve had to deal head on with issues that most can’t face; the ones we have no control over. The ones that change our lives forever and who we are to the core.
Yes, I have kids. It’s easier for me to stand here and say there should be a dialogue. But, one of the reasons why is my girls. What if in 20 years one of them is struggling with infertility? I had zero help or direction in this area of life because before my journey I didn’t really know any that had this disease. I’ve met some amazing ladies on the way that I’m a better person because of. I want my girls to know that if they deal with this disease, they are not alone.
For more information on National Infertility Week and general infertility info please check out this link.
To read my previous post regarding my own fertility journal please check this out.
Check out my post “10 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Dealing With Infertility”.
If you’ve been on Facebook for the last day or so, you’ve seen the sea of red equal signs in your newsfeed signaling people who believe that anyone should be able to get married—regardless if they are gay, straight, transgendered, etc. I saw so many of my friends’ profile pictures change in support of the and was shocked by the across-the-board support—even many of my conservative friends agreed with a couple’s right to marry, regardless of their sexuality. It was amazing to see such a united front.
I love Pinterest. Really. I’ve made new recipes from it, figured out super easy (and educational) activities for Rory via it, etc. I’m usually on it a couple times a week—feeding Molly and checking it on my phone for new ideas.
At the same time—I hate Pinterest. I hate what it’s done to mommy hood and what it’s done to the psyche of women around the world. Pinterest has helped Mommyguilt reach levels not possible before. Why? Because it shows us what we’re NOT doing, or what we think we SHOULD be doing or what we CAN’T do. It is there in black and white—other parents are doing other things and doing them well.
Here’s an example: Last year Rory was obsessed with Willy Wonka (not the crappy Johnny Depp version—the legit Gene Wilder one, of course). So starting in February last year I’d hear once a week about how she was going to be an Oompa Loompa for Halloween. At first I blew it off; she’s two—she’ll come up with something else. Then I realized she was dead set on this costume. I googled "Oompa Loompa toddler costume" because of course, I can't sew, and came to find a pre-made costume--for $70. Ouch. Totally ridiculous to wear once, but with a mom that has no artistic ability it was probably the reality I would have to face. That was, until I found the cutest Oompa Loompa costume (homemade, of course) on Pinterest. I suddenly felt like a crappy mom for even thinking of sending my daughter out trick-or-treating in this cheap-looking (although rather expensive) generic costume. My “mom cred” was in serious jeopardy. I knew we had to find a way, and luckily for me I have a sister and mom that sew and love to make stuff for Rory, so between the two of them she ended up being the hit of Halloween.
I know it seems silly--being concerned about a store-bought costume versus a homemade one. To many of us it's so much more. It's really about "how good of a mom am I?" and, even more concerning, "how will other moms perceive me?" Because let's face it--the hardest people on parents are other parents. If you say you've never cared one iota about what other mom's think of you, you're a liar. We all care. This is the most important job we'll ever have--we want to do it right. We want to do well. We want our kids to grow up great. So it's easy to start thinking that we need to buy them certain clothes, cook them certain food, teach them certain things--all the while looking down on people that don't conform because it's easier to say "they're wrong" versus "maybe we all are doing it well."
Early on in my parenting of Rory I realized that moms were MEAN. I'd see my Facebook explode with debates of cloth diapers vs. disposable, breastfeeding vs. bottle, which car seat was the best, co-sleeping vs. crib, homemade baby food vs. store-bought. It was an endless fight--and I grew weary pretty quickly. I decided to no longer engage in these discussions. At the end of the day if you love your kid, you treat them well and do the best you can--does it really matter if you make your costumes or buy them or decide against Halloween all together? I don't think so. So please, don't let Pinterest tell you that you need to make your own laundry detergent, sew a fort cover for a card table or make your own fruit roll-ups in order to feel like a great parent; just by reflecting on the question, you've come to the answer, because bad parents don't realize or care if they are.
*My apologies for errors and typos--this one is off the cuff and unedited*
On Friday, I walked my three year old home from her school day knowing that many parents in Newtown, Connecticut would not have the same ending to their day. It was absolutely heartbreaking and I spent much of the afternoon watching the news and crying my eyes out—all while my little girl played upstairs, completely unaware of the evil in this world. Immediately, social media was flooded with people offering their condolences and stating that “today is not the day to discuss gun control or make this political.” I agree with the political statement. As a parent, I disagree with the gun control statement. If any day was a day to discuss gun laws and possible changes—I believe a day where twenty innocent little children with their lives ahead of them were gunned down is the day to discuss our society, our laws and what we can do to try and ensure that this never happens again.
I understand why people didn’t want to discuss action on Friday – we are all still reeling from the carnage, we are hurt, we are angry and we want to respect the deceased. But unfortunately our minds seem to be on a 24-hour news cycle; in which we will quickly move on to the next big news story and sweep this under the rug. This isn’t a new phenomenon—a mall in Oregon, a temple and spa in Wisconsin, a movie theater in Colorado and far, far too many schools across the country (Virginia Tech, Columbine, Paducah, Jonesboro to name a few). We can’t just grieve and move on to the next sensationalized story—our intrinsic job as parents is to protect our children. We should all be demanding something be done; things change in order to ensure our children are safe. Let’s look at it this way: when the 1-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people here in neighboring Wisconsin and around the US we were asking if our bridges were safe and immediately our state (as well as others) began surveying if that sort of tragedy could occur on any of our own bridges. It happened once. We see gun violence in our streets daily and we’ve just accepted it. Where is our logic?
A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. All of those 22 nations have stricter gun control laws. Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
This is of course the point where people bring up that teachers should be armed, criminals will obtain guns no matter what or the founding fathers gave us the constitutional right to bear arms. Do we want our children to grow up in a country where their teachers have to learn how to teach them to read but must also learn how to shoot? Do we want our kids’ teachers to walk around the classroom helping children with a gun holstered to their side? What type of “civilization” are we if that’s what we’re reduced to? Many on Facebook posted about how they want to homeschool their children now. Should you have to make that decision based on fear? Is that the country we live in? Even if you choose homeschooling that won’t protect them—like previously mentioned this is happening in malls, spas, places of worship—everywhere.
Yes. Gun violence will continue no matter what. We have over 300 million weapons in the United States-they are pretty much here to stay. However, other countries allow gun ownership as well and yet see DRASTICALLY reduced numbers of fatalities (such as mentioned above). Why? It’s a complex answer that no doubt involves discussions of mental health treatment and assessment, education, parenting, cultural and socioeconomic issues to name a few. We should take a holistic approach to answering the question—but the answer is moot without discussing what these other countries have in the way of gun laws that we lack.
As far as the constitutional right and founding fathers are concerned let’s keep something in mind: the constitution was written in 1787 immediately following the bloodiest war the world had ever seen—of course they added the second amendment. They also added the third amendment which prohibits forced quartering of soldiers during peace time; they were in the mind frame of war at this time. I doubt highly that they were trying to protect the right for someone to walk into a school and execute 20 children. Also, we need to remember that this men at the time felt that African Americans were akin to cattle and horse—they were nothing more than possessions and they didn’t feel women needed or deserved the right to vote. We must weight this “right” against the cost of human life. Personally, I would give up my right to bear arms today if it would bring one of those children back. Human life to me is worth more than any ability to own a weapon and what am I teaching my daughters if I don’t stand up and demand this to end, demand change and demand a world which children’s biggest worries at school are their pop quizzes? So yes, I am hugging them a little tighter and praying for the people of Newtown, Connecticut – but I’m also e-mailing my politicians and demanding change.