Do You Wear Adult Diapers, Mom? And Other Questions I’ve Recently Been Asked

How often do you go to the grocery store, friends? I’m so curious. I’m at Hannaford, our local grocery store, twice a week.

Sometimes I go grocery shopping by myself (flying out the back door late on a Saturday morning, still wearing what stores these days call “loungewear” but what are, in effect, pajamas). Almost always, though, I’m with my 4-year-old daughter, Anna, and almost always, we’re there in the afternoon after preschool pickup.

Such was the case one afternoon two weeks ago. Anna and I motored over to Hannaford, then maneuvered through the aisles. “Look, Mom!” Anna pointed to a display. “Woody! And Forky! Mom, it’s everybody from Toy Story!”

I glanced at the Disney-inspired Laughing Cow cheese dippers. “Everybody’s there,” I agreed, moving us along.

We had a short list, relatively, and were almost done in no time. There was just one bullet point left to cross off. I steered into the feminine hygiene products section, and parked Anna to the side.

She peered forward. “What’s all this, Mom?”

“Just a second, honey.” I scanned the shelves for my preferred item.

“Mom.” Anna was staring at me, her eyebrows arched, the corners of her mouth tilted upward in a smile that was both dubious and devious. “Do you wear adult diapers, Mom?”

Uuuggghhh.

Anna, of course, noticed my horror right away. So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course. “DO YOU WEAR ADULT DIAPERS, MOM?”

“Will you please stop?” I hissed.

Now Anna was laughing, doubled over the grocery-cart seat. “Mom, I can’t believe it! You wear adult diapers!”

“I do not…”

Another woman was in the same aisle as us, and she was laughing too—kindly, but still. She patted my arm when she walked past us.

“Listen.” I could feel my face burning red with embarrassment. I clasped my hands over my daughter’s. “I need you to please stop saying that. Got it, dude?”

Anna nodded.

OK.

So she repeated her question, in a much louder voice…of course.

Almost all of last week, Stanton was in D.C. for a work conference. His being out of town just so happened to coincide with an especially busy work week for me. Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

I had a phone meeting with two colleagues on Wednesday afternoon. One of these people was my boss. Grace would be home from school soon, and Anna was already home from preschool. I asked her to play quietly until I was done with my call.

“But I want to be with you,” Anna said.

“Honey, we’re almost always together,” I said. “I’ll be done very soon, I promise.” I called in to my meeting.

Almost immediately, Anna planted herself nearby, staring at me, arms crossed. I ignored her. She began crawling around my legs. I got up, moved to the kitchen. Anna followed me and yelled, “Mom, hang up, HANG UP!”

Ugh…again.

I turned on the TV. Anna gave me a thumbs-up. We’ve been trying to limit screen time, but…oh, well.

Still holding my phone, I cleared my throat. “Um…just wondering, did anyone hear that over here?”

“Yes.”

“Mm-hmm.”

Great. “I’m so sorry…I just turned on the TV…”

Both my boss and our other colleague were extremely kind and understanding. But still. Somebody screaming in the background, “Mom, hang up!” is not a good look when you’re trying to present yourself as a got-it-together work-from-home professional.

Later I asked Anna why she had behaved like that. “I love you so much, I just wanted to be with you,” she said. “And I don’t understand, Mom,” she added, “why don’t you just do all your work when I’m in school?”

I just looked at her.

Who among us wouldn’t love for all the pieces of all the puzzles to fall into place just so?

Everything was humming along smoothly…until it wasn’t.

So many questions. So little time.

During the past few weeks, different folks from the church we attend have called to ask if I could participate in various volunteer opportunities. I’ve also received emails from both my daughters’ schools, inviting me to helm or help with extracurricular fall-themed fun, such as a costume party and trunk or treat. Every now and then, too, a ping from my phone reveals a text wondering if I’m available to lend a hand with hosting a play date.

There were a few moments, lately, when I really could have cried. I like to think of myself as a kindhearted person…but I simply can’t say yes to anything else right now. Thus, I’ve been saying no to everything extra.

I love my family and my work, and that’s all I, personally, can do in this season of my life. Other folks can do more, and I admire them. I just know I’m not one of them.

I’ve found that, when I explain myself like this—when I acknowledge I’m not a Superwoman—people seem to understand. Or, maybe they worry they might trigger a nervous breakdown, and decide to steer clear… I guess I’ll never know which one it is. 😉

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Yesterday, Stanton made me a sandwich for lunch. Roast beef with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions on multigrain bread. He sliced an apple as the side. I enjoyed it so much, partly because I didn’t make it myself, and told him so.

“This is nothing, Mel,” he replied, settling into the breakfast nook with me.

But it was something. It is wonderful to feel cared for, even when the caring comes in the form of something as seemingly simple as a roast-beef sandwich. It is wonderful to feel cared for when you are the person who does so much of the caring (and grocery shopping, and puzzle-piecing).

Life is wonderfully unexpected sometimes. Sometimes there are more questions than we have answers for, or know how to answer. And sometimes things fall into place.

I have learned, despite my non-Superwoman prowess, not to give up. To say no or not now, but to keep going.

From now on, though, I’ll be maneuvering solo through the feminine hygiene products section.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

What Where’s Waldo? Taught Me About Work and Life

My 3-year-old daughter was this close to nodding off for a post-preschool nap. Her head rested against my chest. I kept rocking—slowly, slowly—and reading the story I’d been reading for the past twenty-five minutes, my voice singsong like a lullaby.

I could almost taste the freedom of the upcoming nap. I’d make a fresh, hot cup of coffee (OK, two cups). The house would be quiet.

Best of all, I’d have time to work on a writing project. About two hours before we needed to walk down the block to pick up my older daughter from the bus stop.

I was so close to that happening.

Yes, cliffhanger revealed—it didn’t happen. Like many a maternally disposed freelance writer before me, I took a deep breath and resigned myself to working on my project later, much later, that day, after the kids had fallen asleep…but before one of them woke up in the middle of the night, in need of a sip of water or comfort from a bad dream or myriad other things that moms address with Sandman fresh in their eyes (while dads somehow, mysteriously, manage to sleep through all the 2 a.m.-ish drama).

Instead of napping, Anna wanted to find Waldo. She grabbed the puzzle book from the table and began looking for the bespectacled adventurer. “Where is he?” she wondered.

I peered at the page, a chaotically colorful beach scene. “Hmm.” I readjusted my gaze to the top of the page and started scrutinizing every square inch from left to right, top to bottom, as if I were reading again.

“Where is he?” Anna repeated.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working. Frustrated, I blinked. When I opened my eyes, I saw, instantly, the elusive character.

“There he is!” I pointed; Anna beamed.

I turned the page. Again, I didn’t try so hard to answer the question, “Where’s Waldo?” I simply looked at the page, as a whole, and once again, Waldo seemingly jumped out at me.

There he was, again.

My all-in strategy wasn’t working.

Some days, I struggle to find time to write. I depend on a pieced-together schedule of school, naps, babysitters and Burning the Midnight Oil to do everything I want to do, and need to do. My work/child-care puzzle resembles a page out of a “Where’s Waldo?” book.

But…it works. If I don’t let myself get bogged down by all the stuff—a displaced two hours here, not enough contract work there—then I can see that the puzzle that is my writing life as a mom works. I just need to look at the big picture, as I did with my daughter and her “Where’s Waldo?” book that afternoon.

The big picture shows me that motherhood has made me a better writer. More than anything, motherhood has taught me patience (oh, has it taught me patience). Bring on the impossible-sounding clients, tasks and deadlines—they’re nothing I haven’t already handled with my usually demanding and occasionally irrational children.

Motherhood has given me perspective. My early-20s, first-job-out-of-college self would shake her head or reach for the Tylenol Extra Strength if something didn’t go her way—if an assignment dared to unfold less than perfectly, or a chain of emails unraveled out of control, misunderstanding everywhere. The early years of parenting have clued me in to a liberating pearl of wisdom: To progress, you have to go with the flow.

And sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

Perfection is an even more elusive needle in the haystack than Waldo.

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As I was proofreading an earlier version of this essay that you’re reading now, Anna climbed onto my lap, reached for the laptop keyboard and said, “I want to push buttons.”

“No, honey.” I moved her hand away.

Anna wrestled her hand back. “Yes, I do!”

I closed the laptop. “You…drive…me…”

“Crazy!” Anna laughed. I must have said it a time or two (maybe three) before, if my preschooler could finish the sentence/sentiment.

Sometimes, work and life with kids is crazy. Everyone needs to be out the door by a certain time in the morning, when someone spills their cup of milk. Then someone else accidentally walks through it. Just as another family member gets a text about an on-the-job crisis. And then inevitably, someone will say, “I can’t find the shoes I want to wear today!

“Where are my shoes?”

(Always.with.the.shoes.)

…sometimes, you have to hit the pause button—not the panic one.

I can only speak from my experience, which by nature is limited. But in my experience, what I’ve come to learn—what moments like “Where’s Waldo?” with Anna have taught me—is that motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

Being a parent has opened my eyes to emotions like joy, and concerns like environmental justice. I’m not perfect—not even close—but I’m more aware than I was before. I want to make the world as good as it can be, however I can, because my children (and, maybe someday, their children) are here in it.

When I write now, as a mom, it’s with this outlook in mind. How might this story I’m working on uplift someone? What lesson might it teach?

How might this grant proposal I’m editing make a difference in someone’s life, if the nonprofit I’m collaborating with wins program funding?

In my 13 years as a writer (half of those as a mother/writer), I’ve read articles and perspectives seeking to pinpoint why women writers’ journeys can be more challenging than their male counterparts’. The answer is fairly obvious.

The novelist Kim McLarin said, at a PEN/New England discussion on the topic of “Mothers & Writing,” “Stephen King has said that to get his writing done, he has to just close the door. Easy for him to say…If I close the door, someone’s calling child services on me.”

Kids do seem to contribute to the professional differences between (many, if not most) women and (many, if not most) men—not only in writing, but also in other fields, from science to law enforcement to sports. Once a woman becomes a parent, she’s a parent in a way a man simply is not, at least for the time she takes off to recover from childbirth. A mother experiences more of a pause in her life and in her work, even if for only a few days, or weeks, or months.

(Let’s not even consider here who usually hears and responds to the kids’ crying out at 2 a.m., knows the names and contact information for everyone from pediatric dentists to best friends’ parents, and remembers to schedule the munchkins for annual well visits, after-school programs, etcetera…)

Not every family, of course, consists of a mom and a dad. And not every family welcomes their children through childbirth; physical recovery isn’t an issue in these cases.

Generally speaking, however, motherhood can sideline professional goals, for a little while or, perhaps, longer.

Sometimes you hit that pause button, right?

…motherhood has given my work heart. Maybe it’s given your work heart too.

On the other hand, motherhood can inspire even more admirable professional goals. Seven years later, I’m still a little surprised at the wild success of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I get that its early electronic versions made “Fifty Shades of Grey” easy and discreet for people to read. I understand erotica is a popular genre (it’s not my favorite genre, but I have read it). But the writing—the writing, friends.

The writing of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is bad. It is, objectively, bad. And it’s fan fiction, basically. I wrote fan fiction of my favorite TV shows when I was in high school (not something I like to brag about!)…and it was bad too.

According to Forbes, however, E. L. James has a net worth of $95 million. (My net worth? Like yours, nowhere near there.) The bottom line: The general public doesn’t care about the bad writing that is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

I care, though. I care about the work I do. I care about leaving a legacy of writing that—if they read it someday—my daughters can be proud of.

Last week, a magazine let me know they had accepted a short story I had submitted to them. The story is about a woman’s despair, and surprising endurance. I think Grace and Anna will enjoy reading it someday, and I hope it will be an inspiration for other women much sooner.

The magazine will be publishing my story in about four months. I almost couldn’t believe their email of acceptance to me—I’ve had a humbling streak of rejections with my creative writing lately.

My family knows this, and so when I shared the good news with them, they were happy for me—especially the girls.

“Yay, Mom!” Grace cheered.

“MOM!!!” Anna yelled, clapping her hands. And one second later: “I want pizza!”

Work, life and kids can be crazy. Can be a hot mess. Can be a scene straight out of “Where’s Waldo?”

Every now and then, it helps to hit pause. To take a breath. To look at the big picture.

When you look at the big picture—your big picture—what do you see, friends?

Wherever you are right now, if you’re somebody’s mom or dad, then what you’re doing, whatever it is, it’s for that little person (or little people). They love you more than anything, and they count on you for everything. Whatever kind of work you do, whatever puzzle your work/life looks like, so much of it’s for them.

They may not know that yet. Possibly they won’t know it for years, not until they have a family of their own. So let me say then, on their behalf…because it took me a long time to recognize all the love and sacrifice my own parents put into my childhood…let me tell you, on your little people’s behalf, THANK YOU.

THANK YOU for where you are right now. THANK YOU for what you’re doing, and for everything you did, and for everything you will do. THANK YOU for making our world a better place.

(And a million other things too: It’s OK you can’t chaperone the field trip. I’m sorry I was rude. I’ll listen to your advice next time. I’ll stop rolling my eyes all the time. I know you tried. You were right. You were right. You were right. I love you.)

But mostly…THANK YOU.

(P.S. Where are my shoes?)

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.