Taking a Break From Mom Guilt

Mark’s working late. Rather than bringing Miller to the hospital so we could dine together, per usual, I hired a sitter so I could go by myself.

I started another Light Series story and am in the writing groove. The hospital has free wi-fi and a good cafeteria, plus I’ll have a cute date here in a bit.

This all seems like a no brainer, right? No big deal?

When I made the decision to do this, it felt like a big deal. Mom guilt kicked in as I once again faced the divide that all mom’s face: Do I do this for me, or do I sacrifice it to maximize time with my child?

This isn’t a break for my sanity. I’m not on the verge of crazy if I don’t get this timeout. (Thank goodness. I don’t like that precipice.)

I left our house picturing me and Miller playing outside. Walking up our hill. Adventuring together. Collecting acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts. I chastised myself for willingly letting those interactions slip from my fingers – moments I’ll never get back – in order to write.

I kept driving.

Here I sit, working on a story about a brave woman. A story that’s difficult. And powerful. And sacred.

In this space, this writing groove, every part of me relaxes. I’m calm. I’m happy. I’m glued to this bench, because this is exactly where I want to be.

Cafe DMH

I’ve needed breaks from mothering because I’d go nuts otherwise. Those breaks remind me of showing up to the doctor’s office sick.

Breaks like this – desire based breaks – are like wellness checks. Ways to keep myself as filled up as possible so that crazy breaks aren’t needed (very often).

I’m not a parenting expert. Mom guilt isn’t a parenting expert either (even though it thinks it is).

I don’t have all the answers, but I know it’s okay to take breaks for yourself. The breaks you need, the breaks you want, and always breaks from mom guilt.


You Are Loved and You Are Love

This past week has been a whirlwind filled with family, friends, and activities.

We stayed at Notre Dame for the annual Muscato family football fest.


We returned home and welcomed Florida friends to stay with us until Irma, the roads, and refueled gas stations permitted them to drive back.


They returned home; the next day we celebrated Mark’s birthday.

Today is our first day back to usual routines. I don’t know when I’ll get birthday paraphernalia picked up or clean sheets back on the beds. I don’t know when I’ll see my Florida friends next, and I don’t know if Notre Dame will ever have a good football team again.


I’m guessing we’ll be in the stands regardless.

I do know that – amidst the nonstop noise of kids, barrage of toys, and interrupted conversations; during all things food related including buying, prepping, cooking, eating, and cleaning; through all of the packing and unpacking, gift wrapping and cat napping – I love a lot and I am loved lots.

Life is the unpredictable, loud, messy, morphing variable. Love is the constant.

Life constantly evolves. Love is constant.

Whatever you’re going through right now – whether good, bad, or indifferent – know that it’s temporary. It’s all temporary.

Love is constant.

You are loved and you are love.


Six Years of Marriage

It’s interesting, deciding the person you’ll marry. Many people, myself included during my teen years, get caught up trying to find “the one”.

I heard people suggest making lists of what you’re looking for in a partner. If you find someone who meets a certain percentage of those characteristics, say yes.

I’m so glad I never made a list. It would’ve included things like “must be musical” and “has good feet”.

When I met Mark, a guy who doesn’t have a lick of musical ability and showed me his knobby toes on one of our earliest dates, I liked the guy a little more for it.

I didn’t know if he was “the one”. I’m not even sure I believe in “the one”. But I knew I liked him. I knew I was comfortable with both him and his driving (definitely would’ve been on the list), and I knew that though our beliefs were somewhat different, our moral compasses and values were the same.

Mark was right next to me when I got the call that my dad was killed in a car crash. There’s something to be said for a guy who drives to your house in the middle of the night because you can’t stop sobbing and don’t want to be alone.

I was right next to Mark when he got the call that his dad didn’t have much time left. We booked a flight and made it to his dad’s New York bedside within hours of his last breath. There’s something to be said for a guy who’ll let you say a final prayer over his father.

Mark and I are very different people. We’re almost exactly ten and half years apart in age. I’m very black and white, he operates in gray scales. He’s laid back and messy. I’m uptight and fastidious. He likes to get to airports in time to board the flight; I like an hour buffer. I love rules; he loves breaking them.

When he proposed on a beach in Hawaii, I wasn’t sure if he was serious. He pulled the ring box out of his pocket and couldn’t figure out which end opened. Consequently, he pulled the box apart.

Ring Box

No really, he broke it in two.

He looked at both ends of the box  – one in each hand – to see which held the ring, and extended his arm to show it to me.

“Will you marry me?”

“Really?” He’s not kneeling and his friend is a few yards away and if I say yes and he’s kidding I’ll look like a fool!


“Seriously?” I think he’s actually serious.


“Okay. Well yes.”

Are we hopelessly romantic or what?

While one part of me debated whether Mark was serious, another part checked in with my gut to make sure I gave an honest answer.

I wanted to say yes, but I also wanted to make sure that my logical mind (it’s a no brainer Jamie) and my feeling heart (I like this guy!) weren’t outshouting my gut.

I trust my gut instinct – that little voice within – as much as I trust God. I believe it is an extension of God. So before saying yes to Mark, I checked in and asked, Are you sure?

The response – more of a feeling than words – was a simple, definite “yes”. I asked a second time – Are you sure? – to be certain I heard correctly.

Less than seven months after the proposal, we stood on the ninth hole of a golf course getting married.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My nerves caught me off guard. My trembling legs caused my heels to sink deeper into the grass. The occasion felt serious. Enormous. Life changing. In front of all our guests, as my childhood pastor recited a marital message, I checked in with my gut.

Are you sure? You don’t have to do this. There’s still time to walk away. It’ll suck. It’ll be awkward and uncomfortable, but I can do it. Are you sure?

That feeling of a response was once again simple and definite. “Yes.”

We’re six years in. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem possible that that much time has passed. On the other hand, it seems like an under-representation of what we’ve experienced together.

There’s something to be said for a guy who remains by your shoulders during an emergency cesarean whispering encouragements to you even though he’s equally terrified that the baby won’t make it.

There’s something to be said for a guy who’ll take over infant and toddler and kid duty so you can take some time to do whatever you want, including retreat to the bedroom for an evening or leave for the weekend.

There’s something to be said for a guy who stays by your side through secondary infertility, willing to go to extremes to have another, if that’s what you want. Willing to go to extremes for the pain to cease, if that’s what you want. Willing to say, “Whatever you want,” and then following through.

There are things I couldn’t have known of him when I said “I do” or when we stood on a Hawaiian beach or when we compared feet not long after knowing each other.

I never would’ve known to include qualities like dependability, loyalty, or trustworthiness on a list as a teenager.

But I know now. I know that I love this man more than ever before. I know that if I had to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Is Mark “the one”? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s not the right question to ask.

For me, the question is “Are you sure?” And when I check in with my gut? The answer remains.


I Just Want To Talk

Miller woke me up at 4:30 this morning. He saw the streetlight shining between the cracks of his blinds and thought it was daylight.

As I laid in his bed next to him hoping (in vain) that he’d fall back asleep, I thought about how much I want to talk.

Yesterday we met friends at the park to play. I want to talk with my girlfriend without the interruptions associated with a play date – safety on park equipment, snacks, searching for anthills, and watching the big kids who are playing with our littler ones.

We do talk, of course, but conversation is limited. Interruptions are one thing, small ears are another; I’m not about to bring up adult stuff I really want to talk about.

Mark worked late last night, so Miller and I went to my mom’s house for company and a change of scene. Company is nice and all, but I want to talk.

I want to fill my mom in on some of the latest in my life (by latest I mean things that’ve happened in the past month. That’s how little adult conversation I have with her.)

I attempt to tell mom a story. Not just a this-is-what-we-did-today, but an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end complete with protagonist and climax.

I’d just put batteries in a light-up, self-driving police car that Miller was beyond excited about. That’ll keep him occupied, right?

Yes. And also no.

Every minute or so I was on my belly with the yardstick fishing the damned thing out from under the furniture.

Once I threatened the “if that happens one more time!” Grandma used pillows as barricades to keep the car from going under the couches. Problem solved, right?


“Mom, put the track together!”

“Mom, build ramps for it!”

“Watch this! Watch this! Mommy watch!

Do you remember in Little House On the Prairie books how children sat unnaturally still on hard wooden benches at church? How they didn’t speak until spoken to at the dinner table?

How Did They Do That?!?! I can’t even get through a story!!! And this isn’t idle babble. This is something I want to share with mom.

Bye-bye police car. I park it on top of the microwave and, in desperate tones, tell Miller how all I want to do is finish talking to grandma without him interrupting.

He didn’t talk for another three minutes when I told him I was finished talking.

I was so sick of the whole thing I cut the story off early. Ended it. Didn’t get to fully express what I wanted so badly to get out. Mom didn’t know the difference.

We sat on the floor and played with beads – one of Miller’s favorite pastimes at Grandma’s.

It’s now 5:30 a.m. Miller and I abandoned his room and moved to the couch.

I just want to talk. I want to tell a story top to bottom in one steady stream of dialogue. I want to have an adult conversation without little ears present.

Maybe this is why people see therapists. They can pay someone to sit and listen without kids being present.

It’s certainly one reason to blog. For the past hour I’ve spoken few words, but I’ve said a lot. I’ve expressed something.

And if you’re still reading this…thanks for listening.

This is where I wrote this post, holding my phone above Miller’s head, and typing with thumbs.

Show Up Anyway

Based in Central Illinois, Rachel Holden is photographer who regularly promotes women’s self-confidence through images. With an Art Therapy degree, she brings academic knowledge and off-the-charts creativity to her live-action, in-the-moment, lifestyle photos – photos that she describes as “playful, raw, and thoughtful”.

That they are.

Earlier this year, we agreed upon a collaboration project. She’d take the pictures; I’d write the story. I gave some thought to the type of shoot I wanted and finally came up with an answer: I’d go to both family farms with Miller for pictures with my grandmothers.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned that I’m thirty-three and still have both Grandmas. Not only that, they still live in their farm homes that I grew up visiting. They’re self-sufficient and still drive. It’s incredible. They’re incredible.

I’ve gotten to know them as an adult, and because of that I appreciate them more than ever before. They’ve become matriarchs. They provide insights to who I am and where I come from. They’ve experienced great pain. They’ve also led great lives.

They’re examples. They’re anchors. They’re constants. But their constancy is temporary, and I can’t think about (or even type) that fact without losing it.

…pardon me while I wipe my eyes…

Born in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, my grandmothers fit the generalities given to their dubbed “Silent Generation”. They were girls during WWII. Given the circumstances of their childhoods, Grandma Alice is still incredibly frugal, Grandma Phyllis does not complain, and both women know how to work.

Unfitting of their generation, both women attended college (can you hear my pride in that statement?), but neither finished their degrees. As their mothers and grandmothers before them, when the time came, they did what was expected and stayed home to raise families.

I was incredibly reluctant to call them about this photo shoot. Neither women like having their pictures taken. I waited for my gut to say “it’s time”, and I called them. As reluctant as I was to ask, they were equally reluctant at my proposition. In the end, they said yes.

On a hot day in mid July, we drove down to the farms.

At Grandma Alice’s, we spent time in almost every room in the house. We went through her yarn, and she showed us her latest lap robe (she’s crocheted over ninety for local senior centers). She made iced tea (the family-favorite drink). She pulled out the Mother’s Day card I sent her for a round of laughs. I stood on her bathroom scale to show Miller the numbers, as I don’t keep one at our house (and Grandma’s always weighs light). We played with Grandma’s Floridian seashell collection and listened to “the ocean”. I took Miller to one of her fields (currently filled with soybeans). Even the good ole peach tree (which you may remember from My Someday Boobs installment) made a cameo.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When we arrived to Grandma Phyllis’ house, she’d come in from mowing only a half hour previously. (Yes, she’s in her 80s and still mows over three acres on her own at her insistence.) She had bits of grass stuck to her cheeks and stayed in her mowing clothes the entire time. As usual, Miller played with some of my dad’s childhood toys and coveted his great-grandmother’s coffee table that he’s not allowed to drive cars on. I helped Grandma with lunch (though I grew up calling the noontime meal dinner), and I sat in Grandpa’s old place at the dinner table. Afterwards, Grandma took us up the road to her father’s childhood church. She’d never taken me there before; it was her treat for the session.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These pictures offer glimpses of my past, present, and future. They show my childhood, two of my regular childhood rearers, and my child. They’re packed with memories and love. They’re irreplaceable.

As I drove my sleeping boy back to Decatur, the phrase that kept coming to mind was “show up anyway”.

The reasons not to do this shoot were aplenty.

I was two weeks and two days post-op from a major surgery. I knew I’d be sacrificing Miller’s nap time (aka my rest time) to make this shoot happen. I wasn’t about to reschedule. I paid for that decision in the short term, but my sights were set on the long term. Thank goodness I showed up anyway.

I’m growing my hair out (again!) and the sides were wonky at best, thus, the half-back top-knot thing perched on my head. I showed up anyway.

Miller hadn’t had a proper haircut in over four months. In his shaggy glory, we showed up anyway.

Grandma Alice apologized for her overgrown lawn scheduled to be mowed later that day. She showed up (and let us show up) anyway.

Grandma Phyllis gets her hair done on Fridays and was in a state about how terrible it’d look come Wednesday (the day of the shoot). She showed up anyway.

If you wait for everything to be “picture perfect”, what you’re trying to achieve might never happen. This doesn’t just apply to family photos. It applies to any creative project known to man, to work projects, to parenting, to ANYTHING. You might not feel your best, feel fully prepared, or the most capable. Show up anyway, because a less-than-perfect result is better than no result at all.

Thanks to this collaboration, I got to see something in these images I’d never noticed in person: My grandmothers’ loving glances.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Through the imperfect comes moments of perfection.

Thank goodness we all showed up anyway.


To see more of Rachel’s work, visit her website, Rachel Holden Photography.