Locked and Bolted

The Vietnam War was one of the most notorious in American history and has affected the lives of countless veterans; my Uncle Bob being one of them. He is the most gentle soul I know and served honorably on the front lines in the U.S. Army during this conflict.

Like many veterans of this war, coping with the emotional aftermath after returning home from overseas became a battle of it’s own. In the 1980’s, he was going through a particularly difficult time in his life and turned to writing.

I feel deeply honored to share one of his beautiful, reflective pieces from this time:

Locked and bolted
And thoroughly revolted
The citizens huddle afraid
Beware of this syndrome that you call secure and know that it’s a mirror of your fear
Go out and feel the wind at your back
Life need not be an allergic attack
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ONE

Maisley,

I remember the day you were born so vividly. I think about it all the time. I hope you don’t take the look of shock on my face when we first met as a bad thing. I was just so surprised that my body actually gave birth to you and that you were a real, live human.

You didn’t cry at first. We had to rub your back to get things moving. Now you sing and yell and say “mAma” with the bravado of an Italian woman.

We came alive when you came into the world, and every day since then I have thought about you more than anything or anyone else.

I’m trying to remember what I remember most about this first year of you. Ups and downs like any other years, but ups higher than the mountain tops, and downs that dropped a little below our comfort zone.

It was a bewildering year full of paradoxes and wonder.  I’ve never wanted something to stay the same, yet continue growing more in my life. Many of your early days resembled a tired, elated, blissed-out blur. Holidays, trips and milestones all punctuate the simple, yet extraordinary everyday happenings of your year. 

Some of them funny, like when Dada, in a moment of parental desperation, bounced with you in the ergo at 3am – in his birthday suit – while singing the Star-Spangled Banner just to get you to sleep.

I’m always asking my mom (Nonni) what I was like as a kid, so that I can understand my true self.  This is a snapshot of who you are now:

  • Your energy is magnetic. A trip to the grocery store with you makes me feel like a celebrity. 
  • When you spot Dada from across the room, you smile so hard at him. Your eyes carry a hint of sparkle and the usual amount of mischief.
  • You are independent, confident and fearless. When we walk together, you sometimes pull your hand out of mine, subtly saying, “I can do this on my own, Mom”. 
  • You have a mind of your own and you don’t care what people think; and people love you because of it. You are my greatest teacher.
  • You say our names now. What started out as “Mamika” and “Dikka” are more clearly Mama and Dada.
  • You stick your tongue out, point to your nose, raise your hands tall like a tree and say, “oooh ooh and aah aah” like a monkey.
  • You are always on a mission. To the kitchen! To the books! To Sammie’s water bowl!
  • You smile all the time. You make us the happiest people in the world, because that’s what you are.

As you grow into your second year of life, I grow more into Mom, more into me. 

Happy 1st birthday my sweet Maisley Moo.  I love you more than you know.

xoxo
mAma

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Waiting for Maisley

As I sit here on the eve of Maisley’s first birthday, I can’t help but think about what I was doing last year at this very minute and the days leading up to her birth; endless swells of uncertainty, joy, fear and excited anticipation.

Here are some highlights from my journal entries during the last 15 days of waiting for Maisley.

8.1.16 
Pinch and a punch to the first of the month no take backs. It’s Bean’s birthday month. August 1st raises the anticipation level to “go-time”!

8.2.16
My sweet Nonno went to Heaven today. We got to see him yesterday and say I love you one more time. He’s with his beloved Christina now and that makes me so happy. How ironic that he left and Bean will be coming into this world. They passed somewhere in the soul-space of the universe. I think she will be bold and strong-willed like him. After years of Alzheimer’s and physical decline, I’m trying to remember Nonno as his old self.

  • Cold cut sandwiches around the table in the mobile home
  • His jokes and constant humor
  • Slipping us hundies as we walked out the door of his mobile home
  • Teaching us poker with his trickster ways
  • The way he peeled his orange with a knife in a circular motion
  • His stories from WWII
  • How he always made sure everyone else was okay
  • How much he loved my Nana with all his heart
  • How he would say “tree” instead of “three”
  • His love of basketball
  • That he was a fisherman
  • He was frugal, but he lived and traveled the world

I love that he was there on Christmas eve when we told my family that our Bean was coming into the world. They are soul mates. He left and will guide her onto the earth. He is or angel. I’m so happy he is at peace; in Heaven where he deserves to be.

8.3.16 
How are we going to keep this baby alive? We aren’t prepared at all. The bassinet situation plagued my mind at 3am. Do we tilt it upwards? Does Bean just go in there at night? How do we know what Bean needs? I forget everything from Breastfeeding and Newborn 101. Where is my Solly Baby wrap? I need to wash it. Shit is getting real at almost 38 weeks. Sleeping? Tired. I feel pregnant. I love you though, Bean.

Happy 28th Birthday Brandino.

It was so good spending the day with my mom. She is so excited to meet Bean and I’m so happy to bring her that joy. Sammie, oh sammie girl and her sensitive puppy tummy. I think she is sensing the heightened energy and hormones, that anxious soul. Ryan woke up to a real treat this morning.

8.4.16
The elusive productivity felt good today. Bean is still feeling pretty high up.  Ryan said last night that this waiting game is like the biggest game of jack-in-the-box. We have been winding up for nine months…when will I pop?? Ever since then, I can’t get the song out of my head: do do do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do do do, pop goes the weasel! I hope mine’s a baby.

I swam for 20 minutes today per my midwife’s suggestion. It feels so good to let my belly float free and weightless. It’s so surprising how heavy everything feels as I walk up the steps out of the pool. It’s peaceful in there. I think Bean likes it too.

I’m happy to see Jackie and Nicole tonight with their little loves Juno and Greyson. Pretty soon I will also be a friend with a baby. I want to always be a friend, and have my baby. I want to remember to be me. I think Bean wants that too. As the days get closer to meeting Bean, I feel more ready and simultaneously freaked out. I think I am most nervous 1) for labor 2) how everyone calls those first months the dark days. Yikes. I want to stay positive. How do I not fall into the darkness? It almost feels like something out of my control that can happen to me, not come from me. I will say yes to help. We are strong and can do hard things.

8.5.16 
Bean, I had a meltdown tonight. I sat in our rocking chair in your dark nursery; meditated and chilled out. I said to Ryan that I just want to feel normal again. I felt bad for saying it, but I was having a moment. He was comforting to me in the moment, but later said, I feel so bad because I don’t think you’re going to feel normal for another year.

8.6.16
We gardened the backyard today and re-planted our succulents. It looks so refreshing and beautiful. It was mostly me directing and Ryan actually doing the hard labor (my day is coming, I don’t feel so bad). I’m a bit useless in that sense right now. We got this new peach colored rose bush. I normally hate roses, but today they were all I wanted. They remind me of my Grandma and as kids the “Rose Hotel” we would create for her and my Papa when they would stay with us. Maybe it’s Bean. Maybe I’m just getting older, but roses are somehow back in my flower game. I slept for 10 hours last night, we got breakfast and strolled the beach. Happy.

8.7.16
38 weeks has come slow and fast. It’s almost like my body has been waiting since I was 12-years-old to get the chance to do what it was made to do. My fears are many. How will I fight through the frustrations and hormones with grace? How will I not be a control freak? I want to be nice to Ryan. I don’t want to be the crazy person people say you become in labor.

8.8.16
We said “goodbye” and “see you later” to Nonno today. It was such a happy and sad day. It was hard to know that we won’t see him or hear his voice on this earth again. It was hard to see my mom cry during her eulogy. She did so great. Father Angelos spoke about how much love, faith and generosity my Nonno and Nana exuded; he said he wants to be like them. It was so powerful to hear him speak so highly of them.

It was a surreal experience being 9 months pregnant with Bean at a funeral. One soul gone, one coming. It’s the in-between phase where neither are out in the world right now.

I love my rose bush. I wonder if the symbolism is for my grandparents or me blooming like our labor visuals. It brings me a lot of happiness right now. I will carry ‘their’ hearts with me. All of these beautiful strong souls up in Heaven, they will all help me up this mountain.

We came home from the service and had the most joy-filled afternoon with my sisters and mom and dad. Dad seems to be doing a little better. Thank you God for this glimmer of hope. I hope he feels it too. He means the world to us.

8.9.16
I haven’t thought much about the pain of labor, until now, while my lower back feels like it’s breaking apart. Holy cow, this is real. Me and Ryan talked about our labor fears last night and any residual feelings. I said the intensity, but I also know this is what we have been preparing for. Our hypnobirthing classes, rainbow relaxation meditations, visualizations, everything. It’s the big race. I remember the night before my marathon so vividly. I thought I would be nervous and unable to sleep, but I was calm and woke up well rested, ready for the event I had prepared so hard for. And then it was over, it passed, and it went great. It was God. It was me.

I’m so fortunate to have Ryan. How could I ever tell him enough? The little and the big things. He is so good to me and never complains. I’m so happy it’s him and I’m so happy he is Bean’s dad.

Also, Bean, what are YOU?! We are so anxious to find out. I’m leaning towards girl, but I’m also 50/50. I can’t wait to share your name. I can’t wait to meet you. Waiting for you is so strange. I pray you have a beautiful, healthy birthday. When will you come? I feel it getting closer. I feel it in my heart…and my lower back. We have been reading you bedtime stories at night. Can you hear them? Dad is really good at telling stories, you’ll see.

8.10.16
I cried again last night. The full belly kind of cry I used to do as a kid. The cleansing, uncontrollable kind. I’ve been trying to be tough and not ask for help and it’s not doing me any good. I’m frustrating Ryan because he feels like he can’t help. We had a really good talk last night and I exploded out my fears; some real, some not. I guess that’s what fears are; even if they aren’t real it’s whatever you perceive them to be.

Despite all of our prep, I’m afraid of the unknown of labor. So many people everywhere are pouring their opinions and experiences on me, and while they mean well, quite frankly, I’m over it. I just want to stay in my own experience. I’m so tired of advice. Advice from the lady at Trader Joe’s, advice from the random woman walking her dog, from my aunt, from friends. It’s just so overwhelming and the words are spinning like a washing machine in my head.

Me, Ryan and Bean. It’s us. It’s going to be hard, but we will get through it.

What does “mom” me look like? Does she still have long hair? Is she patient or does she have a temper? I know these waiting days are just a blip in time, but they feel forever.

8.11.16
I love you Bean. I am sick with a bad cold. My back hurts, but I love you. I’m grateful for you. I met with a mom friend Devon yesterday. She gave me good advice. I wonder what my advice will be for a new mom. I’m trying to stay positive. Other people are feeling much worse. Other people are dying to be pregnant and feel what I feel.

8.12.16
I’m feeling so much better mentally today. Less sad and scared. More excited and ready. I got a good night’s sleep which made all the difference. 39 weeks tomorrow. At 6, I couldn’t imagine this would ever come. At 29, when we had the small hospital scare, all I wanted was for you to be full term. Here we are!

I think I said in my baby hunch prediction that you would come today. Will you? You can come anytime. We are ready for you Bean. I’m so anxious to meet you and catch your glance for the first time. To feel our outer-body connection.  To feel a love I’ve never experienced. What a weird feeling to wait like this for the greatest love of all time?

8.13.16
Well Bean, you’re still fluttering around inside my belly. I’ve been waking up around 3am thinking I’m going into labor the past few nights. I have this mild cramping feeling during the night, and then I wake up wondering if it was a dream or real. After a few nights of the same thing, I’m going to chalk it up to the wonders of gas and constipation.

You are all I’m thinking about, Bean. I can be briefly distracted, but any minute alone in thought is about you. How you will come? When you will come? What will it be like?Emotionally I’m feeling much better than earlier in the week. My nesting need is fierce, but I can barely do anything to help which is so frustrating!

Me and Sammie often cuddle and hang out during my morning routine. She sits between my crossed legs and listens to our prayers. Bean, you’re going to love Sammie. She’s going to love you.

The weather has been so warm and beautiful. Before getting pregnant, I had this visual of giving birth at the hospital when it was cold and rainy (add some drama to the scene). Now, I envision being in my bathing suit, laboring at the pool and then wearing a loose sundress all the way to the hospital. It will most likely be a bright, happy, sunny day when Bean comes into the world.

It’s so fun having the Olympics on right now. Watching people push their limits and work hard – what more motivation for labor could I ask for? The track started last night. It had me thinking of the 400 and 800 meter races. I learned through sports that my body is WAY more capable than I could ever imagine. I can push myself past the limit. My heart is strong, I am strong.

The labor snacks I bought at week 38 are slowly dwindling. I need to re-stock! We’ve been reading you bedtime stories every night. Dad gets really animated. It’s so fun to have that time with you.

8.14.16
“She believed she could, so she did”. Such a simple mantra, but it just stuck to my heart. Believing in someone else gives them so much power and strength. Believing in yourself is just as empowering. I can do this. I am stronger than I think. Surrender.

Bean, I told you this morning that we are ready whenever you are! We hung out at Pizza Port with Amy and Paul, the newlyweds, last night. It was so fun to see them. I always leave feeling better than before.

Ryan had the worst seven golf holes of his life today. Was it a sign from the golf gods that he should be at home with me? Ha! It was such a bad round that he quit at hole seven and put his clubs in the attic.

I was thinking this morning how lucky I am to have my mom. She calls everyday to say how excited she is and to see how I’m doing. We are lucky to have her, our whole family. I can’t wait to see our family’s relationships with Bean.

How weird it’s going to be to not call you Bean!

 

8.15.16
I woke up this morning around 8am with pink blood. I think that meant I lost my “mucus plug” (the two grossest words ever created). I started getting some light period cramping around 9am when early labor began. Me and Ryan both started doing random chores around the house, trying not to get too nervous or excited. We are going to meet Bean, but still don’t know when, just soon.

8.16.16
Maisley Christine Nienhuis
Born at 12:58am
7 lbs, 3 ounces, 18.5 inches long
Scripps Encinitas
Willow – Doula
Danielle – Nurse
Michelle – Widwife
Ryan – Dada

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A Postpartum Identity Puzzle

I am 10 months postpartum. Although, do you even call it postpartum past three months? At this point, I’m just a straight-up mom.

One of my yoga teachers told me, that someone told her, that you don’t really become a mom until the second child. That makes me feel really tired.  

My mind is so full all the time. Full of nothing and everything.

What will she eat for lunch? How did she nap today? Is she tired? How’s her diaper rash? Is that a real cough or just a tickle? Did I read enough books to her today? How many vegetables did she get? When do I start her on cow’s milk? Is cow’s milk bad for her? Was that her 4th or 5th poop?

A friend sent me this quote recently and I can’t stop thinking about it:

“I tend to be most interested in the kinds of people who do not sweeten or dilute themselves for the sake of people tastes. Who never soften the blow of who they are. Like my coffee, I prefer the people I connect with to be full-strength and searing hot. And able to rouse my weary, idle heart.” – Beau Taplin // Black Coffee

Over the last 10 months, my identity has been completely shaken. I feel like a freshmen all over again. A little insecure, overwhelmed and afraid, but in awe of the possibilities and new world I’m in.

Becoming a mom has meant adding a whole new layer of responsibility, love and connection to my current being. This new life requires change, molding, dissolving of old thoughts, and growing into new perspectives.

Somedays I ache to be the woman who is so comfortable in her own skin, radiating confidence, truth, and beauty. It feels impossible to be myself, because, who am I really? What percentage am I Jenna versus mom/wife/sister/friend/daughter? I’m trying to figure out what I want, what I need, and my greater purpose within my new role as mom. I’m living so uncomfortably close to my edge that I could pop like a jack-in-the-box at any given moment.

Other days, I feel like I’ve got it goin’ on and being a mom feels so natural, right and real.

Even in the funkiest moments of self doubt, I know all is right. I’m exactly where I should be, watching Maisley simply exist while my heart explodes.

When my ever-smiley 10-month-old girl wears a onesie, her belly rolls over leggings. Her two front teeth have emerged with a gap wide enough for spitting water. She crawls so quick that the momentum of her body surpasses her arm speed and she face plants on the rug.

The good and the bad; this too shall pass. 

First Steps on Mother Turf

Maisley,

You took your first steps today. We have been coaxing you to walk for a few weeks now, but you never take our bait in the form of a yellow sneetch or a sparkly blue ball.

We were out in the beautiful sunshine at Choice in Carlsbad. Just you and me.

It’s one of your favorite places (and mine) because there are so many kids to watch and so much space to be free.

I laid out our blanket on the astroturf and we played for a while. We were having a really good and joy filled day that July 13th, 2017.

And then suddenly, without warning, you turned away from me and stood up. Holding your orange sippy cup, teeth gritting together; one, two, three like a drunken sailor and then a gentle tumble.

You did it!! Your very first steps, just your way.

I was so proud of you and I couldn’t stop clapping, smiling and cheering you on. It was absolutely amazing.

I think this monumental moment was one of many to prepare me for the independence and strong-will divinely set deep in your bones. I knew this from the day we had you, though.

The woman next to us took notice of the commotion and commented, “How beautiful. Her first steps here on mother earth.”

Mother turf, I thought, through a smile.

I love that you took your first steps in the wide open air, where you seem most happy and full of life.

Now that you’re off and walking, I wonder where your feet will go?

To the cobblestone streets of Venice?
Up the Eiffel Tower in Paris?
Along the mean streets of Manhattan?
Fluttering through the Mediterranean sea?
Strolling the coastal walk at Bondi Beach?

These first steps are just the beginning of what I hope and pray is a lifetime of endless steps. To new places and familiar ones too.

Thank you for all that you are and all that you are becoming. I love every part of you.

Love and hugs,
Your mama

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Holy Anxiety

I wore a skort to church one Sunday when I was 9-years-old.

I mistakenly sat at the end of the wooden pew which left me susceptible to outside hand holding during the “Our Father”. Sure enough, the young (cute) boy across the aisle reached out with his clammy right hand, ready for my awkward embrace. The rest of mass he kept glancing over in my direction. My crimson face didn’t do much to hide my embarrassment.

It’s my skort, I thought. I am definitely seducing him with my skort.

Needless to say, I didn’t wear a skort again until sophomore year of high school when boys started to be more appealing, yet equally as frightening.

As a third generation worrier, I’ve had some level of anxiety since I can remember.  I didn’t really label my strange childhood nuances as anxiety until adulthood, when I came to understand the feelings on a deeper level.  

Most days I’m grateful to be able to manage my anxious thoughts and worries with prayer, yoga, breathing, writing, positive mantras, travel, running, calming rituals, and so on.

Mental health is seemingly at the forefront of conversations lately, which is really where it should be. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more because of the people in my life who are increasingly affected by it.

After leaving my doctor’s office this week for an annual physical, I couldn’t help but feel like our visit was incomplete.  Why didn’t she ask me how my brain was feeling? Why didn’t she ask how I’ve been doing emotionally? Isn’t that just as important as a skin check and breast exam?

It also got me thinking about what I can do as a mom to encourage enough moments of serenity in the beautiful chaos of life for my daughter and family. I think it’s probably a combination of leading by example and sharing coping tools, activities and open communication. 

As of now, she spends most of her time squealing with joy and doing headstands with her 5-toofed smile. I hope she stays this care-free forever.

But just in case, for fashion’s sake and all that is holy, I think I’ll spare her the skort experience altogether.

My Grandmas & Me

Sometimes in a tough moment, or just because, I close my eyes and talk to my angel grandparents. This week in particular, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmothers; Grandma Joan and Nana.

When I think about these amazing women, the picture I always have in my head is of them hugging me. I can visualize their unique embrace.  I think about the way they hugged me, their scent and how their kisses felt on my cheek.

My Nana was a spunky 5’ nothing Italian lady, who always held a rosary in one hand and my Nonno’s hand in the other. She would flit around like a tiny fairy, sprinkling holy water on anything and anyone. She made the best homemade pizza. Food was her love language and thankfully she passed that onto my mom. She had a beautiful, but also tough life, and in her last years, constantly surprised us with her strength and nine-lives. Her body may have been frail, but she had the fight of a lion.

My Nana would reach out to us and gently grab our face for a kiss with her tiny, arthritic hands. She had the prickliest kisses from her tiny chin hairs, but they were full of unconditional love.  She used to say “feel my hugs” whenever we were away from her.

My Grandma Joan was magnetic, the life of the party in every sense. She whistled like a freight train when she needed to get everyone’s attention.  My Grandma had 6 kids and 15 grandkids, and somehow, each of us thought we had the “special” relationship with her. She once drove with the 16-year-old-me to Santa Barbara to visit my sister at UCSB. I was flying down the 101 freeway going 85 and instead of yelling, “Jesus take the wheel!”, she just smiled and said, “I trust you!”.

My Grandma gave expansive, firm hugs, tucking us tight into her chest. I envision her gold heart locket resting against the creases on her chest that represent years of love and hard work. She would reach her hands straight out for us to dive into. She smelled like “her” perfume and I imagine her always wearing a peach colored shirt with peach colored toe nail polish.

These women were strong in such unique ways. My nana was unassuming, sweet and mighty. My grandma; boisterous, kind and confident.

Sometimes as a mom, wife, colleague, friend, sister and daughter; I feel absolutely spent. Like I’m living on my edge all day and have nothing extra to give, especially to myself. Come 3pm, my brain fog is equal to San Francisco in June.

When I think about these two women filling up my spirit and standing by my side, I get an extra jolt. In my moments of self doubt, not only do I have their spirit by my side, I am literally a part of them. I came from them.

I will always feel their hugs; they are closer to me everyday than they’ve ever been before.