On my mind: Nora Ephron +

I read Nora Ephron while I lay on my pink velvet couch at 11:45am, desperate for a break from the glare of my computer screen. She wrote of the feminist movement in the 1970s, dropping Gloria Steinem's name like they were neighbors or friends who occasionally saw one another at brunch on the Upper East Side. The words and, more specifically, the way Ephron strings them together with such exquisite yet seemingly carefree mastery of cadence and tone, feels mesmerizing. Was it Nathaniel Hawthorne who said “easy reading is damn good writing”?

Another woman whose writing style I admire is the author of one of my favorite books ever (which is saying a lot) Chasing Slow, Erin Loechner. Her words are straightforward but also melodic in a way that I wish came more naturally to me. What she writes, like the beloved Nora, tucks meaning away for future generations to explore and unpack and feel deep in their bones. It’s timeless writing, is what I really mean to say. Future classic.

In any event, the reason I’m fangirling over these two writers is that I read both of them today. Just one essay from each. One in a slightly yellowed copy of Crazy Salad some things about women & Scribble Scribble notes on the media I borrowed from the library; the other delivered via email and read while I was waiting for the microwave to beep.

And I just really love great writers, and the stories they share. Reading great writers makes me want to be a great writer. We know it’s smart to keep the company only of people we’d want to be like; perhaps writers ought to keep the company only of writers who inspire them to new mastery.

Then again, would we even know good writing without knowing the bad?

A few words I adore from Emma Brocks for The Guardian: “You write, in part – in the main, probably – for the people you admire and they take on a much greater role in your life than their actual presence might justify. They are the voice in your head, the reader over your shoulder, the people you are trying to impress and live up to. In any given life you don't get many like Nora.”

This is Not a List of Books I Loved in 2018

I dip in and out leaving a trail of books everywhere I go. On the side coffee table I have In Shock by Dr. Rana Awdish, a story about a resident who survives a serious medical emergency and goes on to advocate for a better healthcare system after the horrible experience she had. On the big coffee table is the September issue of Vogue and the December Issue of Vanity Fair. I’m halfway through both of them, picking them up only when I have a stolen twenty minutes in the middle of the day. On my desk is a whole stack of books: The Patient Will See You Now, An American Sickness, The Emotionally Absent Mother, and I Am Her Tribe, a beautiful book of poetry by Danielle Doby. The poetry book aside, these are books I have been told to read by other people. Namely, my old therapist and my boss. That’s not to say I don’t want to read them; I see the value in each. But if I’m being really honest, and I have no true reason not to be, these titles are not exactly what I want to be spending my precious little amount of reading time on. I put them on my desk, aligned left behind my laptop, and allow myself the courtesy of only digesting a chapter—sometimes paragraph—at a time. At the rate I’m going, I will finish all three of these books by approximately 2024.

By now you’re beginning to see how I read books and magazines. A little here, a little there. It feels mostly like I have no choice; books seduce me. The freshly printed covers, the feel of nostalgia that sweeps over me when I pick up one I’ve read before, the dizzying deja vu when I re-read books that impacted me, all of it draws me in like a moth to a flame. This is why I’ll often create a rule for myself that insists I not by any new books or borrow any from the library or friends until I finish the ones I’ve already started.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t force myself to suffer through books I’m not enjoying. For example, I just couldn’t get into Lit by Mary Karr. Phenomenal writing, no doubt, but I was slogging through it so I gave myself permission (and apologized in my heart to Mary Karr, a true literary icon) to stop. Lots of other books have fallen into this category, discarded when my brain and the words don’t mesh. One such is Moby Duck, a fascinating autobiography about rubber ducks lost at sea and the authors quest to find out what happened to them. I picked it up in the gift shop before we headed to a remote campsite for four days. I barely read it because we spent so much time hiking to fill our canteens with water that reeked of sulfur (if you don’t know what sulfur smells like, imagine a dozen rotten hard-boiled eggs. It’s foul.), to the beach, and to use the bathroom in the woods. I vowed to read it when I got home but have only gotten to chapter 2. It’s not the book; it’s me. These publications were underneath my desk, shoved up against the wall, until last week when I got sick of looking at them and donated them to the East Atlanta Public Library.

No matter how many times I invoke a book borrowing/purchasing freeze on myself, I inevitably give up (admittedly with very little persuasion necessary). It’s not that I mean to read some 20 books at a time (I haven’t told you about the six books beside my bed, or the five I’m shuffling through on my Kindle app.). I’d love to be able to focus on one book, finish it, and then start a new one. Orderly, just how my Virgo rising self likes it. Instead I am a true Gemini when it comes to books; to force myself to commit to just one at a time is a feeling akin to the ultimate case of FOMO.

There are days when I want to read Nora Ephron’s timeless interpretation of life as a woman. These are the days when my thirtieth birthday bubbles up in my throat and I need to be reminded of all the life that lay before me. Other times, I need to dip my toe back into StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli. This book made me want to be a writer. Then there are times when I bemoan my lack of formal education in or early exposure to classic literature and I tuck myself away into an F. Scott Fitzgerald. This doesn’t happen very often; normally I spend these fragile times looking at lists of recommended classic literature reads, observing the possibilities but ultimately turning back to my tried and true YA series, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, or a book by a white woman who has marginally overcome something and has decided to write a book hyper-targeted at young Millennials. (Next year, I am committed to reading more books by women of color. Jesmyn Ward’s new book Sing, Unburied, Sing sits atop my nightstand.) You can see my hunger for words is quite insatiable. Going to a bookstore? Forget it. I cannot go into Barnes & Noble without purchasing a book to add to my ever-growing collection. It’s also challenging when I see someone promoting their newly released book on Instagram, it is at the core of my nature to want to read about all of these people’s life stories, and the stories they make up for the page.  

Occasionally I will get so absorbed in a book that I submerge for as long as it takes to finish, coming up only to eat and sleep. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera was one such book. Another was Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It took me awhile to give myself the space to not be a read-one-book-at-a-time kind of woman. Now that I’m starting to embrace this scattered but purposeful approach to absorbing what I read, I see such value in this unpressured, unharried way. There will always be new books I want to read and old books I long to have a Saturday afternoon to dedicate to. I will always want and need to dip in for a spell, leave, and return another time. It is how my brain works, merging all that I am consuming into a creative fuel for my craft.

Often, I catch myself sitting in the feeling that I will likely never have the exquisite writing skills and style of the authors I so adore. The uniqueness of the way they each combine words and string sentences and spin the narrative of their story reminds me that I, too, can write in my own way. Pulling a bit from Karr and Franzen and King and Silvera and Didion and Lochner, I weave myself into the words that helped shape what I understand about writing and the world.

Another Classic: I Am Restless, Again (aka Decisions)

Arriving home from Spain at the end of a long, city-hopping September felt so good that I didn’t care if I ever traveled again. I unpacked my bags in record time and shoved my suitcase to the very back of my closet. Won’t be needing that for awhile, I thought before crawling wearily into my very own bed (well, and David’s very own bed) where I stayed for 12 hours.

That was a trip to remember but only for how awful it was. It’s Spain, so of course there were highlights: the vermouth was great, I like being able to order lots of different tapas to try, stand up paddleboarding was a blast. But what stands out in my memories is not how crystal clear the water was, or how beautiful the architecture. It was who I was for those three weeks: someone who could not see past her own suffering. Suffering, I will add, that was largely self-inflicted. Spain, a truly unique and special country, is forever marred by all the things that went wrong, internally and externally, while we were there.

It is now December and I am beginning to feel the travel itch again. I do realize it has only been about two months since we got back. If you’re a normal person who wasn’t born with insatiable wanderlust, then that might not seem like a big deal. But coming from someone who starts to get antsy if she hasn’t booked a plane ticket in more than a month, well, two months is quite impressive.

We decided that we’re going to limit our travel next year so we can pay down some debt and start saving more. We also decided (decided makes it sound certain, final but, as you’ll learn, few of my decisions are really final) to move to NYC sometime in 2020. Two-goal plan. Seemed reasonable enough (paying off debt!) yet at the same time thrilling (moving to NY!). Moving also appeared to me a perfectly acceptable alternative to the travel that I, until recently, had my heart set on. It was just as big of an adventure, with a similar balance of risk and reward.

Now the thing is that I don’t think I truly want to move to NY. I don’t want to move there and be broke because our rent would be twice what our mortgage payment is for less than half the space. And it seems miserable to have to walk everywhere in the cold, and also in the heat. And I get overwhelmed going to the mall in the month of December, so I imagine that the city I hold so dearly in my writerly fantasies is about the equivalent of that — all the time. There are many reasons why I decided I wouldn’t die if I didn’t get to move to New York. Instead, I decide, I will settle into our newly purchased home (January 2018) and make it feel like ours. I will learn to love Atlanta, for all its features and flaws.

The cozy feelings about staying have been worn off by the incessant rain we’re having. It is dark at 5 p.m. and dark until 8 a.m. Everyone is gloomy and cold and wet. Well I don’t know if everyone is but I certainly am. I think I have SAD, standing for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s basically where you’re just freaking SAD all winter because you’re not getting enough sunlight. Not only is this winter drear bumming me out, but it’s giving me anxiety about global warming and what kind of planet we’re leaving our kids.

I can’t stay in Atlanta forever, especially under these conditions. In addition to being sick of the weather, I am over Atlanta traffic. I just feel irritated at even the thought of having to drive down Moreland to get to Target. 15 minutes to go a mile and a half? Who can deal? I can’t.

So I start to feel like traveling again. I’m not moving, so I need to go somewhere new. The South of France? That would be nice. What about Thailand? Japan? The world is my, your, our oyster. Memories of Spain fade to the background and become a different lifetime. I am restless again. I am being called to go, even if only for a short while.

Finding My Style at 29

I started to write about our night out on the town last night but got distracted looking at kimonos and jumpsuits I want to buy. Which got me thinking about style. I’ve been actively searching for “my style” for about two decades. It has dawned on me recently that I probably don’t have just one style, which is why I feel no closer to finding it than I did when I was 10 years old and carefully observing what the girls in my favorite movies wore so I could attempt to replicate the look. I’m a Gemini for goddess sake! Some days I want to wear a gorgeous kimono with a pair of stacked black heels; others jeans and my well-worn Birkenstocks; others athleisure to the max — plus everything in between. And let me tell you a secret: when my outfit is aligned with how I want to feel (i.e. bright red jumpsuit = on my game) I am unstoppable. There’s something about dressing the part that reminds me what I’m made of, I suppose.

I’m also a Virgo (rising) which means I crave order and love the idea of having a capsule wardrobe or a self-imposed uniform. I think I only like it in theory though (can you imagine how tidy the closet would be?). To only have, say, 10 items of clothing to choose from feels stressful. What if the occasion calls for something else? What if I don’t feel like wearing that on a given day? What if I start to feel suffocated of choices? And yet the appeal of not having to decide on what to wear or, at least, not having very many options to choose from is also there. I’ve considered these as potential minimalist wardrobe options: jeans, tank top, kimono, heels; only jumpsuits; yoga pants, workout top, hoodie; max of 20 items in bright tones to mix and match; max of 10 items all in black. What happens every time, though, is I remember how deeply I adore variety. The Gemini’s need for freedom outweighs the Virgo’s quest for organization. At least for now.

Since I’ve already talked about my sun and rising signs, I may as well share that my Libra moon insists that I have a taste for nice things and that I am a highly emotional decision-maker. Once, I went into Saks Fifth Avenue and just pretended I was shopping there. I fell in love with a black jumpsuit — a $575 piece of cloth that I thought I would die if I couldn’t buy. Well, I didn’t buy it and I didn’t die but I do still think about that jumpsuit and the way it made me feel to be wearing a piece of clothing that cost as much as my car payment. (It felt really good.) Being emotional about clothing is something I cannot escape; at least 5 times a year, I frantically sort through my closet because I’ve realized I have nothing to wear. Maybe I’m missing a seasonally appropriate party dress or a pair of shorts that I like or I decide I hate everything I own and absolutely have to start over. Or I’ll put on an outfit I’d been planning to wear for a certain occasion and realize that it doesn’t fit right, or look the way I wanted it to, and I will feel an inescapable amount of frustration and emotion fill my chest.

Curious as to why I feel so triggered by clothes, I trace back to my middle school days of school shopping with my parents. 75% of the time, we bought our clothes at second-hand stores. At the age I was, as the person I was, being dragged to the thrift store and told to pick out the clothes I was going to wear to school all fall was humiliating and torturous. I knew I wasn’t going to find the kinds of clothes the girls in movies wore at Goodwill. And rarely did I. Instead, I was left with a pile of musty jeans and shirts that never fit quite right. I spent my days at school feeling awkward and wishing I’d be adopted by parents who took their kids shopping at dELia’s and PacSun. To have clothes that looked amazing was to be amazing. This belief of mine was unshakable. Of course, this meant that my fragile sense of self as I entered high school was contingent on how cool I looked and felt. Since I never felt or (from where I stood, facing the mirror) looked cool, I became increasingly insecure. You may have never known it from the outside: I wore a pink and brown plaid mini skirt over my jeans in an effort to pull off my own twist on Avril Lavigne’s punk babe vibe. I acted like I didn’t care but I cared so, so much.

The other 25% of the time my parents took us to JCPenney’s or Kohl’s. My mother, being the kind of person she is, took obvious pleasure in the fact that I was having a full-blown breakdown in the JCPenney's dressing room. She was making me buy shorts but, instead of letting me get the cutoffs I wanted, she established a rule that my shorts must not be any higher than my fingertips. This was an attempt at enforcing modesty that ultimately pushed me further to the edge they didn’t want me to be on than I probably would have gone on my own. I remember being furious and embarrassed and not being able to control my emotions about it. Crying and begging my mother to let me just dress like the other girls was a low for me. I was 14 and this was such a formative time for me to be able to explore who I was and how I wanted to express myself through clothing. Dressing rooms quickly became a place that immediately heightened my fight-or-flight response. They still do at times.

It’s a wonder I didn’t end up in fashion in one way or another; my obsession with it over the years is only obvious to me now that I’m looking backward. As I round the corner to 30, I am transported back to the transient feeling between girlhood and womanhood. This birthday is a rite of passage out of being a twenty-something; I’m certain that moving into this new decade will unlock a sense of purpose and certainty in both my emotional life and the life of my closet. If you were to look at my closet right now, you’d agree that it needs some work.

The only issue with this is that I am terrible at shopping. I get overwhelmed easily, usually end up buying something that can be worn with either one or zero other items I own, and become decidedly the most critical and hopeless version of myself. I love how the right clothes make me feel but I can’t for the life of me seem to choose the right clothes. A red biker jacket I loved in Banana Republic hasn’t been worn but once because, well, what do I wear a red biker jacket with? This is a combination of problems: not knowing what to buy because my style is a scattershot at finding the version of me I want to be on any given day and a lack of both patience and logistical style knowledge (what kind of top looks best with a pair of faux leather leggings? Beats me.).

You can see my dilemma. I know it may seem obvious to some — just buy and wear what you like. It should be that simple but, for me, it’s not. The formative years of my fashion life were spent in used Levi’s and collared short sleeve shirts from a (likely to be defunct soon) department store while I hoarded clothing catalogs I signed up for on a computer at school. These were free, fashion magazines were not. For those, I’d go to the library and spend hours looking at back issues, forever perpetuating how behind I felt (feel) when it comes to trending fashion.

Perhaps it is only in my head that I am at odds with having a style that suits me. But isn’t that all that really matters — what we think of ourselves in the clothes we adorn our bodies with? If I’m not feeling the style that I currently inhabit (I don’t), isn’t it my right and privilege as a woman and a being of this earth to explore more fitting options? I think so. And I have come to understand that each phase of my style journey has served me in some way. We are meant to shed and grow new skin every so often; it’s growth. I am using this approaching birthday as a portal into the next evolution of who I am, releasing all old beliefs about myself and clothing; whatever comes next may only last for a few months or it may take root for years. I guess only time will tell. If you know of a personal stylist, DM me.

Your Top Songs 2018

All I really want to do is write; everything else feels like a half-hearted attempt at avoiding what I know I should be doing. Writing.

So I turn on Spotify and hit shuffle on my “Favorites of 2018” album. My heart welcomes tunes that bring me back to an array of memories, ranging from elated to lower than I’ve been before. Memories that, until I was halfway through this playlist, I had not realized could be brought to the front of my mind in vivid detail just from hearing a certain song.

Odeza and Whethan are two fairly new additions to my musical life; they’re upbeat and hopeful, persuading me to bop along. Say My Name transports me to the heat of summer — these were the songs I turned to when I was in the car with Journey driving her to camp and home again; a balance between artists I wanted to listen to and artists that were appropriate for her to listen to. Her favorite — which then becomes our “Mommy-Journey song” — is Superlove from Whethan. Hearing it again makes me long for August, for her. I close my eyes and her sweet face fills the sky behind my lids.

I’m reminded of how diverse my musical tastes are as The Band Perry plays Better Dig Two and I can’t help but sing along, loudly. Actually, I don’t know how this song got on my top songs of 2018 playlist — I don’t have any memories of playing it at all recently. Still, it takes me back to another lifetime when Ashley and I would hang out at her house in San Diego and watch music videos while the kids played. The lyrics then made me think of my daughter’s father: Here lies the girl whose only crutch, Was loving one man just a little too much. If you go before I do, I'm gonna tell the gravedigger that he better dig two. Now, I can’t remember if I actually felt that way about him or if I just really wanted to.

Light of Love clears away thoughts of the time before I was who I am now. Jar-Jagdeesh has been a go-to for cacao ceremonies; her voice is so pure and affirming. Then Sylvan Esso has a three-song stint — Coffee, H.S.K.T, Die Young. I listened to them pretty much exclusively in Mexico in 2016. I was caught between guilt and shame at that time. Also between love and lust and between who I was and who I am. It was a seeking time and Sylvan Esso’s electropop acted as my serotonin. In January 2018, they made a come back on my Spotify circulation inspiring a bought of wanderlust.

Drake crashes in with In My Feelings and God’s Plan. Ayokay makes my heart ache with Kings of Summer. The lyrics are so relatable to me and at the same time different than anything I’ve ever experienced: Just a couple kids livin' on our own (on our own), Summer nights, Love 'em how they take so long (so long), Run with the feeling, Of being alive while we're still young. The lyrics remind me of the life I wished for at seventeen, never failing to make me wistful for moments I’ll never own. San Holo inspires thought of that week this summer when I first heard the song Light and played it on repeat until I was singing the lyrics in my dreams.

Yellowcard helps me come home to myself; their lyrics are imprinted on the adolescent version of my hopeful heart. “Do you remember how we used to get so high? It didn’t work at first, we tried it two more times, and we could breathe the windows down….it’s a new place that we have found. I was up late writing books all about heroes and crooks..” I croon along with one of the very first songs that took part in my overall emotional development. Sure Things Fall was my sophomore year anthem, the lines from Lights and Sounds creating worlds within me. Ocean Avenue still makes me long for the long-lost teenage romance I never had. As I observe and write that, I am made aware that nostalgia seems to be a common thread in the musical retelling of my life and, more specifically, nostalgia for dreams never acted upon, chances never taken. This makes me pretty sad. I don’t want to spend my life wishing for things to be different than they are in each moment. One of my biggest fears is that I will be on my deathbed and feel that I wasted my life. It occurs to me that I may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, my fear of living a life that is less than (less than what? I don’t know.) is keeping me always thinking about what’s next, unable to fully immerse myself in the present.

I’m brought back to the taste of cheap merlot and Spanish words swirling in the air around my tipsy head. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was Cusco’s intoxicating altitude but I distinctly remember feeling like I belonged there, in that country, with that group of people, at that party, in that conversation. It was maybe the first time in my life I had this feeling. That party of transplants and travelers was the first time I heard Jorja Smith; her enchanting voice wafting in and out and around my being as if I was being cloaked in the melody. Jorja has become my soundtrack for those days when I feel most alone.

Rising Appalachia, who I always turn back to when I am homesick. Flux Pavilion who can get me up and dancing with just a few beats. Marian Hill. G-Eazy. Halsey. Elle King. Ookay. Andy Grammer. We won’t forget where we came from, the city won’t change us, we beat to the same drum. Dirty Heads. Droeloe. Bassnectar. I’m immersed now. The individual memories glued to each song weave into one and I drift in and out of then and now. I am reminded of where I came from and all the steps it took to get where I am today.

P.S. you can listen to the playlist here.

P.S.S. I fell asleep listening to the playlist. David told me this morning that he came home and my phone was tucked underneath my pillow blasting Herobust. LOL.

Things I wish I'd have known before becoming a mother

There’s a story I tell my daughter about the day she was born. “I never had a baby before so I didn’t know how long it would take. By the time I got to hold you in my arms, I had been in labor for 18 hours. I was so hungry I thought I might eat you up. I told your dad “put Journey down and go get me a cheeseburger!”” Journey giggles and snuggles up to me. She’s heard this story a dozen times before but never tires of it. She asks after one retelling: “why didn’t you eat a cheeseburger before you had me?” I tell her the truth: “no one told me I needed to; no one told me that you only get to eat ice chips once you’re admitted to the hospital.”

That’s not the only thing I didn't know before I became a mother. At 21 years old, I had never held a baby (that I can recall). Most of my friends were still falling drunkenly into bed at 4 am, not getting up at that time to feed a baby. Those early days of motherhood were terrifying; I was certain that I was doing everything wrong. Am I feeding her enough? Should I vaccinate her? (The answer to that question, I firmly believe now, is yes.) Does she need playdates when she’s a month old? At what age will she start talking? Those early days were also sweet; I would nestle my nose in the rolls of her neck and inhale a big whiff of fresh baby smell. I carried her everywhere, not wanting to miss a single moment. That preciousness I felt often carried an undercurrent of uncertainty. What if I’m not a good mom? Can she feel when I’m frustrated and overwhelmed? Can she tell I never planned on being a mom?

Fast forward to today and everything is different. She’s turning eight this month, I’m turning 30 next year. I’m disappointed to report that the feeling of fucking it all up has never gone away. The sweetness has transformed into something new: a mash-up of rushed FaceTime calls, two-week visits where she sleeps in my bed and doesn’t want to leave my side, grief for what once was, and hope for what can still be.

She lives with her dad, which is really a story for a different essay and is also part of the reason I’m sure she’ll need massive amounts of therapy as an adult. This piece is a good place to start, if you want background. In a nutshell, life took us on twists and turns that ultimately ended in me leaving Journey’s father and moving across the country with her. Even more twists and turns later, I relinquished primary custody — but never my parental rights, to be clear — and she went to live with her father, his new wife, and her older sister (who, it’s worth nothing, is from Journey’s dad and his new wife, who was also his ex-girlfriend that had his baby before we met. Complicated.). This is a simplified version but if you really want to know more, you should read the article I linked to above — it explains everything in much more detail.

As Journey’s birthday is in 9 days, I’ve been reflecting on this, well, journey of motherhood. Not knowing I should eat before going to Labor & Delivery was just the tip of the iceberg made up of things I did not know before becoming a mother. Remember the Titanic? It wasn’t the visible part of the iceberg that sunk the ship, it was the unseen mass of ice underneath the water. An iceberg is such an accurate metaphor for motherhood. There are all the things you do and say on the surface: the kisses, the stories, the meals, the funny stories you share about mispronounced words, the sad moments when children miss their dad. Then, there are the things that happen internally that may never see the light of day but have the power to capsize the ship of motherhood and plunge you into icy waters: the self-doubt, the feeling that everyone else knows exactly what to do and you are a total failure, the existential exhaustion that comes with being the sole provider for another human’s every physical and emotional need.

Why did no one ever talk about what was underneath the surface of motherhood? Is that not written into the Girl Code? It should be: Thou shalt not let other mothers think they suck at being a mom when you also think you suck at being a mom.

I felt wholly unprepared for motherhood when my daughter was born. Maybe it was because I wasn’t ready to be a mother. Maybe it was because my own mother, ever staying true to who I know her to be, didn’t even seem to care that I was pregnant (I believe her words were “Um, can you call back tomorrow? It’s almost midnight.”). Her and my step dad flew over San Diego, where we lived at the time, to get to Hawaii — while I was in labor. Maybe you had to be mothered well yourself to be a good mother.

There are so many things I wish I’d known before becoming a mother. Namely, that none of us knows what we are doing. That would have been revolutionary to hear all those years ago. Let me repeat this for all the moms in the back with baby puke on their shirt: no mother on this Earth knows what she is doing. We are all making it up as we go, trying not to screw up our kids too much. I also wish I’d known that kids don’t need or want a perfect mom, they just want a present mom. And that postpartum depression is a very real thing and if a doctor tells you “it’s normal, just give it time” you should find a new doctor who takes the mental health of mothers seriously. And that it’s ok if sometimes you don’t really like your kid. And that, first, before you are a mother, you are a human, and that means you are allowed to have needs and dreams; you are allowed to make mistakes; you are allowed to change your mind. And that sometimes you need a good cry. And that you will absolutely grieve the person you used to be because you will never, ever be her again. Mostly, I wish I’d have known that bad mothers don’t worry about whether or not they are a bad mother, they just don’t.

Of course there are other, more trivial things that would have been useful to know: it’s ok if she eats Cheerios off the floor, being exposed to germs is good for her immune system, always pack a change of clothes and extra wipes because inevitably, one day, you’ll be at a gas station and realize that not only has she pooped in her diaper but that the poop has oozed up her back and into her hair.

But I wanted the meat of motherhood. I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one pushing up against icebergs that felt bigger and more destructive than they looked. I’ve learned over these last eight years that there is no one to blame (and believe me, I’ve tried to lay blame everywhere I could: myself, my mom, the media) for all the things I did not know before becoming a mother. No amount of hoping and wishing will bring me back to the first time I held my daughter in my arms for a do-over. I am learning to accept that, and to accept my version of motherhood for what it is: trial and error and tears and too many see you laters and an immense, unshakeable amount of love.

So while I don’t exactly know how to parent an eight-year-old (and especially one who doesn’t live with me), I feel a certain amount of peace about not knowing. I know now that motherhood is just one giant game of fake-it-til-you-make-it and that I am capable of figuring it out. Being a mother doesn’t come with a checklist. There’s no manual to refer to (is there??). There is only each moment and the decisions we make to love our children and raise them the best way we know how.