Time Takes Care of Itself; Let’s Take Care of Each Other

Honey, we have the life we dreamed of: two kids, girl and boy, a colonial in a Midwestern college town and a fluffy orange cat that purrs at the sight of us. Our family is wonderful and the “plan” is coming together, but there is so much more we could never have planned for.

It’s obvious that we’re not the same people we were when we got married. Of course we’re not–we’re parents now! And I know it’s hard and it seems like I don’t ever put your needs first. But know that I’m not putting myself first, either.

I know that you’re trying so hard to be a good dad, and you’re succeeding: you really are a great father. It warms my heart to hear you play the drums while our daughter plays her harmonica; to watch you read to our baby boy and see his face light up. I only wish I could find a better way to tell you how truly incredible I think you are.

I still love you. I want to cuddle and be close to you but sometimes I feel a tremendous weight on me. The literal weight of the children sure, but also the weight of the pressure to be a good mother, employee, wife; to be all things to all people. I know you feel similar pressures, too. You just don’t express them as often or in the same way I do but I want you to know that I know that doesn’t make them any less valid.

I want to give you more of myself, but I feel tapped out. I know you feel you’re getting the short end of the stick and in an important sense, you are. But not entirely, and certainly not forever, because all of this is still for us; for our family. It couldn’t be ours without you.

I want to tell you we’ll get back to where we once were, but I think we both know that time and circumstance, both good and bad, make that impossible. I am hopeful and optimistic that we’ll get back much of what we once were. Perhaps we will be a smarter, more worldly version of that couple that once hiked the trails of Yellowstone National Park together.

If we continue to survive the challenges of parenthood together my hope, my heartfelt belief, is that we’ll emerge on the other side with our relationship not only intact, but stronger for it.

Along the way, I intend (and I’m trying now, I really am) to make room for our marriage. The kids may always come first but that doesn’t have to mean our relationship comes last. I know this is harder than we thought it would be–for both of us.

We didn’t realize how overpowering the love of parenthood would be. We never meant for it to overshadow us. It is hard to find our own identities within that, let alone find new ways for our relationship to grow.

I know you know I’m trying. Your support has been unwavering. Through all of the breastfeeding challenges and cosleeping issues, you have been my champion. Always telling me to do what feels right and that we’ll get through it together.

Thank you. Thank you for believing in us. I promise it will be worth it. I can’t promise it will get easier (we both know by now that parenthood doesn’t make marriage easier), but I can promise I’ll keep trying. I will be right there with you, watching you teach them to ride their bikes, wiping away their tears when they fall off and helping them get back up again.

When the kids go off to college and we enter the next phase of our lives together, I promise there will be enough of “us” left. Enough of “us” that we will again have the time and space to make the world a shared place.  Enough of “us” to be all we were and more.

It’s hard to hang in there in the meantime; I know…oh how I know!  But I know you know it too, and that alone makes it easier. Call this a statement of intent; intent to hang in, hang on, and to continue doing so for as long as it takes for the day to come when I can, and will with joy, assure you that you do come first again.

 

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Getting Back Into Step

Who does their power walking in an underground garage, playing a kind of real-life game of “Frogger,” weaving up and down the lanes to avoid cars in a not-exactly-scenic round-and-round?

Me, that’s who: a mother working full-time who gets an hour for lunch, half of which is already dedicated to two fifteen minute breastmilk-pumping sessions (eight minutes of efficient pumping plus milk storage and cleanup), leaving only 30 minutes to eat a meal, relax, or, in my case, actually get some exercise – some time for myself. Not what you would call a large workout window.

Why not a gym? Well, I quit the gym while I was still pregnant because it didn’t make fiscal sense to pay for something I didn’t use and, since I live in a place where a “nice” winter day means it’s 15 degrees outside (before the windchill), where to go? Parking garage it is.

And no – it’s not ideal. There’s the dodging cars, and the very thing that makes it appealing in terms of temperature makes it appalling in terms of scenery – unless salted-up cars and ugly cement walls are your thing…so why do it at all?

Because this 20 minute power walk in the middle of the day is crucial to maintaining my sanity. It’s important for me to exercise in order to feel like I have some control over my body again, and perhaps even more importantly, it actually gives me a lot more mental space than the physical constraints of a parking garage might suggest: it gives me some time that is solely for me.

Despite hearing that it gets harder to drop the baby weight with successive pregnancies, I was confident that breastfeeding (though hopefully not in combination with the same postpartum anxiety I suffered the first time around) would be enough. I mean, the first time, the weight came off easily…I thought this meant it would happen this time, too.

Wrong. First of all, there are things nobody bothers to tell you about exercising while breastfeeding. Important things. Things like “hey, it might be really uncomfortable,” or “yeah, there’s a good chance that your boobs aren’t going to fit into a sports bra because they aren’t designed for postpartum women,” or worse still, nobody happened to mention that even if you do manage to squeeze the “girls” into a sports bra, any kind of aerobic exercise is going to result in a lot of painful bouncing, the degree of which may even approach what’s usually reserved for those videos your husband keeps poorly hidden on his laptop…not really the public image you were hoping for.

And then there’s the guilt: even if you feed the baby or pump before you exercise to avoid that extremely uncomfortable feeling of “fullness” throughout your whole aerobic endeavor, you might end up thinking to yourself “shouldn’t I be spending this time interacting with my beautiful baby?” or “oh, man, that work project is looming…I should be working on that,” or even “this time could be better spent sleeping so that maybe I’d be alert for like, five minutes, during the day.”

Don’t let that guilt get to you: prioritizing postpartum exercise is difficult, if not sometimes downright impossible, but it’s also important. And that’s why once a day I find myself “sneaking” in a quick bit of walking during my lunch hour. I don’t have to feel guilty about not being with the baby since I’m at work anyway, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be made to feel guilty about not working through my lunch hour (especially when half of it is already devoted to pumping). It’s not something I would have thought I’d find myself doing, but looking back on my own mother’s example, I can finally understand what, at the time, seemed like almost obsessive behavior.

When I was a kid, my mom took her exercise walk every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Back then, her commitment seemed extreme to me. When she did it while we were on vacation, I wondered why on earth she would choose a mosquito-plagued walk down a country road over an hour relaxing by the lake.

As a mother now myself, I finally get it. She needed that time to herself. It was her “me time,” and that’s what my daily walks allow me now: some space to find my way back to myself; a moment to breathe and clear my mind of all the many to-do lists that occupy my life.

It reminds me that it’s my body, not just the vessel that provides nourishment for my kids. My strong, capable body. Maybe it’s a different body now, with stretch marks to bear witness to the lives I’ve created, but it’s still my body.

Soon, the weather will warm up and I’ll be able to swap the parking garage for a stroll around our State Capitol (a beautiful building, and much nicer scenery). Regardless of the temperature though, or the season, I’m going to keep the commitment to finding time to walk, to feel the power of my legs as they propel me forward; the commitment to get back in step with myself by getting back in step with my body.

Finding Time

Time. There’s never enough time. Not enough time for my kids, my marriage, myself. Lately I’ve found myself parceling out the evening hours from when we get home from work to when the kids go to bed into categorized chunks: snack, play with my daughter, play with my son, make dinner, try to eat dinner together, bedtime routine(s).

Young children perceive time differently. They don’t know what five minutes means, let alone an hour. I envy that. To get caught up in a moment or lost in a task or game is such a delight.

Time never moved so quickly before kids. There were lazy Sundays spent lounging in pajamas and watching hours of football and old movies. Things could happen on their own time.

Time-out. A disciplinary tool or a chance to catch your breath? We all need a moment to ourselves sometimes. So do our kids.

Time to go. Maybe we need to relax and stay a while. Let go of our schedules, our timeline, our internal alarm and truly enjoy a single moment in time.

Preparing for Drop-Off

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He’s six months old and this is the second time we’ve done this so, piece of cake right? Not exactly. I don’t think it is ever easy to drop your child off at daycare for the first time.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I had enough vacation and sick leave to take nine weeks paid time off and then went back to work part time for a few months. (Only in America is this considered lucky, but I digress). And my husband was able to work part time also so that we didn’t have to put our son in daycare right away and my husband was able to bond with him.

And yet I am close to tears knowing that today was the last weekday morning I’ll spend with my little man. I kissed his head a million times and took in that sweet baby smell as I checked off the boxes on his daycare supply list.

Theoretically I’m more prepared this time. I’ve got 42 personalized name labels, a large stash of frozen breast milk and this baby actually takes a pacifier. But there’s still that gnawing feeling that I’m not doing the right thing. That I might miss something. That he needs me.

But I like my career. And our daycare is one of the best in our area and we love the teachers there. It’s a place of warmth and creativity where our daughter is thriving. Not to mention it’s only a few blocks from my office and I can stop in anytime to nurse him or just check on him.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for parents who have to leave their children in less than ideal situations in order to work to provide for them. I really am one of the lucky ones. And having done this before, I know one thing for certain. The first day is hard, but it does get better.

We’ll take it one day at a time. And who knows? I might not even cry this time.

10 Things I Love About You (A Note to My Daughter at Age 2 and 1/2)

1. I love the way your face lights up into a huge grin when you see me, your dad or your brother. And that you often say, “Mama you CAME!” when I pick you up at the end of the day, with such enthusiasm and delight that I wonder if there isn’t some small part of you that worried that I wouldn’t.

2. I love that you love your brother. So much so that we sometimes have to pry you off of him. But I love that you call him “my baby” and constantly want to hug him, hold him and kiss him and that you can’t wait until he is old enough to take a bath with you.

3. I love the empathy you demonstrate so regularly. Like the “Frosty the snow beetle” that you rescued, named and insisted your daycare class adopt.

4. I love your silliness. Your big laugh when you make your brother giggle fills the room and brightens my world.

5. I love giving you a bath. Those few moments together are precious to me. I wish “bubbles on your nose” could make you laugh forever.

6. I love how, despite your extensive vocabulary and excellent verbal skills, you sometimes say just the end of a word. Yes I would love to play the drum while you play your “racas” (maracas), and yes I did have a good day working on the “pooter”(computer).

7. I love how you play. How you explain what’s going to happen next to your toys (now Daddy Pig we’re going to go to the playground and then we’ll have a picnic).

8. I love your intelligence and courage. You’re so smart that I sometimes have to remind myself that you’re not an adult. But you’ve shown me how much you do understand. After we explained we’d be going to the doctor and getting a shot, you got your shot and sat there calmly and as the nurse left you smiled and said, “Bye! Thanks for the shot!”

9. I love your strong-will. There’s no pulling one over on you. Even though it has made the transition to your new bed akin to pleasing goldilocks, I can’t wait to see what a strong independent woman you will become.

10. But most of all I love being your mom.

Living Up to My (Stay-at-Home) Mother

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Mom teaching me the art of baking (licking the spoon).

How often do you clean your stovetop? I mean really clean it, to the point where someone walking into your house would wonder if you ever cook. Hardly ever? Yeah me either. But my mother does.

She has very high standards for home cleanliness. And I remember her asking me how often I cleaned my stove on one of her visits to see us after my first child was born. I think I replied with, “Well, I usually try and wipe it down after I cook something.” I’m sure she then went ahead and cleaned it for me. Just like she cleaned my microwave once while my husband and I were out with the baby and didn’t mention it to me.

When I called to thank her later upon discovering my sparkling microwave, she said, “Oh I thought maybe you wouldn’t notice.” Apparently this was supposed to be some kind of stealth cleaning move. But of course I noticed because of course my microwave was quite dirty beforehand so how could I not notice? I was torn between being thankful that she cleaned my microwave for me, and feeling resentful that she thought I was incapable of cleaning a microwave properly. Or at all.

Since becoming a mother, I often compare myself to my mother. Of course that’s inevitable, but you see, my mom is not only a really good mom, she is good at being a mom. As a stay-at-home mom, I remember her resenting the hell out of people who asked her why she didn’t “work”, as if taking care of three children under the age of five was not considered work.

She was damn good at this job. She took tremendous care of us, kept our house spotless, and prepared amazing home-cooked meals every night of the week. And I mean every night because I’m pretty sure I can count the number of times we went out to dinner during my childhood on one hand (only a slight exaggeration). I think Dad thought, “Why would I want to pay to go out to eat when my wife makes me wonderful dinners at home?” Which was true but not all that considerate of the fact that my mom needed a break occasionally.

After my first child, I wondered how she did it; after my second, I was pretty sure she had some kind of magic powers. I remember when I struggled to breastfeed my daughter, my mom said, “I don’t know what to tell you because it just really came easy for me”. Which was extra disheartening to me since I was trying so hard and felt like I was failing. But my mom wasn’t trying to rub it in. I think she honestly felt bad that she hadn’t had the same experience so she didn’t have advice to offer.

This is the point where my mom would tell me she doesn’t know how she did it and that she was always in awe of people who had more kids than her and made it work. So everyone is always living up to someone or comparing themselves to someone. But I can’t help it. My mom looms large. She is  smart, witty and very expressive.

Whenever anyone asked her how she was doing she’d answer, “Crazy as ever!” a response which as I kid I found horrifyingly embarrassing, but now I think it was just bad ass. I don’t have a unique response to the “how are you?” question. I can’t replicate four different accents that Tracey Ullman used during a sketch like my mom can. I know sometimes she wishes she’d pursued acting as a career. I hope she knows how much we appreciate that she was there with us when we were kids. That I truly do appreciate how difficult being a stay-at-home mom must have been. (I should note that as we got older, my mom frequently worked part-time at night which must have been even more difficult as it took away any downtime she might have had in the evenings). She took care of us physically, and most importantly, emotionally, encouraging us to pursue our dreams and carving us into the people we are today.

But as a mom who works outside the home, my first reaction to any criticism my mom levels at me, or to really any comment she makes that could notionally be tied to parenting, is to get defensive. I think it’s because of that guilt I feel that I’m not as good at this mom thing as she was/is. I don’t have time to prepare some of the detailed side dish recipes she sends me (the made from scratch broccoli cheddar soup was tasty but took me an hour and required me to purchase an immersion blender…which I’m sure I’ll use again someday…).

Lately she has frequently told me that I was not nearly as “difficult” as a two-year-old as my daughter is. I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment about my excellent behavior as a child, or a slam about my parenting. She sometimes follows this comment up with, “It must be the daycare”(slam). While I’m sure my daughter does engage in some negative behavior she’s witnessed other kids at daycare doing, I’m also sure that she is just a different child than I was. She’s her own person and she seems to be a bigger risk-taker than me. She’s challenging but she is also incredibly smart and kind.

I know my mom understands how much we love our daycare, but it’s just a different experience than she had raising us. Moms never stop being moms, and I know my mom feels bad that she can’t offer me advice on how to handle balancing home and career because she didn’t have the same experience. But she shouldn’t feel guilty that she can’t help me figure this out anymore than I should feel guilty about working outside the home. As moms (and dads) we need to cut ourselves some slack.

I’m sure I’ll never stop comparing myself to my mom. But that’s ok. I figure if I aim for her high standards, I’ll end up in a pretty good place. Now go ahead and call your mom while you clean your stovetop.