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#NaBloPoMo, Day 5: My Hubbibi

Whew. Just weathered a Mammoth Meltdown (one of many in the last three years, but this was definitely in the top ten), courtesy of my three-year-old. The better part of an hour of screaming/crying, along with intermittent hitting/kicking. All this – at least initially – because I wouldn’t let her put the cap back on her toothpaste. (Actually, I did let her, and then when she took it off again so she could lick the inside of it, she lost her chance.)

MAN, it’s hard work, sticking to your guns. But the worse things get, the more you have to stick, because otherwise you’re telling the child this works – this gets you what you want.

I don’t really want to talk or write about it. But I do want to mention my gratitude for my Hubbibi today. For being level-headed, for being my tag-team, for being a good sport, for being a great story reader, for being willing to listen and improve, for helping me improve, for being straight with me, for taking straight talk from me, and for giving the best hugs in the world. Oh, and for cleaning the eavestroughs today.

You’re an amazing guy, honey. I love you.

***


 

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A Message to the Daddies on Mother’s Day, or “How (Not) to Incur Mama’s Wrath”

This post is dedicated to all the fathers and fathers-to-be out there, with love – especially if this is your first Mother’s Day. I hope some of these words can be useful to you, or to someone you know.

(If you are an equal-time, full-time, or single dad, then you can stop reading now… Welcome to the Mama Club.)

daddy-message-mothers-day

I know some truly great fathers. My own father, my husband, and many of my friends are modern, enlightened dads, thoroughly invested in their children’s lives, who demonstrate their love and care in all kinds of ways. They’re “father figures” in the best sense of the word.

It’s not easy, taking on the Daddy role. Becoming a father is huge; it changes everything. Life becomes a balancing act, a dichotomy, with societal expectations for fathers having done an about-face in half a century. It’s beautiful, too – I’ve seen guys morph from macho to mushball, and there’s nothing more wonderful. When they’re with their children, they are better people, opened up in new ways. But it’s still tough: how do you be your old self as well as your new father-self?

That is a question only the fathers can answer. But I do have some insight into another, perhaps even more tricky, question… How do you keep your relationship with your Baby Mama healthy?

It’s tough, watching her go through wicked hormones, sleep deprivation, pain in various lady parts, shrinkage of social life, etc., and not knowing how to help. Especially in the beginning, she might even seem like a different person, and you’re not sure how to react.

Did anybody warn you about how hard that would be, for both of you? For lots of couples, it’s quite a curve ball.

I remember, when I was pregnant with my first child, a friend warned me: “No matter how good your marriage is now, having a baby will strain it.”

Another friend said, “Just be prepared – if you disagree about parenting, you will always feel that you’re right, because you’re the mom. And you pretty much always will be right.”

Since then, I’ve been in many more conversations with mothers about their parenting partners, and certain themes are unmistakable. The issues that make a mom say, “I freaked out on my husband the other day…” or “Last night I finally snapped when he…” are the same ones, over and over, across all kinds of families – even the ones you have always assumed are perfect.

Our family is no different. My husband and I have had our share of issues, and our combined wisdom on this topic is hard-won – genuine communication is often painful, but absolutely worthwhile. It took a lot of frank talking, and even more listening.

Let me be clear: my husband is a fantastic life-mate, and I love him to pieces. I got one of the very best ones. He was a brick through my three labours and deliveries; he has changed his share of diapers, and dealt stoically with countless other icky messes. He does all the best Daddy things with his living son and daughter, and keeps his stillborn son close to his heart. He is thoughtful and loving and firm and really fun.

It’s just that these great qualities – especially at the beginning – couldn’t exempt him from the basic truth, the one I hear repeated constantly by moms: it’s extremely hard for Dads to really get it, to understand what we go through.

This may sound cry-me-a-river-ish. After all, most of us get into the procreation gig because we want to, right? And women are the ones biologically designed to gestate babies, give birth, breastfeed, and fiercely invest, mama-bear-style, in the welfare of their children.

So where’s the issue?

If motherhood is such a joy, why do I know so many healthy, well-adjusted moms who have become enraged (some on a regular basis) at their baby daddies, whom they have previously loved with ease? Why are dads flabbergasted to find themselves abruptly on the receiving end of moms’ wrath, when they know they’re doing a good job?

I think it happens when fathers have not yet recognized this fundamental truth:

Motherhood is indeed awesome – AND, it’s really tough. A lot tougher than either of you first thought.

Birth and baby-bonding can be beautiful, transformative experiences. I know I’m not the only mama who has completely lost track of time, just staring at her newborn’s face. Breastfeeding, once mama and baby have mastered it, can be just as dazzling as they say. Where I live in Canada, maternity leaves are lengthy enough for new mothers to immerse themselves in their roles, and most moms I talk to wouldn’t have it any other way: they want to spend all that time with their babies, they want to be their child’s food source, and they want to be there for every tiny moment, every change and milestone. The rewards of new motherhood can be grand.

newborn mama

How can we possibly complain?

Here are some of the reasons why it’s so tough, and why the frustration can build up into Wrath:

1. Transmogrification.

We’ve acknowledged that becoming a father is an enormous change – at least, it is if you’re doing it right. But for most mothers, having a child is beyond huge. It alters us from our foundations. Our lives as we know them completely unhinge, and re-attach to revolve around our babies. NOTHING stays the same for us. Not the shapes of our bodies, not our hormones, not our instincts, not our priorities, not our careers, not the functioning of our brains, and especially not our day-to-day activities. Intellectually, we know this is how it will be – but it’s still a giant, often overwhelming adjustment when it happens. (N.B.: For moms with postpartum depression/anxiety, PTSD, and/or colicky, high-needs, or non-sleeper babies, it is a different and exponentially harder story.)

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Be sensitive about whether you are both able to do things like take a shower whenever you want, eat hot meals with both hands free, have conversations with adults about grown-up topics, etc… or whether only one of you currently enjoys those luxuries.
  • Consider whether your golf/hockey/gaming/running/gym schedule is still intact. If you’ve just become a parent, your timetable should reflect that. What about her hobbies? Do they still exist?
  • Don’t be the guy who says, “You’re no fun anymore!” Outlandish as it sounds, I am NOT making this one up – it’s a direct quote. Dads who say this are putting themselves in the league of Fathers Who Become Ex-Husbands. (Not kidding.)
  • Also, if you have the urge to remark on the changes in her body, even as a joke… QUASH IT. I guarantee she will not find it funny. (Unless you want to tell her she’s gorgeous. Then go ahead.) So many moms torture themselves about their postpartum bodies – even if they’ve never mentioned it to you.
  • Along similar lines, please be patient when it comes to sex. If you are feeling any boob jealousy because Mama is breastfeeding… best to keep it to yourself. If you like breasts, just remember why they were put on earth (motorboating not being a biological imperative). If you are feeling sexually neglected, remember: between hormonal changes and physical pain (because no matter how well the birth went, there will be some), not to mention lack of sleep and postpartum body-image issues, it takes a while. It’s a rare couple who really gets it on within the first month… and depending on what happened to her girl parts, it’s often more like two or three… or six… (I know, sounds unimaginable. Welcome to parenthood.) But she’ll get there.

2. De-Expertization.

Committed parenting is an ocean of doubts and questions to which there are no single right answers.

Basically all moms, with all their hearts, want to do what is best for their children. A new mom spends all day every day with the baby, attempting to do just that, even though it’s a job that is impossible to do “perfectly.” When they encounter problems, or even uncertainties, they discuss them with other moms; they research on internet baby forums; they read baby books. It’s like a whole new career. (And for stay-at-home moms, it IS a whole new career. In the U.S. especially, where maternity leaves are brutally short, many moms choose to leave the workforce entirely – and motherhood is their new life’s work.)

For moms who, before motherhood, spent most of their time doing something they were good at, it is really challenging to suddenly be doing something so unmasterable, so uncontrollable, so guaranteed to maximize your insecurities.

When mothers run into parenting troubles, fathers often offer advice about how to solve baby problems, and they do so with the best of intentions. You want to help, to ease frustration, to be really involved. That, in itself, is great… you just need to tread carefully.

You may be passionately committed to fatherhood, but if you’re working full-time outside the home, it’s just different. You don’t have the same number of hours to get hands-on experience and bonding time with the baby, and it’s unlikely you have the same gut-level motivation to research whatever feeding or sleeping or other issues have cropped up.

Just imagine how you would feel if you were investing your whole self in a new calling, spending all your time and energy trying to get it right, and someone with far less experience blithely piped up, “Hey, have you tried this?”

You see what I mean.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • If you can find the time, read some parenting books and/or articles. There are lots written especially for dads, if you’re into that.
  • In particular, if mama and baby are trying to resolve a specific issue (that she is bearing the brunt of), do the reading necessary to be on the same page with what they’re trying.
  • If you don’t have time to do this… then don’t offer advice (as mentioned above). Give her credit for the nonstop on-the-job training she’s been doing. Be the one to listen, and ask what you can do to help.

3. Underestimation.

Ask any stay-at-home mom: people constantly trivialize the work you do when you’re “just” parenting. In fact, there’s a widespread fallacy that it’s not actually work. As in, “Oh, so you’re not working right now?”

Well. Is it something you would pay someone else to do? THEN IT’S WORK. (One could also mention things it has in common with jobs like teaching, waiting tables, mediating, housecleaning, coaching, and lifeguarding.) Babies can’t wait patiently for their needs to be met. Toddlers don’t understand the importance of a to-do list. Full-time parenting is exhausting. Hearing comments about how easy you must have it gets old real fast.

Yes, most of the moms who stay home with their kids – for any length of time – have chosen it, and love it overall. That doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk – mentally, physically, or emotionally. It’s like many of the most rewarding jobs: the more you care about it, the harder it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Try not to say this: “Wow, the house is a mess! What did you do all day?” It can be very tempting. Oftentimes the house IS a mess – but I highly recommend you refrain on this one. If the dishes didn’t get done, trust that there are reasons. Chances are, she would have liked to get more done – it’s hard for lots of moms, especially in the beginning, seeing their “productivity” take a nosedive – but baby needs come first.
  • Even if all the baby does is sleep and eat, those things can be a lot less straightforward than it seems like they should be. Especially now that Google is there to make us second-guess everything we do.

4. Default Parenting.

No matter how much each parent loves his or her children, there’s always a default parent. With new babies, it’s natural for that to be Mama, for reasons both biological and societal. However, in my experience, Mama remains the default for much longer and in more situations than necessary, because the precedent has been set. Even if she has gone back to work and has as demanding a schedule as Daddy, in many cases she is still automatically taking care of most meals, day care drop-offs and pick-ups, school communications, hand-me-downs, doctor’s appointments, etc.

In large gatherings, she is the one whose parental radar never turns off, even if both parents are there. It happens all the time: kids are playing, dads are socializing, moms are partly socializing, and partly checking if the kids need to pee or need snacks or band-aids or are getting up to mischief or going too close to the stairs/breakable things/sharp things. I don’t know why this dynamic is so common, in this day and age… but it is.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Avoid saying, “Oh man, I am SO TIRED.” I’m sure you are. Being a parent AND a person is tiring. But unless you are doing exactly as much nighttime baby-feeding, midnight potty trips, nightmare-soothing etc. as Mama, she is the wrong person to complain to about your fatigue. She is the one at whose expense you get your sleep (and keep in mind that if her body is a full-time milk factory, this actually uses even more energy than pregnancy). If you’re tired, she’s exhausted. Reserve the complaints for your guy friends.
  • Be present. When you are in the same building with your children, even if Mama is there, you’re automatically on duty too – unless you’ve specifically made other arrangements with your co-parent.
  • If you are one of the countless Dads who like to take leisurely bathroom breaks with their favourite book/magazine/handheld device, remember you’re on the clock. Those fifteen-minute intermissions are very noticeable to the mama who doesn’t even get to pee alone, never mind take more than ninety seconds at a time on the john.
  • If you wish you could reverse the roles (she probably does too, sometimes), please don’t assume that it would be the proverbial stroller-ride in the park if you did.

5. Bad Cop Syndrome

This follows on the heels of Default Parenting. There’s usually one parent who’s more strict than the other, and that’s normal too. But it’s funny: even though the phrase goes “Wait till your father gets home,” as if Daddy’s the one who draws the hard line, nowadays I’ve seen much more often that Daddy is the permissive one. He says yes more frequently to sugar and extra video game time and fun new toys. Daddies bend the rules way more often.

And it’s not that those things are awful. They’re fun. But if Mommy’s the one who sticks to the boundaries and Daddy’s the fun one, well… that makes Mommy the bad cop. Especially because now she’s now monitoring the kid(s) AND you. She did not sign up for that. It sucks to be the killjoy, even if you know it’s your job. The point is, it should be both of your job.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Don’t give credence to that harebrained dad from dumb commercials, the one who always screws up. People joke about how moms end up with one extra kid because dads are like big children; in reality, this is not funny at all. Perpetuating the perception of fathers as bumbling fools who can’t parent properly is insulting to you and your family, and it only takes society backwards.
  • Make sure you’ve talked about the limits the two of you, AS A TEAM, are setting for your children. Stick to them, unless you have a very good reason not to. (For the record, your child simply asking is not a very good reason.)
  • Attractive as it is sometimes to say things like “No dinner if you can’t cooperate!”, try not to make threats you can’t keep. Kids only take you seriously if you mean what you say – and you will soon pay for your wavering.

6. Interminability. This is probably the hardest thing about New Motherhood – and Motherhood in general: it is relentless. Even for mothers with dream babies who feed well and sleep lots, it’s still hard being the be-all and end-all of your child’s existence. Beautiful and rewarding, of course, but sometimes… damn hard.

Is there any other job where you are working or on-call literally 24/7, for months (or even years) in a row? Especially for a breastfeeding mama whose baby doesn’t bottle-feed, or one whose children are very mama-centric, or one whose baby daddy is mostly (or always) not home… Sometimes it feels like we just might not make it through with our sanity. (And remember, grasp on sanity weakens in proportion to the amount of time spent listening to crying/screaming.)

As I see it, the key thing is Me Time, or rather the lack thereof. I know “Me Time” is kind of an annoying, new-agey phrase that sounds like it belongs in a spa ad. But trust me, it’s a critical issue that goes unaddressed shockingly often. For a mother with a newborn, depending on the baby’s needs and personality, the simple ability to take a break can basically cease to exist. I remember, in the first few weeks of E’s life, fantasizing about folding a whole load of laundry uninterrupted or going grocery shopping alone – and those don’t even count as Me Time. Taking ten-minute Sitz-baths for my postpartum stitches felt like over-the-top luxury.

Please note also that mom-dates, although they are fun and rejuvenating and do wonders for moms’ mental health, don’t count as Me Time either. Mom is still on-duty the whole time. Real, legitimate Me Time must remove her from the duties of motherhood, and remind her of who she is, as herself, in addition to being a mother.

If you still spend the majority of your time being yourself, doing things you used to do before becoming a father, then it’s hard to relate.

If it’s not possible for Mama to take breaks at the moment (which can happen, especially early on), examine the extent of your own Me Time, and how much of it is in her presence. The discrepancy between your Me Time and hers will likely be proportional to her level of aggravation.

How To Avoid The Wrath:

  • Notice and appreciate when you have time to yourself – and this goes double for when you have the house to yourself. I have heard described SO MANY scenarios in which Mom has literally not had a moment of Me Time all day, and Dad comes home (or is already home) and puts his feet up, or takes a bike ride, or goes to putter in the garage, or picks up his iPad, without thinking about it. Trust me, this habit incurs the Wrath.
  • Enable her Me Time, if you can. Even a few minutes can make a big difference to a tired mama’s mental state.
  • Ask yourself this test question: How many times have I been on a real trip – out of town – without the kids? How many times has she? (If she goes on trips with the kids, it’s not the same at all.)
  • Remember that motherhood today is burdened with impossible standards. Between the contradictory wisdom of the Interwebs and the generations-old pressure to Take Care Of Everything, not to mention new expectations of scheduling kids to death and making life Pinterest-worthy… There’s just no way to ace it.
  • Don’t let her be a martyr to the work; take some of it off her plate. Don’t give her the chance to identify with that perfect-but-drudgey 1950s housewife who barely got to be a person. (That effing model housewife, whether she ever existed or not, looms in the maternal subconscious, judging us when we haven’t vacuumed.)

And there you have it! Those are the big Wrath-Incurring Issues. If my advice seems self-evident and way too easy, that’s great. You are ADVANCED. If it seems condescending, I apologize – I only wrote what the complaints called for. If it was overwhelming… feel free to re-read. 🙂

So. Are you all ready to celebrate Mother’s Day?

I know some say that it’s the kids who should be appreciating their mothers on Mother’s Day, and yes, they should, if they’re developmentally able. But if you are grateful to have progeny, your appreciation is just as important. And don’t forget to call your own mom, if you can.

All the information above might have given you ideas about how to show Mama you’re glad that you have kids with her. Just in case you’d like a recap:

1. Recognition. Be observant enough to see what she does, and what she gives up, on a daily basis.

2. Appreciation. I have seen these situations improve dramatically with a simple acknowledgement from Dad: I know you work hard, and even though we are a team, I know that when it comes to the kids, YOU DO MORE, and I appreciate it. Nobody wants to work thanklessly, especially when it’s work they pour their passion into.

3. Facilitation. Help her get those breaks that remind her who she is, and what she’s good at (besides being the best baby mama in the world).

4. Recalibration. As your child(ren)’s age permits, especially if Mom goes back to work, swing the balance back. Take honest stock of who’s doing the non-negotiable child-care things that have to happen each day, and try to even things out. You will reap the rewards; if you ever felt the pang of your child rejecting you in favour of Mommy, this is the time when the tables can turn.

5. Libation. Just a couple of wee bonus tips: if you have a newborn and you’re around when Mama is breastfeeding the baby, get her something to drink. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference to a mother possessed by the nursing thirst. On similar lines, if you ever have chances to pay her back for the alcohol-free time she’s done by being the DD, take them.

And if you want to do more for Mother’s Day… you might ask her what would make her happiest.

Thanks for reading, Daddies (and Daddies-to-be). I hope it has been worthwhile, and that if you make a loving effort to understand her experience, she will be able to do the same for you.

Happy parenting, and good luck.

***


 

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The Blooming Season

This weekend is a big one for me.

On Saturday, I’ll be thirty-five years old. (Holy smokes.) And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Over the past week or so, something has been making me feel slightly odd and touched in the head. There’s been a phantom baby inside me. Not that I have actual pregnancy symptoms (other than exhaustion and fluctuations in appetite, which can be chalked up to the baby outside me). I am definitely not pregnant.

But it’s weird – I feel movements. Convincing ones that make me involuntarily put a hand on my abdomen.

If at this point you want to take me gently aside and explain about my digestive system and gas bubbles, don’t worry. I know most of what I’m feeling is the normal business of the human body. I’ve been thinking to myself, Dilovely, you’re being ridiculous, you haven’t been pregnant for seven months.

And then it occurred to me: I have spent a large fraction of the last five years pregnant. More specifically, I have been pregnant for 4 of the last 5 birthdays and Mother’s Days.

In 2008, one of the years my birthday coincided with Mother’s Day, a cluster of cells the size of a poppyseed was growing in my womb, only to release itself 17 days later.

In 2009, I was rotund, less than a month away from the hardest and most amazing experience of my life to that date: delivering my firstborn son.

In 2011, I was expecting his brother, who would, as you know, arrive five weeks early, and leave us even before we held him.

Last year on Mother’s Day, I was halfway through my pregnancy with Baby AB, having monthly ultrasounds and periodic ECGs, hyper-aware of every signal she provided telling me she was okay. Now, she’s just over seven months old, and as healthy as rosy little piglet. She weighs over four times what Sebastian weighed at birth.

Once I put all this together, I stopped fretting about my phantom baby. No wonder when I sing lullabies to my daughter, I find myself reflexively imagining the sound travelling through my body to envelop a tiny person inside. It kind of makes sense that as my body takes in the thrilling fragrances of the blooming season, it should also remember its own blooming. It’s not a flight of fancy; it’s just a memory.

healing-painting-baby-sleeping-in-a-rose-catt-kyriacou
Baby Sleeping in a Rose by Catt Kyriacou

And why should I be the only one to feel this presence?

This morning, E asked me, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Mama, when is the new baby coming?”

There was an upside-down moment where I was right in step with his question, then a jolt as I reminded myself that it was a strange thing for him to say.

I had to ask him to repeat it, just to be sure I’d heard him right. I know he still wishes for a baby brother (one he can keep). Lovingly, I told him I’m not pregnant; he responded matter-of-factly, “Yes, you are.”

And it’s rational enough. Why shouldn’t I be pregnant every spring, like a mama duck? His memories of my pregnancies may be vague, but they might still inform his inner concept of spring.

***

My first uninhabited Mother’s Day since Sebastian. There’s something really hard about this.

***

In truth, I’m glad not to be pregnant. I definitely have my arms full as it is. If I feel emptiness as well… I can manage it. It hurts, but then – there’s so much joy in living with my scrumptious little progeny. This full-empty Mother’s Day is unique to this moment in my life, this golden babyhaving time that’s as tough as it is glorious – and brief.

I’m thankful for all of it.

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***

Visit Yeah Write for some high quality weekend reading…


 

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A (mostly) Depressing Post.

I should probably not be writing right now. In my present state, it’s like drinking and dialling: I might use inappropriate honesty.

For the last many weeks (I haven’t been counting because that just makes it worse) Baby A, and therefore I, have been sleeping in increments no longer than 2 hours, and often 90 minutes or less. Well, there have been a few times we’ve slept three or four hours in a row. (One time I got all excited because I thought we’d slept for five hours, but then I remembered we’d switched to daylight savings in the night and my phone had automatically reset. Only four hours.)

Of course I mostly blame myself for this. We bed-share, and the majority of the time when she wakes up, I don’t have the presence of mind (or the energy) to do much besides nurse her back to sleep, which means I’m assiduously teaching her NOT to put herself to sleep, right?

With that in mind, I’ve been doing some sleep training with Baby A (using the Baby Whisperer’s Pick-Up-Put-Down, because I do not have what it takes for crying it out), and she has been able to put herself to sleep for a nap several times this week, without crying. She is learning more swiftly than I expected.

Last night I thought I had all my ducks in a row. She had napped well during the day, including an evening catnap (which she needs in order not to get overstimulated); she was in a good mood all day, not fussy; I remembered to give her Tylenol in case of teething pain; and I went to bed at the same time she did, so in case she had a long stretch of sleep first, I would get to benefit from it.

She was up less than an hour later. Sean and I spent half an hour or more trying to get her back to sleep – and succeeding, but she would wake up minutes after being put down. I finally caved and nursed her to sleep… and she woke up twenty minutes later. And then we repeated that scenario. Then we tried again, and nursing didn’t soothe her at all. I finally patted her to sleep sitting up, and she slept for about 90 minutes. Next round we got maybe a hundred. At 5:20 a.m., she awoke wailing and nothing I did helped until I turned on the lamp to give her some more Tylenol. The effect of the lamp (which I’ve covered with a starry receiving blanket to make it dimmer, and I guess she thinks it’s pretty) was instant: suddenly she was smiling and sweet and jokey.

Honestly, I was like, WTF, baby??? I was glad she seemed happy, but in that case, what’s wrong? Can babies have bad dreams? Could that have been it? It didn’t seem to be gas (she got very mad when I tried my standard solutions for that) and teething can’t be the whole issue. Obviously not hungry. Diaper was fine, I checked. She was up and babbling until finally falling asleep (nursing) at 6:30. Then we had another 90 minutes of sleep, etc.

So confused.

I feel that I have been dealing better with interrupted sleep this time around than I did with E. This was especially true earlier on, when A was only waking up once or twice a night. (PIECE O’ CAKE.) I felt like an old hand at this, someone who’s adapted. Even with four or five wakeups in a night, I can usually function quite reasonably the next day.

But it’s now been well over a month of the frequent wakeups, and this long-term thing is getting to me. I thought it would be temporary, since A was achieving 5- and 6- hour stretches before she was three months. But now those are a distant memory. (Just to get a bit mawkish on ya.)

I know lots of moms who have pulled through much worse than this with their babies. I shouldn’t complain. But look, here I am complaining.

I guess it’s that I am recharged just enough to keep going, but there is some base level of life-juice in me that is depleting, without getting topped up. I don’t like the kind of person it makes me.

It makes me want to quit and just walk away from poor E, sometimes multiple times in a day (when he melts down, when he ignores what I’m telling him, when he deliberately defies me, or when he decides it’s a good idea to take all the books from his bookshelf and put them on his bedroom floor). I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what he needs right now.

It puts the tears right up at the top of my throat so that stupid little things make me cry, or almost.

It means that when I get frustrated, I immediately want to throw breakable things against a wall, really hard. (I never do, though.)

It paralyzes my writing, so that when I have thoughts jumbling in my head looking for an outlet, when I most need a “flow experience“, I can’t focus myself to sit down and write.

It takes the meaning out of things, so that I want to say SCREW IT and just give up on stuff I otherwise care about, like my blog, the dishes, spending time outside, getting errands done, socializing… And any larger projects seem laughably unattainable.

Please don’t be alarmed. I don’t sound or even feel like this most of the time. I’ve just noticed that my patience is wearing thin, and last night was like a double-dose. I tried to nap with A (she’s still napping) while E is at the babysitter, but couldn’t do it. Too much crap in my brain. So I figured it was time for me to write something, already.

Since I’m trying to catharsify here, I might as well write about Sebastian. He’s been in my mind a lot these days, and I won’t deny that it’s off-throwing to be going about my day and suddenly remember, with breathtaking vividness, the sound of an empty Doppler, or the pain of him leaving my arms, or crying at the funeral home. For some reason, these memories are sharper and realer than usual lately.

It’s more complicated, and confusing in a deep place I can’t fully access, to grieve for Sebastian, to miss him, now that Baby A is here. Her unique, adorable baby-self would not be alive if he had survived.

Friends of ours lost their firstborn, a son, at about the age Baby A is now (about the same time of year, too), to a congenital heart defect. I think of that sweet baby and wonder how anyone endures the pain of losing a five-month-old. Five months is more than enough time to be head-over-heels in love with every teeny part of your child. It’s an absolutely gorgeous age. (Not that six weeks or seventeen months or three-and-three-quarters years is any less gorgeous.)

The other day, Sean asked me jokingly if we should trade in this wakeuppy baby for one that sleeps better. And though I laughed, it was a good reminder that whatever the side effects, I would go virtually sleepless if I had to, to keep my little girl.

She really is totally awesome in basically all ways – except the sleeping thing.

Here she is, workin’ on her sitting up.
IMG_3596
Fun times.

 Wow. See, that helped a lot, just unloading some words on y’all. Hope you don’t mind.

Now, if we can just get some better sleep than last night, I’ll be thrilled.

***


 

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Four Months Old

Dear Baby A,

On January 30th, it was four months since the day of your birth. I know it’s the worst cliché ever, but I can’t help it: the days have flown by. I cannot believe we are already here.

Life with you and your brother has its exasperating moments. There have been lots of runny noses between the two of you, and some rough nights as a result. I’ve been frustrated many times. I’ve asked myself What is going on with this baby?? on more than a few occasions. When you cry, I feel my nerves fraying rapidly.

But I’m never actually frustrated with you. You are still pure innocence. You do what your circumstances dictate. And honestly, most of the time you are a sweet, happy, laid-back baby.

We love it when you talk. You get on a roll, making all kinds of sounds, both lilting and screechy. I can’t get enough of it. (It’s even cute – though slightly less so – when you decide that the middle of the night is a good babbling time.)

You’re also very physically motivated. At your two-month appointment, you impressed our doctor with your posture on your tummy: he looked at you pushing up and said in surprised tones, “She’s way past forty-five degrees.” (Whatever that means – it’s definitely good.)

When we put you on your back on your mat to play with toys suspended above you, you grab them right away with very deliberate hands, and fully engage with them. You’re great at getting your own hands into your mouth (so good that you regularly gag on them). And once we tried you in the jolly jumper, you got the hang of it almost instantly.

At four months, your brother was also grabbing things and making cute sounds, but you’re even more determined. We’re pretty sure you’ll be crawling and walking earlier than he did.

Speaking of your brother… it’s amazing to see how much joy you get out of each other’s presence.

Also, you’re just delicious. Your cheeks are delectable and your eyes are lustrous and your soft little hands are irresistible. Your chortles are still rare enough that it feels like a gift when they happen. When you grin at us, it’s so captivating that we ask ourselves, What could I possibly have done to deserve this awesomeness? Could I be as wonderful as she thinks?

Basically, when I look at your sweet little face, it makes me so happy that I feel like bursting. In a good way. I love you more than my heart can even hold.

Here’s a silly little video I made to celebrate.

***


 

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Why is parenting so effing hard?

I think I may have sounded, in yesterday’s post, like life with my kids is idyllic and wonderful and effortless. I was glad to have the writing to focus me on the parts I love about this parenting gig, because yesterday was actually a rather difficult parenting day.

How is it okay that the most intricate, least predictable, most emotionally draining, least perfectable job in the world HAS NO MANUAL? No training, no license – just do it. Just make it happen. RAISE THOSE KIDS.

I mean, people offer classes you can take. Experts have written books you can call manuals – but my daughter didn’t come with one for her. I read manuals I consider very wise and useful, and still, I’m full of questions every minute.

Like, why is my baby waking up when she’s still so tired? Why does she fall asleep and then her eyes pop open as if she’s ready to go? Why, when I can see that sleep-window opening, is it still so hard to get her to sleep sometimes? And even harder, the more tired she gets? SHOULDN’T SLEEPING BE ALL BUILT-IN AND WHATNOT?

And as it turns out, my three-year-old provokes even more questions… Why does he retain every syllable he hears about cars and Smarties and friggin’ leatherback turtles (if Diego talks about it), and then release to oblivion every word I tell him about the dangers of choking if you run around while eating? Why does he insist on the whiny voice even though it doesn’t get him good results? Why won’t he try just ONE TINY BITE of something OFF the list of thirty separate foods that must be consumed separately? Why does he wake up, baby-like, before he’s done sleeping? Why is he being a turkey and doing exactly what we just told him not to, when we RAISED HIM BETTER THAN THIS? Why is he not listening again?? IS THIS NORMAL???

If it seems like I’m overusing my caps lock all of a sudden, too bad. Those are the CAPS that go through a mom’s head when she’s trying to keep her voice reasonable, confident, and loving, so that the baby/three-year-old will think you know what you’re doing.

As I’ve said before, at least we know why they’re so cute-looking. Keeps us from stuffing them into small soundproof spaces that latch from the outside.

Let’s not forget the questions for – and about – myself. Why didn’t my maternal instincts cover this? Why wasn’t this technique part of my womanly intuition? Why did I sign up for this again? Why am I not better at this? How does ANYONE do this with MORE THAN TWO CHILDREN??

I know, I need to loosen up. Sean and I were discussing the other great primates and how they do things – they seem pretty laid-back about parenting. They go with the flow. They’re ALL instinct, and it works just fine.

gorilla_baby_sleeping-on-mother
Photo by bartdubelaar

Of course, they don’t have dishes to do, they don’t have to make sure they have a clean nursing bra, their older kid is fine by himself because he’s supposed to be a crazy ape anyway, there are no diapers, no toys underfoot, no grocery shopping… and no addictive NaBloPoMo blogs to read. (Darn you, you fascinating people.)

Maybe if I had a clingy-fingered baby and lots of chest and back hair, I could find a way to be supa-chill about this whole parenting thing too.

Of course, in that case, I’d probably have a few other issues.

Being human is so complicated.

***

P.S. Now my daughter is smiling at me, ridiculously fetching. …What was I upset about again?


 

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Six weeks old on Remembrance Day

Dear Baby A,

Today, you are six weeks old! Probably the fastest six weeks of my whole life, even though I’m trying very hard to cherish every second, to make this time last longer.

Six weeks ago, you were sleeping angelically through your first day of life, as many people (who had already loved you for a long time) passed you around and admired you. You were understandably exhausted: it must really be tough going from a warm, dark, hushed, never-hungry place, through a very squeezy tunnel, to a cold, bright, loud place where people will not stop touching you, and where you’re suddenly expected to get food into your tummy using your mouth. That’s the kind of day that would really take it out of a person. (I was pretty tired myself.)

Mama and baby A on her first night in the world
You and me, on that first night.

Baby daughter, I am so excited to be your Mama.

I get lost in your deep, wonderful eyes several times a day.

I am fascinated by every little expression that flits across your face – awake or asleep.

When you smile, my whole soul smiles back.

Your tiny hands are so exquisite, I almost can’t stand it.

My favourite thing is listening to you sigh with each breath, your face getting sleepy, as you drink from my breast.

Even when you awaken too early, or cry with what seems like excessive drama (usually about being in your car seat), I know you are just learning how to be. It’s my job – mine and Daddy’s – to guide you and teach you the skills you need to cope with life. We are working on it as best we can.

Last night, I had a dream about our family, but it was different. Daddy and I were visiting somewhere far away – with two little boys. E was there, and so was his little brother, who was wearing a little cowboy hat and a diaper (and nothing else). They were both running around and playing, hiding from each other behind corners. They were beautiful, and it was fun.

I’m glad I just enjoyed that dream. I’m glad my mind never remembered that it couldn’t be real, that E’s brother – your brother, too – never will run or play or hide around corners. At least, not with us.

Amazingly, that was the only time in my memory that I’ve ever dreamed about Sebastian.

When I woke up, I remembered right away what the constellation of our family looks like in real life. I grieved, because it was so sweet and fulfilling to see him, and I don’t know when I might dream of him again.

But I don’t wish for that family from my dream, even though it made me so happy. Because if Sebastian were here, precious Baby A, you would not be… and that is a situation I can’t possibly wish for. The two families could never have been one and the same.

It’s confusing, but also simple. I love all three of you so much, with love unique for each of you. I miss your ageless brother, as I always will, but I’m immeasurably glad I don’t have to miss you. For us, you are joy, in adorable human form.

Today is Remembrance Day. It’s a day when we think and talk about war, and honour the sacrifices people have had to make during wars. I think a lot about this day, and have written about these things many times – about what remembrance means to me as a Quaker, what it means to students I’ve taught, and what it may mean to those who have lost children to war.

Your great-grandfathers, from three different countries, were involved in World War II. Today I’ve found myself thinking of them, and their wives and children, and mostly just feeling selfishly grateful. I’m grateful that your Daddy is here with us, rather than an unknown number of miles or months or years from his next visit home… that I’m not a married single mom, even temporarily… or unthinkably worse, a widow… that I don’t often worry about you and E being orphaned… that I’ve never had to worry about having enough food to feed you… that I’m not wondering whether a bomb will destroy us, or our home, or other people we love.

(Writing all this, I’m reminded that Hurricane Sandy victims have much in common with those who have experienced war. I’m exceedingly grateful we were not exposed to Sandy first-hand, either.)

Sweet girl, we are so fortunate to live when and where we do, and to have each other. I hope someday you will understand what a wondrous blessing you are to this family.

Baby A at six weeks old
Six weeks old

Love, love, love, love you, for always.

Your Mama.

 

***


 

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