005

the longest year

A few weekends ago my husband took our oldest out to his parents’ house for the weekend. There was a big party being thrown for my husband’s uncle’s 75th birthday, and while the baby probably would have enjoyed himself, it conflicted with his (absurdly early) bedtime. So they took off while the baby and I held down the fort at home.

It was very, very quiet.

Even though my 4 year old can be a bit of a circus for me, he does provide a great deal of entertainment for his extroverted baby brother, so I knew we’d have to get out of the house for at least a small errand after the baby’s afternoon nap.

We had a wander through Whole Foods, where I picked up some supplements to add to my smoothies and some fancy cheese to eat for dinner because I had recently stopped breastfeeding and wow, I have really missed cheese.

At the check out the cashier was doing the standard, “oh he’s so cute, how old?” And after I answered, “Thanks, he’s 11 months,” she replied, “And hasn’t it been the fastest 11 months of your life?”

Here’s what I should have said:

“Of course! The days are long but the years are short.”

or

“Yea, seems like just yesterday I held him for the first time!”

But instead I said:

“No.”

My answer hung in the air; I imagined it bobbing along, like the black balloon in the scene from A Little Princess (1995) where Sara learns her father has died.

I felt like a jerk, of course, for bringing the conversation crashing down, as I often do, by saying the “wrong” thing, which is maybe a problem most writers have. I am very fond of the delete key (I used it at least 3 times typing this sentence), and unfortunately it doesn’t exist in conversation.

I wanted to qualify my response by saying something, anything: “I have a 4 year old, too,” or “There hasn’t been a lot of sleep,” etc. But the words got caught in my throat, and she finished bagging my groceries, and wished us a good weekend, and I left, and she probably thinks I’m a sour puss.

She might be right.

Because the days are long but my god, this year has been long, too. I am desperate for a new season. One in which the baby’s world does not depend on me, one in which I might find more space to write. One in which my body has time to heal, and rest, and belong only to me.

Is that something I should gloss over?

I can love being a mother, enjoy having a baby, without trying, or even wanting to try, to find magic and delight in all of the truly hard parts.

15 minutes is a very, very long time when your newborn is screaming in discomfort because you’ve yet to put 2 + 2 together and realize he has a dairy sensitivity. There are no hours longer than those between 2 and 5 am, and I saw many of them. Intrusive thoughts are deeply upsetting, your brain becoming your enemy, and my postpartum anxiety seemed to grow along with my baby, at an alarming rate.

I spent a lot of time over the last 12 months keeping my eye on the prize of the next milestone, only to have them happen differently than I would have liked (i.e., we spent $500 on a sleep consultant to get him sleeping through the night and on a regular nap schedule; I stopped breastfeeding at 10.5 months due to severe nipple trauma, a story which will surely be recounted here in all of its bloody glory). I didn’t necessarily want to rush through the first year of my baby’s life, and yet, here I am.

The baby is still what I would call high needs now, at a year old. He prefers to be held on my hip, squawking and hiking his legs up higher if he senses I’m about to put him down. I bought more bottle nipples, and washed them, only to have them refused because they are not exactly like the nipples we have, which, by the way, are no longer sold, best I can tell. He will play by himself for approximately 5 minutes, and then he would like for you to sit next to him while he gnaws on a Duplo or bangs a hammer into his ball drop.

Unrelated to parenting and nipple drama, in the past year I have also said goodbye to my paternal grandfather and learned of an old friend’s suicide. Not to mention the general dumpster fire that is our country.

It’s just a lot.

I am aiming for a gold medal in self-care: washing my face, trying to drink more water than coffee, going to therapy. But at some point it becomes simply waiting it out; babies do grow, I know, because there is another small human in my house who is more of less capable of tending to his own basic needs without much effort on my part. Left to his own devices, my 4 year old could manage to feed himself, go to the bathroom, and put himself to bed.

I’m not sure what my point is, really, except that if you’re finding the year to be just as long, or longer, than a very long day of mothering a small child or two, know that you’re not alone. Time doesn’t always pass as quickly as we want it to, but it does pass. It doesn’t detract from loving your children, or feeling #blessed to be having this problem in the first place. Sometimes it’s just about sitting with it and knowing you’d use the fast forward button if you could.

And being brutally honest with well-meaning cashiers.

004

Velcro

Today I noticed how when the baby does his best Velcro impersonation, he lays his head on my chest and pops his left thumb in his mouth. Every time. 

I tuck my cheek to the top of his head, try to determine if his hair is starting to curl more than it did the day before. With any luck, he’ll have the same springy curls his brother did as a toddler. I breathe in his smell. He smells like nothing and everything, and it is my favorite smell. I would bottle it if I could. I would collect the smell from the baby blanket my oldest carries around and the smell from the top of my youngest’s head and keep them in tiny glass jars on the top of my dresser, neatly labeled. If I could. Because to be a mother is to know there will be a day I need the jars.

I wonder if, when the baby lays his head of my chest, he is searching out my heartbeat. I wonder if he is remembering the 280 days he spent tucked inside me, cozy in my ribcage, with the drum of my heart and the whoosh of his water bed.

My oldest gets choked up when we talk about the first time he saw his brother, or if I remind him he was once in my tummy the same way he remembers his brother being. It’s sweet, and a nice antidote to the proclamations of “mommy, you’re MEAN!” that he tosses around now that he’s four-going-on-five. I think he remembers my heartbeat, and being one person, in a way he might never have the words for. 

The baby is 10 months old now. He’s been out longer than he was in. His world is big. He can sit himself up and army crawl to wherever he wants to go. He can play peekaboo and wrestle with his brother. He can say “all done,” “night-night,” and “dada.” This small vocabulary covers a lot of ground, especially when he says “all done night-night,” to convey that he is done taking a nap, thanks but no thanks.

He can also protest loudly and fervently when he wants to be in my arms and isn’t. Which is, for the past couple of weeks, all the time. I could say there is no greater honor than being someone’s entire world, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly just really exhausting. Didn’t we already do this part, the part where we were one person? 

I might be a sucker or maybe my soul can sense that these days are fleeting, no matter how interminable they currently feel. Every day I get a little bit closer to actually needing those tiny glass jars on my dresser. Some days this feels okay, preferential even. I could write a book! I could take a trip! I could not get woken up at 5 am! I could not get yelled at for suggesting someone finish their breakfast! Other days I can already feel the dull ache, deep in my core, the place that once held them. 

So when the baby screams again, his face quickly shading to strawberry or tomato, I pick him up, and settle him on my hip. He lays his head on my chest and pops his thumb in his mouth. I take a deep breath in. 


See Also

To write is to be in conversation with yourself, to preserve a state of being so you can conclude a sequence of thinking and feeling. The enemy to this process is intrusion. Children, in all of their beauty and wildness and strange genius, are, in the way of a meteorite, an intrusion.

from Mothers as Makers of Death by Claudia Dey


Like what you’re reading? Forward it to a friend.

Seeing this for the first time? Subscribe here.

003

Family Vacation Edition

We went down to the coast a couple weekends ago.

My husband grew up vacationing in Port Aransas, and we’d been dating for a couple of years when, after hearing so many of his stories start with “In Port A…” I suggested he take me to this place I’d never been to. It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with the small town, what with the vintage beach cottages, the palm trees, and the grocery store that looked like a time warp back to 1990 (my mom failed to see the nostalgia in this, but it’s not her childhood we’re talking about).

I’ve romanticized the idea of having a regular vacation spot since a trip to Ocean City, Maryland in my teens. The idea of returning, year after year, to the same place that could, in time, become as familiar as home, was hugely appealing (it probably goes without saying that my family did not have a regular vacation spot). So the fact that our 4-year-old already has a backdrop of memories in Port Aransas, that he frequently asks to go to the beach, makes my husband and I equally happy.

I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been back since our first trip together, sometimes 3 times in a year, usually for long weekends that never feel quite long enough. We’re always trying to optimize our trip: the best time to leave Austin and the route to take, where to stop along the way for bathrooms, snacks and/or diesel (always Buc-ee’s, which you have to see to truly appreciate its brazen American ways), what to pack, and what to do while there.

This was our second trip to the coast since our youngest was born and Hurricane Harvey ripped through the island (Texas Monthly had a great article about the destruction and the rebuilding; I read it while in Port Aransas, which felt very meta). And as much as I enjoy our trips down there, it’s a tremendous amount of work on my part. The laundry, the shopping, the planning, the packing, arranging pet care… it’s worse with two kids and sometimes it feels easier just to stay at home, as sad as that is. I know it won’t always be this way. At some point, I hope, I’ll be able to send the boys off to pack for themselves, and not worry about loading up all of the needed baby gear and packing for three out of four members of our family (thankfully, my husband can be counted on to at least gather his own wardrobe for the trip).

Of course, I always enjoy myself once we’re there, although Eli, my four-year-old, probably had the most fun out of all of us on this trip. Invariably, I ended up hanging out inside while the baby napped or went to bed at his preferred hour of 6 pm, while Eli and my husband took full advantage of the schedule of evening activities: soccer on the Great Lawn, s’mores at the fire pit, a movie under the stars. He chatted up anyone who would listen and played hard on the wooden pirate ship playscape. (I did enjoy a couple of cold margaritas poolside over the course of the weekend, so don’t pity me too much).

We have a lot of proverbial balls in the air right now, and I’m wound up even tighter than usual. It was probably on Day 3, waking up again in our rented condo, that I felt myself relax. It sounds ridiculous, but I could actually see the things that currently drive me nuts about my children in a positive light. The baby is on a different schedule every day? Great, that means we can go with the flow since it’s impossible to know what his naps will be like (he took a delicious and unanticipated one-hour nap in my arms at the aquarium while my oldest played on the splash pad). Four-year-old has endless energy and a need to talk to strangers? Perfect, we’re at a family-friendly resort with lots of other kids around and room to run.

I don’t think I need to tell you how refreshing it was to just be with my family. Even though I still ended up preparing meals (dining out with my children right now feels more like a punishment than a treat), tidying up, and even doing laundry (which definitely reminded me of this Onion article from a few years ago), it was infinitely easier there than at home. Why? Was it the poolside margaritas? The breeze off the gulf?

We drove back home on a Tuesday, scraping together an on-the-road lunch with the remainder of the groceries we’d bought. Everything was sandy and the baby fussed for much of the drive home. So long, vacation. Once we pulled back into our driveway I knew we’d be dealing with the beginnings of a home remodel and getting Eli ready to start summer camp at a new preschool.  I could feel my shoulders creeping back up towards my ears.

I know these are the days or whatever, and someday I might be nostalgic for my boys not needing me to make they sure they have enough clean undies and dry diapers to make it through a weekend at the beach. But when it takes you three days to unwind from the everydayness of your life, what’s the secret to having perspective in the middle of the 17th tantrum about snacks, or when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night for the fourth time?

Probably by the time I figure this out it won’t matter anymore.


002

Mothers & Martyrs

My husband was away last week. He went to a professional conference.

In Vienna.

Over Mother’s Day weekend.

I like to save that part for last because it makes the whole situation sound all the worse for me.

When he pitched the conference to me (which was not required, btw, although he did go on company time), he said he would be gone for four days. And we thought the four-year-old would be in school. Neither of us realized it was Mother’s Day weekend.

His actual itinerary had him gone 6 days, and the four-year-old is taking a break from preschool, and did I mention the trip took place over a weekend? My fellow SAHMs will know that the standard “spend the morning out of the house” activities don’t occur on weekends.

But it was happening, and there really wasn’t much I could do about it, except strategize for my solo-parenting stint.

We’d spend Mother’s Day with my parents, and my mother-in-law said she’d come up for a morning. I blocked out our usual time at Stroller Strides/ the park, and then the times that the nanny was scheduled to come.

As I was dithering about whether or not to see if the nanny was also available to come for a few hours on Saturday, my husband said,

“Now is not the time to be a hero, Julia.”


A few years ago, I had an acquaintance I often ran into whose first topic of conversation was usually how little she’d slept the night before. I found this extra annoying because when your audience is parents who also have small children, who cares? It’s the most boring topic in the world when we’re all  in varying stages of sleep deprivation. (Plus, by her own accounts she wasn’t doing much to give her children a consistent bedtime routine, so if they were extra crappy sleepers, well, maybe she brought it upon herself.)

The whole “mama martyr” schtick has always been a bit annoying to me, as if running yourself into the ground proves the depths of your love and devotion to your children and partner. The truth is that there’s little glory in parenting small children, no matter how you do it.


I’ve heard the quip “there’s no gold medal for childbirth” tossed out as some sort of reason for choosing an epidural during labor (and hey, for the record, no need to justify your labor and delivery choices to me). This vastly over-simplifies why some women (myself included) choose exactly the opposite and plan to give birth at home or at a birth center, without the option for such pain relief. It’s not the popular choice, and in a crowd of other moms, I often feel less sanctimommy and more like I need to explain what I could have possibly been thinking.

So why go down the (possibly painful) road of unmedicated childbirth? The short answer is that I live with anxiety and hospitals send my heart racing; it’s not the best condition to attempt to give birth in. I’d done enough research (which, yes, was kicked-off by my viewing of Ricki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born but also included reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth) prior to getting pregnant to feel confident that delivering in a birth center was the best choice for me and my offspring. We live just a few miles from a lovely freestanding birth center with cozy, B&B-style rooms and highly-trained midwives; it seemed like a no-brainer. Both of my boys were born there (in the same room, no less), and I can promise you I wasn’t trying to be a hero, or prove anything to anyone other than myself. I was simply doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done in the place I felt most comfortable doing it.


I don’t know who to blame for the martyrdom that seems to go hand-in-hand with modern motherhood (I’d say “Millennial motherhood” but that makes me want to throw-up a little bit). And really, it seems pretty reasonable that I should be able to keep my home clean and tidy; feed my children healthy, organic, home cooked meals even just 75% of the time; play and cuddle and read to them; make sure they play in the dirt and the sunshine and don’t get too much screen time; and on and on and on. This is what we know to be best, based on common sense, current research, and the myriad ways our parents did and did not fail us.

Possibly because of these (likely unachievable) demands, we are constantly preached the benefits of self-care (it’s even the main topic of conversation on my favorite podcast). You can’t pour from an empty cup, and all that. Except I don’t really need someone else to tell me it’s a good idea for me prioritize sleep, or exercise, or a night out with girlfriends, or even just washing my damn hair. It all sounds pretty good to me after a day of engaging in WWE-style diaper changes and fielding repeated requests for the red light song. What I do need is help in making any of that happen while I’m doing my best to give my children a predictable routine and three servings of vegetables a day. Preferably before I lose my mind.


“There are no gold medals in motherhood” might be a better turn of phrase. Because in the end, after all the waffling, I text the nanny to see if she’s available, and she is, and when she arrives I hightail it to the nearest Starbucks and sit in silence with a gigantic coffee.

Maybe I’ll martyr myself another day.


001

The Grind

Both boys awake at 5:45 am. Why.

While I nurse him in the dark, the sound machine whooooooooshing, the baby coos at me like isn’t this the best? And I guess maybe for him it is.

Coffee.

I manage to get everyone out the door on time for Stroller Strides, double stroller shoved in the back of my C-RV (it barely fits), and a bag of snacks packed for my 4-year-old who insists he will not need any toys to play with during class.

I wind my way though morning traffic and just as I am about to get on the highway, my husband calls. The Nest camera has alerted him that the dogs have breached the baby gate and are eating cat food. What a time to be alive. I take a sharp right and head back to the house.

At the park, I unload and reload children plus gear in 347 easy steps. Work out, more for the endorphins than whatever it could possibly do for my abs, which appear to still be on their pregnancy-induced hiatus. My children behave perfectly for this one hour and I think maybe the Monday morning Gods are smiling down on me.

The baby fusses and I nurse him sitting cross-legged in the middle of an open field. If someone sees my nipple, I honestly don’t care. Not because #breastisbest or whatever, I just don’t care.

We go to to the coffee shop and while I wait in line, the 4-year-old runs up to the front to check out the donut selection, runs back to me, runs back to the donuts, repeat until we are at the front of the line and he very politely tells the barista “thank you” for his pink sprinkled donut and for that tiny second I think I am obviously doing this motherhood thing right. I guzzle a latte while the baby sits in my lap and tries to dump it on himself.

At the playground, the 4-year-old goes up and down the slide, up and down the slide. The baby starts fussing again, ready for a nap. We walk back around the lake, back to the car. Repeat the unload and reload process in reverse.

Drive home.

Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the oldest. Baby in crib. Shower. Turkey burger. Baby awake. Feed, diaper. Load everyone into the car and drive to the public library.

I put the four-year-old in charge of the library bag and he lets everyone we pass in the parking lot know. His need to talk to strangers is new and puzzling. Sometimes he won’t even greet his grandparents (who he sees on a regular basis), but he has no trouble talking to randos. I make a mental note to Google “stranger danger.”

Inside, I renew our cards and pay $15 in fines (I obviously do not have my life together). We select books arbitrarily and after I pull Curious George Goes to the Zoo off the shelf, the 4-year-old runs to show a random dad in the children’s section the book. “I like rhinos!!!” he announces, with the enthusiasm only a preschooler could muster.

Home. Feed and diaper baby, put him down. Read books. Start dinner. Baby awake. Feed him pureed avocado mixed with breast milk.

(I feel compelled to mention that the avocado puree is homemade but not organic; a few weeks ago I spent an afternoon puree-ing various fruits and vegetables, spooning them into a silicone ice cube tray and freezing them, per the instructions in The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book.)

Tacos for me and the preschooler, served family style to empower him to make his own Healthy Choices. He wants to only eat shredded cheddar cheese but after much discussion, adds a few forkfuls of taco meat and a tortilla to his plate.

At 6 pm I put the baby to bed: overnight diaper, Owlet monitor, organic cotton pajamas. Lights out. Nurse. Sleepsack. Sing my standard three lullabies while he looks up at me with a gummy smile and giggles. Sound machine. Close the door. One down, one to go.

Tidy kitchen. Help 4-year-old put away toys in the living room.

Upstairs. Pick up 5 million Legos while making possibly empty threats about the cleaning ladies sucking up the Legos with the vacuum tomorrow if they aren’t put away. Works every time.

Tidy the playroom. Potty, teeth, and books (we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; my sympathies lie with the mom who has to listen to her kid complain incessantly). Two down. It’s now 8 pm.

Husband home. Have a snack, because breastfeeding. Shower (again), wonder why I didn’t just wash my hair earlier. Journal. Read. Pass out and hope I don’t get woken up until 6 am (never gonna happen).


Loading more posts…