Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ask and you shall receive.

Sooo I DID seem to ask the universe what it would take for me to reach the end of my stay-at-hom mom rope. And the universe, she delivered. Hint: the answer is exhaustion.

Start with a few nights of broken sleep, akin to the newborn era. You know, the kind where you probably get about four hours of sleep total (not completely awful) - but those four hours come in chunks of an hour here, seven minutes there, a half hour on the chair while holding a sick, coughing baby. Then add in the fact that the baby won't sleep much during the day, thanks to the aforementioned cough, which not only compounds her crankiness (and yours), but also leaves you with additional hours during which you have to entertain that baby. Because she isn't feeling good, there isn't much that entertains her, either. Sprinkle in a stretch of days where you're more or less housebound, due to illness and FREEZING RAIN, aka the most depressing weather ever. And, of course, don't forget that you're pretty worried about that cough (especially after your husband is all like, "Huh, kinda reminds me of when I had that bout with asthma," and you automatically envision a life of nebulizers and inhalers and never sleeping again). You go ahead and take the baby to the pediatrician, even though she developed an intense phobia of the doctor's office right before her first birthday, which manifests in her screeching and clinging to you like a monkey from the second you step in the exam room until you leave. (Doctor was all, "I managed to get some good listens to her breath sounds...in between the screams.")

Finally, add in a vicious windstorm during the first nap she's taken in almost a week that has lasted more than 45 minutes. The windstorm will knock over your neighbor's trash cans and canoe, stored conveniently below the baby's bedroom window, and the baby will wake up crying and still exhausted and you'll remember that these same neighbors are starting construction on an addition to their house within a couple weeks which means the baby will probably just never sleep ever again and she'll also cough for the rest of her life because you are a negligent mother who is somehow missing the one antidote that would fix the cough and her sleeping and bad weather and everything and BAM! See that frayed, stringy mess right there? Is it your frizzy hair that hasn't been trimmed in countless months? No! It's the end of your rope!



And seriously, thank you, friends, for your helpful suggestions on how to soothe a cough. We tried all of them, including but not limited to: a humidifier, steamy baths, cold air, honey, homeopathic baby cough medicine, saline drops + Nose Frida, consulting the pediatrician, Vicks on her chest, Vicks on her feet, extra Vitamin C, extra fluids, no dairy, wedge in her crib, keeping her active, letting her rest, and sacrificing a small lamb. To all of these, Rowan's response was:

(at least she learned to cover her mouth?)

The coughing has (maybe? potentially?) lessened over the last two nights, but I just can't believe how intense it's been - and how quickly I go from blissed out to raging monster, mostly due to the lack of sleep. I really underestimated how much that affects me. Not that I can really do much to change it while it's happening - seems like a situation where knowledge doesn't equal much power. Like: Yeah, I know I'm beastly when I'm tired, but I wouldn't be tired if it were at all possible to get more sleep! Just add it to the list of reasons why having a second child is mayyybe not the smartest idea (down the line, that is).

But that's a decision to consider when I'm a little less tired.

Monday, November 24, 2014

right now is right.

Three hours. That's how much sleep I got last Wednesday night, roughly, from about 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. My poor baby had (has) a nasty cough that reared its ugly head about a half hour after I laid down in bed. She only just got over a runny nose and cough that lasted almost two weeks, so when we heard her start hacking around 11:00, we both let it go for a while to see if she'd sleep through it, like she's learned to do. Every seven minutes or so - juuust as I'd drift back off following her last coughing fit - she'd start back up again. She finally started crying after about an hour, right after our whispered conversation in bed: Should one of us go rock her so she can be upright for a while? Can we assemble the humidifier without waking her? Does she need breast milk or honey or milk and honey together? We ended up doing all of the above, with J.J. rocking her in the glider for an hour or so. Being upright seemed to help the most...so, unfortunately, not too long after J.J. laid her back down, the coughing started again.

I am...shall we say...not my best self during middle-of-the-night parenting scenarios. When Rowan was teeny-tiny, I experienced my lowest lows during the midnight hours, swinging wildly between rage and despair. I now understand how that was related to postpartum anxiety, but had no clue at the time. Whatever the cause, J.J. (who has always woken multiple times a night, thanks to his Type I diabetes, and can fall right back asleep) took over as the default middle-of-the-night parent long ago, doing all of her nighttime feedings and the occasional sickie-cuddle session. But he'd already put in his time on Wednesday night, so when she woke up for real around 1 a.m., I jumped up (not difficult, considering I hadn't actually slept yet) and went to rescue her.

I'm so glad I did.

J.J. always claimed to love rocking with her late at night, just the two of them. Rowan isn't much of a snuggler when she's awake, so nighttime is the best time to steal some prime Rowie cuddles. I hear that, but pumping has made me the last one to bed and the first to wake up for 13+ months, and like I said, I turn into a crazy hell-demon without regular sleep. So I prefer to lull her back to dreamland as quickly as possible, leaving myself a sliver of a chance of Jedi-mind-tricking myself back to sleep.

But on Wednesday? Oh, there was just something about her. As soon as I lifted her from the crib (along with Bunny and a paci, of course), she melted into my arms. We eased into the glider; she shifted and sighed, staring contentedly at the nightlight and making a half-hearted baby sign for "light". I buried my nose in her silky hair, still smelling of her shampoo from her bedtime bath, and her eyes drifted closed. For the first time since she was - maybe three or four months old? - I watched my baby sleep. I watched grimaces and grins flicker across her face; I watched her eyelashes flutter. I dared to kiss her velvet cheek and hold her pudgy hand. I was amazed, all over again, at the fact that this human, this girl, my baby, grew inside of me and - exists. Her head was nestled near my armpit and her legs were bent like a frog, and I realized with a start that she was in her preferred in utero position. I placed my hand on her head and remembered feeling it through the stretched skin of my belly.

I didn't feel a super strong connection to my baby as a fetus, like some pregnant women do. I certainly loved her at birth, but I only fell in love with her gradually, as I got to know her. Some days, I can't believe it's possible to love someone as much as I love Rowan. That night, as I rocked her and sniffed her and snuggled her, the impossible happened, and I fell in love with her all over again, harder than ever before.

Nothing in this world makes me happier than watching my baby girl grow and laugh and learn and change. There was a Humans of New York Facebook post the other day featuring a man who voiced his regret that he had sacrificed his daughters' potential inheritance from him by staying home with them when they were little, and it sparked intense fear and guilt in me. How selfish am I being, putting my wants ahead of child(ren)'s future financial security? That fear tends to metastasize in the dark, cold hours of night. And yet, the other night, despite the hour, it was neither dark, nor cold, nor fearful. The weight of her love rested against my chest, and peace with where we are in life right now seeped into my skin and my bones. Right now, it is good. Right now, it is right.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

here, eat some words, they're delicious.

WARNING: Read with caution. My TOTAL optimism in this post is like glitter or herpes...it's gonna get all over you and never disappear! (Wait, does that happen with herpes? *Consults WebMD* *Closes WebMD window after noticing adjacent customer in coffee shop frowning at my screen*)


I take back everything I said.

Turns out I only want to be a stay-at-home mom when it's over 50 degrees outside.

It's not even Thanksgiving yet, and there's already snow and slush and slippery roads, which are made more treacherous by the toddler whining in the backseat because she can't see through the back window because it's covered in snow because a good mom (and, um, driver) would clear the window before putting the car in gear but it's too damn cold to be a good mom right now so yes it's snow-covered and just look out the side window for the 1.5 miles between here and home, would ya?

Gone are the days of killing an hour here and a morning there by going for a jaunt around the block. It was the very best time-killer before afternoon nap or dinner or...everything. Now, I'm lucky if I can get the both of us dressed in our winter gear in under 20 minutes - and, let's be honest, I don't really want to go outside, anyway. P.S.: What was I thinking, as a former toddler and preschool teacher, not buying a one-piece snow outfit for her?! I think I thought it would be nice to not have to put the snow pants on unless totally necessary - but since it's apparently going to be 18 degrees from now until May, the snow pants will be totally necessary. Every time. Every day. UNTIL FOREVERRR.

I see us getting trapped in the house with increasing frequency.

I see our activity options dwindling, crushed in the rubble of my hatred of being cold.

I see her energy threatening to explode without the regular outlet that fresh air and sunshine provide.

I see all my Pinteresty ideas for crafts and light tables and sensory exploration disappearing into a vortex of winter apathy.

Face-down in a pile of pillows = exactly.

But, you know. Only four more months of this soul-sucking weather! Yayyy!

(Careful, you've got some optimism sarcasm on your screen. Yeah. Riiight there.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

in the tradition of traditions: First Snow Brownies.

Between J.J. and me, I'm definitely the tradition-sparker in our relationship. He may be the one who insists on Sunday daddy-daughter dates and remembers to make me birthday fondue, but I'm the reason we cut down a Christmas tree every year and have weekly photos of Rowan from her first year. I like cultivating family rituals - taking pieces of our own childhoods and weaving them into our adult lives, learning that most traditions are worth the work (hanging Christmas lights in 20-degree weather, anyone?), and gaining a new appreciation for the effort our parents put into creating memories for us.

An ex-coworker of mine posted something on Facebook last week about how it was the first snowfall of the year where she lives, and for her family, that meant baking a batch of cookies THAT DAY. How sweet is that? It's a nice way to take the edge off the inevitable approach of my least favorite season (winter) and remember that it's still one of my favorite times of the year (the winter holidays). Plus, you know, cookies.

I know better than to make myself commit to any tradition that involves baking or cooking, other than supplying a pumpkin cheesecake every Thanksgiving, so I didn't really think much of the cookie idea - until snowflakes started flying yesterday.

I had a really cute video to put here, but Blogger is being rude, so please accept this terrible photograph instead.

Now, shhh, I know we've had some rogue flakes in Ann Arbor already (like while we were trick-or-treating...bogue), but this was legit snow.

No, not a LOT...but it's there!

Aaaand to add some spice to our freezing cold day, my poor baby took a half hour to fall asleep for her afternoon nap, only to wake up about 15 minutes later in a coughing fit (she's been fighting a cold for about a week). I was cranky from alligator-wrestling with her at naptime (for god's sake, if you're so tired you can't keep your eyes open, then just GO TO SLEEP) and out of ideas for how to entertain her for All The Hours until dinner. As she stood at the window, cooing at the furious snowfall, I thought - you know what? Let's do it. Let's make First Snow Cookies. That meant both a trip to the store (because you know this girl isn't making cookies from damn scratch...come on), which is one of Rowan's favorite activities, and then a fun project - actually making the cookies.

Cookies turned into brownies when I spotted the mixes on the shelf, and, back at home, we got to work carefully measuring ingredients mixing the pre-made batter. I learned a couple things from my first attempt at baking with Rowan:

1. Yeah, mix the batter first, so it's not just chocolate dust and raw eggs when your toddler flings the wooden spoon out of the bowl.
2. If you don't want your kid to sample whatever you're making (like, you know, RAW freaking eggs), then...perhaps you shouldn't put him or her within arm's reach of the bowl. Duh.

Chocolate sock + Mama grabbing the spoon back.

Next time we bake together, I think I'll give her her own little bowl and spoon with something she can sample. But overall? Not too shabby results.

Two-thirds of those brownies are now consumed, less than 24 hours later.

There are other traditions I want to start or continue with my little family - driving around on Christmas Eve to check out all the lights, random overnight visits from the Cookie Fairy, Pizza & Movie Night on Fridays. It's a pretty honorable responsibility, isn't it? To be the Tradition Sparker for your children? I love imagining my kids both experiencing and reminiscing about our family customs - including the times that First Snow Cookies became brownies, thanks to product placement on the grocery shelves, or the year we got a fake Christmas tree instead of a real one to save money when Mom was too cool for a job (ahem, 2014). Those times are no less authentic, and while we cherish the routine of traditions, the anomalies are just as memorable.

And shopping for a fake tree will probably be more enjoyable for a certain little elf, who was thoroughly Not Impressed with last year's tree hunt...which came complete with a little-known aspect of the tradition wherein both J.J. and I forget - after we search for, argue over, and cut down a tree - that they only take cash or checks. And that the nearest ATM is about 15 minutes away.


No problem, baby. That's my job.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

the beauty of the balance.

There's a balance in life.

Hence, you know...my last post vs. today.

I've been awake for all of three hours, and I'm just in a tailspin. Everything is wrong, although none of it is dire...which means I'm even more annoyed with myself for being upset. It started right from the get-go - my morning pump. I am so over waking up before anyone else every single morning, but also regretful that soon she won't be getting any more of my milk. Then, while I showered, I was overcome with jealousy thinking about friends I know who can make it on one income, and friends who are working their asses off to ensure their families' security. What did I do wrong to end up in limbo between draining a limited savings account while jobless, and not wanting to ever ever ever return to my career...or any job? While I put the dishes away, I knew I was supposed to feel grateful that J.J. washed them last night, but really, I was just annoyed that I had to scrape cheese residue from a glass bowl that he's "cleaned" twice already. Before Rowan's morning nap, she dragged ribbons all over the family room and dumped a bag of teeny-tiny plastic toys in the hall; she wanted her hat on her head, but not on her hair; her favorite CD was driving me bananas; and I could NOT make a decision on what to do with her today. There's a fun toddler program at the nature center this morning, and this is the last tolerable weather for about five months...but she really should take a morning nap today (...or should she? I don't know!), and her nose is flowing freely, and she just had a meltdown about - socks, I think? Neither of us is dressed, and she's clearly not in a nature-program mood right now. But I am, and she'd probably have a blast once we were there...

It is currently acceptable that the hat is on the hair AND the head.
(ETA: Please ignore the borderline-NSFW sock monkeys in the background.)

My last post is still true, and still real, but today my mind keeps drifting to places like envious and annoyed and unmotivated. And afraid. Because I don't want this to end, these days at home with my baby girl, but I know it can't last forever. Ugh, I cannot shake the negative vibe right now.


All right. Forty-five minutes later. Now, there's a sweet baby upstairs who just coughed herself awake after a short nap, and she and I are going to get dressed and take advantage of 50 degrees and sunny. This is what makes being a SAHM such a healthy lifestyle for me: There's no time or space to indulge the tailspin, and during naptime - even a short one - things turn around, almost every time. (Doesn't hurt that I dropped my 9am pump last week, so I didn't have to spend 30 of her 45 sleeping minutes doing pump stuff.) This is the beauty of the balance of life - that a crummy morning can tip over into a decent afternoon. As easy as it is for me to remember the balance when I'm happy ("Better enjoy this now, since it's bound to go up in flames soon!"), my challenge is to learn to depend on the balance all the time.

Have to run. Gotta go see about a girl.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

owning the moment.

I keep waiting to hate this.

That's the rhetoric, right? That being a stay-at-home parent is overwhelming, lonely, and unfulfilling? That it's repetitive and relentless and smelly? That it's the hardest job there is?

So I keep waiting for those feelings to creep in. I poke around my heart cautiously, during story time at the library and walks around the neighborhood, to check for the negativity. I'm not optimistic by nature, so I'm used to searching for unhappiness until I find it. I'm serious: I keep waiting to hate this.

But I don't. I love it more every day.

The singular focus of "baby/household" is so much easier for me than splitting my heart and mind between home and work - which really required much more than devoting half of myself to home and half to work. In each setting, I was the manager of myriad tasks. I could multitask and delegate until the cows came home (and then delegate who would care for which cows), but the ultimate responsibility of quality task completion still rested on my shoulders. Not to mention that both were essentially thankless positions with escalating responsibilities but very little power; with deep ramifications for anything done wrong (or "wrong"), but almost no acknowledgement for things done well.

She's my instant gratification.
The truth is that this - being a stay-at-home mom - is far from the hardest job I've ever had. Don't get me wrong; I see how it could be. I'm telling you, I'm good at finding reasons why something might suck. Maybe if Rowan had a different temperament or had developmental issues, or if we weren't a good "fit". Maybe if J.J. didn't work regular weekday hours, or if he were less involved with her during his off-time. Maybe if I had more than one child. Maybe if I loathed housework - or young children (don't laugh - a lot of people realllly don't like the baby/toddler stages). Maybe if I didn't have regular breaks, courtesy of my mother-in-law, or weekly meet-ups with my new mothers' group. Maybe if I were still in that horrible sleep-deprivation stage, the one that eased up right when I quit my job and she started only waking up once per night (at nine months old). Maybe if (and this is a biggie) it hadn't been my choice. Maybe if I weren't coming straight from a field where burnout is ubiquitous, and a position where it didn't matter what I did, it was never enough. Conversely, I can hand Rowan carpet fuzz, and it's like gold to her - as opposed to my previous job, where I could hand out free ponies and inadvertently cause a mutiny because they weren't unicorns instead.

Maybe it's because I know there's an expiration date. I do the bills every month. I'm witnessing our financial freefall. I'm acutely aware that this SAHM thing is fundamentally unsustainable for us. But it's still not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

And maybe I'll grow to hate it, or at least be bored with it. Could this just be a honeymoon period? Five months...that's nothing, right? Hard to say. So far, every day - literally, every day - I'm grateful that my biggest stressors are that it's tricky to get her down for naps and that I'm sometimes low on activity ideas. In the end, though, she's just one person for me to focus on and to care for. It doesn't hurt that I'm madly in love with her. 

Because pigtails.
The last thing I want to do by broadcasting my satisfaction (which I'm superstitious about anyway) is to underscore someone else's dissatisfaction. This is not everyone's cup of tea. I get it. I mean - that's really why I'm surprised at how this is unfolding for me. But I'm not trying to brag or invoke jealousy. Remember? I'm not an optimist. I know nothing lasts forever. I know I could be living in the moment at the expense of the future. That's why I'm relishing this deep contentment while it lasts and really trying to own my happiness.

I'm fulfilled, I'm challenged, I'm busy, I'm happy. I'm happy.

My girl and I, we make a good pair. So I'm soaking it up while I can.


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