Jul 30, 2010
I walk around at home in search of five- or 10-minute blocks of time to myself. My quest involves a lot of handing a drooling baby back and forth between the two of us when Dave’s home, and praying the cat-napper to whom I gave birth stays asleep long enough for me to use the bathroom. It’s filling my arms with dirty clothes and toys and shoes and sticky, empty cups on my way to the kitchen so I can have an excuse to pour some water into a glass and drink it alone before Abby sees and demands her own sippy cup.
Just. Five minutes. I don’t ask for much.
Dave gets a few hours to himself between 7:30 a.m., when he’s watching “Dinosaur Train” with Abby before we head out the door for the sitter’s, and going to work at his second-shift job around 1. Now, granted he often (he’d argue I meant to say “always”) spends the morning doing my bidding (laundry and sometimes cleaning the bathroom when I ask nicely and wink at him to remind him I really love him and care that he’s also tired and busy, I do care, I really do).
But it’s alone time. And his Facebook status gets updated while laundry’s in the dryer, does it not? I REST MY CASE.
That’s my point – he gets to do these things without someone clinging to his leg – and without feeling like he should be feeling guilty about not playing with that someone clinging to his leg.
So I get to grocery shop alone on Saturdays. And, wow. That’s a treat. Go on, be jealous. What a purely enjoyable way to spend an hour. Exactly what I had in mind.
So, realizing that wasn’t enough to keep me from weeping beside a rainy windowpane (or whatever it is people do when they have time to mope), I stopped eating lunch by my desk at work, fleeing for the breakroom.
It sounds ridiculous. People have been doing this for decades. But really – I hide in the breakroom that once used to creep me out because of its constant off-smell. I look forward to that smell now, because it means an hour with no babies, no laundry, no errands. No grocery shopping. No clipping coupons. No dog to let outside, wait, he wants back inside, wait, just kidding! outside he goes again, over and over again for an hour.
Spending the break at home would be no break. Any mom can tell you that.
So, forgive me if I, at 1:30 p.m., am already daydreaming about all the reading I can do the next day at 12:30.
Yes, yes, thank you for pointing out how lame that is. But really. You guys – ONE HOUR. It almost makes going back to work worth every tear I shed a few weeks ago. Almost.
Seriously. An hour. Now you can be jealous.
Jul 27, 2010
My mind picked up on the baby whimper coming over the monitor on the nightstand, but it incorporated it into my dream instead of advising me to wake up.
Then her shriek reached that part of my brain that shoots out my left arm directly into my husband’s back. “Hey,” my half-asleep brain said, “can you please go quiet her?” I believe I said thanks when he came back in after re-wrapping her in that Velcro blanket that resembles a straight jacket, but I may have dreamt that nicety.
Ah, blissful sleep. I nestled my head further between two pillows.
Why not? I don’t have a baby with sleeping problems. Nooo, not my baby, my precious little Lucy, who sleeps through the night regularly and rarely fusses and cuddles like a schmootzie-tootsie-all that horrific babble that escapes my mouth when I’m squeezing her cheeks.
Only 45 minutes or so later – around 2:30 a.m. – I couldn’t lay still and pretend not to ignore the angry screams coming from her bedroom. No one could. If you were wondering what that sound was the other night? That? No, some madman wasn’t torturing a dozen cats. No, the only madman was an 11-week-old. Sorry!
“Here, shhhhh, take your binky,” I soothed.
But, sadly, that was not my reaction at 3:30. Or 3:45. Or 4:45. Cranky Erin in her best form resorted to whisper-hissed variations of “For the love of all things holy, TAKE THE BINKY. TAKE IT. PLEASE.”
I fed her at 4:45, which is of course what I should’ve just done at 2:30. At 5:15 I peeled a sleeping baby off my lap with more care than bomb squads give to live explosives.
The relief I felt while sliding back into bed was electric. Had I not been in a hurry to sleep, I’d have wept at the beauty of pillows and blankets and 45 minutes of coma-like deep sleeping.
But this is real life, not some cutesy parenting magazine where all the best-laid plans and most gently laid down babies stay sleeping.
“MAMA! MAMA, ABBY ‘WAKE!” came the happy squeal from the doorway of Abby’s room. Five minutes later, Lucy joined in, a little less happy.
Ugh: My fantasies of sleep crashed, burned and died there. Please: moment of silence.
I dragged myself to the girls’ dresser and pulled out clothes, resigned to a day of puffy eyes.
“I Love Mommy!” proclaimed the shirt I’d grabbed for Lucy and handed to Dave, who was groggily changing the baby’s diaper. Awww, right? NO.
“No, give me that back. She’s wearing something else,” I said. “CLEARLY she does NOT love her mommy.”
And that’s how I’m passing along my passive-aggressiveness to my children. It’s a lasting legacy. One best perfected on no sleep.
Jul 22, 2010
Things that are nuts: Reasoning that fruit cocktail is, by half of its very name, a healthy choice. Expecting to watch both movies we rented on a Friday before they’re due back on Sunday night. Thinking after cleaning on Monday that the clutter that is two kids’ paraphernelia and mail and newspapers won’t swallow me alive by Wednesday night.
Oh. And driving alone with two children a journey that, without children, takes eight hours. That’s nuts.
Have I done that? Well, no. Not yet.
But I’ve spent a great deal of time worrying about it, which is just about the same thing in my mind. White-knuckled grip on the steering wheel through traffic and construction in Chicago with a screaming baby and a whining toddler? AWESOME. That stretch of two-lane highway in the middle of Indiana corn, wheat and bean fields amid a cell phone dead zone with a screaming baby and a whining toddler? AWESOMER.
Getting to your destination and having to turn around 48 hours later to do it all over again? AWESOMEST.
This precious moment is potentially on the horizon.
The sole exception to the family reunion stereotype brings together one side of my family to an aunt and uncle’s house near my hometown for one annual “a-palooza.” It’s worthy of the “a-palooza” name: there’s much baby cheeks-squeezing, much squealing over each others’ kids and eating chicken wings and a bonfire and dogs and lawn games with people whose sense of humor is also kind of nuts. This is what I’m missing now that I have kids: extended family.
And not just for the free babysitting.
We knew moving so far away from our families would be awful when we decided to take the job I was offered up here. But we weren’t expecting to still be living this far away five years – and two kids, one dog, one goldfish, one mortgage and two jobs – later.
So now, it’s my choice: Take a weekend-long break from the loneliness that is living in a city where Skype is the main form of family bonding, or stay home that weekend and avoid a mental breakdown at a toll road oasis.
Ugh. That is no choice.
Dave, of course (ever-so-helpful Dave!), says I could take just one kid. Hmm. One kid.
Beside not being able to show off (the fact that I’ve kept) two children (fed, clothed and mostly happy), that’d leave him some logistics problems, since he’ll be working his regular night shift while I’m gone.
I nixed that idea, anyhow. “You just want to keep one kid here so I’ll come back.”
“So?” he said.
I’m thinking this whole trip thing just isn’t a good idea.
Jul 19, 2010
“ABCD-G … (long pause) … H-I – breathe, sway her head back and forth – JK-EMUMEM-P-2, 3, 8-ST-WXYZ.”
That’s the alphabet according to my 2-year-old. The numbers are in there because it’s a very intricate, very complicated phyics equa- … OK, never mind. So, she knows most of the words to “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles, but she gets counting and letters confused. I would feel overwhelmed by all the teachin’ I have to do yet if I weren’t so proud.
She even knows who the Beatles are, and asks us to push play on our iPods so she can dance. That’s just downright endearing. Priorities, what. One skill will get her into school, the other will get her a very old record collection decades from now when her dad dies.
This is the sort of thing I think of when I hear our friends’ kid counting to five in Spanish. Spanish? I sat flabbergasted as their 2 ½ year old counted to cinqo. Little genius. A cute one at that, sure, but I’m pretty sure I was 10 before I was counting to cinqo. That’s just not happening with Abby, sorry.
Meanwhile Abby sat on my lap and begged for her apple juice, which was actually water. Hm. Note to self – work on nouns with Abby. And letters and numbers. Someday.
All that academic stuff has to wait. We’re teaching her about socialization now: she says “How do ya? Nice to meet chu” when she shakes hands. Progress. She says hi to acquaintences and to non-threats – ie., people who don’t look like babysitters. A year ago she wailed if a cashier attempted to ask her name.
This is also progress: “HI,” Abby said to a stranger in a grocery store, leaning around me from her perch in the cart to get the 50-some-year-old’s attention behind me. “HI.” She waved.
The lady did nothing.
“UGH, lady!” Abby said to me, shaking her head. I swear she rolled her eyes.
See? This is a skill you just can’t measure with high marks in school. I feel much better about that whole ABCs thing.
Jul 12, 2010
I’d tossed off the lid to that plastic tub full of my old pre-pregnancy clothes weeks ago. The tub was in the very back of a very stuffy, very dark and narrow closet in my baby’s room, where I’d venture every week to shove my new-mama thighs into a pair of jeans to judge the progress my Wii Fit had wrought. I’d been sneaking into the closet to grab skirts with forgiving, wonderful elastic waistbands and lightweight sweaters and the like, bringing back into the light of my bedroom one or two pieces of clothes each week. First came the parka-like dress, and last week came the capris I thought I’d never wear again. That’s right: Never – because I’m so reasonable and optimistic when I’m pregnant. But Saturday I thought it was time to take this little charade out into daylight. I dragged the bin in front of my dresser drawers, which I’d emptied onto the bed. I rocked Lucy in the bouncy seat with my foot and coerced Abby to play with Mr. Potato Head in her room while I ceremoniously folded the last two pregnancy pants and put them in a garbage bag destined for a thrift store – wiped my hands, slap, slap, DONE WITH THAT. So I stood facing this Bin of Self-Esteem Issues and the empty drawers, and I started grabbing clothes I haven’t seen since the hair ties were no longer able to hold the fly of my pants together … About October or so. A few pants still don’t fit, but some did. SOME DID! My dresser saw shirts, skirts, pants that had been shunned last fall. Dave, who was (finally) fixing a towel rack in our bathroom that had been broken since mid April (‘m sadly not exaggerating), startled when I ran into the bathroom in a pair of white linen pants I’d forgotten I’d owned: “DAVID, LOOK. THEY BUTTON!” He dutifully ignored that whole muffin top thing and smiled. “Wow. Nice work,” he said. All that hula-hooping and warrior posing and all the walks with the Swift and Abby – SEE! I am getting my life back. That night I had a glass of white wine with dinner and we ate all at one time, with Lucy asleep in my arms. We ate peaches and ice cream for dessert and did I mention that towel rack is fixed!? That night we built tunnels with blankets propped between the coffee table and the couch, and we crawled-slash-chased Abby underneath them while Lucy slept in the swing. And I felt … normal. And happy. Confession – I’ve not felt that in months. Babies are a blessing. Babies are cute, yes. Yes. But I never laughed for real until I was wearing a pair of pants I’d forgotten I owned, while crawling after my 2-year-old under our tunnels. Insert “awws” here. And one big “whew.” And maybe a “yay!” too.
Jul 9, 2010
I used to distract my toddler like a professional. “You want juice? We don’t have juice. Water? No water? Look! What’s that on the deck? BIRD. What does a bird say?” Worked every time. But despite my best efforts, I’m failing to distract Abby anymore – I’m no match for my toddler’s serious, high-pitched, nasally whine. A little whine this is not. She has, in fact, invented a whole new language called Whine. She speaks in Whine. She cries in Whine. She whines in Whine. She whines about whine in Whine. “Maaaama, Abby want juuuuuice,” she’ll begin. I’ll pour the juice in a cup – but wait – “Maaaama, no. Abby no likie blue cup. Noooooo, no blue cup!” She tosses her head back in utter digust at my cup choice. “Are you ready for bed? You’re showing me you’re ready for bed,” I’ll say, like she’s listening at all or as if she can process that thinly veiled threat. “Noooooooooo, no bed. Abby no want beeeeeeeeeed.” No, that’s not right: I wish I could type what her whine sounds like. Picture a cat screeching while chewing aluminum foil and running its nails on a chalkboard. That comes close to generating the same reaction I have when she takes that first big breath and exhales two hours’ worth of nothing but high-pitched vowel sounds for what appears to regular humans – not toddlers – as no big deal. I forgot: To toddlers, it’s ALL a Big Deal. I want to whine back: Maaaaaaaama needs a glass of wiiiiiiiiiiine, Abby. No, no whine. WINE. Minus the H. But I don’t. Instead I try ignoring it. I try breathing deeply to prevent snapping … Two seconds later I snap anyway, something curt and not helpful. Or I’ll try tickling her way out of the funk. Nothing. The other night was horrible all around: Late getting home from work, late picking them up from the sitter’s, late getting dinner ready. As I washed bottles at the sink and Dave flipped chicken on the stovetop, Abby started in a 10-minute whine because she wanted – or did she? – butter bread. Butter breaaaaaaaaaad. No butter breaaaaaaaaaad. “STOP. JUST STOP, OK? MAMA’S HAD ENOUGH,” I fumed from the sink. And she stopped. For a second. Maybe three-quarters of a second. Then came the wail. I jabbed the bottle brush farther into the bottle I was cleaning and growled – yeah, growled – “Nice one, Erin. I am such a bad mother.” “No you’re not,” Dave said weakly. Abby kept whining about butter bread. Abby wantie butter breaaaaaaaaaad, Mama. Butter breaaaaaaaaaad. No butter breaaaaaaaaaad, no, Abby no want. WHAT do you WANT? I want to yell: It’s MADNESS. “Then how do we make her stop?” I asked him. We let that question fall unanswered. We are so in need of some ear plugs. And new ideas.
Jul 6, 2010
On Tuesday – my first day back at work – someone asked me if my husband and I would want to go to a dinner-slash-fundraiser this weekend. Deal was, the tickets were free because work had a table, plus my coworker offered to babysit my girls.
“Oh, thanks for asking,” I said. “I think I’m going to pass this year.” I was about an hour into work when I answered; I was feeling like if someone mentioned my baby’s name I’d crumble in a heap under my desk and never be able to be put back together. (And that was an improvement over the previous day. This is what you’d call “emotional growth.”)
I wanted to go, but … How fair would it be to leave my kids with a sitter while I’d just spent 20-plus hours away from them that week? What would my baby think? She’d FORGET ME. Sob! I saw many years of therapy in their future, followed by years more of silent, bitter resentment because Mama wanted to wear a cute dress or maybe some white pants, have that glass of merlot and not talk about babies for a few hours.
Well, ha. Remember that “growth” I was talking about? I grew like nobody’s business between Tuesday and Thursday. On Thursday our boss double-checked – was I sure I really, really didn’t want to go? Free food? Socialization? No? Was I absolutely sure?
Heee. Um, well. Um. YES.
To be fair, for a second I thought of my girls, our Saturday night routine (homemade pizza, “America’s Funniest Videos,” a bath for Abby, Dave and I falling asleep to some police show). Ah, familiarity. Family. Yadda yadda.
But I thought of my first week back at work: To say eight weeks refreshing my Facebook feed while the girls napped and playing with sidewalk chalk with Abby and singing made-up songs to Lucy ruined my brain would be too generous.
I needed a night out. Oh, please.
“YES.” I said aloud when I got the e-mail. “Yes, let me see where I’m going to stow these children,” I replied. And the sitter’s offer still stood! The sun was shining! Angels sang!
This isn’t my first child. I know better this time around than to turn down a free meal where no children are invited. Growth, you guys. Growth.
Jul 1, 2010
At 11:30 last night, I laid Lucy on the floor to wake her enough to change her diaper and feed her. Whatever baby reflex I ignited sent her arms and legs straight out, and her head rolled from side to side, squinting against the light before they closed again. Darling. I stopped unzipping her pajamas and watched her arms relax above her head like she was calling “touchdown” as she fell back asleep.
And I wept. Ugh. My sweet, cute, cuddly baby reached right into my chest and ripped out my heart. This little sweet moment? Totally unexpected. My eyes teared up because this is it: Those were my last moments on maternity leave.
This morning, I put on a dress and straightened my hair and grabbed my day planner, and anxiously chewed some gum while I dressed my baby for her first day at the babysitter’s house. The only thing unexpected about this getting-ready scene was the absence of tears.
That’s right. For all the crying that went on yesterday – and trust me, there were enough tears to irrigate a dozen small farms in August during a drought – today, my first day back at work, didn’t hurt to the most gut-wrenching levels I was expecting when I was sobbing while watching Lucy doze last night.
It really didn’t. It was more a slow, mind-numbingly challenging experience than a jabbing, painful one.
By early afternoon today, I’d deleted thousands of emails from last month. My fingers still knew all the keyboard shortcuts, my otherwise burnt-out brain remembered all my passwords; my feet still carried me to my desk. When I had to leave, unfinished work clouded my mind until I walked into my kitchen and saw Dave had done dishes. My sour, guilt-heavy stomach was healed when I noticed the laundry basket that was patiently waiting at the bottom of the stairs had disappeared, thanks to Dave.
Maybe this will work, I thought. Also, wow, Dave sure knows how to avoid a breakdown starring moi. Smart man.
I silently teared up as Lucy’s body cuddled-slash-burrowed into my neck when I held her, and because Abby’s painting we did the day before was still drying on the kitchen table – I was in shock because I can’t believe it’s been eight weeks and THIS IS IT. Not in the Michael Jackson “This Is It” way – I mean this is really it; my real life, my routine has come barreling through my life. I feel nearly bowled-over. OMG.
Before dinner I’m going to grab the Swift and go outside with Abby while Dave holds Lucy for a while; I’m going to get up tomorrow and go to work again, and I’ll do that every day until the next vacation I’m already anticipating.
I’m not sure I know how I’m doing this, but look at me go! Look at me making money, putting one panty-hosed foot in front of the other.