Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: work-life balance

We Are Not Used to This

Both kids are now home.

Both of us are trying to work remotely, tagging each other in as the day allows.

We are creating a New Normal.

We are trying “home schooling” and mandated House Clean-Up times and schedules and nipping bad attitudes in the bud.

We are also just trying to not lose our minds.

I consider it an astounding feat that we have managed to limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day. Winning.

Here’s a real conversation that happened this Tuesday, 3/17.

  • Henry: “Is it Sunday?”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
  • Me: “Nope.”
  • Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”

Aren’t you jealous?

3/17/2020

***

On Thursday, 3/12, the first wave of anxiety hit me with the announcement of the closure of all K-12 schools in Ohio.

On Sunday, 3/15, we learned that all restaurants would be closing to dine-in customers. The second wave of anxiety hit me. Not because we eat out a lot. Not at all. We actually eat a lot at home.

But it felt like the first sign that soon, very soon, public places were not going to be an option for occupying the kid’s time.

Read: No kid’s museum, no indoor parks, no library, no movies, no all-the-typical-places-where-we-might-take-them-to-stay-sane.

I’m not prone to anxiety. I worry, sure, but anxiety? No, not really.

But the thought of losing my go-to methods of occupying the kids, actually, not even really having a break from home life for 2, 3, or 4 months…

Oh, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.

This is fine meme.
Art credit: KC Green

So after driving to at least four stores to find toilet paper (still haven’t found any. Thanks to friend, Cate, for sharing some rolls), my husband decided that we should order take-out from a local Mexican restaurant, while we still can.

But by the time we got home with the food, he had decided to drop us off with the take-out bags and continue his search for needed supplies, as the thought loomed in our heads: When we will be officially told to shelter-in-place? And are we ready for that?

The kids ate the tacos and beans like champs, happily and hungrily. I stared at my food, cold waves of anxiety rising and washing over me again and again. Feelings that I haven’t had since I had my first baby and my mother returned to her home in Minnesota. That feeling of floating alone in the ocean, holding on to a life preserver, not knowing when the circumstances were going to change. Not knowing if a wave was approaching that I couldn’t see. Not knowing if I had the fortitude to hold on. And then all of the guilt because, let’s face it, I am likely to be just fine. A healthy, 30-something in the suburbs.

Before I knew it, the kids were done with their food, and I was still sitting there, thinking of what I needed to do to get ready for a week with my daughter at home.

They abandoned their plates, leaving the mess behind and disappeared somewhere else in the house.

When I realized they didn’t wash their hands before they had gone upstairs, I yelled at them to do so, but remained there, paralyzed, looking at the take-out bags.

But they washed their hands before dinner. Pretty sure they did. Yeah, they did. Or was it just Henry’s hands?

And then the thoughts started.

You can be asymptomatic for up to 24 days. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Wash your hands to Happy Birthday. You might not even know you have it. Stay home. Don’t go out. Wash your hands. My hands, but also the kids. All the time. Wash three sets of hands, that’s six hands. Every time you enter and exit a room. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. It floats in the air. Someone doesn’t need to cough on you–You can just breathe it in. There aren’t enough ventilators and there may not be enough hospital beds. What about my friend who is pregnant? Is she okay? What about Mom? What if she gets it? Can’t think about that. Can’t let the kids see her until this whole thing is over. What happens when the daycares close?

And then, I started eating. One taco. Two tacos. Three tacos. Chips. Beans. More chips. Salsa. More chips. Beans. The second bag of chips. More salsa. Oreos? What the hell. Sugar felt good. Where’s all the chocolate around here? Maybe some ice cream. Oh, there are cones, too. Hm.

Oh my God, I realized. I’m stress eating.

I haven’t stress-eaten in probably 15 years or more.

When my husband got home, we let the kids play alone upstairs while we processed what was happening around us.

“Sweets, people are getting f***ing crazy out there,” he said, eyes wide. “I saw a guy, two older guys actually, at Sam’s with–I swear to God–nothing but Swiss Miss packets in their cart. Just boxes and boxes of Swiss Miss.”

“Shut up,” I said, relieved at having something to laugh about.

“I’m serious. I’m serious,” he assured me.

It felt good to laugh. (Is there anything more attractive, at this moment, than a partner that can genuinely make you laugh? I think not.) And he was more than happy to oblige, with story after story of Ridiculous Carts in Sam’s Club.

“It’s really hitting me,” he said, “just how many people there are that have literally no idea how to cook. They’re like holding these cans of food and saying things like, ‘Could we make this or this?’ ‘What about this?’ There are people walking the aisles of stores with actual faces of fear and panic. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

And welcome to Life in the Time of COVID-19.

A time when we will choose to either battle our internal demons of the fear of scarcity or succumb to them and war with each other. Over toilet paper and Swiss Miss.

Those end-of-the-world disaster and pandemic movies that massaged our basest instincts to flee or fight, it feels like our brains are feeding on them to fuel our daily behaviors.

We didn’t think we would be here.

Disasters on this scale don’t happen to the U.S., right?

They happen in “third world countries.” They happen in places with less technology and fewer resources. They happen in countries without the same number fighter planes, tanks, and missiles.

Turns out, they happen here, too. We are not so special that we get a pass on this one. Perhaps we shouldn’t have disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic team in 2018 in the name of reducing big government because “we can get them back if we need them.”

But for some global perspective, let’s remember that Syrians continue to run for their lives as Russian planes swoop in and bomb the living hell out of Idlib. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a very, very, very mild version of the panic and fear that these refugees face every day of their lives.

But we are not used to this.

More specifically, affluent White America is not used to this.

We are not used to restrictions and limitations and “unavailable” and “2 per person” and postponing elective surgeries and schools closing for months and church services moved on-line for safety reasons and March Madness being cancelled. (Okay, honestly, that last one doesn’t bother me at all.)

This is Land of Freedom and Choice and Individualism, baby.

Right?

Not today.

Actually, not for the next 2-4 months.

Now, we’ve got to learn how to be Collectivist, to behave in a way that benefits the common good, to postpone or abandon plans, to cooperate and be kind, to put competition aside so that we can protect lives and ensure that we don’t end up holding the hands of our 60-, 70-, and 80- year old loved ones as they die without proper treatment because of health care rationing.

Think about that.

Toilet paper is the least of our worries.

I’m concerned that there is not enough emphasis on looking out for each other and supporting each other through this difficult time.

That’s what led to my meltdown on Monday night this week, as our son came home from his last day of daycare.

No more daycare. No more support, was how it felt to me.

Now, it’s just the four of us.

No help from grandparents.

Now, we will have to alternate work with care-taking. Now, we will have even fewer quiet moments together without the kids.

Our village of friends, daycare, school, after-school programs, libraries, and church just collapsed into the space of our home.

I wasn’t prepared for this. None of us were.

So that’s where I’m at with coping. How about you?

If you’ve got a story about Ridiculous Pandemic Carts, I could really use a laugh.

Pandemic, Here We Go: Stream of Consciousness # 2

Where to even begin.

For me, it really started on Tuesday, March 10th. There was an emergency meeting of the eLearning division entitled “Pandemic Planning,” which had been set the previous Friday. We were told to expect that very soon all in-person classes would be suspended. As an eLearning division, we would abandon all projects and previous plans and meetings. We would come together as a group to help the university faculty–especially those that have never taught online–be prepared to teach everything online.

Thursday afternoon, 3/12
Deserted hallway at Sinclair.

Yes, it was a bit of a shock. But honestly, I was already on high alert because just a few hours before this meeting, the chair of a department wandered into our media production studio, holding a printed email in her hand, asking me if I would come to a department meeting to help her faculty members understand how to teach online.

I remember the way she looked as she hesitantly held the box of an unopened webcam that we loaned out to her. It was that moment between reluctance and resignation and all the body movements that come with it. She was going to have to be the one to rally her troops.

But none of us were expecting that the end to in-person classes would literally be just hours from that moment.

And then the spotlight swung to the eLearning Division.

***

Ah, eLearning professionals. The unsung heroes of this whole mess.

Here’s how to do a web conference. Here’s how to record it. Here’s how to upload slides into your web conference. Hey, look! You can draw on the slides. Here’s how to do picture-in-picture. Now, you’ll need to publish it, share the link with students, create a document with the list of links. Captions? Here’s how you do that. Should you make all your lectures right now? Why don’t you work on just one week’s worth of content? And keep your videos short. Seriously. Think about what is necessary to say. Remember, they can re-watch the video. IT is working on purchasing more webcams. In meantime, do you have a laptop with a camera?

It’s been fun.

But seriously, it feels good to be able to help others who need help. It is my life’s true calling and I’m happy to do it.

***

In the meantime, we will be fine.

We may run out of toilet paper.

But by God, there will be sausage. And eggs.

***

Kidding aside, yes I’m concerned.

It’s hard not to be in the midst of so much social disruption.

But I know that if I get it or my kids get it, we will likely be okay. It sounds like having it is going to be awful, but hey, our mortality is low.

My prayers go to my mother in her 60s, who is also immunosuppressed right now.

To my stepfather.

To my niece, who lives with Type 1 diabetes.

To 75% of my church congregation, older than 60 years, with whom I typically worship every Sunday.

To all of the grandparents who, now that Ohio K-12 schools are closed and parents need to work, may be watching their grandchildren, some of whom are currently carrying this virus and don’t know it.

To all of the small businesses (and the families that rely on them) that are going to be hurting because everyone is staying home.

Despite the negligence of our current President in treating this public health crisis with the attention and seriousness that it deserves, I’m encouraged, nay comforted, by the leadership of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. (A REPUBLICAN! Look! It’s possible to do the right thing even when it contradicts what the President says!! LOOK!)

My hope is that leadership at the federal level can also get some legislative pieces in place to protect and aid the most vulnerable. This isn’t time for your lesson in Bootstrapping of whatever other American Resiliency morals you’re trying to teach via withholding vital healthcare services.

And it’s sure as hell not helping to keep on driving the Anti-Immigration narrative by calling COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and adding more countries to the travel bans.

The neat thing about viruses is that they have no nationalities (Did you know?), they don’t need to apply for visas, and they can’t be turned away at the border. And bonus points for them: They’re likely bringing ALL of their family.

And there was no wall that could have been built that would have stopped this from happening.

On Getting the Job (A.K.A. Falling in Love with a New Job)

I feel like I’ve just left an abusive, toxic relationship and fallen straight into a healthy, functional one.

Does this happen?

Is this how people work?

What the hell?

***

This kills me because I actually truly LOVED teaching.

Okay, not all the lesson planning, assessment making, grading, and tracking. The stacks of books on other books, the Post-It lists that never seem to be completed crossed off. And then all the micromanaging from above to point out all the times that I didn’t keep a few of the 10,000 things straight.

So like I said, what I truly loved was the TEACHING. (Advising was a close second.)

I loved the relationship building: the conversations, the jokes, the stories, the updates. So really, it was the people. Both the students and my colleagues. And the fact that I was providing a service that was helping others. Bonus points for the fact that I was helping a vulnerable population. It truly checked (most) of the boxes that I needed in a job to be fulfilling.

I just dealt with the mountains of work that came with it.

***

Let’s go back to the interview for the job that I landed, just months after being turned down for a corporate job at an educational technology company.

It started out great.

Looking through the windshield of a car and seeing a line of cars, all stopped behind a stalled train at railroad tracks.

Yes, that was me: Stuck in a line of cars at a railroad crossing. When a friend wished me luck on the interview by text, I sent him this picture to let him know how the day was going so far.

No big deal, right? I still had 40 minutes until the interview and I was only 12 minutes away.

But this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that the train moved forward a bit… and then back a bit… then forward a bit… and back a bit… see-sawing along the track with no apparent end in sight.

So I called the contact person, and she assured me it was no problem at all.

I ultimately arrived at about 9:10.

The interview was with three people on the team. They took me to the Green Room.

“Is this actually a Green Room?” I asked.

Yes, it was. This was where they might help someone get ready for filming.

They had a list of questions, and they were all good ones. A lot of them were questions I had anticipated and planned for. A few of them were unanticipated and I thought I rallied well in answering them. They told me more about the job: It would be in the production department of eLearning, so I would be assisting with filming shoots and doing things like writing scripts for videos and helping with sound editing. I would be trained to do a lot of different aspects of create high-quality videos that would be used to supplement face-to-face instruction.

My first thought was:

Shit. This is way over my head. When they figure out that I don’t have much experience in any of this kind of stuff, they’ll ghost me.

My second thought was:

You totally have experience for this job! You’ve done video and sound editing! You’ve written scripts for videos! You are well-versed in all things higher education! HUSTLE, GIRL!

So I hustled. I talked about the projects that I had done, the software that I used, books that I had read, and my understanding of living out learner-centered teaching. The things that I said were very similar to what I had said in a previous interview.

Which was a problem at times because when the conversation would veer toward my background and why I was looking to change careers, I kept thinking, Don’t say that! That might have been the reason you didn’t get the last job! You were too honest! Button it up! They don’t have know the level of dysfunction that you’re coming from! Why can’t you just say that you’re looking for a better opportunity?!?! SHUT UP!

But honest, I was. Albeit tactful.

It felt like a good interview. I thought I did great.

But then I thought I did great at the last interview…

***

On my first day of work, I walked into the office and my name was already on the door.

Swoon.

In half-a-second, this job had already made me feel more included than my last one, which “welcomed” me as a full-time instructor by sticking me at the other end of the building because they just couldn’t figure out how to add another cubicle in either of the two offices where the other teachers had desks. And, yes, there was plenty of room. (True story.)

This was my new office and office-mate. And there was my desk. With TWO computer monitors?!?!

And would you mind reading this email that I’m about to send to the division to make sure that I represent you well?, my new boss asked.

Um…. I wondered, Is this somehow a trap?

Then my new boss walked me across campus to orientation rather than setting me loose with a campus map.

And on my second day of work, he gave me a full campus tour of all the buildings. We spent an hour and a half just walking around, him introducing me to administrative assistants and random people in the hallway that he knew.

And apparently I’m getting paid for this?

Wait, what?

I don’t have to be actively teaching or grading or creating something every moment of every day?

Sometimes, I would find myself in a conversation with my new co-workers and I would realize 40 minutes had passed. Sometimes the boss would keep the conversation going.

Of course, we would go back to work. But no one seemed to feel guilty about taking time to talk to each other. There was no feeling that we had just squandered 40 minutes and now WE WERE EVEN MORE BEHIND!!!

Is this what some people do at work? It’s okay to sometimes spend 40 minutes talking?

Could it be that there are jobs where the pace doesn’t consistently move at 100 miles per hour, exhausting you to the point that when you finally do have a chunk of time off, all you want to do is wall yourself off from people for a solid week, just to recover from the emotional and mental drain of simply fulfilling the requirements of your job? (Which, by the way, are totally industry-standard, so it’s not like you have any reason to complain. I mean, everyone in your field is overworked and underpaid.)

Have I just been a white-collar factory worker for the last thirteen years?

Every moment of the day carefully portioned and allocated to the endless tasks that encompass teaching.

I repeat: Is this what some people do at work?

To be clear, it’s not just days and days of talking. Some days have been filled with meetings, filming, and writing. I like those days. Others have been more low-key. And on those days, I find plenty of ways to continue to grow and learn. (Hey, did you know that there are jobs that will allow you to do professional development and trainings during your work day? Wonder of wonders!)

I think that’s what is different: the fluctuations in pace. The pace of this new job is like drinking from a water fountain with variable pressure: You’re always able to drink, but at different speeds.

And this is shocking to me, having spent the last 13 years drinking from a firehose, turned on to full power for eight-weeks straight, five times per year. Each time someone turned the hose off, I was so water-drunk, exhausted, and disoriented that I couldn’t do anything for days when a break mercifully presented itself.

***

This week before Christmas has typically been a time when I haven’t had to work.

I would use this week to delve into creative projects that had been on the back burner for months while I paddled along through life.

I would probably watch The Family Stone (my sappy, no-one-wants-to-watch-with-me Christmas movie). I’d get Christmas shopping done, address the cards, and bake cinnamon rolls.

Then, I’d brace for the impact of doing all the Christmas stuff with kid or kids in tow.

But this year, I do not miss taking this week off at all. Not one bit.

My husband has told me for years that he thought I’d be happier at a job with a slower pace, but with less time off. Maybe you wouldn’t burn yourself out so quickly, he said.

Wise words. Though I didn’t recognize them at the time.

This one’s for you, BG.

2018 Year in Review: a.k.a Why Doing Nothing is Sometimes Everything

While I normally LOVE to be productive and useful, the past few days, I have done little else besides completely veg out.

This is what I do to myself: I do ALL THE THINGS. For months on end. (I won’t even list them out. I’m sure you have your own list of ALL OF THE THINGS).

And while I’m doing all of those things, I think in the back of my mind, When I finally have some time to myself, I’ll do X or Y. (And X or Y is usually a second-priority item from ALL OF THE THINGS that I just don’t have time for).

And then I hit a wall.

And then I do NONE OF THE THINGS.

(Are you like that? I can’t be alone in that.)

I don’t do skirts or pantyhose. Or makeup. I “sleep in” until 5:30 or 6:00. (Sad? Meh. It’s tolerable.) It’s the fluffy pink bathrobe around the house (most of the day, at least). In this week before Christmas when I’m not teaching, without a shred of guilt, I send my beautiful children to daycare.

And I am finally alone.

And what do I do?

Let’s start with what I DON’T do.

I don’t think about upcoming presentations or writing that I could be doing. I (mostly) don’t write. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s simply because after so many months of giving pieces of myself to everyone else, I’ve got to have time to turn inward and fill my own cup.

Instead, I watch movies and shows. I read books. I listen to podcasts or read articles that I’ve been meaning to read for months. I exercise when I want to. I send the cards, I dole out the Christmas bonuses to every lovely daycare teacher that deals with our kids, and I stuff the stockings.

In fact, I kind of love that part of Christmas. Because it gives me time to think about the people in my life for whom I’m grateful. It takes a village, right? Damn right, it does. And I want my village to know that I’m grateful for every blessed day that they take care of my kids so I can continue to pursue my own goals.

I also get the few gifts that we’ll give our kids. (Don’t tell them, but it’s a few small games, some Play-Doh, hand puppets, and some winter clothes.) We don’t really do many gifts at Christmas. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts. Seriously. What’s the point? Instead of gifts, what we’ve said we’re going to do for each other is give the other person a solid day of not having to take care of the kids from sunup to sundown.

(Merry Christmas, BG. Love you.)

Love my kids.

Love ’em.

But I also enjoy such privileges like, I don’t know, setting my own agenda. Or making a decision based on what I feel like.

Guess what I discovered over the past few days while my kids have been at daycare?

7:00 a.m. is the perfect time on a winter day to go for a run. The sun is just starting to come up and the frost is still crisp on the fallen leaves. It’s light enough to easily spot patches of ice, but the sun isn’t high enough yet to blind you. And in that perfect light, your breath comes out in fluffy white puffs, momentarily adorning the air.

And I love lying still on the middle of the living room floor, eyes closed, no damn phone in my hand or notifications calling for my attention, for a solid 30 minutes.

And laughing about South Park’s Buddha Box.

And crying with PBS’ newest version of Little Women.

And thinking about Black Mirror’s Hang the DJ.

And reflecting on how much the kids have grown this past year.

 

So this Christmas, I’m happy to Bow Out, Sign Off, and Check Out.

And be happy to do None of the Things.

Hoping you all find your own Time and Space and Peace.

Sharon

Ramblings that End in Exasperation

I’m tired.

Most days, I’m up at 4:15 and in bed by 7:30.

On Mondays, I “stay up” until 9:00 so I can have dinner with my friends for our weekly Monday Night Dinner.

I don’t have much of a social life anymore, beyond MND and the soul-cleansing Saturday breakfasts that happen at my house when our friends come over and help me remember a time in my life before children.

Lately, my “downtime” takes place during the commute and between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. when the baby is finally asleep and I can get ready for bed **by myself.** Bonus if I’m able to read five or six pages of a book before I’m nodding off.

I’m not complaining that we have children. It’s a decision that we made with eyes wide open–and we took plenty of time to ourselves before we made that decision.

But it’s still hard.

We fight hard every day to discipline with purpose and meaning instead of flying off the handle. We fight hard to “balance” work and home life. I hate that word: balance. It always makes me think of that slowly moving two-sided scale that takes forever to equalize.

Ha.

There’s no time to wait around for that kind of balance when you have two kids under the age of five. Somehow, their needs manage to vacuum all the bits of your time that you didn’t realize were squirreled away in your day.

You’re carving out 2.5 hours of your day to drive from work to daycare to pediatrician to daycare to work for a well-child visit, only to find out, actually he tested positive for RSV, so here’s a prescription for steroids and nebulizer treatments. Administer twice daily and four times daily, respectively. And he can’t go to daycare tomorrow, so figure that out. And come back next week for the 12-month shots. And also take him to a lab to have a blood screening done for lead exposure and iron deficiencies.

And then you’re behind at work because you took off half a day and when you return, you realize 10 minutes before class starts that, oh no, I have absolutely nothing planned for the second hour of class. But you’re a pro. You can wing it. As long as your boss doesn’t decide to drop in unannounced to review your teaching performance (true story several times over, but not recently). And no big deal, you can finalize those three final exams before their deadline in two days and create three more original tests because you really can’t reuse the same tests from the last two terms, while you’re grading the most recent writing assignment that you’ve collected and planning lessons for tomorrow and the day after that…

And then it’s Ash Wednesday, a day when you remember that dust we are and dust we shall return.

And 17 more kids die in a mass shooting at school.

And instead of feeling sorrow, which is a far, far more appropriate reaction, I feel exasperation.

Because HERE WE GO AGAIN.

Listening to the snippets of the unfolding story on NPR is all I can take. I stay the hell away from Facebook this time around. I simply cannot stand to read a feed filled with posts about pro-gun and anti-gun again.

As much as I am pro-common-sense-gun-control, I cannot stomach another round of posts and comments and threads with people so blatantly and carelessly disrespecting each other on a topic that we so desperately need to figure out.

Unh-uh. Not this time.

Because at the end of the day, what are we all working so hard for if we can’t even keep them safe when we send them to school?

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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The Tough Nights (a.k.a. Don’t Ask If the Baby is Sleeping Through the Night)

Listen to this post here: 

Or read for yourself here: 

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all got our stories.

Here’s one from me.

It was the first day post-maternity leave that I had to be in the office at an 8:30 a.m. meeting.

Before this, my work tasks had been very flexible. I did a lot of stuff at home and only had to come into the office a few times. (And I totally yoga-pantsed it.)

But on Friday, May 12th, I had to be in the office. At 8:30 a.m.

So of course the night before this was also the first night that the baby was sick.

It was the first night that Doug was completely spent and the baby needed me to hold him all night long to sleep.

Beginning at 1:00 a.m.

crying baby

Photo credit: Brandon Baunach, http://www.flickr.com

What if I told you that my first thought when I heard him crying in the night wasn’t, You poor thing, are you okay?

What if I told you it wasn’t my second thought? Or even my tenth thought?

It was probably more like my thirtieth thought.

After, Oh my God, what is your problem? 

After, Look, we’re not doing this all night. We’re just not. I’m serious.

After, What the f**!?! Go to sleep!

After, I swear to God, if you wake up one more time after I put you down, I’m going to make you scream it out.

After, Why tonight? Really? You could have done this any other night. But now? Really.

After, I’m serious. I’m so f***ing serious.

And on and on.

After eight times of rocking him to sleep and trying to transfer him to the crib over the course of an hour, I relented. I let go of the plan that I was going to get up at 5:00 a.m. to exercise. I let go of the plan that I would even get one hour of sleep before work started.

I just let it all go and embraced the exhaustion.

If I was going to be tired, I didn’t also have to be stressed and resentful the whole day about being tired.

So when I handed the baby over to my husband at 5:45 that morning, I didn’t yell or swear. I just told him what the night had been like and asked him to stay home with the baby while I took the three-year-old to daycare.

Grocery shopping? Okay. I’ll do it. And I’ll pick her up from daycare. I said.

Give.

And would you stay home with the baby while I go to work?  I asked.

Take.

I showered. I made my coffee and drank it while I put on enough make-up to cover up the night. Then I dressed my daughter while she was still waking up and still like a wet noodle. Then, I coaxed her into eating her vitamins and drinking her milk. I put her lunch and my lunch together and made formula for the baby.

I loaded F’s lunch bag, her backpack, my work bag, my lunch bag (but not H’s bottle bag or H’s diaper bag since he was staying home). (If you’re keeping track, it’s usually six bags in and out of the car. Seven on Mondays and Fridays.)

I drove fifteen minutes south to her daycare.

Then I drove twenty-five minutes north to work.

I got off the Interstate with another car.

We both followed the same route until it was clear we were both going to the same university. We parked next to each other. I looked over and saw that the driver was a guy, probably my age. He sprang out of his car holding only a set of keys.

Just. A. Set. Of. Keys.

The nerve.

I saw very plainly in that split second what it takes for me to get to work now versus what it took for me to get to work before I had children.

Now, the morning is a whole orchestrated production. A delicate ballet of exercise, showers, wake-up calls, second wake-up calls, third wake-up calls, Oh-my-God-get-out-of-bed-already! wake-up calls, vitamins, lunch bags, baby bottles, Get-your-shoes-on, Go-potty, Get-your-shoes-on, diapers, Are-your-shoes-on, teeth/hair-brushing, For-the-love-of-God-get-your-shoes-on!, breakfasts, carseats, strollers, kisses, conversations with teachers, punctuated with a deep, satisfying sigh that yes, finally *I* can go to work now.

***

I wasn’t at peak performance on Friday, May 12th, but I pulled through. I recovered.

Thankfully, most nights have not been like that lately. Most nights, he sleeps through the night. Sometimes, he has a night feeding. And then he goes back to sleep.

And by the way, don’t ask if someone’s baby is sleeping through the night.

Unless you know them pretty well.

It’s just not good manners. I mean, really, it’s not a great topic for small talk. The only way that question is small talk is if the answer is clearly “yes.” And the likelihood of that is… meh…

A more likely situation is that you send the parent into a fury of jealousy as they imagine you sleeping on a billowy, undisturbed cloud of silence for eight, God, maybe even twelve! extravagant hours. Only to wake up to the luxury of you strolling to your bathroom and taking a hot, steamy, uninterrupted shower, and then magically emerging from the bathroom, just moments later, completely dressed to the nines and made completely over, from your hair down to your nails. And, lo, breakfast is already made. And it’s cinnamon rolls and waffles and bacon and sausage and the most delicious coffee you’ve ever had in your entire life–all 0 calories! And the only thing that you have to do is climb into your brand-new Mercedes and drive to work in completely, inexplicably empty roads and highways until you are work. Where everything is already done. And the only thing you need to do is drink more coffee and catch up on House of Cards, which you still haven’t gotten to see one blessed moment of and it’s driving you crazy (even though the reviews for Season 5 aren’t very good). But still. You binge. All. Day. Long.

Jealousy makes you crazy.

Do you really want to drive the person crazy?

***

Getting through the tough nights without completely losing your mind is an exercise in long-term thinking.

It’s easy to think, I really can’t do this again. I’m going insane. No. I’m not doing it. I refuse. He’ll just have to scream it out tonight. 

It takes some effort to reshape your thoughts into,

It’s not always going to be like this.

There will be an end to this.

You’ll live. Oh, you’ll be tired. Way tired. But you’ll live.

You’ve been through worse. Remember birth?

You’ve got this. 

I Heart Daycare (and some ramblings about feminism)

Some women tear up as they leave their children at daycare for the first time.

I practically skip inside.

Grin from ear to ear.

I. LOVE. DAYCARE.

Last Monday was Henry’s first day of daycare. Another daycare mom saw me taking him inside and asked if it was his first day. After I nodded, she jumped out of her van and gave me the biggest hug and said, “Isn’t it great!”

“YESSS!!!” I yelled.

“With the first one, you’re bawling about it and then the second, you’re just like ‘have fun!'”

She gets it.

It’s true. The first time we started daycare was much more involved and made me a little nervous. We spent about 20 minutes going through the list of critical bits of information that the infant teacher needed to know to feed, change, and soothe our baby to sleep.

She likes to be rocked to sleep while being held sideways. Like this. And try to put her down 90 minutes after she wakes up. We haven’t started solids yet. How do you heat the bottle for her? She likes it just lukewarm. Not too warm. If she starts crying and she’s not tired, she might be wet. Sometimes. Just check. You’re going to check every hour or so, right? Okay. She’s really pretty easy to take care of. 

But after two days, I’m pretty sure we thought daycare was a Gift from God. (Thank you, Ms. Cathy!)

It was like, Wait… We just drop the baby off at 7:00 a.m. and we don’t have to be back until 6:00 p.m. at the latest????

Game on.

Here’s some money.

Here’s lots of money.

I love you. Here’s some cookies.

Do you like Panera? I got you a gift card. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Thank you so much. You’re wonderful.

daycare

Daycare pretty much taught our daughter about hand-washing, drinking from a cup, and sitting in a chair for meals. They helped us potty train her. They taught her how to sit in a circle for storytime, how to cut with scissors, how to hold a crayon, and how to fingerpaint. They provided an atmosphere full of dress-up clothes, kid’s kitchens, and books, books, books. (We didn’t have to buy any of it! And I’m not responsible for cleaning up the toys!) They taught her how to walk in a line and take turns. They showed her that a room can be stunningly decorated with the artwork of little hands.

And oh so important… They introduced her to the concept of sharing.

They used the classroom to teach rules. They modeled politeness and respect for others. They reinforced the lesson that actions have consequences.

This does not make me sad.

It doesn’t make me feel like I’m not doing my job as a mother.

I don’t regret sending my kids to daycare.

I wholeheartedly embrace it. I even embrace it to the tune of half of my salary.

***

On the surface, it’s easy to see why some moms love daycare as much as I do. It gives women a break from the role of being a mother.

This is huge.

Mothers in particular are constantly carrying around a mental list of things to do that just grows longer and heavier with each child.

Daycare allows them to put some of that down.

And pick something else up.

But my love of daycare goes beyond that.

Daycare, I believe, is an expression of feminism.

For those of you who are completely turned off by the term “feminism”, stay with me for a minute. Because that word gets a bad wrap in some circles. Feminism doesn’t mean “man-hating” or “female victimization.” (I do not blame men individually for the culture and structure of our society. I blame patriarchy.)

Feminism is about sharing power. It’s about making sure that everyone has a voice. It’s about making sure that when important decisions are made about policy (both in government and business), the people who are making those decisions don’t all come from the same background (White. Male. Native-born. Able-bodied. English-speaking.).

Millienials are the first generation to kind of get feminism. Not all of them do, but from my anecdotal observations, it seems like some of the assumptions that we had about gender and power are finally not assumptions anymore.

One of our former teenage babysitters told us that when she was catcalled in the school hallway, she turned around, went up to the guy, and told him in very clear terms,

“You don’t treat me that way!”

Baller.

***

When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, we were taught in school to imagine our futures. What would we like to be when we grew up? Doctors, astronauts, teachers? Athletes? Superheroes? Dinosaurs? Robots? We were encouraged to let our imaginations run wild.

Like many women in their 30s, I truly do not ever remember an adult — teacher, parent, or family friend — telling me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do. No one told me that I was expected to get married and have kids right away. (Although my grandmother did ask me when I turned 18 if I was interested in any good boys…)

I was like many of my female friends. In high school, we all worked hard and earned good grades.

We went to college.

We got good grades there, too.

Maybe we went to graduate school.

And we got good grades there, too.

We followed the rules. We were doing fine.

We got jobs. We didn’t negotiate salary (because that’s not what good girls do, even though they should, we just couldn’t imagine drawing a line in the sand. That’s not who we are.)

And then we had children.

And everyone looked at us and said, “Are you going to stay home or return to work?”

No one asked our partners if they were going to stay home.

And there you have it.

The message is clear. It’s your baby.

It doesn’t provide any economic benefit to this company. It’s even costing us productivity. Make up your mind. Do you want to work here or not? Six weeks is a lot of time for you to be gone. You don’t want to make that kid dependent on you anyway, do you?

What happened?

What about all the things that I could be now that I’m an adult?

Was it all just empty promises, fueled by good intentions and a dream of equality?

Because, I’m here to tell you, access to affordable (!!!) quality daycare is critical for keeping women’s voices at the table. (Side note: The United States was a hair’s breadth away from free universal preschool for all in the 1970s. Here’s what happened to that awesome, bipartisan bill.)

The tide is turning, though.

Almost all of the dads that I know assume as much responsibility for their kids’ lives as their mothers do. When they take care of their kids, they’re not “babysitting.”

I mean… duh.

They’re being dads.

When they take their kids to the grocery store, it’s not some miraculous event that comes around only once every few years.

My husband knows how to swaddle a baby better than I do. He was the one who made the baby food and showed me how to make smooth formula without all the clumps. He can change a diaper in the dark and he’s even yelled at me for making too much noise while he’s trying to put the baby to sleep.

Ah…

Hope springs eternal.

A Response to “Meternity” author, Meghann Foye

Few things incite my anger as quickly as the characterization of maternity leave as “vacation.”

In a recent interview with the New York Post about her new novel, Meternity, author Meghann Foye suggests that maternity leave allows mothers to take a step back from their lives and find their focus. She reports that she felt “envious” that mothers would leave the office to pick their kids up while she stayed behind to “pick up the slack.” Her sentiments led her to believe…

… in the value of a “meternity” leave — which is, to me, a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.

After reading this interview, I was infused with rage and resentment. I ranted about this interview to some colleagues (because I read it at work–where I actually have a few moments to read something on the Internet).

I am far from the only one. Here’s what Jenn Mann, author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat, posted about MeternityAnd if that’s not enough, take a look at the Amazon reviews for the novel that started this whole mess.

meternity

Understandably, hoards of American mothers have rushed to the social media crime scene of Meternity to put in their own two cents about Foye’s misguided attempt at humor. Many of their comments focus on their frustration about the fact that Foye has completely misrepresented maternity leave. This is true. Foye presents “meternity leave” as a parallel path for women without children to take in order to focus on self-discovery.

But she misses the mark completely.

Her concept of “meternity” isn’t parallel to maternity leave–it’s the exact opposite.

Which is why mothers are so freakin’ pissed.

***

Contrary to what Foye assumes, when I was on maternity leave, I had never before thought so little about what wanted in life. What I wanted–nay, needed!–in life was at the very, very bottom of the priority list.

Time for reflection? When?

Here’s 24 hours with a newborn. Midnight-1:00: nurse, change, soothe. 2:00-3:00: nurse, change, soothe. 4:00-5:00: nurse, change, soothe. Etc. And that’s when everything is going well. Throw in some bouts of baby gas, constipation, colic, the fact that you haven’t showered in three days or that you’ve got four visitors in your home… I think I may be preaching to the choir on this point.

The first time I was able to finally step back and reflect was when I returned to work and my daughter was in daycare. While Foye sees “meternity leave” as a way to reflect on her life, the reality is the privileged American mothers who actually have maternity leave need to end it in order to have the time and space to reflect.

And let’s not forget all the American mothers who don’t get maternity leave, be it paid or unpaid. Then, there’s the mothers who must return to work ASAP because they’ve run out of vacation days and sick leave (two unfortunate misnomers that feed the ignorance about maternity leave). And what about the mothers who stay home and are immersed in care-taking day in and day out? Are their lives full of reflection?

It’s no wonder that so many mothers are absolutely incensed that (once again) care-taking has been written off as a kind of leisure activity.

***

Meghann, let’s level with each other. It is especially hurtful to hear maternity leave compared to a vacation when it comes from another woman. I’m assuming you’ve experienced times when you’ve been the target of presumptive, uninformed judgments from men who don’t have a clue.

But let me be fair, Meghann. You have indeed made a spot-on observation about maternity leave:

From the outside, it seemed like those few weeks of (new mothers) shifting their focus to something other than their jobs gave them a whole new lens through which to see their lives.

You are right, Meghann–but it’s not because new mothers simply have time off from work, which is how you envision “meternity leave.”

The reason that mothers emerge with a new focus is because they have been plunged into a nonstop, grueling training program that schooled them in quickly distinguishing what was important and what was simply window dressing. Through pain, blood, and tears, they learned how to put aside hunger, frustration, exhaustion, and self-doubt in order to find the strength to keep mothering.

They learned how to get rid off all the noise and distractions in order to find a place to drop the anchor so they could hold on while the storm waged on.

That’s how mothers redirected their focus. That’s how they “found” themselves. Not by traveling and thinking and reading and ruminating. They did it through boots-on-the-ground training, every hour of every day for weeks. And then for months. They did it through self-denial, arguments with their spouses, and constant reassessments of how and when they could have social lives and personal time.

Becoming a mother is an ongoing lesson in humility, beginning from that obvious (yet still surprising!) realization that your baby cannot thank you for getting up four times at night. Your baby doesn’t thank you for suffering with a torn vagina just so he could emerge into this world. In fact, your baby can’t even really have a conversation with you for another two years.

So those early weeks of new motherhood are training for a lifetime of not being thanked or even acknowledged. And while we continue to feel annoyance and frustration about this, new motherhood does a remarkable job of tempering our emotional reactions.

But everyone has their limits.

So maybe you can understand why we get pissed when one of our own gender joins in the obliviousness of calling maternity leave a vacation. We get frustrated because what we do during our leave is often done in the dark, with no thanks or acknowledgement.

In fact, that is one of the reasons that I wrote my book, Becoming Mother. When I was pregnant, I noticed that there was a true dearth of books that actually took a pregnant woman into what it’s like to become a mother. There were plenty of books about the physical side, but nothing really that dealt with the emotional and mental upheaval, which is truly what makes maternity leave so necessary for coping with new motherhood.

When I was experiencing those first weeks of motherhood, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone talk about this? This is insane! This is so unbelievably hard that I can’t believe no one talks about this.” And while there were plenty of books on first-time motherhood that took the shape of humorous confessions, no one was really being real with me.

So I wrote a book that would be real with new mothers.

Book-Cover-Becoming-Mother-Kindle

I wrote it to cast light on the hidden side of maternity leave.

I did this so that others could sympathize and perhaps even advocate for new mothers. After all, the United States is one of only two countries in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave–and that won’t change as long as this country holds onto the myth–even jokingly–that maternity leave is a vacation.

***

While everyone seems to be having their pound of flesh over the absurdity of Meternity, I’m looking for my compassion for Meghann.

Okay, she doesn’t have children yet. Okay, maybe the closest she has come to someone who has taken maternity leave is her view of the empty desk that she sees at work. But the gravest error that Meghann has made is choosing a subject that she doesn’t know much about. And then going so far as to write a novel about it. And then approaching that subject from an angle that provokes the ire of millions of mothers.

Put simply, her gravest error is a lack of humility.

But I’m venturing to guess that she might be learning that lesson now.

I could have written off this whole concept of “meternity” as very poor taste and a lack of social awareness. I could have just rolled my eyes, stewed at my desk while eating my lunch in fifteen minutes (so I could finish grading final exams–because I don’t have time to grade at home), but this is too important of a moment to let it go.

This is the moment when we need to say something. This is the moment when we say, “Knock it off with the vacation comparisons, already.”

It’s not funny.

It’s not even cute.

At best, it’s feeding a culture of misunderstanding.

At worst, it mocks what mothers of newborns actually experience.

I Took a Nap Today

nap

I don’t think I can overstate the importance of this title.

Guys, listen up: I took a nap today.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have been going, going, going since Monday, March 28th. It’s my own damn fault for saying yes to too many good opportunities to develop my career and my writing. Everything just kind of converged into one hot, continuous mess for the past three weeks. As I mentioned in a previous post, I knew I would feel better once I had gotten past these last few weeks, but I’ve forgotten how wonderful sleep can feel when you’ve been going and going and going for weeks on end.

As I’ve been planning and traveling and conferencing and networking and teaching and grading and mothering, I’ve realized that a huge source of stress comes from my introverted nature.

As an introvert, I’m happiest when I have time to process an experience. I thrive on having a bit of downtime to make sense of conversations with people I’ve just met or interesting presentations that sparked an idea. I like the experience, but I also like the time to process. And now that I’m a mother, all that time that I used to have within my reach to power down and process… It’s pretty much gone.

My thinking is now done in the car. On the way to work. On the way to daycare.

It’s done in the shower.

It’s done during that blessed hour or so of nap time on the weekends. (How will I survive when she drops her nap? What will I do when we have two kids? Thoughts for another time I guess.)

Parenting when you’re an introvert feels like you’re constantly trying to come up for air before you’re pushed down under the current again. And as an artist, I’m especially prone to feeling this way, as Kim Brooks explains in her fantastic essay, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom.”

Today, I’m breathing deep. Grateful for the air. And ready to keep on going.

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