Saturday, March 26, 2011

Baby to Big Boy Blues, Part 2

For Part 1, go here.

Friday morning our son woke up early. Early enough that his father was still home to get him out of his crib. Or try to anyway. As soon as he entered the bedroom he was greeted with this all-too-familiar cry: NOOOO! ONLY MOMMY! ONLY MOMMY!

So my husband left the room dejected and I got him from his crib, and already nobody's particularly happy.

We've been dealing with this ONLY MOMMY! ONLY MOMMY! thing on and off for quite some time now and we've taken different tacks, none of which have been especially effective. I tell my husband not to wear his heart on his sleeve, not to show our boy so blatantly what power he holds over his father's emotions by issuing his ONLY MOMMY (usually accompanied by I DON'T YIKE HIM!) proclamations. My husband is about as capable of disguising his emotions as the toddler himself though, so that hasn't worked. We've flatly insisted that his dad do some things for or with him and resolutely followed through, which is somewhat effective, but when my husband is so hurt and angry that following through means a household full of fighting and two crabby males for the remainder of our time together it's very difficult to sit it out and then sit with the fallout. I do a lot of setting the stage, soothing, reinforcing the positive, re-framing the issues. For both of them, frankly. Usually I don't mind it. I've been smoothing the rough edges of my husband's emotions for over a decade. He does equivalent things for me in other areas, and I'm just as big of a baby in my own ways, so we deserve each other. My son is two; I expect it. Sometimes, though, it's exhausting.

And sometimes the easiest thing is to do it myself from the outset. If I offer to do it early enough we avoid the rejection and everybody's happy. It's not the best long-term technique, but I don't think it's the worst thing either. The only approaches I've taken that I feel bad about are using bribery and guilt. Once I said to my son: I'll take you for a walk outside if you're nice to Daddy, and another time I pulled him aside after an incident and laid it on pretty thick about how bad he made his father feel, and didn't he want to say sorry? The guilt worked; the bribery didn't. But I didn't feel good about either one, and haven't used them again.

So it wasn't a good start to the last day of a difficult week. My husband left for work and I continued to prepare and pack for the day while my daughter slept upstairs. Her sleeping was the last bit of luck I had on my side, and I needed it to get everything done. If she woke up crying, it was all over. So when I had to run up there to grab a sweater I told my son he could follow me only if he was extra-extra-quiet so as not to wake his sister. I dashed up the stairs, looked quickly for my sweater, and couldn't find it. Then I thought maybe I knew where it was, in a different closet downstairs (we're midway through a closet rearrange which, especially when combined with the paucity of clothing choices that both fasten around my fatter-than-ever waist and look professional enough for work, make dressing each morning a fraught endeavor), so I sailed back down the staircase moving in fast-forward speed to try and find it.

It was at this point that my son decided he absolutely needed my help to walk back down the stairs, a task that he's more than capable of completing independently. I was already all the way at the bottom of the stairs before he began to whine. I stopped, looked up at him, and calmly said: You can walk down the stairs by yourself, bubby. I need to go get my sweater right now. Hold on to the railing, and you will be fine.

He was standing mere feet from his sister's bassinet. He opened his mouth and began to scream at the top of his lungs. This is new. Just this week he began the screaming. He does it when he's not getting his way. The screaming is the primary reason we're using time out. He was standing at the top of the staircase that we use as the time out space. In order to escort him there, I would have to walk back up the stairs and, you guessed it, help him down. Exactly what he wanted in the first place. I walked away, and looked in the downstairs closet for my sweater, which wasn't there either. I returned to the bottom of the staircase, where he was still screaming as loud as he could. And I lost it.

How dare you! I hissed at him, How dare you!? We talked about being quiet! We talked about how your sister is sleeping, and now you are screaming! About walking down the stairs by yourself, which you are perfectly capable of doing! I will not help you! I am angry with you right now! I am very angry with you!

I walked away again, full of righteous fury, but later, when I got to work, I cried. I cried because I lost my temper, which I almost never do. And I cried because it isn't entirely his fault that he expects my help with tasks he's capable of completing on his own. It's my fault too. And it's not fair to hold his hand one day and lose my mind the next at the same request. So I cried in my office until my colleague came in, shared some stories about her own kids, an older boy and younger girl with a similar dynamic, and reminded me that the occasional yelling never killed anyone.

And here's the thing. After I walked away? He stopped crying, walked down the stairs on his own, found me and said: I'm all better now, Mommy. Yes I CAN walk down all by mine-self!

So while screaming (on either of our parts) might not be the best way to get there, it's clear that he is capable, and that we'll have to seek other paths to get him to do things without ONLY MOMMY all the time. I never found my sweater and felt way too fat all day at work with the only replacement I could find at the last minute. But my daughter? She slept through the whole thing!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Baby to Big Boy Blues, Part 1

Since the birth of my son -my first baby- I haven't spent a lot of time worrying about my parenting. I don't go in for mother-guilt, and I generally think I'm a good parent. I have fun with my kids and enjoy their presence. I can count on one hand the number of times I've raised my voice in the past two and a half years, and when I did, it was usually strategic; I still felt in control.

Until this morning.

There was a moment a few months ago where I recognized myself in an article I was reading, and it gave me pause, but didn't fundamentally change the way I parent. I was reading a magazine in the waiting room of my OBGYN. It was written by the mother of two boys and she talked about how she allowed her second son to feel more frustration before intervening than she ever did with her first. Her second son was demonstrating greater independence than his older brother, whom she claimed would probably still be happy to allow her to cut his meat into tiny pieces for him when he went away to college. I felt a ping! of recognition when I read that. My boy, too, might be happy to eat his dinner bite by bite from a fork in my hands for the foreseeable future, even though he's more than capable of feeding himself. I recognized it, but I didn't take any specific actions to change it, and honestly, I didn't really see it as a problem.

Until this morning.

He's had a tough transition this week. The baby girl and I have been fine. I jumped back into work with both feet and although I landed directly in the deep end, it's nothing I feel I can't handle. My daughter got dropped off Monday morning having never tried a bottle and by Wednesday she sucked down everything I had sent for the day by 10:30am and I had to leave work early so she wouldn't starve! But that was the biggest problem we've had with her. She's smiley, sleeping fine and gulping milk from both breast and bottle like the little champ that she is.

My boy, on the other hand, is struggling.

He was thrilled to go back to his sitter. He loves her, and he loves her granddaughter, a little girl five months older than he is who will play with him all morning long and is far more fun than I am! She also got an inflatable bounce house for Christmas and has it set up in the house. He's in heaven while he's there. It's the coming home part that's tough. So many changes recently in our family, in our home, in our lives, and this is just one more to get used to, one more adjustment he has to make. He's been acting out every afternoon and evening, moving from temper tantrum to temper tantrum without missing a beat while his father and I wear ourselves exhausted trying to determine the best way to deal.

We've been using time out, but making every effort not to use it punitively. Instead, we've presented it as a safe place to go when your feelings are out of control. It's okay to yell and shout there, or to punch pillows or cry. I've used it myself when I'm mad, modeling how it works, and if he asks (in his "big boy voice" not in a screaming screech) one of us will sit there with him and help to provide comfort. He doesn't seem to want to go there (except the once when he was on his way into bed and asked to go into time out instead to "stay up and work out his bad feelings about going to bed". Um, no. But good try.), but once he's there it seems to work as intended. He's been slightly less tantrum-ish each day, and although we're exhausted, we feel like we're generally headed in the right direction.

Until this morning.

And now I'm a lot too tired, a little too sad, and way too weary at the end of this very long week to tell you the rest, so...

Until tomorrow...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Different Place with Number Two

I was inspired by World Momma to think about the differences in my life, and in my thinking, between babies one and two. Here goes:

My husband and I have always answered the same way when asked how many children we planned to have: Two, maybe three. I think it was usually me adding the maybe three. Coming from a family of eight, anything less than four seems almost unthinkably small. Even at one point when we thought we'd settled on keeping it to two kids, I told him we'd have to be the house to which all friends were invited, so as not to seem too quiet and leave me lonely! Other times I absolutely love the idea of a quiet, empty house, and feel perfectly content to stop at two.

After my OB-GYN started my surgery he told me: Your scar looks great; we can cut along the same line, and then: You're in great shape here--I just wanted to let you know, in case you wanted to have another child. That would be fine.

At that moment I was flooded with joy (even though I hadn't worried -or even really considered- the possibility that I wouldn't be able to have another child, if I wanted one), and I thought I would definitely have another. This hormone high lasted for a number of days and I felt certain I wanted another baby.

The moment ended abruptly one afternoon shortly after returning home from the hospital, while I looked out my living room window. I've talked before about how I live on a steep hill. I looked up the hill, and envisioned myself climbing the hell out of that hill, my body strong, determined and, most importantly -following a long and uncomfortable final trimester of pregnancy, and knowingly heading into both the immediate postpartum period and a CNY winter- my own. My body, my own! There was a flood of joy there, too.

After my son was born I think I expected to know, certainly and deeply, the way I sometimes know that marrying my husband was the right choice, whether or not I wanted a third child. After my daughter's birth, I'm surprised to find that I still don't know. And that I'm okay with that.

Employment. Well. You've caught me at an odd time! But there are professional parallels between my maternity leaves.

When my son was born, I wasn't an administrator yet. I was just a teacher. And the administrators above me were rewriting the grant for our program shortly before I started my leave. I left not sure I would have a job to return to. As it happens, we were rewarded the grant and I returned to the same job I left, only to be offered a promotion a few months later.

When my daughter was born I left assuming we had the remaining years left in the grant cycle we had been awarded during my last leave. And I was both more dedicated to and more defined by my new job. Still, I thought a lot about the possibility of staying home full time, during both my pregnancy and maternity leave. And now suddenly -due to budget cuts- it might be a reality, much sooner than I ever anticipated. I wasn't expecting this at all (my job has always been dependent on federal funding, and thus always theoretically in jeopardy from year to year; I coped by never thinking about it).

I still can't say how I feel about all these changes. This weekend has been a bit emotionally intense (I return to work on Monday), but there are lots of moments when I feel like things will all turn out fine, despite my long laid life plans all going to shit.

In other employment news, I used to work half time as a fitness instructor (in addition to my half time teaching position), before the birth of my son. I anticipated cutting my hours, but before having kids I thought I could reasonably teach one hour a night during the week. After having my son I returned to three classes a week, then dropped to two. After dithering during my pregnancy I resigned altogether after my daughter was born. A big underlying factor in these decisions is the fact that my fitness jobby doesn't pay me enough to afford child care. I can't justify working when it costs me money to do so!

I think in both cases, the difference between number one and number two is that with the first baby, I expected to have a plan, and for that plan to work out reasonably well. This was an expectation that made sense given the context: I'd waited years to have a baby, in order to lay the groundwork for that plan. This time around the future seems much more uncertain. Sometimes that's terrifying; other times it's bursting with possibility.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's the Middle of the Night

It's the middle of the night and I was feverishly rearranging my kitchen when I heard my son start to cry.

It's the middle of the night and I was feverishly rearranging my kitchen to set the groundwork for tomorrow, when I'll cut the rotten spots off the apples and juice the remainders. The juicer is low where the toddler can -and does- help me to make it, forcing the fruit into the machine and mashing it down with my help. The juicer is right next to the spot where the bread machine will go if we buy a bread machine.

It's the middle of the night and I was feverishly rearranging my kitchen. Was it to make room for the imaginary bread machine in the imaginary future where we can't afford the delicious bread we like to buy from the Farmer's Market, and so we have to make our own?

In part, it was.

It's the middle of the night and he began to sob and instead of being upstairs sound asleep, I was in the kitchen right near his room and I darted in. He began to talk, but between the crying and the fact that he seemed to be saying more nonsense than sense, I didn't try to understand; I just soothed.

We sat in the rocking chair in the corner of the room in the middle of the night, rocking. I used to sit there with him every night and read stories and listen to lullabies; that was our bedtime routine. Somewhere late in my pregnancy the rocking chair got uncomfortable and we started to read stories on the living room couch instead. Then, because it's a cardinal law of science that a pregnant woman ensconced upon a couch remains a pregnant woman ensconced upon a couch unless the actual force of going into labor acts upon her, my husband would carry him into bed. So now that's our new routine and we don't sit on the rocker in the corner anymore.

He got big. He got huge! How and when and why did I not notice this? His head was resting on my shoulder and his toes grazed my calves! In the darkness of the middle of the night my two and half year old felt like he could 5 or 7 or even 12. He felt like a boy, a big boy, even though sometimes the pudge of his cheeks or the open wonder of his face suggests he's still a baby.

It's the middle of the night and now instead of feverishly rearranging my kitchen I'm rocking my baby who has suddenly morphed into a tween in my very arms and I don't know how or when or why this all happened so suddenly. And at the verysametime I'm feverishly rearranging his bedroom in my mind's eye, which can see into the imaginary future, while I sit in the rocking chair in the corner of the room and rub his back.

I'm rearranging my kitchen and his bedroom because I don't know if I have a job for much longer, and it looks like I might be working from home in my imaginary future with my imaginary bread machine. And so the arrangements that have worked for a working girl will have to be changed and also I had coffee in the late afternoon while I usually just drink tea now, and that mostly in the morning.

So my mind is racing to rearrange our imaginary future, to make it into a manageable vision, to smooth it into something that will work for our family, to flat out will it into some way in which we will survive. My mind is feverishly writing some story in the middle of the night, some tale in which the details look like blueprints and bake like bread machines and smell like freshly baked bread rather than a dream deferred, and in this story we will not only survive, we will thrive.

It's the middle of the night and I'm feverishly rearranging my whole entire life.

My baby's lullabies are playing, but there's a gigantic boy in my arms, and I can scarcely believe he's even letting me hold him still, large as he is. My imaginary future is moving right into my home -now!- in the middle of the night, and there's nothing I can really do to stop it.

And although I know it's the middle of the night, I don't know exactly where we are, and I don't know where we're going, or when we'll get there. All I know is that we seem to be moving awfully fast.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let the Freakout Commence in 3...2...1...

Over the course of the last week, I found out: first, that funding for my program was on the Congressional chopping block; next, that it had been cut in a Continuing Resolution and might not be restored, and finally, just this morning, that if it is not restored (and it's being said by those in the know that restoring the funding is a long shot), it will end in approximately five months.


Last night I misunderstood. I thought we had more like a year and five months. I was even saying fall 2011, but in my mind it was still 2010, and fall 2011 was a lot further away than it really is. Last night I spent a few hours convincing my husband not to freak out. I have a back up plan, I told him, and we have over a year to get it in place. I trusted in those chimes to keep sounding in the wind. Today I realized I have just months to get my backup plan in place. Today my husband is convincing me not to freak out. Today I'm thinking if I want those chimes to keep sounding I'd better be prepared to stand next to them, huffing and puffing like the big, bad wolf because the weather is pretty unpredictable lately.

I love my job. I love my life. It took me a long time to get here. And honestly, if I had my druthers, I wouldn't change a thing.

But I'd be lying if I said there wasn't something inside me that thrills to the notion of burning it all to the ground and starting anew.

 * * *

I met a girl once who told me a story of how she lived for months in the woods. She brought nothing with her and when she woke each morning she would pray. Pray that she would get only what she needed to survive that day. And every day, she did. I'll be honest: I don't know that girl from Adam, and I have no idea if she was telling me the truth. Matter of fact, that was the only time we ever talked. But I've never forgotten her story.

When my husband and I were first married we went through a patch where we were very poor. Like creditors calling the house making you feel like not having any money was a malicious choice you had made rather than an awful circumstance you were trying your hardest to escape. It was tough. But for some reason, every time that bank balance reached zero, instead of panic, I felt a certain sense of freedom. Nothing left I can do now, I shrugged, and my spirits momentarily soared.

I believe that the universe is abundant. I believe that I am resilient. I believe that my family is creative and resourceful. I believe that when your bank account is empty, you can still be somehow, paradoxically free. I believe that love is greater than fear. I believe that when  the world around you burns to the ground, you can sift through the ashes and still find beautiful things.

And I believe it's okay to freak the fuck out, as long as I remember to come back and visit this quiet, calm space I keep somewhere in my center every so often. Even without religion, I'm pretty sure it's God there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Changes, Wind and Chimes

I got an apartment my sophomore year of college with a tall, long haired strawberry blonde. She liked sparkles, laughed a lot, and claimed to read minds. She also bought me a set of wind chimes, rusty metal hearts with little bells attached. I still have them and feel inordinately proud of that fact. They hang on the pine tree beside my back deck.

I bought two matching sets of silver chimes, one bigger, one smaller, the metal round and hollow like reeds, each sound a higher or lower echo of the other. I placed them on either side of the heart chimes on broken pine branches just off the deck.

I worked for years with a woman who drove me crazy. When she was finally moving on she offered a set of chimes up to anyone in the office, black, wood and gold. I took them immediately, knowing it would be so much sweeter to remember her with chimes when she was always such a stubbornly flat note in my real life. They hang on that same tree.

After our daughter was born we moved up to the attic. When you get to the top of the stairs there are two corner windows looking out on the backyard. Looking over that pine tree. It felt so different to be climbing stairs every night for the first time since we moved in, sleeping in a brand new bedroom with a brand new baby. But the wind chimes always sounded in the wind. The same wind chimes we listened to all last summer, and the summer before. The constancy is comforting.

I always see snow out those corner windows when I ascend the stairs. It's been there since we first started sleeping in the room; it seems as if it will always be there. But the sound of the wind chimes is also a reminder that spring will come, and then summer. Change will keep coming, too.

I found out in the past week that my job -indeed my whole program- will likely be eliminated in the next federal budget. I've had my head and heart lost in my babies and really haven't begun to wrap my head around everything this means. I do know that it means some very big changes are ahead. Again. But I can't help but feel that the wind will keep blowing, summer or winter, and that those chimes will somehow continue to play.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How Our Mornings Begin

My boy calls me in the baby monitor that we never used when he was a baby because we were right across the hall. Now we're up in the attic and our walls are made of plaster and sound doesn't travel well so we use the monitor and he calls: Mommy! Come a get me! I calling you in the monitor, Mommy! Come a get me!

My girl might be nursing or she might be sleeping in the crook of my arm or in the bassinet beside my bed. She might be staring wide eyed up at the ceiling waving her arms and legs in the air, cooing and gooing and grinning with delight.

I go and get my son. She accompanies me if she's up or she stays if she's sleeping and acts as an excuse for me to sneak back upstairs with my boy close at my heels and steal a few more minutes in bed. This usually ends after he plays a little too roughly with the curtains on the slightly broken rod that I haven't replaced yet. Not only is the room flooded with the too bright morning light, but the cotton blue curtains we bought for our first apartment after we got married collapse along with the barely bent metal rod that came with the house, landing with an audible bop on our heads. This is our cue to go downstairs and start the day.

I put water on for tea, take my asthma medication, brush my boy's teeth and my own. I change my girly's diaper, wash her face -which she loves!- and smooth lotion on to soothe her dry skin. I fill a sippy cup with fresh water or juice if requested, put toast in the toaster oven or cereal in a bowl, pour my first cup of tea and stir in milk and honey, administer vitamins all around.

From here our day is both busy and mellow, ebbing and flowing from moment to moment. It's like a dance I have to perform. I know the basic steps but never the tune that will play from day to day. So I have to improvise. Sure, I trip sometimes, end up in a heap on the floor, both babies crying at the same time, one wailing and bobbing at the breast, the other climbing loudly onto my lap, competing for space and seemingly for volume with their sobs. But even this is part of the performance. Can I keep my cool? Can I breathe into my belly, straighten my spine, scoop my daughter to the side to make room for my son, spread my arms wide enough to embrace them both, set my voice to the most soothing of tones, and move us all from chaos to a carefully choreographed quiet?

When I do find the rhythm? When I manage to dance through the day with something resembling grace? To keep balanced both babies, my husband and my house and a small space for myself, just enough to catch my breath and stretch, to catch the beat and ready my feet for the next number?

It's exhilarating.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From My Brain to Your Screen

So I'm a listmaker, and my brain has been brimming with a million ideas for posts that I never quite find the time to make sense of. So I'm just going to spit it all out, bullet-point style (I love bullet points) (yes, I'm totally serious) (bullet points are awesome!), and we'll see what ends up rising from the muddy swamps of my mind.

  • I love, love, love being home with my babies. Less than 3 weeks left of maternity leave. I'm not ready to go back to work. At all. But I'm going to, for a couple different reasons: financial/practical (I've wanted to talk for a while about Linda Hirshman and the so-called opt-out revolution; it's playing an ironic role in my own choices right now), the feeling that I'm doing good in the world through my work (is this a spiritual impulse? maybe.), and an overall desire to integrate my family and work life, which I think will mean a lot of hard work for me, but will be so worth it in the end (this is a spiritual impulse).
  • Blogging about blogging: I'm recognizing a certain tendency in my writing to describe things in a vague, stylized manner. It's all well and good, for what it is, but I don't think I know how to write plainly about everyday life, and I want to be better at that. I don't know exactly how, but I'd like to work on it.
  • And one reason I want to be better at it is because I want to capture the everyday details of this time with my babies. It's magic; it really is. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever done, and I want to remember every crazy minute of it. So I have to capture some of the stories that describe how we spend our days. This could easily be a series of posts, rather than just one.
  • Finally, I might need to mourn the end of my maternity leave, in words. And I might need to give myself a pep talk about returning to work, because I do know it's the decision I'm going to make (I can't say the right decision because there are so many decisions that could be right. This is the best one for where I am right now.). And I do love my job. I could just use a reminder to psyche me up, after I'm done saying goodbye to my (too) short stint as a SAHM.
  • And oh yeah, exercise again. I finally made the decision and resigned from my yoga jobby. I'm really committed to figuring out how to give my body what it needs without counting on "going to work" to provide it. It will be a huge challenge for me, but I want to try. I think it would be the very best gift I could give myself.
So these are some of the ideas I've had swimming around in my head. Whaddaya want to hear about? Any requests? Maybe if I know somebody is waiting for a story it will inspire me to sit my sleepy butt down at the keyboard instead of on the couch one of these nights and start writing, sooner rather than later! Any of the above, or something brand new? I'm open to inspiration, universe! Sock it to me!

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    March is Here!

    So much to say, but time and inclination don't seem to be lining up together lately. One of these nights, I promise ... I think I feel a random list post coming on, one where I empty my brain onto the screen and see where it takes us!

    All in all, life is pretty wonderful right now. Here's a little taste of what today looked like:

    How much longer do I have to dress like this?

    Hey, maybe not so much longer after all! There's life under the snow!

    Mud is a sign of spring. And so: mud is beautiful!

    Happy, happy March! I wish you more blessings than raindrops. And more raindrops than snowflakes (fingers tightly crossed!). I'm taking this week to count my blessings, and they feel deeper than the snowbanks that have buried us since December. Hope yours are too!