Reality Check

The other day I was talking to Zeke in the most sincere way possible about how much I love T. How loving Thomas has been more effortless than loving anyone else in my life. I still think the whole “you don’t know what love is until you have a child” thing is hooey, I certainly don’t love him more than Zeke but I do love him automatically.

T has a cold. He’s been a trooper and is still in a good mood most of the time, but little dude has some trouble holding it together when he gets tired. Late yesterday afternoon he was whining and fussing and he reached for me (the reaching thing-holy shit there is nothing like it. I become a putty in his tiny hands) so I picked him up. He nuzzled against my shoulder. It was bliss.

And then the little fucker bit me. Hard. Hard enough to leave a mark. And I will tell you what, all of those lovey dovey feelings flew right out the window and I wanted to bite him right back! I had yelled out involuntarily. And I followed that up with a very stern “NO!” The yelling scared him for a moment, but he doesn’t understand no yet and he just looked up at me and smiled in this particularly mischievous way where he looks exactly my father. Being we named him after my dad who I completely adore it usually melts my heat when T smiles like that. But my shoulder was throbbing. So my heart stayed a chilly little ice cube.

I set T on his play mat and he immediately started howling. My little speech to him was along the lines of “No way man. I am not picking you up right now. You totally hurt me and I am not feeling it.” Again, he had some trouble with the understanding stuff. He was still feeling crappy and he wanted me to cuddle him. Which I did after I had inspected the bite mark and we both calmed down a bit.

[Side note—I am trying to not pick him up when he is the middle of frustration crying, especially if the crying involves peeking up at me and smiling in between the whimpers. I’m a bit frightened by how much he already tries to play me as a 7 month old. He gets that cries equal mommy time and I really don’t want that to be his attention getting method of first choice.]

As soon as I calmed down and my shoulder stopped throbbing all those lovey dovey feeling came flooding back. But it sure was interesting to discover how quickly they could temporarily recede. Don’t know if this happens with all moms, or if I’m just a jerk but the lesson learned is I don’t have superhuman patience for him just because it is easy to love him.

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2+2=

Recently Z gave his students a homework assignment to answer the problem 2+2= using any answer but 4. When he told me about it I said my answer would be my mom and dad plus me and my sister. When my mom came to visit I told her about the assignment and asked her what her answer would be without giving her mine. She said “Your dad and me plus you and your sister.”

If the problem Z had assigned was 1+1= my answer would have been him and me. If it was 1+2= it would be T plus Z and me. But for now 2+2 still equals the family I grew up in.

I haven’t lived with my family full time since my first day of college in 1995. I didn’t even go back for summers. And there was no empty nest syndrome for my folks. They were thrilled to have us out of the house so they could have their relationship back. Likewise my sister and I were both eager to get out and grow up.

Over the last 7 months I have spent a lot of time thinking about family and time and life. When I was growing up our family seemed like it would be forever, yet when it ended as my daily reality I didn’t even notice. But the first few days with T put the brevity of the nuclear family into sharp focus.

At the hospital we were told the stump of the umbilical cord falls out around 10 days after a baby is born. For those first 10 days I couldn’t think about T’s stump falling out without crying. It seemed like the beginning of the end, the first of a million tiny milestones that would lead to his adulthood. Now, I get how overdramatic and ridiculous I was being and continue to be. Don’t worry-as soon as he was born I got back in to therapy.

Any maybe all of this stuff is painfully obvious and I shouldn’t be so surprised by it. But I am. The unhealthy part of me wants time to freeze right now. I want our little family to be forever. Instead I am trying my damndest to enjoy the hell out of our life so I don’t miss it by mourning its passing.

Breastfeeding with an Awkward Segue into Judgey Parenting

Recently two pregnant friends of mine took a lactation class. I was absolutely appalled by what they said they were told. They took the same class at the same hospital with different instructors, but it sounded like the highlights were the same for both.
· If it hurts you are doing it wrong
· The answer to everything is to breastfeed more
· No info for moms planning on going back to work who were going to pump
· Breast is Best!!!!!
Are you fucking kidding me?

Every new breastfeeding mom I’ve spoken to has said it hurts at first. Every single one. And it is the most unhelpful thing in the world to be told if your kid latched on correctly it wouldn’t hurt at all. It gets you thinking “This should be easy. I’m doing this wrong. There is something wrong with me. I should just give up.” Etc. etc. etc.

Breastfeeding hurt, actively hurt every single time until T was about 2 months. Now, in large part that was because we got thrush really early on and boy-o that shit is stubborn! My sister screamed in pain the first time she fed Gabe. He had a vigorous latch and it was unbearable for her. She pumped and gave him bottles for weeks until she got used to it. Another friend of mine who is a mother of three said that your nipples have to toughen up with every kid, yup it hurt with all three.

Now call me crazy, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to tell mothers to be that breastfeeding is the perfect food for your child, there is potential for some fantastic hardcore bonding, it contains antibodies that protect your baby against illness, it is free, it might help you lose pregnancy weight BUT it is really difficult and it does hurt. Not forever, but there is a learning curve. You might assume it would be completely intuitive but it is actually hard and frustrating work. Your baby might even lose some weight while you are both figuring it out but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low milk supply. Don’t you think if more moms knew these things there would be a higher breastfeeding success rate?

If I was developing these classes I would make sure that there was always a new mom there to demonstrate feeding and to do a question and answer session. I bet moms would be thrilled to do it. We new moms are so excited when we actually figure something out about the whole parenting thing that we are more than happy to help others and share that knowledge.

But to stand there and repeat over and over “breast is best” and to say if it hurts you are doing it WRONG? That is a ridiculous waste of time and money. And an insult to all women’s intelligence.

Clearly I am breastfeeding. And after working through the initial difficulties, including having a precancerous mole that abutted my nipple removed and biopsied when T was 3 months, I am way into it. Part of the reason is that I tend to be a selfish person who avoids pain at all costs and I was ridiculously proud of myself for sticking with it even though I wanted to quit. I mean it was really hard for me, but I still did it for him. Also I’m a stay at home mom (and that my friends, is a whole other post) so I have the time to do it. So yes, I am proud of myself. Which is a pretty huge thing for someone with chronic self esteem issues.

But breastfeeding is a personal choice. The fact that I’m proud of my choice has nothing to do with what I think of the choices other women make. Everyone deals with a different set of circumstances. And yet it is impossible to be online as a new mom and not be aware of those breastfeeding moms who make those who are unable to breastfeed or who chose not to do it feel bad about their decision.

The crappiest mom in the world could breastfeed. The mechanics of feeding your child do not make you a good mother or a good person. And breastfeeding is just the tip of the iceberg. If you sleep train, if you circumcise, if you co-sleep, when you introduce solid food, all of these things are choices that need to be made for the individual child, but they seem to be fertile ground for passing judgment on moms by moms.

Yes, the superior breastfeeding moms drive me crazy, but when it comes to some of the other controversial parenthood issues suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.

Before I was a mom I remember being told that someone waited X amount of time before introducing solid food to her baby. And I was all “That is too long!” I knew absolutely nothing about babies or solid food. But I wielded that judgment like a pro. Life has a funny way of making a fool out of you and I remembered my mean and uneducated remarks when I decided to wait until T was 6 months to introduce solid food. And this little story is the tamest example of the many times I’ve been a judgey jerk about someone else’s parenting choices.

A while ago I wrote a note for Facebook about sleep training and showed to Z. He pointed out that it seemed like I was apologizing for our choice and he asked if that is what I wanted to do. It most certainly was not.
[side note—Facebook, Facebook, oh wonderful Facebook. I know lots of people are ambivalent about it, but I unabashedly love it. Yes, there are sometimes awkward or mean interactions, but you know what? Those happen in real life as well. For someone who’s loved ones are spread all over the place and who is living in a new town it is a lifeline. I get that it isn’t all positive. I mean, constant social interaction without actually having to be in a social situation is a dream come true to an insecure agoraphobic, and I rely on it too much. But I can’t help it. I love it.]
The impetus for writing the note was my reaction to the responses to a status update Z posted about sleep training. Some women he was friends with begged him to stop torturing our son by letting him cry it out. Clearly these ladies had T’s best interest at heart, but I couldn’t believe they thought they knew what was best for a kid they had never met. I did not post the note.

I wish T was a good sleeper, really I do. If he was there is no way I would have resorted to cry it out. But he would cry for hours as we rocked him. Or walked around the house with him in the Ergo. Or had him in bed with us. He was miserable, Z was miserable, I was miserable. He just couldn’t figure sleeping out. And finally I realized that someone needed to take the bull by the horns and be in charge. So we got on a schedule for naps and bedtime. It took several weeks, it still isn’t perfect, and that first night that he cried for 2 ½ hours was terrible for all of us, but I truly don’t believe he was scarred for life. He now wakes up from the night and his naps with a smile on his face, and before cry it out that never happened. And here I am justifying again. I guess the reason I’m doing it is to demonstrate that we tried other options and that we are caring parents.

In our peer group I think it is safe to say we all are making tough and nuanced parenting choices. It might be right for one family to switch to formula at 6 months while another family chooses to continue with breast feeding until the baby is 2. Why does either choice need to be wrong? And why do we think we know what is best for other families?

I know I’m sounding all self righteous here, but I’m actually asking these questions of myself as well. Because I’m as guilty as anyone of judging other moms. I wonder why we do it. Do we really think we are all knowing? Or is tearing others down a way for us to feel better about ourselves? Isn’t this the time in life when we should be most supportive of each other? I’m really grappling with these questions and don’t have any answers.

What do the parents out there think?

Sisters

My sister and nephew flew into Syracuse on Thursday night. They got to my house later than expected because my sister got very airsick. Mom hustled her inside while Z got the luggage and I got the baby. She didn’t make it into the house proper, but was in our tiny mudroom when she grabbed a trashcan and lost her lunch. I was standing outside with the baby and was so upset and worried about her that I started to cry. In the middle of her sickness she called out in a clear happy voice “Don’t cry Karen! I’m totally fine!” then she went right back to horking.

And not for the first time I was struck by how our roles have reversed over the years. Chronologically I am the big sister by two years, one month, and three days. And when we were growing up I was the big sister in every way—bossy as hell, totally annoyed by her hero worship, confident and ready to try anything. She was a quiet and shy and hesitant. She deferred to me on most things.

Now she is a strong and confident woman who has managed to do quite a lot in her 31 years. She double majored and graduated in three and a half years from a prestigious university. She not only passed the Foreign Service exam on the first try, but qualified for the most exclusive section in her early 20s. When she realized that the Foreign Service was a frustrating bureaucracy that wasn’t interested in changing for the better she got her MBA at another prestigious program and upon graduation had secured a fantastic job for herself. She rocks.

I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up.

We were pretty darn close growing up. Moving around so much will do that for you. But during our 20s I think it’s safe to say we grew apart. We turned into such different people, pretty much opposites. I’m inappropriate and sloppy and shout my liberal ideals from the rooftops. She is poised and tidy and socially appropriate. I think we sort of drove each other crazy.

Then we got pregnant at the same time. We found out within two weeks of each other. Of course I was seven weeks when I found out, and she was about 2 minutes. And mine was an accident and hers was very planned. And I didn’t feel ready for parenthood while she had told me I was required to get pregnant so we could do it together. I had told her to jump in a lake. I’d get pregnant if and when I wanted to, that she was not the boss of me. But it turns out she is sort of the boss of me. Because I had T right on schedule according to her. She wanted me to have a baby first because I am the older sister and I obliged by giving birth to T six weeks before she had Gabe.

Anyway, during our pregnancies the most amazing thing happened. We started to get closer and closer. A really strange thing about pregnancy is you start to forget the details as soon as you are done with it. My sister in law and one of my closest friends both had daughters who were just over one when I got pregnant. I was astonished to discover they didn’t remember specifics. But Barb and I were going through a lot of the stuff at the same time and we really leaned on each other. It was the absolute best thing about pregnancy for me. I felt more connected with her than I did with the baby.

The closeness has not diminished at all now that we are mothers. Barb calls me every day while she is pumping at work and we catch up on what the boys are doing and how we are doing. We are still very different, but it no longer gets in the way. In fact, just about everything makes us laugh. My mom who has always wanted a sister and who constantly tells us how lucky we are to have each other gets annoyed at our incessant giggling and inside jokes. Z rolls his eyes at our shenanigans.

And I am happy to have this relationship with my sister back, even if I’m now playing the role of the little sister.

Thoughtful Parenting

A friend recently commented that Z and I were thoughtful parents. She was paying us a kind compliment, but it really got me thinking. We do indulge in thoughtful parenting, in fact I think a lot of our peers do as well and I don’t think it is always a good thing.

So many of us have been in therapy or dissected all the terrible things that happened in our upbringings and we are hell bent on making sure none of those things happen to our children. I now know it is utterly impossible to look at your child without seeing your own childhood. And it is a very short leap from seeing your childhood to seeing an opportunity to fix the wrongs visited upon you when you were little.

Suddenly I’m going wait, wait, wait! First of all, the crap I was upset about? Most of it was nothing! I mean, there were real issues and I am still working through them but I think my anxiety and self esteem problems would have developed no matter what. It is just who I am. But most importantly being over protective of T is not going to fix my problems. It will probably make a bunch for him, though.

And about the whole “You have never know what love is until you have a child” shit…Yep, the love you have for your kid is new and overwhelming and indescribable. And selfish. Really really selfish. This kid is half you, if you are the mom you actually grew him or her inside you, he or she is your key to immortality, the vessel through which you will fulfill your unrealized dreams, everything.

I look at him and feel all those things and think holy shit put on the breaks! This love is actually going to smother him! This love is going to turn me into the exact kind of mother I don’t want to be. If I indulge in this love I’m on a path to screwing him up even more. It is the beginning of me not being able ever say no to him or not letting him get hurt in any way. He is gonna think he is the center of the universe if I don’t stop myself.

I’ve written about some of this stuff before on good old facebook and I have a feeling I’ll write about it again. Because I desperately want to be a good mother to him and at this point I think it entails reminding myself to do what is best for him rather than what feels best for me.

Growing Up

Zeke and I are champion roughhousers. The kind that you indulged in as a child while your mom hollered to quit it or someone would get hurt. Yeah, we never have the sense to quit it until someone gets hurt.

There was the time I threw a Harry Potter book at him. Think it was book 6, and that is not a small one. The bump it raised on his hand was impressive. Or the time I was throwing shoes at his head and while defending himself he gave me a fat lip. Keep in mind we were laughing as we were horsing around right up until the moment one of us would get hurt.

The day I went in to work with a fat lip a friend of mine told me we really needed to have a kid so there would finally be a grown up in our house. Strange logic, but sound logic as it turns out.

A few nights ago we started squabbling as we folded laundry before bedtime. I had a sock in my hand and was batting him with it and he picked up something (my underwear?) and followed my lead. The giggles started and we were heading straight to the taking it too far place when Z stopped and took a step back. “Wait! We are gonna wake the baby.” And we stopped. We stopped before someone got hurt.

That damn baby turned us into grownups.

Vanity

About a month ago I tricked Z into admitting that going through pregnancy and giving birth has noticeably aged me. I know. I am an enormous jerk.

My self-loathing issues have been so toxic that for years Z wouldn’t comment on my appearance at all. He learned to hate and fear giving me compliments because I would accuse him of lying. Yeah, I was really unwell. So it was a huge deal that he engaged me at all when I brought up the issue. He’s been giving me tons of compliments since I got pregnant and I’ve been trying really hard to just take them. I only mutter denials under my breath about half the time and I rarely accuse him of lying anymore. Big big progress.

I’d been thinking about the aging after pregnancy thing for months. I think part of it is because lots of women (like me) are waiting to have kids later. The body really doesn’t bounce back the same way when you are 32 as it would when you were 22. And going through pregnancy and childbirth is a real trauma even if nothing goes wrong. Bottom line, you have a kid and you instantly look older. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less but it is always there.

So I told him that was my theory. He thought about it for a bit and said he agreed. I said I thought I definitely looked older. He very kindly said “Yeah, but you still look younger than you are.”

Ah ha! I got him! I quickly asked what specifically looked older. He looked like a deer in headlights as he realized what happened. He told me he would no longer be participating in the conversation. And that was the end of that.

So two things.

First of all I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Z is to be pitied and he puts up with a lot. To those of you who know him please remember this story and be really nice to him the next time you see him. Buy him a beer or something.

Second there should be a petition titled “Damn it! Why aren’t you telling us this stuff?” which lists all the crap that happens during pregnancy that no one tells you about and it should be submitted to companies that publish pregnancy books. The whole aging issue should be at the top of the list.

Looking older certainly isn’t the end of the world, but come on. I would have like to know so I could have been more emotionally prepared. And I’m sure there are lots of shallow gals just like me out there.