The days are long but the years are short

There are some parenting days that are exciting, delicious and fun.  Julia’s preschool graduation ceremony comes to mind.  It was so adorable it made me laugh and cry.  Each kid recited a poem about what they wanted to be when they grew up and they wore tiny graduation hats. But most parenting days are not those days, even the good ones.

I am a working mom, so I probably get a greater balance of the good days than stay at home moms do, because I’m not handling the mundane as much.  But yesterday was just a regular day.  No birthday parties, no trip to the zoo, no first steps or first words.  Luca and Daddy went to the supermarket, and Mommy took Julia to a playdate.

It was a pretty decent day yesterday. I didn’t yell at anyone, no one got hurt, there were no major arguments, everyone went to sleep on time.  So, especially if you aren’t a parent, you’re thinking, sounds pretty chill.  Except that every parent knows that a pretty decent day as a parent is a lot different than a pretty decent day before kids.

Pretty decent day before kids: Maybe you sleep until  9 or 10 am.  Run a few errands, laze around.  Eat lunch on the couch, binge watching some TV. Cook dinner, or maybe you order in.  It’s possible you read a magazine, or take a nap in the afternoon.  You make decisions based on what you want to do.

By comparison, a pretty decent day with kids is going to have a relatively high level of chaos.  First of all, there is not likely to be any sleeping in, at least not in our house.  Our kids are early to bed (Luca by 6:30, Julia by 7) but also early to rise.  Julia has a wake-up light in her room (a cow that is either dancing or sleeping) that tells her when she is allowed to get up.  The cow dances at 6:10 am because that’s when we get up for work five days a week, and it’s too damn hard to change the settings every weekend, so that’s our lot in life.  But it’s not like we could really sleep much later – Luca is up before Julia is, but we just won’t go in there until she wakes us up (thankfully he’s not a screamer in the morning).

We go downstairs on the weekends at about 7am to make breakfast, before which we all lounge together in bed watching TV (Paw Patrol is a favorite).  And by lounge, I mean that Luca attempted multiple times to slide off the bed and accidentally hit people with all the books he brought in. We did have two delicious minutes where Luca decided to sit on Julia’s lap while she rested on my lap and we had a cuddle party. For a second there it felt like what you picture when you dream of having kids.   But then Luca pulled her hair, and that was all over.

So, like most weekend mornings, Julia inevitably forgot to bring in “monkah”, her beloved stuffed monkey, and tried to convince us to get it for her (no).  She and I got into our usual discussion about her sucking her thumb (I say discussion because I refuse to argue about it anymore, even though the orthodontia is going to be a nightmare). She complained incessantly about being hungry but when offered the option to go downstairs and get herself something to eat she acted like I suggested she climb into a pit filled with alligators.

This week the hunger argument was particularly heated, because Saturday is the morning she gets to help fill Mommy’s pill box for the week. Mommy takes a lot of meds (I’ll get into that on this blog another time), and oddly Julia loves helping with the sorting (yes, she knows not to take them, don’t worry).  So she wanted a scenario where she can come back upstairs. Various debates/discussions ensued, there was crying, then screaming (both her, I stayed calm – Mom FTW!), then we finally came to an agreement and she ran off to get the squeezer on condition that she eat it downstairs, then come back up.

By 7:30 we were all playing nicely in the playroom while Daddy made breakfast (did I mention that my husband does all the cooking in our house? It’s heavenly).  Then Julia lost her will to live for a few minutes because she mistakenly thought the corn beef hash Brian was making from our leftovers was going into the eggs, and YOU CAN NOT PUT THINGS IN HER EGGS if she is unfamiliar with them and/or they contain meat or most cheeses.  Instead, she now wanted to have cereal and a cereal bar.  I said no dice, one or the other, and she should still try the eggs.  I am the worst person on earth.  She acts as if I am torturing her.  We clear up that the eggs will be regular Julia approved cheesy eggs, so she is then willing to have them and cereal, forgoing the cereal bar.  Crisis averted.

But hey, let’s stop here for a second.  We hadn’t eaten eaten breakfast yet and already I was mentally exhausted. I mean, it’s exhausting even describing it to you.  Yet, it’s the reality of parenting (the #truthinparenting , perhaps?).  I mentioned in my first post for this blog  that after a while, you just get sort of used to this.  Doesn’t make it easy, but makes it easier.  Because like I said, this was a decent day.

The thing about decent days is that they will mostly be forgotten.   There’s a relief to this, because it reminds me that things will get easier as they get older.  But there’s also a sadness because the very fact that they are rote in nature means I will will most likely forget them.  I will forget that Luca all of a sudden yesterday started calling his play computer a “peter”.  That Julia and I were doing coordinated clapping to Fitz & The Tantrum’s “Handclap” (Or was that today? I’m telling you, these moments blur together).

I just finished reading this terrific book called “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin (I highly recommend it by the way).  One of the things she says repeatedly is “The days are long but the years are short.”  It sums up exactly what it feels like to go through the early years of parenting. There will be so many days like this and many of them will drag on for what seems like an eternity.  But looking back I’m sure I’ll remember so little of them.

So what is there to do?  It sounds like I should end this post saying that I’ll try to be more grateful for these days because I’ll look back on them with wistfulness.  True, gratitude is important.  I actually started keeping a gratitude journal a few months ago and I have found it has helped me appreciate my life more. I write down five things every day that I am grateful for. Some of them are certainly related to my children.  But it feels pat to say that gratitude will solve all my parenting struggles because it’s not true.   What the gratitude journal helps me do is also remember more.  Even when it is hard, I want to remember.  I think that’s what will help get me through.

#MomsWeekend2017

This was it. #MomsWeekend2017. We came from eight states and the District of Columbia. We got on planes. Alone. We carried handbags that contained no diapers, no wipes, no Cheerios (ok, well maybe some remnants down there in the bottom). We drank wine. Maybe read a magazine, watched a grown up movie. Not one person demanded we accompany them to the bathroom. We landed, one by one, in Austin, TX. 

It all began with a post my friend Jordi and I put on our neighborhood listserv five years ago. It was a little hopeful. It was a little desperate. It was, if I’m being honest, a cry for help.
 

“Any soon-to-be new mommies out there? Want to get together? My friend and I are both due in a few months and we thought it might be nice to reach out and see who else is going through all the same things. You know, first trips to Buy Buy Baby, figuring out the best stroller for neighborhood sidewalks, learning how to swaddle, etc. We are thinking about heading over to SOVA this Sunday morning at 10:30am. Anybody want to join us?”

 
As Jordi and I met on the sidewalk that Sunday morning, we were nervous. Maybe no one would show up. Maybe people would show up and we wouldn’t like them. Maybe we would take one look at them and bail, like a bad blind date.
 
I think something like 30 women came to that first meeting. It was pretty hilarious to watch one pregnant woman after another stream through those doors. We took over the second floor. We were legion and we were large. 30 preggos take up a lot of space. We definitely scared some other patrons away that morning.
 
We talked about everything. Hormones and sleeping, nursery decor, baby showers. Diapers and doulas, drugs or no drugs. Hold up, no drugs?? I started to get nervous. One woman after another said they were going to have natural childbirth with no drugs. I gulped. I had a pretty short birth plan. Short and sweet. To the point. It said, “Drugs, please” in the middle of a giant white piece of paper. Actually, it said DRUGS PLEASE!, because I had strong feelings about this. In the words of my wise mother-in-law, “You don’t get a better baby for doing it that way. They give you the same baby. They don’t throw you a parade or anything.”
 
I looked over at Jordi on the other side of the room. Her eyes were big. She gulped too, then she raised her hand and said, “That’s cool you guys, but I’m pretty sure I want the drugs.” My hand shot up in solidarity, “Me too.” And it was fine. The record didn’t skip, 28 pairs of eyes didn’t whip around and silently judge us. Everyone was cool. We were in this together, but doing it our own way. I think we were on to something.
 
Our group ebbed and flowed, but over time it crystalized into a smaller group of regulars.  We had more coffee dates, we talked, we listened, we found comfort in staring down the unknown together. 
 
We had our babies. One by one we all became mothers. We survived. We are still surviving. We have a higher rate of survival due to each other. I mean, I cannot tell you how crucial it is to have a friend you can call at 11pm and ask what you’re supposed to do about mastitis. (Don’t know what that is yet? You will.) Mom tip: Find your tribe. Its a wild ride, you need people on that roller coaster with you. Or at least people who have ridden it that will be honest.
 
Here’s where I quote the 1994 movie Speed to you. The part where Keanu Reeves tells Sandra Bullock, “I have to warn you, I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.” And here’s the part where I tell you that he’s wrong. Five years later, we are still friends. Fifty years from now, we are still going to be friends. (If we are alive! Having kids seriously accelerates the aging process in a way no one warned me about.) Having children is the hardest, funniest, most frustratingly wonderful thing you will do.
 
And thus comes the part where you need to get away. Kiss your precious lovies on the head and tell them Mama will be back Monday. (Or just sneak out the back door when they are not looking like I did. Don’t judge-my younger son has serious separation anxiety). This is #MomsWeekend2017.
 
Over the past few years many of us left DC and scattered all over the country. We were overdue for a reunion. It’s pretty amazing that we got 13 women (with 23 children between us) to leave their families for a long weekend. What this goes to show you is that Mamas need a break. Mom Tip: Take time for you. The easiest thing is to put yourself last when you have (a) tiny beast(s) with very immediate needs. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, so remember to look out for yourself. You deserve it.
 
I was pretty stoked for a weekend with no one calling (or crying), “Mama, mama, mama,” to me for three days. It is amazing to be loved and needed. It totally is. It is also so mentally and physically exhausting. Some mornings when both kids are clamoring for breakfast and the dogs are dancing around my feet wanting to be fed, I become almost paralyzed by the sheer need everyone has of me. They need food, they need comfort, they need drinks, and napkins, and help putting on shoes. (I need coffee. But no one asked me what I want, so that is why I will drink cold coffee 28 minutes later). I was also pretty stoked about a weekend where I didn’t have to wash a single sippy cup. I mean, am I alone here? I feel like 85% of my day is spent washing sippy cups.
 
This was not a girls gone wild adventure. Don’t get me wrong, we hit the bars and drank some margaritas and did some dancing. But as most of our history together has been, it was a lot of talking and listening. (And wine. Definitely wine). We might have left our babies behind but we did a lot of talking about those littles. Moments of pride, stories of frustration, feelings of guilt. 
Of our group, I was the last to to leave D.C., relocating to Houston about 7 months ago. I’m still working on finding a support system here. After four days surrounded by these amazing women, goodbyes were tough for me. I got in my car and pulled on the highway for my 3 hour drive home. In a bit of a real-life movie moment Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” came on the radio as I blinked away tears. 
 
Don’t give up
’cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not beaten yet
Don’t give up
I know you can make it good
I will make it good – I’ll find a new tribe here. But this group can’t be replaced. And we will see each other next year at #MomsWeekend2018. We deserve it.

The truth in parenting

Two days before the birth of my first child, a little before 36 weeks of pregnancy, I was put on modified bed rest due to suspected preeclampsia. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might go into labor early (Mom Tip: If you’ve never done the whole having a baby thing, there are a lot of things you just can’t picture, so I’m telling you now – pack your hospital bag early). I even polled my friends and family to determine whether or not since the bed rest was “modified” that I could sneak out to my last movie before I was stuck at home with the baby.

For the record, everyone voted no, which was a good thing because I might have gone into labor on the spot while watching Twilight (don’t judge, at least I didn’t go!).  After two days of laying down at home, I was brushing my teeth at 10pm on an unseasonably warm November night when my water broke.  By 9am the next morning I was someone’s mom: Julia Ruth Cucinotta, all 4 lbs. 14 oz of her.

I had thought that when they put the baby on your chest your heart exploded with love and you were bonded for life.  Not me.  My blood pressure spiked during the delivery and they rushed the skin to skin experience so they could get her tiny little self to the NICU and get me on magnesium, literally the worst medication I have ever experienced, to avoid me getting eclampsia. Mom Tip 2: Did you know preeclampsia is not an actual medical condition but a set of symptoms that are a warning you could get actual eclampsia?  Again, the magical world of things you don’t know until you have kids!

For the next 24 hours Julia couldn’t come to me because she was in the NICU, and I couldn’t go to her because I was in hell.  On the magnesium, my body felt floppy and heavy, almost like I was paralyzed. I had to be catheterized because they can’t risk me  even getting up to go to the bathroom.  I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink in case I choked.  I begged the nurses in tears until finally I got a nice one to give me one or two ice chips in secret.  I was so hot my husband had to wear his winter coat to keep warm in the hospital room since we turned down the temperature so much, and still I needed cold compresses.  I was also practically delirious.

The next day,  after more than 36 hours with no food or drink, as the poison slowly subsided from my body, I was handed what looked less like a cute cuddly baby and more like a tiny chicken. I was cautioned that I couldn’t even breastfeed her yet because I might transfer the magnesium to her.  What was I supposed to do with this tiny mewling thing?

I’d like to tell you that after the drugs wore off and we brought her home that things were great, but they weren’t at first.  I was in a fog: afraid, sad, detached.  I am a lifelong anxiety sufferer and had a depressive episode in my early twenties, so postpartum depression was not out of the question. But I couldn’t articulate how I felt. I’m an over-sharer, but I couldn’t share this somehow. I mean, how do you tell people that you’re worried that you might have made a mistake?  That maybe you weren’t meant to be a mom because clearly you suck so bad at it and don’t really like it?  Even my well meaning family, friends and truly excellent therapist wrote off what they saw as the standard struggles of new motherhood.  But it was more than that.  I literally couldn’t believe it was going to be this hard.  And when would it get better?

It wasn’t until almost a year later that I realized I had suffered Postpartum depression.  And it wasn’t until long after that when I finally started opening up to people about the challenges I was (and sometimes still am) experiencing as a mother. I didn’t take to parenting easily and occasionally still don’t, even though I absolutely adore my kids (I have a son now, Luca, who is almost two.) My goodness what a difference it was to go through this stuff a second time, but we’ll get to that another day, don’t you worry!

A while back I started tagging Facebook posts where I shared my honest thoughts with the hashtag #truthinparenting .  The relief in posting my truth instead of trying to pretend I knew what I was doing as a mom was palpable. There was another upside – I started getting comments on my posts from people sharing their experiences, and then I started getting private messages, texts, phone calls and even in person chats with people who had read the posts.  It turns out a lot of people think it’s hard.  I get that not everyone’s experiences are the same, and that some people live for motherhood in a way I never will (and that’s awesome for them!).  But I am taking inspiration from what I’ve done on Facebook and bringing it to the longer form of a blog in the hopes that it will make some mom (new, expecting, or even an experienced one) feel better.  Because, Mom tip 3: we’re all in this together.

Life after birth

To be able to embrace motherhood, you need to mourn the loss of the person you were before you had kids. This is what I say to every pregnant woman and new mom I talk to, because it is the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever come across about parenting.  I stumbled upon this wisdom through a blog post by Renegade Mama when my daughter Julia was a little over a year old and it changed my world.

No matter how much you talk to friends and family, read books or consume media on the subject of parenting, there is literally no way to truly know what it is actually like day in and day out.  There certainly must be those who are better prepared.  I’d imagine the oldest sibling in a large enough family to have been deeply involved in the taking care of a newborn might have some idea.  Or perhaps labor and delivery nurses who see weepy new moms on the daily.

I  wonder, and hear me out on this for a second, if women who have been to prison might actually be the best equipped of all.  I’m not trying to literally compare being a new mom with the terrible experience of being incarcerated.  But I remember thinking to myself a lot in the early days of motherhood that I was in “baby jail”. From the moment you become a parent, your life is no longer your own, which is what I imagine life is like in prison.

Women are having children later in life than ever before which in theory brings a greater maturity to the table but also a much longer time to have lived a life that they defined. Taking care of a newborn strips you of that freedom.  Sleeping is not under your control.  Nor is the crying (the baby’s or yours – the hormones are intense). Even going to the bathroom requires making decisions – do you carry the baby while you go?  If they are crying, is it OK to leave them in the swing or crib to go pee?  Brand new babies sleep a lot (for small increments of time), so there are points where you can make little decisions – watch a TV show, read a magazine, maybe make something to eat.  But you’re so damn tired, all those small acts can feel like moving mountains.

For me, this was kind of shocking – not the tiredness, which I was somehow able to manage, but the lack of autonomy.  Sure, I had anticipated that my life would change.  But I didn’t truly get it, and I didn’t truly get “into it” enough to make it feel worth it for a long time.  I had postpartum depression after I had my daughter Julia (my firstborn)  which left me feeling a little detached from the good parts of having a baby, the ones that make the challenges more manageable.  From speaking to friends who didn’t have PPD and from the wonderful experiences I had with Luca, my second child, I get that this makes the experience more palatable.  You’re exhausted and frightened, but your heart is also swelling to explosion with love for the this tiny, cuddly being you made.  But that delicious little tyrant has turned your world upside down.

As you move through the first year and began to establish routines there is some relief in regaining at least a small sense of order.  But it’s all still revolving around your child.  The you before you had kids is gone or at least it feels that way. I fought this and fought it hard.  I think that’s what made my PPD linger and made me feel trapped in what I called “baby jail”.  I would sit in the playroom trying to think of something halfway interesting to play with Julia. After like 3 straight hours of shaking toys at her or reading her books she didn’t understand or doing tummy time that made her cranky, I’d be wishing I could just read a magazine for ten minutes.  What made me feel worse what that I wasn’t even a stay at home mom.  I still had my adult identity five days a work at week, so my life was split between the old me and the new me.

Then one day I came across the Renegade Mama article and instead of making me feel more depressed it felt like an epiphany. It just made sense:  If I kept feeling sorry for myself that I could no longer go to the movies every weekend or have a relaxing meal, I’d just be miserable.  First thing I had to do was work on accepting what my life was like now. If I adapted to it, it would no longer feel like such a burden and I’d hopefully be able to enjoy the good times a bit more. I’ve done that work every day for the last few years.  Julia is five now, and Luca is almost two. It’s not unusual for me to get up from the table anywhere from 3-10 times during a meal these days – whether it’s to pick up a thrown fork of Luca’s, refill Julia’s water glass or grab paper towels to sop up a spill.  The difference is I barely even notice.  What once created such resentment now feels just like routine.

The second and equally crucial piece was to remind myself that the reason my life is different is because I am someone’s mom, which is a privilege and not a punishment. I dreamed my whole life about being a mom, and I have been lucky enough to become one.  So what if I don’t love it every day?  I still love my kids every day, and that’s enough.